A Tale of Two Englands

The referendum seems to have revealed a similar kind of dialectic as between the North and South of the United States. After Brexit? The Referendum and Its Discontents by Scott Stephens offers some acute analyses of the referendum of last week. I have been brought to believe that the referendum should never have taken place – and that the EU needs profound reforms or to be destroyed and replaced with something new.

One such opinion is from John Milbank of the Radical Orthodoxy school:

Christians are duty bound for theological and historical reasons to support the ever closer union of Europe (which does not imply a superstate) and to deny the value of absolute sovereignty or the lone nation-state. Tragically, the Reformation, Roundhead, nonconformist, puritan, whig, capitalist, liberal version of Britishness last night triumphed over our deep ancient character which is Catholic or Anglican, Cavalier, Jacobite, High Tory or Socialist. The spirit of both Burke and Cobbett has been denied by the small-minded, bitter, puritanical, greedy and Unitarian element in our modern legacy. Unfortunately it has duped the working classes, once again to their further ruination.

One commenter on this article expressed surprise that someone of the intellectual calibre of John Milbank should equate the Brussels dinosaur (my expression) with the “high” view. That question is debatable. We would need to ask him. Apart from that, Milbank seems to have come up with an idea of two Englands that has always fuelled my own pilgrimage in life.

I was born in Kendal at the south end of the Lake District, a small market town where my parents settled in the late 1950’s when my father found his opportunity to join the local veterinary surgeon in partnership. As I grew up, I had the impression of stick-in-the-mud conservatism in attitudes. Older people kept the young at a distance with the old idea that age brought privilege. Kendal is a predominantly Protestant town with I don’t know how many denominations: one RC parish dating from the early nineteenth century, the main parish church with an excellent musical tradition and a “Prayer Book Catholic” ethos. I was in the choir there from 1975 to 1976. St George’s is quite high with its fine Edwardian chancel and St Thomas’ (where I was baptised) is rock-bottom low. They still had north-end celebration in the 1970’s but now it just has the big screen and the place for the “praise band”. There are many pentecostal and independent evangelical communities. High church worship has never been of much appeal to Kendal people. As the years went by, young Kendal folk modernised and followed the trends of fashion, consumption, smartphones and all the rest. The Lake District voted for staying in the EU, in spite of the conservatism I knew as a child.

I went to school in York and worked there for a few years before going to London in 1978. Yorkshire seemed to be less “closed” than Westmorland and Lancashire. Older people saw young people as the future, and there were more opportunities for things that interested me like church music. There was also the difference between a cathedral city and the smaller and industrial towns producing coal or mint cake.

What now remains of the revolution of the mid seventeenth century? Milbank opposes the two sides he finds implicit in our attitudes today. The USA still has its Yankees and Red-necks reflecting the two sides of the Civil War. I meet people occasionally who seem to come from another planet. No thought is shared in common. Having lived in France for so long, I see the same dividing lines between the revolutionary republican and those who look to the old medieval order as survived until 1789. It is the dividing line between the Classicist and the Romantic. Surely we all have both head and heart!

Perhaps this is one reason why there needs to be cooperation at a cultural level, not merely economical, financial and business. These splits need to be understood and worked on from the point of view of diversity and tolerance. This fundamental divide is everywhere, not least Russia or any country that had experienced a violent reformation or revolution. The cracks have certainly appeared in England as people voted more with the guts than with their heads.

England has been a very stable country since about the eighteenth century, and shone in contrast to the upheavals in France and much of Europe in the nineteenth century. The Empire was at its height in the Victorian era, and was finally destroyed after World War II, the 1960’s and the return of Hong Kong to China. Our industrial production is only a shadow of what it was until the 1960’s. Perhaps it is England’s turn to know such upheavals and accounts to be settled between lying and treacherous politicians, “ordinary” people and those more motivated by culture and humanism than brute money.

In spite of the differences, I see a common trunk of culture in the whole of Europe. England’s music in the eighteenth century was deeply influenced by Italy. England was not all puritanical but assimilated Latinitas as a part of its quiet and reserved Renaissance. France was never far away. My own family was very Germanophile before World War I. The damage done by those two wars is incalculable quite apart from the massive loss of human life and the destruction of our culture. Europe is something real and desperately needed to reconcile the two Englands and the two Europes, the two Russias and the north and south of the United States. I hardly see this with the present EU which is all about collecting and wasting gigantic amounts of money, the scandalous waste of foodstuffs on a huge scale and dictating over us in the tiniest details of safety standards and piffling details.

Certainly, in the same way as I sought something beyond 1970’s Kendal, the heart needs to be open and eager to soar with inspiration and imagination. Wordsworth leapt with joy with the changes in France – until he saw the stinking carts of headless corpses. We truly need philosopher kings – not bankers and billionaire grippes-sous. We need a completely new constitution of principles, a new social and human contract.

Perhaps we are at the brink of something great, or the greatest catastrophe to befall humanity. Sometimes, a good shake-up can bring a lot of good.

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12 Responses to A Tale of Two Englands

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    When you say, “I have been brought to believe that the referendum should never have taken place – and that the EU needs profound reforms or to be destroyed and replaced with something new”, I don’t think those two need to be contradictory – the referendum – with actual outcome – could be very much a part of a better Europe either by strongly contributing to moving the EU to profound reforms or (to vary what you say) to the taking it apart into its constituent nation-states and enabling their reassembling of themselves in a new way to form something that more truly achieves any proper goods of a united Europe.

    There might have been better steps in that direction than a ‘Brexit’, but I have never seen any successfully attempted. I’m not sure how earnestly Mr. Cameron was doing the Continental rounds in pursuit of reforms, not so long ago, to stave off such a coming to a point as has now been accomplished, but (so far as I know) he certainly was not met with openness to discuss his suggestions, much less with superior ones offered instead.

    There is no guarantee much good will come of this, but I can imagine that (in the circumstances) more good may more easily come of it, than would have of a ‘Remain’ vote. (Not that ‘more easily’ implies that it will be easy, even with lots of good will, and little vicious spite.)

    Thanks for the link, too! I think my President (as member of the Charles Williams Society),* Oystermouth, sounds much more sensible than Professor Milbank, though I’d like to see his elucidation of many of his terms. The professor seems, in the passage you quote, to make the elementary mistake of equating the current state of the EU with the only possible proper sense of an “ever closer union of Europe”, and the rejection of the former with the rejection of the latter. As it one were to say:
    Having an Emperor is good;
    Nero is Emperor;
    Therefore, having Nero is good. (Whereas, fortunately, SPQR thought otherwise, and exercised the formal, proper mechanism of removing him, however belatedly.)

    I see not the slightest reason for supposing “Christians are duty bound for theological and historical reasons to support” any particular actual realization of “ever closer union of Europe” as if it uniquely deserved the definite article.

    Again, he seems to make the elementary mistake of assuming that sensibly, properly rejecting a grotesquely faulty attempt at union is, and can only be, an assertion of “the value of absolute sovereignty or the lone nation-state”. It is as if one asserted I had to be a Sabellian or a tritheist because it cannot possibly be admitted that God is Three-in-One and One-in-Three.

    (Again, other rejections of grotesque faultiness might have been superior, but that does not entail that this one was necessarily improper, or that it will not serve Europe, and a ‘Europe of the nations’, better then ‘Remain’ would have.)

    *Or ‘former President’ as the Soc is being taking up into the Oxford Lewis Soc as of last week!

    • Perhaps the significance of this is not so much the UK working out its divorce, but rather the political establishment being shaken out of its complacency and the EU establishment being made to ask questions with the spectre of other countries doing the same thing. Anything that becomes “just so” and takes itself for granted eventually goes bad and self-serving. Ordinary people have to be listened to, and we all have many concerns about uncontrolled immigration and colossal amounts of money being wasted. There are bigots, but there are also people who are worried – and I’m one of them.

  2. Neil Hailstone says:

    I believe that it was necessary for the Referendum to take place. There is widespread disillusion with the EU and the fact that over 50% of our laws were decided elsewhere. The real objection to that is obvious. It is a democracy issue, the UK electorate should be able to elect those who make the laws which govern us. Similarly we should have the power at the ballot box to eject our government when they under perform.

    The other issue was very much centred on uncontrolled mass immigration to England. Where I live in Cornwall is unaffected but some areas of England are very seriously overcrowded.

    Scotland is relatively unaffected.Statistically England is the 6th most crowded country on the Earth.For me it is a issue of space not race but I cannot think it good for community cohesion that England and Englishness should be completely overwhelmed. Surely the English who tend to be on the receiving end of a fair bit of racism should also be allowed their own culture alongside other ethnic communities.

    I supported the Leave Campaign and sought a Referendum through three Pressure Groups for the last 10 years. I particularly object to be vilified by some of our opponents as being racist, bigoted or some sort of neo fascist. None of the above I support Christian Democracy.

    I regard the notion that any of us are inferior or superior to our fellow human beings on the grounds of ethnicity as utterly ridiculous.

    The way forward now seems obvious to me and it is likely to be the model of our relationship with the EU which will be adopted. Certainly there is already plenty of support for it. We should negotiate a Canadian style deal. It will not as some of our strident opponents say take 10 years.

    Daft to say that because we are an ex member and the EU benefits financially with a large surplus of imports. This comes with no automatic rights of immigration

    It should be noted that of course this does not preclude work and permanent immigration visas for appropriate people. Neither does it involve travel visas. I have spent time in Canada and 6 months visits are available if you have sufficient funds to cover your stay there. No problem with reasonable freedom of movement then! Enough from me I’m away to watch the England v Iceland football.

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Your first paragraph reminded me of how Gavin Ashenden just put it: “The fact that there is no democratic mechanism within the EU to protest or change this cultural programme of anti-Christian attrition, is one more reasons why many Christians voted to leave the EU. At least when our own Government is passing legislation that discriminates against Christians there is some room for protesting and campaigning for its amendment. When it is promulgated or sponsored by the EU, there is none. All that can be done is for an agency like the Christian Legal Centre, to defend harassed Christians in the Courts in the face of hostile legislation, or legislation that is interpreted in a hostile way.”

  3. “Into my heart an air that kills / From yon far country blows: / What are those blue remembered hills, / What spires, what farms are those? / That is the land of lost content, / I see it shining plain,
    The happy highways where I went / And cannot come again.” A.E Housman.

  4. The Anti-Gnostic says:

    I thought the teaching of the Western Church was subsidiarity?

    Aren’t all these trans-national bureaucracies just mankind’s attempts to reconstruct Babel?

  5. Fr. David Marriott SSC says:

    As we move into the ‘post-referendum’ discussions, the one fact that stands out so very clearly is that the already divided ‘leave’ campaign does not appear to have any clearly delineated plan for the future relationship between Britain and Europe. This is very dangerous for the people of Britain, as we can see from the recent drop made to the country’s credit status, for the people of Europe, especially those British living in Europe, and will be a major discouragement to industrial investment, for which uncertainty is perhaps the prime state to avoid. The negative effects of the UK
    referendum have already been felt here in Canada, with concerns about a trade treaty with Europe, the value of the Canadian dollar, and investment concerns.

    • The Anti-Gnostic says:

      The Canadian dollar is not falling because Britain is leaving the EU. The Canadian dollar is falling because the federal and provincial governments are spending money they don’t have.

      • Dale says:

        Added to this spending frenzy of the newly elected very far-left government of Canada is the fall in oil and gas prices.

    • Little Black Sambo says:

      The Leavers had no duty to offer a plan; they were not an alternative government. The Government should have had contingency plans for either outcome, since they would be in charge after the result was announced, whichever it should be.

  6. Dale says:

    Although I have not lived full-time in Europe since 1982 the issue that I do have with those who voted to remain is that they seem unable to express their opinions without fear-mongering and name calling. One suspects, and we have such a voice here with Patrick, that those who voted to leave have viable reasons for doing so, but to respond to these reasons by yelling that they are nothing by racists, nationalist (since when is love of country a negative), pedophiles, bullies etc., the list is endless, makes those who wised to remain appear actually quite dangerous. What if they had won? Would they have called for re-education camps for the opposition? Stalin had those, as well as Hitler.

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