Friday, March 30, 2007

Dropping Shakespeare

Here we go ... Billy bloody Bragg!

Far be it from me to criticize the sort of person who has managed to retain the same strong Soviet enthusiasms (voiced in that Estuary- inflected Americanese that is now so very fashionable) for nigh on 30 years, when most people managed to lose them in the final days of their adolescence. But I do wonder a bit at The Telegraph making itself a party to such eyewash. Isn't The Guardian* the more likely place for this sort of thing? Has David Cameron so bamboozled proper conservatives that now even long-established Tory newspapers are under the impression that the best way to serve their interests is by abandoning them?

Whatever the case, Mr. Bragg--via the once conservative Telegraph--is apparently of the opinion that Great Britain is in danger of losing its cultural and political identity because it isn't enough like (get this) the United States or (it gets better) France!!!

He says:

It is an accident of history that we are not able to summon up a form of words that defines the values on which our society is based.

The Americans can call upon "the Right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" enshrined in their Declaration of Independence, while the French have the revolutionary slogan of "Liberté! Egalité! Fraternité!".

"An Englishman's home is his castle" is not much of a rallying cry.

Now never mind that the "form of words that defines the values on which [British] society is based" has long been contained in (as Peter Hitchens is endlessly pointing out) the Magna Carta, the Petition of Right, the English Bill of Rights, and the Habeas Corpus Act--which, I hasten to add, were the envy of the West for many many centuries ... Those things, apparently, are too old, and too time-consuming for the modern British citizen to be bothered with. Besides, says Bill, they're too "ambiguous" regarding "the precise nature of our fundamental rights" and, as a consequence, British citizens find themselves increasingly at the mercy of the sort of "ministerial diktat" that now threatens the imposition of identity cards amongst other, decidedly anathematic, things.

'Thing is, until the advent of Tony Blair's New Labour government (which, I hasten to add, Bill actively supported), these sorts of "ministerial diktat" were about as likely to get a toe-hold in the collective British consciousness as, say--oh, I don't know--the suggestion that the English have absolutely anything to learn from the Yanks or the Frogs.

So the problem with Great Britain in the 21st century is not, I'm afraid, that it's too British; it's that isn't British enough! How else to explain the increasing sympathy for this belief that the best way to serve a society premised on freedom is to come up with a primary document that makes "rights both visible and accessible to all"? Alas, in the absence of tried and true British pragmatism there can be no understanding of the fact that listing all the things you can do is far more problematical than dealing with the, by comparison, very few things that you can't ... Using violence to defend yourself against a violent thief? Not on the list, I'm afraid, so you're not allowed to do it! Off to Wormwood Scrubs with you!

Indeed, how else to explain Mr. Bragg's totally nonsensical worry that Britishness isn't attractive enough to its immigrant population? It seems to me that if these people decided to go to the UK of their own free will in the first place (though, to be fair, Mr. Bragg doesn't specify whether perhaps they're among the ever-increasing number of victims to the ongoing British slave-trade) than Britain's attractiveness to them is a given ... That so many of them remain unassimilated enough to resent the apparent imperative that they should assimilate suggests, furthermore, that the original quality of British life that enticed them there is--far from being disproportionately imposing--at very serious risk of disappearing altogether.

To be replaced with what, I wonder? The Pursuit of Happiness, is it? Or Fraternité? Did it occur to Mr. Bragg that the Americans and the French both absolutely insist that without the necessary precondition of, respectively, Americaness and Frenchness neither the so-called Pursuit of Happiness nor the concept of brotherhood have any meaning whatsoever?

An accident waiting to happen, indeed.


*UPDATE (April 10th) Having altered his tone from "Friends, romans, countrymen, lend me your ears" to "only an idiot and a racist would think otherwise" Billy Bragg's musings on Britishness find their natural habitat, some ten days later, in the pages of the Guardian. And a more patronizing essay you will have a hard time finding ... I'll just say this: while it may seem to the apparently illiterate Mr. Bragg that concerns about an ailing British identity are confined to a few middle-class cranks who "offer generalisations, but ultimately fail to give any solid examples of discrimination," the recent work of Roger Scruton, Melanie Phillips, and Peter Hitchens (to name but three) suggests otherwise. Ignore them at your peril.