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English Nationalism and Euroscepticism

Losing the Peace


Ben Wellings

This book seeks out the origins of contemporary English nationalism. Whilst much academic and political attention has been given to England’s place within the United Kingdom since devolution, the author argues that recent English nationalism actually derives from Britain’s troubled relationship with European integration. Drawing on political evidence from the former Empire, the debates surrounding EEC accession and the United Kingdom’s ongoing membership in the European Union, the author identifies the foundations of contemporary English nationalism. In doing so, he adds an important corrective to the debate about nationalism in England, pulling our gaze out from the United Kingdom itself and onto a wider field. Far from being ‘absent’, English nationalism as we know it today has been driven by resistance to European integration since the end of Empire in the 1960s.


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Introduction 1


Introduction English nationalism is something that has puzzled, intrigued and even amused observers for the past decade and a half. Scholarly comment on the topic has grown enormously. In the last decade, major works such as Robert Colls’ Identity of England, Arthur Aughey’s The Politics of Englishness and Peter Mandler’s English National Character: the history of an idea from Burke to Blair have all attempted to define and explain this phenomenon. Works aimed at a wider readership on the subject have also been popularly received. Jeremy Paxman’s 1999 best-seller The English attempted to explain what Paxman called an ‘elusive’ people.1 Kate Fox’s Watching the English took an anthropologist’s critical insight to the behavioural patterns of the English in an attempt to uncover their defining characteristics, which she concluded were essentially ‘a social dis-ease, medicated with alcohol and festive liminialty + humour + moderation’.2 Julian Baggini took an Orwell- esque journey into the north of England in an attempt to ‘journey into the English mind’ by living for six months near Rotherham. Explaining ‘average’ England to his readers, Baggini concluded that the English are basically conservative communitarians, fundamentally illiberal, but tolerant if minorities do not become too numerous to challenge unspoken rules.3 Roger Scruton’s England: An Elegy constituted a ‘memorial address’ to the civilisation which shaped him, but which nonetheless remained obscure to the author. ‘What was England?’ asked Scruton, ‘A nation? A territory? 1 J. Paxman, The English: A Portrait of a People (London: Penguin Books, 1999), ix. 2...

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