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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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Chapter 1 - The Idea of England 11


Chapter 1 The Idea of England Englishness is commonly – but erroneously – perceived as an absence. Related to this is the dif ficulty that many people have in assessing whether or not there is – or should be – such a thing as English nationalism, and if there is how strong or weak it is. Certainly the idea that Englishness is weak and English nationalism is absent is a common one. But this doesn’t mean that England, the English, Englishness and English nationalism do not exist. Rather, it is the perception of absence and therefore an assumed weakness that has come to dominate thinking about English nationalism in recent years. This perception needs explaining. What is distinctive about English nationalism is the way in which it was and is merged with other, wider categories of belonging. That this is so is due to the relationship between nationalism and sovereignty and the conception of sovereignty that lies at the heart of English nationalism. It might therefore be tempting to argue that what is distinctive about English nationalism is its very lack of distinctiveness, but this conversely pre-supposes that all other nationalisms are pure and distinct. Putting the puzzle in such comparative terms raises another important dimension to the perception of English ‘absence’. It is also because of the understandings of nationalism that we use to analyse England that we are puzzled by its seeming non-existence. If we examine nationalism as a secessionist ideology which has historically helped bring down empires and states, then such...

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