To:    Guardian CiF
Re:   The importance of Nazism and ethnicity for British national identity
Date: Sunday 10 June  07


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In response to Tristram Hunt's "Stop endless lessons about Nazis. Tell us our national story instead".

Link to article and thread at The Guardian.

We like our history to concentrate on the Nazi state because it castes our own, British state, its institutions, and ourselves, of course, who identify with it (especially our ruling elites), in such a relatively favourable light. It's very basic, individual and group, human ("prime ape") psychology.

Compared to Hitler and his Nazi party, our own politicians seem paragons of virtue, which they have a strong professional interest in cultivating. Nothing pleases them more than being able to identify some "neo-Nazis" or "racists", who they can then condemn as such, thus demonstrating to everyone their own moral and political credentials.

And it is not just our politicians who like to (indeed, have to) publicly demonstrate their anti-Nazism, especially in respect to its insane racial doctrines and their misuse in defining German national identity. For academics, too, especially in the social sciences and the media, it is essential that they emphasize their adherence to an ideology that is the exact (equally extreme if not quite so pernicious) opposite of Nazi ideology. It is an ideology which allows no significance whatsoever to be given to race (even to the extent of denying its existence), even and especially in respect to national identity. Essentially, it has replaced the belief in Christian ideology, which used to be mandatory for anyone employed in public service.

The trouble that I have, and most people, I suggest (who are aware of, i.e. haven't suppressed, their true feelings), with such an ideology is that race and ethnicity (who one's ancestors were, where they came from, their history and culture) are central and essential to any "deep and meaningful" sense of personal and group identity.

Any sense of "British identity" that, for the sake of inclusivity, ignores or plays (dumbs) down the importance of ethnic and cultural differences (and the different histories and narratives that go with them) must of necessity be extremely superficial - which creates something of a dilemma for a nation state dependent on the solidarity of its citizens.

It is a dilemma our ruling elites (in business, politics and the media, each with their own self-interests in mind, although perhaps not consciously) cajoled and got us into, but now, of course, are loath even to recognize, let alone admit to.

However, sooner or later (and the sooner the better) we will have to face up to it. Otherwise it will demand the creation of a totalitarian state, or tear our society apart - which, in fact, it has already started to do.

Something is going to have to give, or go. I believe it will be the British nation state (certainly as it exists now), which has no democratic legitimacy without an overwhelming majority of its citizens strongly identifying with it. Dependency alone is not enough.

But let's not panic or get aggressive (as "prime apes" are inclined to do when the social structures they depend on are under threat), we need to remain calm - and talk, openly and honestly, without the constraints of the ideology that got us into this mess.


2nd Post
[GrandOldMan], surely one of the strongest responses most people have to learning about the Nazis is incredulity that a modern European state, not dissimilar to our own, could come to be ruled by people who not only believed in an insane racial doctrine which gave them the role of "master race", but also ruthless attempted to implement it, starting wars and murdering millions of people (men, women and children) in the process.

It is difficult not to see oneself, one's country and one's government (even one led by Mrs Thatcher or Mr Blair) as good, rational and humane by comparison. Many a time I've caught myself excusing some politician or their party by remembering the Nazis and thinking that, well, they could be a lot worse.

And its true, they could be a lot worse. But we need them to be a hell of a lot better than they are. Otherwise, they will lead us, and the rest of the world (with the very best of intentions, of course), into an even bigger catastrophe than Hitler led Germany.


3rd Post

[Mujokan], I was struck by what you said in an earlier post about history being taught as a way to "encourage nationalism as a counterbalance to tribalism".

That works well when you have a nation of closely related tribes, sharing not just multiple family and ancestral ties, but much of their history and culture as well (native Welsh, Scots, Irish and English, for example). But I don't see how it can work with large numbers of people from unrelated tribes, with little if anything in the way of shared recent ancestors or history.

How are people of African or Asian descent supposed to relate to the history of native Britons and Europeans, with whom they manifestly (which is very important in respect to relating to something) do not share many recent ancestors or much history? And the history we do share is generally from very different stand points.

This is why I believe that current attempts to create a sense of common British identity are in vain and bound to fail. You certainly cannot base it on shared history. All that really binds us is shared dependency, on the power structures, infrastructure, services etc. of the state, which in turn, of course, depends on us, and will thus do all in its power to keep us together, whether we like it or not.

There are many powerful and influential individuals, groups, organizations and institutions, especially in politics, business and the media (not least, here at the Guardian) which want to keep us together in NS*-Britain, where they occupy the best niches, which understandably they want to hang on to, and are thus desperate for us all to accept some kind (any kind) of shared national identity.

* NS = nation state



[Mujokan]'s response:

rogerhicks wrote: "How are people of African or Asian descent supposed to relate to the history of native Britons and Europeans, with whom they manifestly (which is very important in respect to relating to something) do not share many recent ancestors or much history? And the history we do share is generally from very different stand points."

The place where I have most immigrant friends is Australia (I move country a lot). In my experience there, children of immigrants accept Australian culture and are almost indistinguishable from those of many generations' standing. They speak with an accent, play Australian support, go to barbecues and drink beer, etc. The only downside is that they don't work as hard as their parents! Of course, they retain a connection with their family culture, which makes Melbourne a great place to live. Its great to go to dim sum with a Chinese guy with an Australian accent who nonetheless can tell you exactly how to order!

There are (at least) two requirements for this phenomenon: children of immigrants must find the mainstream culture attractive, and they must be *accepted* by the mainstream culture. Teaching history is a way of making the mainstream culture attractive, and of helping immigrants to participate in it.

And in Britain, its institutions *are* its history.