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No one national character, just great English values

Reader comment on item: An American in Search of the English National Character

Submitted by Dave (United States), Jan 23, 2021 at 11:49

The great thing about the way the English zeitgeist developed was its emphasis on the individual in contrast to broader, collective themes. In that sense, the English national character is not a single abstraction that can be pinned down, because the English tend to shun abstract schemes in general.

They shun the practice of lumping people together as the "masses" or the "proletariat". They celebrate private life and its peculiarities. This is the essence of the Englishman as a free man who naturally distrusts revolutions, religious crusades, or ideologies that subordinate people to distant causes, but rather prefers gardening and hobbies.

It was no coincidence that when the fate of the free world hung in the balance, it fell to an Englishman, Winston Churchill, to articulate the most eloquent opposition to Hitler. As one can see in his historical writings, Churchill defined English values as being limited and balanced government power, individual liberty, modest foreign involvement and measured political change.

The grandiosity, hysteria and absolutism of Fascism, Islamism or Communism are utterly anathema. English values are best expressed today in the ideas of the Western conservative parties.

If there is an English national character, one may infer that it would simply be you and me, whatever we like to do, however we worship, however we lead our lives. As snobbish and class-conscious as the English may be, they paradoxically have evolved a remarkably humble philosophy of politics and life.

One may conclude that we Americans have been very fortunate to have inherited this outlook. It has been expressed concisely by our founding fathers in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, especially in their explicit direction to pursue happiness as we each see fit, instead of exhorting us to sacrifice for some program of world salvation.

It doesn't matter what your background is; as long as you believe in those values, then you are English too.


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