Skip to main content

National identity

Why is Britain full of self-disdain?

The knights of the Round Table, painted by Victorian artist William Dyce. Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

The Edwardian children’s book Our Island Story exemplified the idea of Britain as unique, “blessed by God with a destiny”, says Ed West in UnHerd. Given that this smallish country had come to rule a quarter of the world, it had a point. Now, although the empire is gone, Britain is still exceptional – no longer because it feels “above the rest”, but because it is “so filled with self-disdain”.

Only in England do intellectuals cheer national defeats or lament national victories. Nowhere else in Europe “is there such revulsion” at the idea of patriotism and flying the flag. That revulsion was summed up by actress Emma Thompson, who five years ago described her homeland as “a tiny little cloud-bolted, rainy corner of sort-of Europe… a cake-filled, misery-laden, grey old island”. What makes the English exceptional now is “oikophobia” – a condition defined by Roger Scruton as the “need to denigrate” our customs, culture and institutions. In fact, Britain is extraordinarily liberal by European standards. But the self- disdain for our country – which, once confined to small literary circles, has now spread far and wide, even into institutions such as the National Trust – partly explains Brexit. People will put up with being ruled by those who cheat them, lie to them or mismanage the country, but not by those “who openly despise them”.

Read the full article here.