THE ORTHODOX WEST: OLD BRITAIN AND NEW ENGLAND
'It is not true that the happy have no need of a past. On the contrary,
they alone can fully use it as it should be used - to improve or enhance
the present. It is unhappiness that has no history, shunning its own annals'.
In early 1999 the Editor was contacted by a programme-making company working for Channel 4. Wanting to produce a series of three documentaries concerning the current identity crisis among English people, they wished to interview him. A meeting was arranged in London and filming took place at the Orthodox church in Felixstowe in April 1999. The documentaries were screened in January 2000 under the collective and somewhat provocative title of 'White Tribe'. The presenter and writer of the programmes was a British broadcaster of West Indian descent, Darcus Howe (incidentally, the son of an Anglican clergyman).
Overall, one could perceive throughout the programmes the presenter's confusion, shared with a great many contributors, between 'British' and 'English'. Although Darcus Howe believed that he was being even-handed, certain negative aspects of his programmes irritated some English people. Nevertheless the programmes did highlight a number of facts.
Firstly, many unemployed and ill-educated English people of the remnant working-class feel totally dispossessed of their British culture. They are suffering from an identity crisis. This has been caused successively over the last two generations by the loss of Empire, by British government participation in the 'European Union', more recently by the relative autonomy granted to the other parts of the 'United Kingdom', and finally by personal loss of work and income. This group has been quite unable to replace its old working-class Empire culture. This relied heavily on a superiority complex of militarism and jingoistic flag-waving, the ignorant non-sense that British is best in the world. All that remains, if we are to believe the programme, is tribal football rites, petty crime, foul-mouthed alcoholism and licentiousness. Dispossessed of its factories and shipyards, this rump working-class is culturally dispossessed and its resulting resentment spills over into anti-immigrant racism.
On the other hand, many more modestly well-off people in England admire the popular culture of the United States. They find there an ethnic, linguistic and also cultural identity that they do not find with Europe. Their admiration is reflected in the political division in the country between those who look to the individualism of the Protestant United States (like Mrs. Thatcher and her followers) and those who look to Roman Catholic Western Europe.
The latter is the model of the upper middle classes, the heirs of the Norman Establishment which is returning to its own foreign roots. They drink expensive and exclusive French and Italian wines, drive German cars, go on holiday to villas in Tuscany ('Chiantishire') and bomb Serbia, like the pro-Catholic and pro-European Union Mr. Blair and the other champagne socialists of the chattering classes. The upper middle class, whether politically centre-left or centre-right, form the Establishment Whitehall-Brussels élite. Through their influence in politics, the anti-rural and anti-libertarian lobbies, the secular media, the BBC, the Education Mafia, the abortion movement, the political correctness groups etc., they are heavily involved in campaigns against English traditions and identity. They apologise for being English and run down everything in Britain in favour of the models of corrupt Continental élites. As tourists, they certainly appear to know nothing of the way in which ordinary Europeans live and suffer under their own élites - to which the Editor can testify, having lived as a resident in various European countries for sixteen years.
The question that arose through the series was whether there is anything in England today between dying British nationalism, characterised in the series by a flag-waving old people's club singing 'Rule Britannia', and the anti-English activism of the Establishment élite. We believe that there is: hence our own modest participation in these programmes.
On 27 January 2000 the last part of the documentary was followed by a televised debate which the Editor attended. This was unfortunately characterised by some rather extreme and very confused voices. These voices muddled the jingoistic British imperialism of the past with the English national realities of the present. Clearly Channel 4 had decided that voices of moderation do not make good television. This debate was chaired by the presenter Jon Snow, who off screen, typically for a contemporary upper middle class media personality, apologised for being English! Probably the most sensible thing during the debate was said by an English lady of West Indian descent. She said that Englishness is simply a state of mind and should not be confused with ethnicity or any other outward symbols. Nevertheless a number of points of agreement clearly emerged from a very topical subject, of which we shall surely hear much more in the coming years as the United Kingdom breaks apart completely.
Firstly it emerged that, if not already dead, then Britain clearly is at its last gasp. Only unrealistic people can deny it. This death is the source of tensions and anxieties which is characterised by racial resentment and immaturity. The majority, however, as Darcus Howe rightly pointed out, find this time very interesting and creative, for the simple reason that a time of death is also a time of birth. Most people were optimistic about the future: the death of Old Britain is also the birth of a New England. Perhaps finally, after nearly a thousand years, the old Establishment élite and its tyrannical and bungling bureaucrats in Whitehall, at present clinging on to Brussels for future survival, will die. Perhaps in years to come, for the first time since the Norman Invasion, there will be a Parliament for England and the old British Norman-founded Westminster, with its secrecy and jobs for the boys, will die out unmourned. Freedom is in the air.
Having taken part in these programmes, the English Orthodox received nearly ten minutes of quite sympathetic treatment in the second episode screened on 20 January 2000. We hope that through it we put forward something of an English Orthodox vision of the momentous political and cultural changes now occurring in this country. We hope that we have been able, despite editorial cuts, to put forward and express something of English national sentiment, of 'The English Way', a way open to all who sympathise with English spiritual values.
We believe that we do not need to follow the Roman Catholic European Union model or the Protestant American one. We believe that we can, if we wish, be an English nation in our own right. We believe that from beneath the ashes of Old Britain can come the Resurrection of a New England - in spirit identical with the pre-Norman Old England of a millennium ago. We believe that the future is in the English, and not the oppressive Norman-devised and Norman-imposed British, Tradition. We believe that this Tradition has its roots in the Universal Tradition of the whole Orthodox Christian Commonwealth of the First Millennium, which still survives today. This Tradition is thus not merely cultural, but above all spiritual, and therefore moral. We believe that the depository of this Tradition of the Nation is in the Old English Church and Her Orthodox Faith. We believe that English identity, Englishness, is not necessarily ethnic or racial, an affair of blood. It is rather a spiritual identity, in which all who wish can share. Its supreme incarnation is in the Saints of England. Moreover, without reference to the spiritual roots of England and Her Saints, the Resurrection of England cannot take place.
In connection with this programme the Editor was invited to compose an essay detailing these views. This essay was published in January 2000 in an anthology called Our Englishness (published by Anglo-Saxon Books, Frithgarth, Thetford Forest Park, Hockwold-cum-Wilton, Norfolk IP26 4NQ, price £11.95). Entitled 'The Resurrection of England', it is here reprinted in full.
Fr Andrew Phillips
(c) Orthodox England - Published within the English Deanery of the Church Outside Russia: with the blessing of the Very Reverend Mark, Archbishop of Great Britain and Ireland.