London Lantern

Putting the Spotlight on London

A Review of The Pocket Book of Patriotism

26/05/2005, By David Mcintosh

Reader Rating: 2.9 from 22659 votes

Let us be very honest about the situation; among certain groups, particularly among what are called the chattering classes, patriotism is cast in a negative light. There are those who would lead you to believe that being patriotic is just a form of bigotry and racism and that patriots are some relic from some long ago, best forgotten time marked by strife and intolerance. That this outlook is wrong, mistaken and misguided on the part of those who want to believe that some sort of supranational approach will lead us to the broad, sunlight uplands of a better world matters not a fig.

The utopian mentality ignore history and it ignores the fact that many of history’s finest and brightest moments are of patriots; men and women who believed in and worked to advance the interests of their country. It is true, sadly, that history has also seen its share of tyrants and despots who have tried to cloak themselves with the mantle of patriotism, but history, in turn, had judged them to nothing more racists charlatans.

Nonetheless, call yourself a patriot today and you leave yourself open to snide looks and sneers from those who judge themselves to be the better of others and thus worthy to determine the boundaries of public debate and set the style that the rest should follow. Alas, one result has been, to paraphrase Chesterton’s comment, is a public that rather than believing in nothing seems to believe in anything, some of it the noxious rubbish to found anywhere.

These days a conversation with a group of young people might leave you with the disheartening feeling that they lack a knowledge of the events of the past and the people who helped build the civilization and society we now enjoy. For example, a recent survey in Europe showed that only about half the respondents even realized the significance of Auschwitz. In other surveys about a third of students between the ages of 11 and 15 think Oliver Cromwell fought in the Battle of Hastings while under a half of the students questioned were aware that HMS Victory was Lord Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar.

In the United States things are little better with educators among those who bemoan how little the current generation of students seem to know of the important concepts that would result in the birth of a nation. Maybe that is why a book entitled Don’t Know Much About History became a bestseller in the nineties. Do those students know that the idea of liberty and freedom extends back to the time of the Magna Carta and before. Are they aware that before the American Revolution there was the English Civil War, and that men fought and died for their beliefs, beliefs they held dearer than life.

Trafalgar Square

Ignorance about history can result in people lacking an understanding of today’s events. When they watch a courtroom drama on the television do they realize that the system of common law stretches back centuries and is one of the pillars upon which a decent society is built.

For too many history is divided into two parts: the present, which is great, and the past which is a dark, unenlightened void best ignored. Little does the great mass of people understand that the headlines of today had their genesis in occurrences that took place many years past.

In Britain there is probably little understanding on the part of many people of the numerous reasons that Britain holds a special place in the history of western civilization and the development of freedom and democracy. Do they know? Can they conceive of what went before? Alas, probably not. Probably not.

A recent edition of the Daily Telegraph included an article of a Church of England bishop who has called for a ban on the singing of one of the church’s best loved hymns “I Vow to Thee, My Country” because he feels it to be racist and heretical and a symptom of the “dangerous” nationalism which has as its parallel the attitudes that resulted in Nazism.

Not at all a very pretty picture. But now it seems that patriotism and history have found their champion; an English executive who realized the seriousness of things and decided if no one else would do anything to remedy the situation then he would. George Courtauld is a corporate headhunter and one day on the train from his home in Essex to his job in London he had an encounter that brought home just serious things had become.

Some may wring their hands and politicians may talk of doing something, possibly legislation mandating that key facts about history should be taught to children but Courtauld decided that instead of waiting for someone else to do something he would take matters into his own hands. The result? A best selling book that has become a publishing phenomenon in Britain and increased discussion on the importance of knowing your country’s past. (continued next month)

David Mcintosh

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