I've always been interested in Britishness. The word itself sounds not quite right, clumsy; it's certainly not used very often. But I believe it to be one of the most under-rated inventions of the people on our Atlantic archipelago. It permits an interleaving of identities that is very valuable.
Here are two posts examining Britain's established Celtic inhabitants, their nationalisms and allegiances. They are witty and engaging field notes reporting on the rich political-cultural ecology of Britain. I'm very glad to have come across the writer, Lincoln Allison (a Lancastrian, as it happens).
British nationality is a rare example of a nationalism which is a political and civic identifier more than an ethnic or even cultural one. This is in its DNA, having been conceived under Tudors and born under Stuarts so as to justify one Crown ruling over more than one nation. It reached maturity under the Hanoverians in resistance to the challenge of Catholic France. As such it had a powerful Protestant component but this has now atrophied to the point of invisibility.
The original design of a British identity - to give political unity to diverse cultures and ethnicities - still gives it the capacity to absorb a splendid variety of ways of life. Today, to be British at a fundamental level you only need support a couple of core ideas: the supremacy of the Crown-in-Parliament and the rule of law.
This isn't always appreciated, however. Peter Hitchens*, in railing against mass immigration here, writes about Britain possessing a 'monoculture' which is in process of being irreparably damaged and without which no nation can survive.
There are good arguments against mass immigration, of course. And I'm not arguing that the relative ease of becoming British means mass immigration will be a breeze. There's the influence of economics for a start. But I don't think the argument against mass immigration is sustainable on the grounds of our having a fragile and soon-to-be doomed 'monoculture', indispensable to nationhood.
Monoculture? I've sometimes wondered what my Welsh-speaking, Bible-quoting Baptist, Snowdonian, quarryman great-grandfather would have to say to my Lithuanian-Jewish, East Ender/Cardiffian, bigamist, scrap metal-dealing great-grandfather. Not very much presumably, as the former only spoke English haltingly. But they were both British and I'm pretty sure both believed in, or at least acknowledged, the legitimacy of British parliamentary democracy under the rule of law, even if they didn't think of it in these terms. That's Britishness, and its elasticity has to be a huge advantage in our ability to absorb immigrants.
It's also why the battle against Islamism has to be fought wholly on political grounds. It would be pointlessly destructive to engage with the enemy on the field of culture. It would necessitate an attempt to define a universal but substantive British culture. I don't believe this can done within current definitions. The cultural content of being British is so dilute as to be almost homeopathic: a tendency to watch the BBC is not sufficient.
More aggressively, a 'core' British culture might be carved out (perhaps that of, say, an East Anglian insurance underwriter?). This obviously excludes the multifarious others; giving Britishness a centre means it cannot hold. There is the risk that the living idea might not survive the forced - and discrediting - application from the political and civic to the cultural.
The end of Britishness would mean the end of Britain. Some may welcome this. I don't as, never mind Islamism, this carries its own potential for violence and strife. Ethnic nationalisms freed from the trammels of history are invariably productive of fascism.
Those who enjoy the ironies of history would relish the actions of soi disant defenders of a British monoculture destroying Britishness as it really is.
Besides, the biggest problem we have in the battle against Islamism is a reluctance of politicians and police to defend tolerance and counter sedition with the judicious application of the law. Here's the sort of cycle that builds when this isn't done**. A breach of the peace is permitted alongside various sorts of incitement: the vile and provocative defamations of our returning soldiers by Islamists in Luton. This passivity in policing results in vigilantism: an innocently by-standing mosque is fire-bombed and there are street battles between Muslim factions. If we don't want to suffer further from this dialectic - one which is clearly fueling the BNP - we need to be a lot more intolerant in our defence of tolerance. There's no absence of law to allow this to happen, but there is a clear absence of will.
*H/t to Elberry. PH is a former Trot and so is accustomed to thinking in absolutist terms; it seems to be a habit difficult to break.
** The fecund Elberry again. The piece is from the Daily Mail and the comments underneath the story are heartening. There is some criticism of Muslims for taking their time over challenging the Islamists. But the overwhelming sentiment is gratitude that the challenge has now been made, accompanied by well-merited disgust with the police.