The Free-Born Englishman

It  may  have  taken until 1928 for full  adult  suffrage  of English   men  and  women  to  arrive,   but  the   essential sentiments  which  feed the idea of  democracy –  that  human beings    are   morally  equal   and  enjoy    autonomy    as individuals  and   a  natural  resentment  of  privilege  and inequality – are ancient in England.  

If  there  is  one outstanding  trait  in  English  political history it is probably the desire for personal freedom.  This might  seem odd to the modern Englishman who  sees the  large majority of his country men and women consistently  welcoming the  idea  of the most intrusive forms of  ID cards  and  who stand by dumbly as many of the age-old and ineffably hard-won rights which protect the individual,  such as the abridgement           of jury trial and the right to silence,   being swept away by modern  governments.   But  it was not always  so  and   that “always  so”  was  not  so long  ago.    The  great  Austrian political  and  economic  thinker  Friedrich  Hayek  put   it forcefully during the Second World War:

 “It   is  scarcely an exaggeration to say  that only in English   society,  and those societies deriving from it, is  the notion  of  individual liberty  built  into  the social   fabric.   The   English  have  been free  not primarily  because  of  legal   rights, but because it is their evolved social nature.  They accept liberty because it seems natural to them.”  (The road to Serfdom – chapter Material conditions and ideal ends)

In  short,  individual liberty has been and is part of  being English  and part of England.   It would be going too far  to claim   that  the  English masses have ever  had  any  highly developed   sense  of liberal  with a small  ‘l’  sentiments, but   throughout   English  history there  has  been  both  a widespread resentment of  interference,  either public  or  private, in the private life  of English men and women and an  acute awareness  that privilege was more often  than  not unearned and frequently cruelly used to oppress the poor. 

Most  importantly, over the centuries the  elite  gradually adopted  the ideal of personal freedom into  their  ideology.  Here  is  the  elder Pitt speaking on the  notion   that  the  idea that an Englishman’s home: 

The  poorest  man  may in his cottage  bid  defiance   to all  the  forces  of the Crown. It may be  frail  –   its roof  may   shake  – the wind may blow though  it  –  the storm  may  enter  – the rain may enter –  but  the  King of  England  cannot enter!   – All his  force  dares  not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement! (Quoted  in Lord Brougham’s Statesmen in the time of George III)

The  desire  for liberty and a freeman’s due is seen  in  the constant demand   by mediaeval towns for charters which would free  them from aspects of royal control,  most  particularly taxation. In some respects it helped fuel the barons’  demand for   Magna  Carta.   It  drove  the  Peasant’s  Revolt.   It provided  the   emotional engine for the decline  of  serfdom once  circumstances  were propitious after the  Black  Death.

The Levellers  made it their  ideological centrepiece in  the 1640s,    their leader,   John Lilburne,   revelling  in  the name of “Freeborn  John”.     “Wilkes  and Liberty”   was the mob’s  popular cry in that most aristocratic   of  centuries, the   eighteenth.   The Chartists held tight to the ideal in the  nineteenth.

The idea that liberty was part of the birthright of the English survived until after the Second World war. Indeed, the English remained in their daily lives, once the wartime social controls such as rationing were removed, very free from until the 1960s. Apart from the laws of libel, slander, obscenity and the Lord Chamberlain’s censorship of the theatre, there were no legal bars to what might be said or written. The concept of “hate crimes” was unknown. Employers might employ who they chose; those providing goods and services whom they would serve. The ideas which we now call political correctness had no hold on any but small groups of people who were at best considered eccentric and at worst fanatics.  

That precious natural liberty began to be eroded in the 1960s. The mass immigration of the post-war years provided the excuse to pass  Race Relations Acts  (RRAs) of increasing severity  in 1965, the second in 1968 and the third in 1976.  The passing of 1965 RRA provided the breach in the dyke of English liberty. Through it climbed the gays and feminists to obtain, sooner or later, legal protections from equal opportunities legislation. From that has grown the immense state apparatus – all public bodies have to by law  preach the political correct gospel – of enforced “equality” (in reality the granting of privileges to those approved of by the politically correct) which binds us today.

In 1972 a further lance was driven into the side of English liberty with the Heath Government’s abduction of British sovereignty as he happily gave it to what is today the European Union (EU). This has destroyed the ability of electors to hold governments to account because the British mainstream political class overwhelmingly supports British membership of the EU. That institution constantly thrusts on Britain ideas which are wholly at odds with England’s traditions of freedom, for example the judicial abomination which is the European Arrest Warrant, a legal device  which allows any person to be extradited from Britain to another EU state without any meaningful test of the evidence against them.     

Come the 1980s and a more diffuse and slippery weapon to undermine English freedom was introduced by Margaret Thatcher. This was a fanatic ideological commitment to laissez fair economics at home and abroad which lingers to this day. What became known as globalisation destroyed employment in Britain, especially mining and manufacturing, and  provided the excuse for another great flood of immigrants from the third world. The institutionalisation of mass unemployment (the real figure has been in the millions since the late seventies, much of it disguised as long-term sickness, a device instituted by Thatcher when the employment figure soared to over three million and cynically continued by  all governments since).  The mass unemployment made people dependent on the state at a level never previously seen and the increase in immigration both increased the competition for work and drove the social fracture already made in the priceless homogeneity of the country massively wider.  

The final nail (to date) in the coffin of English freedom is the devolution settlement which granted power to parliaments or assemblies in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales whilst denying England any such privilege. The English were left with no political voice , while watching vast amounts of English taxpayers’ money being shipped to the Celtic Fringe (around £16 billion pa at present) and MPs from non-English seats making laws for England which would not apply in their own constituencies.   

The upshot of sixty years of gradual squeezing of English freedoms is that an English man or woman may no longer say what they thing about race, immigration, sexual equality or sexual predilection without at least risking the loss of their employment and quite possibly being subject to criminal prosecution; employers live in fear of any member of an ethnic minority, woman or gay suing for sexual or racial discrimination; political correctness is the watchword of anyone in public life and history has become next to dead as a meaningful subject in  English schools because all the parts which would embarrass immigrants or make them feel excluded from “our island story” have been excised from the curriculum.  

That is the sad state of the once free-born Englishman. Is he gone for ever? Not yet, but in  another generation or two  he probably will be lost forever. We can revive the mentality provided we act now. The first necessity is to leave the EU and throw off any other treaty restraints which undermine democratic control. After that the stripping out of political correctness from our legal system and institutions can begin; mass immigration be ended; a judicious protection for vital industries introduced and the pandering to minorities cease. That will provide the soil in which English freedom can revive.

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5 Responses to The Free-Born Englishman

  1. Englander says:

    I think the idea of the ‘free-born Englishman’ has always been propaganda and myth created by the English elites to keep the masses in control. We are one of the last countries with an unelected head of state, unelected upper chamber and only an indirectly elected lower chamber. We only had universal manhood suffrage in 1918 – long after other countries. The reason why we avoided extremism is because we have never experienced true democracy. There hasn’t even been an English monarch since 1066.

    • Freedom is far more than political structure. Many a country has the form of a representative democracy without much freedom. Conversely, a society may be monarchical in its polity but by its customs and laws enjoy much freedom. That was England before universal adult suffrage.

  2. Pingback: Gerrys Blog » Blog Archive » Chris Martin | Dezeen » Blog Archive » Crown by Chris Martin for Massproductions

  3. efgd says:

    I think it is time for an English parliament giving total and absolute government to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The budget would be cut and there would be a fairer distribution of budgetary finances all round. Each country would have to afford its own constitution and state affairs.

    The following link looks at this – though I got the main thrust of the arguement, which was against an English parliament and why, like most of the other commentators I disagreed with it.

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