England and the rejection of violence

Why was England so different from other countries in its political, social and economic  development?  How was it that only in England did parliamentary government evolve and the one and only bootstrapped industrial revolution arise?  Perhaps much of the  answer  lies  in the fact that the English, in comparison with any other large nation, have long been wonderfully  adept  in dealing  with the central  problem  of human  life –  how  to live together  peaceably.  A  Canadian  academic, Elliott Leyton,  has  made  a study of English  murder through  the centuries in his book Men of Blood. Leyton finds that the rate of English  (as  opposed  to  British murder) is phenomenally  low  for a country of her size  and industrial development,  both now  and for centuries past.  This strikes Elliott  as  so singular that he said  in  a recent interview “The English  have  an antipathy to murder  which borders  on eccentricity; it is one  of the great  cultural oddities of the modern age.” (Sunday Telegraph  4 12 1994).

 This  restraint  extends to warfare and social disorder. That is not to say England has been  without violence,  but rather that  at any point in her history the level of  violence  was  substantially lower than in any other comparable society. For example,  the  English Civil War  in the  17th  Century  was, apart from the odd inhumane blemish,  startlingly free of the gross  violence common on the continent of  the  time  during the 30 Years War,  where the sacking and pillage of towns and cities  was  the norm. A particularly notable thing,  for civil wars are notorious for their brutality. 

The  way  that  England  responded  to the  Reformation  is instructive. She  did not suffer the savage  wars of religion which  traumatised  the  continent  and  brought  human calamities  such as the  St Bartholomew Day’s  Massacre  in  France  in 1572,  when thousands of French  protestants  were   massacred at the instigation of the French king. 

It  was not that the English did not care deeply about  their  religion,  rather that they have been, when left to their own  devices,  generally loth to fight their  fellow  countrymen  over  anything.  English  civil  wars  have  always  been essentially  political affairs  in which the ordinary  person has little say, for the struggles  were either dynastic or  a clash  between Parliamentary  ambition and  the  monarch.  Even the  persecution of  the  Lollards  in  the late fourteenth  and fifteenth centuries and the persecution  of Protestants  under Mary I had a highly political aspect.  The former  was a vastly disturbing challenge to the  established social  order  with men being told,  in so many  words,  that   they could find their own way to salvation and the latter  an  attempt  to  re-establish not merely  the Catholic  order  in  England,  which had been overturned since the time  of  Henry  VIII’s  breach  with Rome,  but also what amounted to  a  new  royal dynasty with Mary’s marriage to Philip of Spain.

Even the prohibitions on Catholics and non-Conformists  after the  Reformation had a fundamental political basis  to  them, namely, they were predicated on the question of whether  such people be trusted to give their first loyalty to the crown.

The treatment of foreigners

Compared with  other  peoples,  the  English  have been noticeably restrained  in their treatment of other  peoples residing  within their country.  A few massacres of  Jews  occurred before their expulsion from England in 1290,  but from that  time  there has not  been  great slaughter of a minority living within  England. Since  1290  there  have been occasional outbreaks of anti-foreigner violence. During the Peasants’  Revolt  London-based Flemings  were  murdered.  In later times an anti-Spanish “No Popery”  mob was  frequently  got up in London and he influx of Jews and Huguenots in  the 17th and 18th centuries caused riots,  one so serious in 1753 that  it  caused the repeal of a law naturalising  Jews  and Huguenots.  But  these riots did not result in great  numbers of dead, let alone in systematic genocidal  persecutions of any  particular group.  Most notably,  the English  fonts  of authority,  whether  the crown, church  or  parliament,  have   not incited let alone ordered the persecution of a particular  racial or ethnic group since the expulsion of the Jews.  They  have persecuted Christian groups, but that was a matter  of  religion  not  ethnicity, the  Christians  persecuted  being  English  in the main. The only discrimination  the  English  elite  have formally sanctioned against an ethnic group for  more than half a millennium was the inclusion of Jews within  the  general  prohibitions passed in the half century  or  so after  the Restoration in 1660 which banned  those  who  were  not members  of the Church of England from holding  a  crown  appointment such as an MP or election to public offices  such  as that of MP.

This comparative  lack of  violence  can plausibly be seen as the ground for England’s maintenance and unique development of a Parliament and  the development of the rule of law a  consequence  of England’s political  arrangements. From that sprung the gradual erosion of monarchical authority. Put those three developments together and there is arguably the ground upon which first a great commercial edeifice was built followed by industrialisation.  

But even if that is the immediate cause of English development it does not explain why  the English become  exceptionally peaceable within their own territory.  One could argue that being an island helped, not least because England has not been subject to a forced foreign conquest  from the continent  for the better part of a millennium. However,  England has suffered a good deal of inter-nation warfare within the British Isles, especially with Scotland. She has also fought many a campaign around the world, both as England and later under the banner of Great Britain. It is not that the English are or have been naturally timid.  

Perhaps the fundamental answer to English peaceableness  lies in the fact  that the English enjoyed a level  of  racial and cultural  homogeneity  from very early on.  Long  before  the English kingdom existed Bede wrote of the English as a single people.  The  English have never killed one another  in  any great  quantity  simply  because one part of  the population  thought  another  part was in some way not English.  That is the best possible starting point  for  the establishment of a coherent community. 

The  favoured  liberal  view of England is  that  it  is  the mongrel nation par excellence.  In fact,  this is the  exact opposite of the truth.  The general facts of immigration into England are these. The English and England were of  course created  by  the  immigration of Germanic  peoples.  The British  monk, Gildas,  writing  in  the  sixth  century, attributed  the  bulk  of  the  Saxon  settlement  to the practice  of  British leaders employing  Saxons  to protect   the Britons from Barbarian attacks after Rome withdrew around   410  A.D.  The English monk Bede (who was born in  A.D.  673)   attributed  the origins of the English to the Angles,  Saxons   and  Jutes who came to England in the century  following  the   withdrawal  of  the  Romans at the  request of  British  war leaders.

Archaeological  evidence suggests that  substantial  Germanic settlement in England had a longer history and  dated  from  the  Roman  centuries, perhaps from as early  as  the  third  century.  What is certain is that in her formative  centuries  following  the  exit  of  Rome, the  various invaders  and  settlers  were drawn from peoples with much in  common.

They  were  the  same  physical type, there  was  a  considerable similarity of general culture, their languages  flowed from a common linguistic well. When the Norsemen came they too brought a Teutonic  mentality and origin. Even the Normans were Vikings at one remove who, if  frenchified,  were not  physically  different  from  the English  nor  one imagines utterly without  vestiges  of  the  Norse mentality.  Moreover, the number of Normans who settled  in England immediately after the Conquest was small, perhaps as few as 5000.

After  the Conquest,  the only significant  immigration  into England for many centuries were the Jews.  They were expelled  from England in 1290. There was then no really large  scale  and  sudden immigration from outside the British Isles  until  the flight of the Huguenots after the revocation of the Edict  of Nantes (which granted limited toleration to the  Huguenots within France) in 1684 by Louis X1V.

There was other immigration in the period 1066-1650, but it was  small and highly selective. Craftsmen of  talent  were  encouraged particularly in the Tudor period. Italian families  with  trading and banking expertise (such as it was in  those days) appeared  after the expulsion of  the  Jews.  Foreign  merchants  were  permitted,  but for much of  the  period  on sufferance  and  subject  to  restrictions  such  as forced  residence within specially designated  foreign quarters. 

The  upshot of all this is that for six centuries  after the Conquest  England was an unusually homogeneous country,  both racially  and culturally. This is reflected in the  absence since  the  Norman Conquest of  any serious regional separatist  movement within the  heart of English  territory. There  has been meaningful resistance  at  the periphery  – Cornwall,  the Welsh marches and the  far north,  but  even that  has  been  effectively dead since the sixteenth century. Englishmen have fought but not to create separate nations.

The unusual restraint of the English  is also shown in their dealings with foreigners  abroad. England did not routinely go in for sack and pillage as was common on the continent and occasional massacres  often occurred in special circumstances,  for example,  Cromwell’s in Ireland happened in   aftermath of a  massacre of Protestants in Ulster in 1641 and the fear that Ireland would be used as a springboard for a Royalist invasion of England.

Nowhere was the restraint seen more emphatically than in the Empire. If  a people were forced to become part of an empire, the British Empire was indubitably the one to join. There were of course outrages committed in the Empire’s name,  but there was no general policy of  cruelty and, for the final century of the Empire’s existence, official British policy towards the colonies was that the interests of the natives should come first.  

If  the  theory that a homogeneous population long occupying a territory without suffering foreign conquest results in greater social restraint  is correct,  this may have  a profound implication.  Assuming that personality is substantially innate, natural selection will act upon the type of personality which is best suited to the environment. It could be that the native English are, on average,  genetically better suited to live in a society in which politics are decided by peaceful transfer of power and business and personal disputes are mediated through the law.   On top of any genetic propensity is added the culture of restraint which has developed from the genetic propensity over the centuries.

Should it be true that the English have a unique genetic national shape and  a culture which uniquely plays to that genetic national shape, then mass immigration will weaken both by introducing both different genetic types an competing cultures.

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1 Response to England and the rejection of violence

  1. efgd says:

    Now I see where you are coming from. I must say this has given me much food for thought. “Should it be true that the English have a unique genetic national shape and a culture which uniquely plays to that genetic national shape, then mass immigration will weaken both by introducing both different genetic types an competing cultures.”

    The few Non-British-nationalised people I have contact with, admittedly just a few, display the same tact and personality tract as the British-nationalised, such as myself. But I do see where you are coming from.

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