It is difficult for one who does not live here to fully appreciate how deeply conservative are the instincts of the English. Indeed, one of their national peculiarities is that they are perhaps the most proficient exporters of revolutionary mayhem—and always have been—and yet such noxious ideas and their effects rarely—if ever—gain a foothold in England in the way they do abroad.
It is possible that these English characteristics of instinctive conservatism and tacit revolutionary enthusiasm can be traced all the way back to the medieval period. At the height of the High Middle Ages, John Wycliff launched in England his proto-Reformation, the Lollard movement. The divisions and dissentions entailed by his ideas, however, were felt on the Continent as they laid the blueprint for the Hussites, who in turn broke up the unity of religion throughout Bohemia. In England, however, Lollardy was quickly suppressed, with the coronation oath of the monarch thenceforth incorporating a promise to protect the kingdom’s religion from such heresies in the future. Such an upheaval could not be stomached; that was simply not how the English did revolutions.
William of Ockham, with his nominalism, anti-papalism, and prideful voluntarism, made few ripples here. Abroad, however, his views made a pope rage, delighted an emperor, and seeped into the German academy. Eventually, his thought became entangled with other currents then popular at the famous University of Erfurt. There, such ideas made the already cantankerous monk and professor of theology, Fr. Martin Luther, increasingly disturbed, until he not so much discovered a solution as willed one. As the pandemonium escalated, the English across the Channel continued their merry lives unalarmed.
The instinctive conservatism of the English, which dictates that even revolutionaries look like conservatives, has always been chief among their traits. In the 16th century, the English were unable to accept Protestantism (or rather, have it forced upon them, if William Cobbett is to be believed) unless it was packaged as the same sort of thing as Catholicism. The English were happy to accept Luther’s doctrine, whose content they did not know, as long as they still had their bishops, priests, high liturgy, sacraments, choral tradition, and all sorts of ecclesiological ‘branch theories,’ so that they could pretend that nothing of substance had happened to their Church. In short, England accepted the Protestant revolution on the condition that it was neither very Protestant nor very revolutionary.
There were of course those who wanted a real religious revolution: the Puritans, eventually led by Oliver Cromwell. They wanted no bishops, no priesthood, no sacraments, and no sacral monarchy—and they won the war with which they cursed their country in pursuit of destroying of such things. And yet (because it is England we are talking about), within a generation the established Church enjoyed remarkable stability, and the son of that holy king whose neck they had lately chopped, was sitting on the throne.
Of course, despite having got their throne back, the Stuarts did not last long. England soon had its political revolution in 1688. And yet, Edmund Burke opened his famous work, the Reflections, by making the argument that the so-called ‘Glorious Revolution’ was really an unremarkable continuation. Given that Mary—daughter of the Stuart king, James II—took her father’s throne with William of Orange, Burke suggested that the hereditary principle had been upheld. Only in England would it be necessary, when toppling a royal dynasty in an act of revolution, to also argue that the hereditary principle had been championed and the royal line conserved.
We English brought forth the Baconian mechanistic worldview, perfected by Newton’s universe, and yet the transposition of such instrumentalism, rationalism, and materialism into a political movement was left to the revolutionaries of France. With John Locke, we issued the ideals of a religiously neutral polity and the notion of a new national contract based on ‘self-evident’ moral truths, but it was left to the American colonists to realise such a vision in their revolution.
Bentham and Mill swept the rug out from under the feet of received moral norms, concocting a radical liberalism, but these ideas took off elsewhere—the staunchly religious ‘conservative’ liberalism of Gladstone alone was accepted within the establishment here. Progressivist ideas were all the craze among Victorian romantic darlings, and yet such enthusiasts as William Morris and members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood simultaneously affirmed the moral framework and aesthetics of a vanishing Christendom.
In England, Marx and Engels developed their materialist dialectic, writing tracts that announced imminent liberation for the oppressed proletariat, before they filled their crystal saucers with Moët and rode out to hounds. Their ideas went abroad, inspiring revolutions galore and, eventually, the mass murder of the proletariat—but not behind our white cliffs. No, here the labourite and the socialist were different creatures altogether. A common trait among our socialists, in fact, was a suspicion of communists, whom they saw as corruptors of their cause. Often deeply concerned with local loyalties, cultural heritage, and always intensely patriotic: whether George Orwell or the 1st Marquess of Ripon, here in England one could be both respectable and a socialist.
England eventually underwent the democratisation of its political settlement, adopting the egalitarian delusion and embracing universal suffrage, but it did so without guillotines. England, practically speaking, experienced the same political and social transformation as every other nation. It did so, however, not with revolts, riots, uprisings, and bloodshed, but over afternoon tea when nobody was looking.
The paradox of the English is that, at bottom, we are instinctively conservative and tacitly revolutionary, and this spirit runs all the way through England. Other countries are pleased to erect guillotines and set up gulags, but we English advance our revolutions with a little more decorum. Hence, we are content to have Lords Spirituals in government, an established Church, and a cross rather than a tricolor on our flag, as long as we can treat our national Church as a joke and fully expect its clergy to do the same. We are happy to have royals if they reign but do not rule; we will have aristocrats as long as they cannot pass on their titles, a parliament as long as it functions as a mischievous oligarchy. We wear tweed jackets and brogued Oxfords while we pave over our countryside and reduce the rural workforce to a percent of the population. We boast of our Anglo-Saxon liberties whilst living under the world’s most extensive surveillance network outside China.
This instinctive conservatism of the English is very dangerous, for by it we believe ourselves to possess a tradition which, like a Georgian terrace, turns out to be all façade. We think we enjoy an organic constitution that in fact has long existed largely as a phantom. We never destroyed our monarchy, beheaded our landed nobility, discarded our representative parliamentarianism, repudiated our religious establishment, or replaced our legal tradition with a civil code—but what we did was perhaps more pernicious. Slowly, over the centuries, we took that great civilisational treasury, our common English inheritance, and reduced it to mere form whose content is now much the same garbage as is found everywhere else.
Only the people of this sceptred isle would need a ‘Conservative’ government to redefine marriage, extending the marital state to homosexuals and thereby breaking its essential link with reproduction and the nation’s future. Among the English, such a radically revolutionary act could only be accepted if it were simultaneously packaged as conservative. As Prime Minister David Cameron put it prior to bringing in the legislation, “I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative; I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.” Only in England could such a remark make any sense.
We English adopt everything that is procured by revolutions, but we do so without the revolutions. We have thrust ourselves into the nihilistic materialism of modernity and placed ourselves under the same autocratic political management preferred by liberal busybodies as is found throughout the Continent, but we did all this whilst sleeping rather than awake like everyone else.
It does not surprise me that jabs, masks, ongoing lockdowns, boosters, vaccine passports, prohibitions on seeing family and friends, and so forth are all mandated on the Continent. Modern Europe is a monster created by the French Revolution, fostered by Napoléon, and mutilated again and again by that Revolution’s demonic spawn, liberalism, fascism, and communism. The EU testifies to its fidelity to this hellish legacy by its refusal to recognise Christianity as the unifying principle of Europe. The people of the Continent are well-used to the choking of society by a State gone awry. Now, when the State says jump, the people just ask how high?
For this pathetic attitude I do not look down on our Continental friends, for what we English do is much worse. In England, we mandate all the same things, and we do so—in the recent words of Prime Minister Boris Johnson—to “protect our freedoms.” This is how we do revolutions here. On the Continent, as you chain someone, you at least give him the respect of telling him that he is now a serf. When you chain an Englishman, you must tell him that the chains will make him free.
Many have commented to me that nowhere in the world can you find such liberty as in England. Certainly, ‘freedom’ is now a purely ironic word in Austria and Germany. In Italy, one must be ‘fully vaccinated’ to be permitted to work from home. Beyond Europe things are no better. In Australia there are mass detention camps for the unclean (governments building camps for members of their own citizenry; that sounds familiar…). As I know from bitter experience, the freedom-loving U.S.A. is now largely a sanitary dictatorship.
In England, however, we continue to see family and friends, jabs haven’t been mandated unless you work for “our NHS,” and we haven’t gone into another lockdown (yet). Nonetheless, the threat of further lockdowns continues to haunt the country—but we are assured that, in any case, such measures would only be to “protect our freedoms.” And whilst we do not have vaccine passports, we now have an NHS vaccine-status app, which one is expected to have on one’s mobile phone and which must be presented for admission to large gatherings.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) has told us that the world is currently undergoing a ‘global revolution,’ in which the whole of humanity will shift into a new kind of digital universal society, with a digital economy, catering for digital personalities. The virus has been seen by the vampires of the WEF as just the thing for accelerating this revolution. As WEF Chairman Klaus Schwab put it, “The pandemic represents a rare but narrow window of opportunity to reflect, reimagine, and reset our world.”
I do not like revolutions in any case, but I especially dislike the proposals of the Davos Jacobins. There is, in essence, a moral war taking place between those who see the true realisation of the human being to be that of the actuation of personhood, and those who see it to be that of reduction to a number. It is clear that, in England, we are undergoing this same revolution as everyone else, but we’re doing it more slowly and more quietly—as is our custom. You cannot throw an Englishman into a cage; rather, you must have him sleepwalk into it. The English, if they want to avoid the crippling situations in which other nations have already found themselves, and the dystopia that otherwise awaits us all, need to wake up now.
Sebastian Morello is a lecturer, public speaker, and columnist. Trained by Sir Roger Scruton, he has published books on philosophy, history, and education. He lives in Bedfordshire, England, with his wife and children.