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Wednesday, 02 April 2014


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Good work, Duff.

(i) England didn't just happen: it's sustained non-fleeting existence was brought about by William the Bastard.

(ii) "In England that came to an abrupt halt in 1215 when the barons insisted that 'God's writ' did not extend to their property!" Oh no they didn't. Read the bloody thing. What's stunning about it is how wide its claims to rights goes - far, far beyond the barons themselves.

(iii) "We can do what we have always done for the past thousand years, stay friendly - or not - with our neighbours but avoid entanglements except in dire circumstances." That is so absurdly inaccurate that it's on a par with the rubbish that Americans tell each other about their own history.

(i) You might as well go back to the Vikings and say they began it all! It *did* just happen, in the sense that there was no master plan, it was all "events, dear boy, events"

(ii) "far, far beyond the barons themselves." No, only as far as "Freemen", it didn't apply to anyone else!

(iii) "That is so absurdly inaccurate that it's on a par with the rubbish that Americans tell each other about their own history." In a single sentence, bearing in mind this is a blog not a bloody volume of history, perhaps you could sum up the *general approach* of English policy *and actions* since the loss of Calais. Would you, for example, put it on a par with Franco/German relations, or Franco/Spanish relations, or Austro/Russian relations, etc? Or would you agree with me that by and large we tried to keep out of it and only interfered *directly* in special circumstances.

The Conquest was a master plan; the new master race cleared out all the Anglo-Saxon and Danish aristocracy, and fixed their new social technology of Cavalry, Castle, Law and Churchmen in place. So it is much more of a manufactured nation than most, contrary to your sentimental account.

What the devil to you mean 'Only as far as 'Freemen"'? That's a large chunk of the population, far, far bigger than the barons alone.

Yeah, after a century or two behaving towards the French peasantry with utter barbarity, which indubitably falls within the last thousand years, they finally accepted defeat. Good. But that's not what you said.

William the Conqueror: "The descendant of Viking raiders"!(Wiki)

And yes, the French aristocracy drove out many of the British *aristocracy* but:
"Modern scholars estimate that the initial migration of Normans into England after the Conquest was no more than 20,000 people including the army, a number that was roughly 1.3% of England’s population (Berndt 1965, quoted in Kibbee 1991)."

So, only about 1.3% of the population was French and within a hundred years the English language was driving out French! I wouldn't call that much of a "master plan"!

"In parts of 11th century England freemen made up only 10% of the peasant population".
Most of the other 90% were peasants and serfs and your, er, high-minded noblemen didn't bother to include them in their deal with the king!

As for 'British' activities by what *you* maintain were *French* noblemen in pursuit of what they thought was *their* land in France, you are right, of course. But if Harold had won the battle of Hastings would he and his Anglo-Saxon nobles have invaded France?

Look, I didn't say that we *never* interfered in Europe but usually it was at the behest of foreign Kings who happened to occupy our throne. I repeat, by and large, because we are an island, we have tried to keep out of Europe, only intervening when national interests were at stake. That stands in direct contrast to virtually every large nation in Europe whose entire history is one of non-stop biffing and bashing their neighbours. I should add, that our diffidence was in no way a result of our greater wisdom, only the accident of having a sea between us and them!

The aristocracy hadn't been British: that lot had been displaced several hundred years before. They were Germans ("Anglo-Saxons" if you prefer) and Danes. They all got the boot. 1.3% of Normans is plenty if they take all the top jobs.

What the bugger have parts of England in the 11th century got to do with a charter signed in the 13th century for all of England? And you are presumably missing the point that because the charter applied to freemen, not barons, it applied to every adult male as serfdom ended.

And not once do you mention the biff-bashing of Scots, Welsh and Irish. Your account is infused with sentimental tosh.

Calm down, dearieme, it's only history!

Let us agree on the term 'Anglo-Saxon', whatever, they spoke English, and within a hundred years of the Norman invasion English was back in and French was on the way out. So yes, the Normans had an influence but it soon passed. I repeat, the fact that they kept trying to either hang on to, or grab more of, France was merely 'the continuation of French internal politics by other means'!

"And you are presumably missing the point that because the charter applied to freemen, not barons, it applied to every adult male as serfdom ended."
No I am not! All I am saying is that the motive behind Magna Carta was self-interest on the part of the barons. Freemen were included but as they generally worked for the barons and helped run their estates, again, it was in their self-interest to keep them free from royal interference. As Magna Carta developed it became a perfect example of the law of unintended consequences - which is exactly the way I described English political/social evolution.

As for our immediate neighbours, I suggest there were three factors at work.
1: We could get at them - the Irish with a little more difficulty than the Scots and Welsh.
2: They could get at us - and frequently did, cattle stealing being a Scottish sport long before they invented the caber!
3: We outnumbered them!

The English state took shape during the reign of Alfred the Great. By the time he died he styled himself King of the English. I think we can assume he knew what he meant!

I don't know where you got 20,000 Normans from. I understand that there were only 10,000 including a lot of Bretons. Many of these men were not nobility, just men-at-arms.

I don't know if you watched the TV programme Plantagenet? They ruled England for 300 years - and were from Aquitaine - what we now call France. As for the bits round the edges - the next king was Henry Tudor. Wasn't he Welsh? And, of course, after Elizabeth the 1st came a Scottish king. The Irish missed out again!

"they spoke English": bah! Half of them spoke a West Germanic dialect, the remainder Danish. In spite of the nationalistic nonsense of referring to their speech as "Old English" if you applied the habits of linguistics as applied to the rest of the world, you wouldn't recognise anything as "English" until the infusion of French and Latin after the Conquest.

Alfred could call himself by whatever grandiose title what he liked: all he ruled was Wessex.

"All I am saying is that the motive behind Magna Carta was self-interest on the part of the barons." Well of course it was. But that's not what you said, is it?

Our history is fascinating, but if you reduce it to the sort of inaccurate, sentimental "hurray for us" rubbish that Americans so enjoy, you are doing it a disservice.

I agree 100% with you:

UK is a different case from the Continent (just to mention one difference: non stop democracy in the past century)

Until now, all the values we most respect were born from and defended by the nation state.

The EU pretends to be something completely new in Human History, following the nation state, and that is quite a high order. Probably, it comes mainly from a big need to forget the last century (2 world wars, plus one cold). wonders if, in many cases and even from a liberal (in the good, old, robust sense) point of view, for many countries it is not better the Union when compared to what we can imagine will happen to them were they on their own.

Some days ago, was here Mr. van Middelaar. He is the one who writes Mr. van Rompuy speeches (wait, keep reading, please!) and he said the UE is the purgatory between the promised heaven at the start of the process and the hell of the continuous european wars.

In case you want to read from him,

DM, you are picking nits again! I know perfectly well that the language of 11th and 12th century England was hugely different from what we call 'English' today and I cannot spend time writing copious footnotes explaining every term I use as though this was an academic paper. It was you who maintained that the Normans came with a "masterplan" and, in effect, 'manufactured England and the English'. I do not agree with that hypothesis for some of the reasons I have already stated. Like the Romans and like the Vikings, they came, they saw, and they conquered - and they left their mark. All of this, and more 'ingredients' that followed later, went into the great English stew-pot and the result (so far) is what we are today.

As to your accusation of sentimentality on my part what I wrote in reference to Magna Carta was the very opposite of sentimental:

"In England that came to an abrupt halt in 1215 when the barons insisted that 'God's writ' did not extend to their property!"

That hardly brings a tear to the eye, does it?

You accuse me of reducing English history to a "hurray for us" and yet I made it quite clear that the "evolution" (an accidental process!) of English history was very much a matter of chance and circumstance:

"No single man, no great philosopher, no high chamber of academics, no mighty emperor forged this country, although all of those worthies at some time and in some way added their ten penny's worth. Like Topsy, it just "growed and growed". As and when things needed to change - it changed, sometimes for the worst which required running repairs later, but as it stands today it is the result of what you might call natural evolution."

I can't see any "hurrahs" in that! It seems to me, DM, that you are in danger of sounding like a latter-day Jaques from 'As You Like It', full of melancholy forebodings and determined always to look on the worst side of life. I do a fair bit of that myself but I try to balance it with an occasional smile of gratitude - and one thing I am deeply, deeply grateful for is the accident that I was born in England!

Ortega, I will come back to you after I have read Mr. van Middelaar's article.

More complete information here.

Ortega, thanks for the article and also for the reviews of his book. I suspect that there is a great deal of wisdom in his writings given his background but there is one major impediment for me.

Mr. van Middelaar wishes the EU to succeed - I do not! For me, no amount of negotiations and compromises and subtle fine-tuning will allay my deep and abiding detestation of the entire enterprise which I believe to be a colossal error. I'm sure you will not misunderstand and assume from these words that I detest European *nations* because I most certainly do not, just the opposite, I cannot think of a single one that I have visited - eight of them (including Spain several times) - that I have not enjoyed and warmed to. But that does not mean that I wish to join a *political* union with any of them.

Mr. van Middelaar may project what seem like very sensible ideas for the development of the EU but always and forever he will be foiled by the power-mad politicians who cannot wait "to strut their hour upon the stage". I go further in the opposite direction from him by calling for the absolute return to the self-governing nation-state. From that foundation we can, of course, make bi-lateral agreements as and when it suits us and them. But no more!

The Spanish publisher of the book has been so kind as to upload the foreword of the book (just a dozen pages). It is from there that I point out some ideas that I think related to your argument.

After Mr. Middelaar, the EU will never be what the founders hoped for: a single State. That will be 'heaven', and we are in purgatory. Not for some time, but for as long we can see, because this seems to be the nature of the EU. A place where decisions are taken by politicians fighting at the same time national and foreign problems. According to him, this view explains the facts better than any federal teleology.

The 'founding fathers' idea was to establish a set of common rules, but that strategy proves to be faulty every time the members must face any problem together. Rules will be on continuous change. That has also been the case in the recent 'euro crisis'.

Europeans do not feel Brussels politicians as 'ours' precisely because European politics are not made mainly there but in every country and among the governments of the countries who make up the EU.

The EU means the creation of a 'market', which is not the same as a free trade zone. Those countries that most value the 'market' idea (UK, Netherlands and the Nordics) fail to see the difference. Although aimed at economic interests, the creation of a market needs to take deeply political decisions. I.e., if a British family goes to France to open a b&b, would they have right to medical services and the children to schooling? Who pays for the falling banks?

One last point. The only country which does not have a written constitution is the one that more often appeals to the 'letter' of the Treaty, while many of the others, with written constitutions, say that what counts is the 'spirit'. And this 'spirit' is: we advance together. When British politicians complain that their partners change the rules they don't see that the rules will be always changing.

Excuse the legth. I do not know enough to make it shorter. I hope it will be useful to you. And pardon my english!

You have nothing to apologise for, Ortega, either in your content or your English.

Your point that within the EU the word 'market' does not mean a 'free-trade zone' is very pertinent and, I think, very true. In English the two terms are almost interchangeable.

And the same confusion exists where you remind us that "The only country which does not have a written constitution is the one that more often appeals to the 'letter' of the Treaty, while many of the others, with written constitutions, say that what counts is the 'spirit'."

It is precisely the fact that to us it is a treaty, or a contract, or a deal, which makes us so legalistic. The fact that we fail to appreciate the 'spirit' is precisely because we do not possess it! There are some members of our 'ruling class' who do but there are just as many who wish us to remain inside merely to influence this potentially 'dangerous' bloc more to the way we want it. There are others, a minority, alas, but which includes me, who believe our influence is minimal and we shouldn't waste our time and that it is quite sufficient to sign up trade deals on mutually acceptable terms. The Europeans sell very much more to us than we do to them so I doubt if there will be many problems.

There is one other factor which I believe exists (you may be able to confirm or deny it from your personal experience) and that is an enormously large and deep *dislike* of the English, certainly throughout the political class and perhaps widespread amongst ordinary people. I keep telling my friends that in the same way that the Scots and Welsh and Irish don't like us, nor do the French, Germans, Italians, Spanish and so on. I believe this anti-English attitude is much weaker in the Nordic lands and in eastern Europe, but the main powers inside the EU simply do not like the us and will never lift a finger to help us and will, perhaps, enjoy a small smile when they can do us a bad turn.

I should add that I do not blame them, that's the way of the world, but I do think it is a folly to think they love us!

I think I cannot agree with you there.

Of course, I cannot talk about the rest of Europe, even less about the UK, but I've never felt or heared of any grunge against English people here in Spain. I mean, people do not love you, to use your words, but neither do they love french, italians or danish. We have here a particular kind of tolerance (the wrong kind, in my opinion) which good side is a 'live and let live' attitude.

Or am I wrong and your experience as a tourist, or that one coming from any of your fellow ex-pats living here, proves to you something different?

Another thing would be the different history and political principles that differentiate your part of Europe from the Continent. This probably has something to do with the present shortage of understanding. About that point,and from my personal point of view, I do not care to tell you that my feelings are closer to envy than to hate.

Any way, I hope you keep coming from time to time, with or without the need of a passport.

Open Season over on Diplomad's site - you especially Ortega, DM (all assorted Aussies of course) & whoever of ya'll Jocks [straps] I've forgot ... here:

Sounds kinda lonesome if ya'll know what I mean ...

Tell 'im if ya'll cain't think of nothin' else ...

Vote UKIP!

Ortega, no, I have never experienced anything other than pleasant courtesy during my various visits to Spain. In fact, I have mentioned before my admiration for Spanish reserve and politeness which reminds me of the reputation the English *used to have* but which has long since disappeared. In fact, it is a tribute to Spanish courtesy that they put up with invasion of the English 'aliens' each summer!

My main point is that I *suspect* that the anti-English feeling is widespread amongst the west European political class. They detest (I think) what they see, at best, as English 'superiority' and, at worst, arrogance. In much the same way, we, too, have a section of the populace that delights in deriding America for much the same reasons. It's the way of the world - but a sensible political leader should face the reality and act accordingly. We, the English, are considered to be a damned nuisance in Brussels and they will take any opportunity to even the score.

Still, this year Spain's gain is Greece's loss because this grumpy old man is off to Rhodes in May for two weeks. As if the Greeks didn't have enough problems!

JK, too late, too late, he cried, I had already left a comment before yours arrived here.

Retsina instead of Rioja? Mmmmmm...


About nationalism, I happen to live in Barcelona, so don't get me started.

Your point concerning Barcelona and Catalonia, Ortega, reminds me that these 'mini' nationalisms (no insult intended, I refer simply to the numbers) seem to be on the rise and perhaps it is due to the increasing weakness of national governments under the 'umbrella' of EU government.

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