Britain’s Chancellor (and PM-in-waiting) Gordon Brown seems to have succumbed to a serious degenerative condition (dementia blunkettia?), symptoms of which include giving speeches promoting Great British patriotism and commending Americans for flying flags in their gardens. I’m all for cheering on England and football and cricket, but the Britishness stuff is taking things a bit far chaps. Anyway, as it happens, I read a few lines from Tocqueville last night on the difference between American and English patriotism. The English don’t exactly come off well in de T’s text, but if forced to choose between complacent Podsnappery and flying the union jack in front of my house (something only done by loonies and fascists), I’d have to plump for Podsnap:
If I say to an American that the country he lives in is a fine one, “Ay,” he replies, “there is not its equal in the world.” If I applaud the freedom that its inhabitants enjoy, he answers: “Freedom is a fine thing, but few nations are worthy to enjoy it.” If I remark on the purity of morals that distinguishes the United States, “I can imagine,” says he, “that a stranger, who has witnessed the corruption that prevails in other nations, would be astonished at the difference.” At length I leave him to the contemplation of himself; but he returns to the charge and does not desist till he has got me to repeat all I had just been saying. It is impossible to conceive a more troublesome or more garrulous patriotism; it wearies even those who are disposed to respect it.
Such is not the case with the English. An Englishman calmly enjoys the real or imaginary advantages which, in his opinion, his country possesses. If he grants nothing to other nations, neither does he solicit anything for his own. The censure of foreigners does not affect him, and their praise hardly flatters him; his position with regard to the rest of the world is one of disdainful and ignorant reserve: his pride requires no sustenance; it nourishes itself. It is remarkable that two nations so recently sprung from the same stock should be so opposite to each other in their manner of feeling and conversing.