England previewed our “liberal democracy,” practiced “benign colonialism,” and was in many ways a “jumping off” point to our “exceptional nation.” “It was a bulwark against the dictatorships of the Continent, from Napoleon, to the Kaiser, to Hitler.” Let me point out some of what is wrong with such hyperbole. The English bear many of the same “black marks” that Lowry ascribes to continental countries, and as the descendant of Irish peasants, Lowry might recall at least some of England’s many misdeeds. English rule abroad was not always “benign colonialism,” and in the Boer War, which the Salisbury government launched against the Afrikaners to grab their land, the English practiced naked aggression and engaged in atrocities against their fellow Northern European Protestants, as opposed to such customary English victims as Highland Scots, Irish Catholics, and the inhabitants of Chinese coastal cities.
It is also ridiculous to see all English entanglement in wars against continental powers as driven by a democratic struggle against dictatorship. As an insular empire protected by a large navy, the English had an interest in keeping hegemonic powers from emerging on the continent and pursued this interest with whatever allies they could find.
Fair enough - although I think England's global legacy holds up relatively well against, say, Russia's or Germany's. What's striking to me is that Lowry picked 1648 as a starting point. Ancient Greece? Rome? Egypt? And what of China and India and their endlessly silted inheritance of history, culture and philosophy? Now think of the last 350 years compared with humankind's hundreds of thousands of years on the planet. It is not that the US doesn't have a huge amount to be proud of; as someone hoping to become a citizen, I believe that deeply in my bones and want to be a full part of it. But it's the insularity, ahistoricism, and magical thinking of what should be called jingoism, not patriotism, that pierces the consciousness.
Where is the humility? Where is the dissatisfaction, even disgust at times, that leads to improvement?
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