English History and the Ideal Curriculum
Would we be in quite the same mess as a nation if most Englishmen had a better understanding of their own history? We certainly wouldn't be quite so ready to hand over our liberties to various anti-terror and public health measures if we knew the thousand-year struggle, of civil wars and Glorious Revolution, through which they were secured. Perhaps we'd be less inclined to self-flagellatingly dismantle our national identity, if we knew of our great achievements for human civilisation. And I'm sure we'd show a little more respect for the religion of our forefathers, Christianity, especially of the Anglican denomination, if we realised the extent to which it has shaped our ethics, worldview and freedom.
In the last few decades History education in Britain has undergone a revolution, designed and implemented by hidden figures like E.H. Dance and Denis Shemilt. It was mistakenly believed that, rather than an imbalance of power, "nationalism" and "militarism" had provoked the World Wars, and in the wake of them a number of elite globalist initiatives were begun to erase the nation-state from existence. We suffer from these initiatives to this day, among them global free trade and European unionism, but one of the most effective was the effort, by Dance, Shemilt and others, to remove national history from the curriculum.
It was replaced with world history, and, in those cases where British history continues to be taught, it is instead a rather Marxian "social history" that is focused upon, ostensibly to inspire historical interest in children, by encouraging them to empathise with the past. I cannot speak for anyone else, but I often found the "social" aspects of my childhood History lessons the most boring. Children are naturally interested in stories, and national history is a national story, or compendium of stories of national figures. The kind of garments a mediaeval peasant wore, while no doubt a valid historical subject for some eccentric professor, will be far less interesting to children.
This quote from "Born Yesterday", a chapter of Peter Hitchens' The Abolition of Britain, recommendable for anyone who wishes to dive deeper into this subject, perfectly summarises the problem. Here Hitchens paraphrases disillusioned History teacher Christopher McGovern,
"McGovern says the modern course is designed to aid empathy between the pupil and the people of the past, and so is quite naturally dominated by social history. But the effect of this is to drive out traditional political history. Current courses typically include 'Mid-Victorian Britain' and 'Elizabethan England' plus 'a problem of the modern world', for example Ireland, the Common Market, Palestine or China. This is half the course, chosen more or less at random. The other half is purely 'skills' and unseen historical evidence. The old exam emphasized essay writing - five essays related to a period of history, with plenty of scope for political history. A 1980 (i.e. before the new ideas had taken hold) Oxford local O level paper offers questions on four periods between 1066 and 1951. Typical questions include 'What were the Constitutions of Clarendon? Why did they lead to conflict between Henry II and Thomas Becket?', or 'Explain how the Scots successfully resisted the English attempts at conquest under Edward I, and won recognition of their independence in 1328', or 'Write an account of the First Civil War, showing why Charles I lost', or 'Describe the importance of either a) price inflation or b) enclosure during the sixteenth century'. These questions would themselves be baffling to most modern school students, who would on the other hand be well-versed in the diseases suffered by Civil War soldiers or the poor diet of nineteenth-century Londoners."
Tellingly, "McGovern says that the advocates of the new history argued that children were bored by the old methods. He points out that the numbers taking history have declined since the reforms, which effectively demolishes that argument".
The same reformers who abolished national history also destroyed the idea that there was any body of established historical knowledge. As Shemilt put it, "A secondary aim ... is to reinforce the idea that history is an enquiry into the evidence, rather than a series of established truths". While this sounds reasonable at first, the way in which these reforms have been enacted have, in practice, raised generations of historians who try to make a name for themselves by hopelessly refuting previously undeniable historical fact. As my friend, university History student Harry J. Fitzpatrick, puts it,
"Revisionism for the sake of revisionism. There is this rush to counter and go over every established theory, even when the theory hasn't even been debunked with any new evidence. Hence all the "revelations", for example, about how the Saxons "didn't" genocide the local Britons, and were just a tiny warrior caste - of course the "revelators" of said theory actually had zero new historical evidence, and thus this "new theory" is literally just as contentious as the established wisdom of large scale population replacement. I do think questioning is important - of course it is. But it must actually be backed up with new evidence, not just gimmicky "the first Britons were black / the English are all Celts" nonsense."
These reforms were ideologically, rather than educationally, driven. As was the abolition of academic selection by merit, and school discipline, years earlier, which devastated our education system for all but the very rich. If children could no longer learn their national history, the "lore of the tribe", at school, then they might learn it from their parents at home - but with the decline of the married family many young Britons are raised communally in after-school clubs (which Hitchens calls "day orphanages", as anyone who had to grow up in one, like me, could tell you). Additionally, the conformist power of mass media, namely television and the internet, has given BBC screenwriters and Twitter mobs the unparalleled ability to shape our national narrative - and it's usually a left-wing, or WWII-centric caricature. Modern artists & architects, meanwhile, try their damnedest to desecrate our historical memory by replacing our unique artistic & architectural tradition with their ugly, rootless globalist designs.
All these factors taken together have utterly obscurated our collective past, and raised a nation of Nowhere Men, with little sense of their place in the world. This is important. Without a detailed and nuanced understanding of our history, we are doomed to repeat mistakes we have already made, and to forget why our nation exists, and why it should exist. All around me I see Americanisation watering down our ancient culture. Forgetfulness is national suicide, especially in an age of globalisation, superstates and mass migration.
Expressing my dismay at this state of affairs, I was recently asked what my ideal History curriculum would look like. Firstly, it should be said that were I Secretary of State for Education, I would likely abolish the National Curriculum altogether - it being one of those conformist forces that have so much reduced individuality among English people. A kind of Night of the Long Knives would also be necessary for our deeply politicised teaching profession, and of course nothing could go ahead without a restoration of academic selection by merit, general discipline and corporal punishment. But if I had the power to broadly encourage History education in a particular direction, it would be towards these topics: a history of English liberty, a more nuanced history of Empire and the Pax Britannica, and the development of English Christianity.
It seems to me our unique association with liberty is the ultimate justification for England's existence, and why it's so criminal that modern Englishmen, ignorant of their forefathers' struggles, so willingly submit themselves to house arrest. Modern Englishmen jeer at those freedom-loving American hicks, comically oblivious to the fact that America derives its culture of liberty directly from our own; that the American Revolution was in essence a repeat of the English Civil War on Columbia's soil, and that the US Bill of Rights was inspired by an earlier, English one. We take it for granted that everything about our crowned republic is made bottom-up, rather than, like most countries of the world, top-down. Our common law is a living, ancient compromise between the State and the people. How wonderful and rare it is that the chief opponents of our government are baked into the constitution as Her Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition. And it is a testament to our ingenuity that through many centuries of nudging and nitpicking we have transformed even a monarchy, once a symbol of power, into a check on it.
I could have had more to say here, about our unanimous verdict jury trials, or our police force of politically neutral, uniformed civilians - but these guarantees of freedom are long since gone. And that's why it's so vital that we teach children the long history of English liberty - from the Saxon kings who swore service to their people, to the Magna Carta, the Civil War, and the Glorious Revolution. The more they know of what they have, the less likely they will be to give it up.
The next topic in my ideal curriculum is what we chose to do with our liberty once we had it. We spread it, along with our many other virtues (such as the rule of law, our legal system, parliamentary democracy, free trade, and social progress), to a quarter of the world, and there, in most cases, it flourishes to this day. Of course this wasn't the primary motivation of our expansion. All nation-states are first and foremost concerned with attaining power and wealth for their citizens. However, the findings of reports such as "The European Origins of Economic Development", "Colonialism and Modern Income - Islands as Natural Experiments", and "Determinants of Primary Schooling in British India", among others, go some way to disproving the myth of the parasitical white man. The first report, for instance, concludes that "any adverse effect of extractive institutions associated with minority European settlement was more than offset by other things the European settlers brought with them, such as human capital and technology", and that "it is striking how much of global development today is associated with the migration and settlement of Europeans during the colonial era (not even considering the development of Europe itself). It is even more striking that this large average income outcome in a non-European world today of over five billion is associated with the migration of only six million European settlers in colonial times". This only takes into account the economic benefits - the price of the aforementioned English freedoms & virtues is incalculable.
Indeed, the more I think about imperialism, the more it seems to me that there really is no better way to improve a hopeless country than for an advanced country to invade and occupy it for a period. It's the best way of spreading good things (and also bad things, unfortunately - in the case of China, or the Third Reich). It worked for the British colonies, and for postwar Japan & Germany. It would have worked for Iraq, had there been a long-term occupation (but that's an argument for another time).
There is a lot of idealistic guff talked about the British Imperial project. Leftists love to compare it to modern standards of self-determination, a value that didn't gain prominence until the days of Woodrow Wilson, and likely wouldn't exist at all if we hadn't first spread our liberal tradition across the globe. The most hysterical of revisionists remember Empire as a kind of Ku Klux Klan World Tour. This is obviously inappropriate. We must judge history by the relative standards of the time, otherwise we'll be denouncing Richard the Lionheart for neglecting to introduce equal opportunities legislation. The Atlantic slave trade was a great crime, but it's unfair to remember Empire this way when the Imperial era - the Pax Britannica - only began after it had been abolished. In Western comfort we quite forget that slavery, not freedom, is the human status quo. What distinguished Britain was not its slave trade, but the fact it voluntarily abolished it. All the preceding great empires we venerate so, such as Rome or Egypt, had never even considered such generosity.
Colonial conflicts are a lot more complex than many modern indigenous rights activists make out. For starters, disease unintentionally brought over from Europe wiped out many of the natives we encountered - as many as 90% in North America. This was a historical inevitability in an increasingly globalised world, not a war crime. Parallels could indeed be made between European smallpox and Chinese covid-19. As "European Origins" describes it, "When Europeans then made contact with these populations—which typically occurred during the initial stages of global European exploration and hence long before anything resembling “European settlements,” European diseases such as smallpox and measles spread quickly through the indigenous population, decimating the indigenous people. For example, when the Pilgrims arrived in New England in 1620, they found the indigenous population already very sparse because European fisherman had occasionally landed along the coast of New England in the previous decades."
In any case, in the wake of such huge population declines it was only natural for European settlers - most of them poor and desperate, seeking a better life - to move in and take up the space. Where the Europeans encountered preexisting sedentary civilisations, such as in Central & South America and Asia, intermingling and a combination, rather than clash, of cultures was far easier. But it's impossible to have expected the sedentary, civilised colonists of North America, Africa and Australia to abandon their culture and standard of living and unite with the Stone Age, often nomadic peoples of those regions (and vice versa). So border wars inevitably broke out. (Interestingly, when some of the Indian peoples of North America began to grow sedentary and "civilised", becoming the so-called "Five Civilised Tribes", miscegenation and fair relations with colonial powers became a great deal easier). Make no mistake; atrocities were committed on both sides - usually by civilian mobs rather than central authority.
In fact many crimes - such as the Amritsar massacre and the Boer War camps - were denounced by British people at the time. The leftist caricature of Imperial Britain as a white supremacist proto-Nazi superstate falls apart when you recall we elected an ethnic minority Prime Minister in Disraeli, that his successor Lord Salisbury provoked scandal for making a (misunderstood, in my view) racially bigoted remark, and that Queen Victoria herself was no friend of prejudice (and in fact helped to guarantee religious toleration in British India). I don't wish to be accused of seeing history through the mythical "rose-tinted glasses". This is an awful and arrogant slur mindlessly pelted at anyone who does not subscribe to a left-wing version of history (while it goes unsaid that left-wingers are all too happy to don these shameful spectacles when it comes to communist and non-Western countries). Ethnic bigotry existed at the time, as it has existed everywhere and everywhen human nations have come into contact with one another. But empirebuilding was an inherently cosmopolitan, multicultural endeavour, based on free trade and free movement. The Empire was its own little world; just as an Englishman could grow up in Oxford, work as a colonial administrator in Cairo, then retire to New Zealand, so could an Indian born in Bombay take his business to Uganda and then to London. It was impossible for such people, of all colours and backgrounds, not to be defined by Empire, and they became the proudest and most loyal British subjects. It was our duty and honour to welcome them to the Motherland in the wake of the Empire's fall.
All great powers commit crimes, but so long as they are the exception and not the rule I think it's wrong to remember them by them. Nations are not individuals - they're vast collectives of disorganised, flawed human beings. The greater the nation, the greater its capacity for failure. Britain was the largest Empire there has ever been, and possibly ever will be on Earth - and we did a damn sight better than the Mongols or the Romans in ensuring the happiness of all our peoples. I think it would be just as wrong to remember the British Empire by Amritsar as it would be to remember the American empire by Guantánamo Bay. To say this does not detract in the least from either of these atrocities, it merely recognises that the world would be in a much worse state if not for British or American influence. Only the most deluded liberal, with no experience of a world outside the West, would dispute this.
Self-determination itself, while an admirable nicety, cannot be an absolute value in this world. Incredibly few nations possess de facto national sovereignty. Continental Europe is utterly dominated by Germany; the Americas by the United States. And the presence of a global hegemon is necessary at all times to ensure global peace. Once Britain performed this function; for the past century it has been assumed (with the exception of the Warsaw Pact) by America. But America, due to its republican beginnings and self-sufficient geography, has been much less inclined to maintain its own empire, leaving room for other contenders; namely, China. I'm glad that for the past two centuries world peace has been maintained by nations with freedom at the heart of their ideology. We should not take this for granted. The rise of China proves beyond any doubt that if free countries are unwilling to police the world, unfree countries are more than happy to step in and do it instead.
Empire is inevitable. England was an insignificant backwater when we first began our Imperial project. We were already existentially threatened by the Catholic powers; as they built mighty empires of their own it really was either do or die.
The fact that I have to argue this at all is really astonishing. The Turks are not ashamed of the Ottomans. The Mongols are not ashamed of Ghengis Khan. These empires were much more brutal than ours; nevertheless they celebrate that they ever achieved such success. It seems to me the mark of a fundamentally unhealthy civilisation that we choose to obsess over our failures rather than our more numerous triumphs. How morose it is that we hate our country in the height of its life, and venerate instead the Second World War, which was - in many ways - its death.
Such a self-flagellating country is doomed to self-destruction. We cannot let ahistorical, utopian dogma any longer instil us with guilt and loathing. Not only is it cruel, but it isn't accurate, and even if it were I'd argue it's valuable to embrace a basic outline of a flexible national myth, receptive to cynicism yet rooted in broad truth. As with the myths of Robin Hood and Dick Turpin, sometimes it's best to remember who we tried to be as well as who we actually were.
So I am explicitly not endorsing the glasses of rosy tint. We must learn from our mistakes so long as they are fairly counterweighted by our successes. With a nuanced history of the days when our little country was the greatest in the world, British children would be sure to learn many things. They would learn how precious those British customs & freedoms are that our former colonies are unwilling to part with them. They would learn that our prosperity as a nation has always been in maritime mercantilism. They would learn the lessons of being a great empire so that they might be better able to understand the powers of our age. They would acknowledge their vast inheritance born of the sacrifice and toil of their ancestors, and learn basic national self-respect.
Again, most nations around the world would never even think to apologise for empirebuilding. The only reason we're having this discussion in the first place is because the West is fundamentally rooted in Christianity. Empathy for the weak is strong in our culture. This is the next topic of my ideal curriculum.
It would be impossible to document the full extent of Christian influence on the West and on England specifically. The historian Tom Holland has been trying since 2016, and has recently released a book on the subject entitled Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind. He describes it thus,
"Familiarity with the Biblical narrative of the Crucifixion has dulled our sense of just how completely novel a deity Christ was. Most of us who live in post-Christian societies still take for granted that it is nobler to suffer than to inflict suffering. [Christianity] is why we generally assume that every human life is of equal value ... In my morals and ethics, I have learned to accept that I am not Greek or Roman at all, but thoroughly and proudly Christian."
Likewise the psychologist Prof. Jordan Peterson is well-known for tracking Western Enlightenment values to their ultimate Biblical origins. For example, he argues the separation of church and state is ultimately rooted in Biblical verses such as "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s".
Nietzsche recognised it, and knew it by the rather sneering term slave morality. But we really have come to take it for granted. Most modern Western people - intelligent people, even - go through their whole lives without questioning from whence their conceptions of good and evil derive. We wonder why Hindu India has such a problem with its caste system and poverty, and why Japan seems so reluctant to recognise its Imperial crimes. Yet as the Catholic author Charles A. Coulombe once explained it to me,
"Can you guess why, as a rule, the great nations of the East - India, China, Japan etc. had little in the way of organised charities before the European came?
It was because the notion of Karma meant that the poor man was that way because of punishments for past misdeeds - if you helped him you might be hindering his own reascension in the next life (even though personal almsgiving might do you some good). It is what separated Bushido from Chivalry."