What England means to me...
The territory that is called England is the homeland of the English. The English gave their communal name to England and have lived in it ever since. England means ‘land of the English’.
By ‘the English’ I mean the ethnic / indigenous English. They are members of a community that has a recorded history that goes back nearly 2000 years. That community – that nation – migrated from Jutland to Britain about 1500 years ago. People who have since then merged into the English population, and are indistinguishable from the English, and claim no identity other than English, and are accepted by the English as being one of their own, are English – and England is their homeland.
The English are a nation. By ‘nation’ I mean a group of people bound together by a shared history, culture, ancestry, language and communal identity. A nation is a group of people who feel that they naturally belong together - they share common values, perceptions and interests. A nation is an extended family – a group of people who are willing to endure hardship and sacrifice in defence of each other and their communal interests. Our instincts have been shaped by natural selection to enable us to live and flourish in a community. Our instincts are not suited to an atomised existence in a disorderly society.
A National Homeland
All nations seek to establish or preserve a homeland because it provides a physical space in which the nation can govern itself and live according to its own laws and customs. Freedom and democracy are impossible without core shared values and a shared physical space in which to live by those values. Democracy is about a community freely and fairly electing people from within the community to govern the community according to rules that are acceptable to the community. A government is expected to do all it can to maintain a healthy, peaceful, sustainable community. The more distant a political and economic system gets from communal self-government and the pursuit of communal interests, the less democratic it becomes and the less freedom its members enjoy.
What England Means to Me
England is my communal homeland; a physical space in which my community has from time to time been able to more or less govern itself. England is a place that has been physically shaped by my community. Its landscape, whether in town or countryside, tells the story of my community’s history and achievements; its good and bad times; its values and traditions. The landscape of England reflects the social, political, and economic history of the English. Pubs, churches and people are part of that landscape, they indicate English territory. When they disappear, as is increasingly happening in towns and cities, it indicates that the territory has ceased to be occupied by the English - the English have moved out.
Landscape of the Mind
In addition to the physical England there is the England of the communal imagination – a place where no outsider can go. This is the England of our mental landscape – imagined but nonetheless real in that it is moulded from a very early age and affects how we live in the real world. It is an accumulation of the informal prompts that permeate everyday life and which teach us the worth of certain values, perceptions and behaviour. The prompts are in such things as how others greet and speak to us – the food we eat and, how it is cooked and how we eat it – the sound of our language and how it both shapes and reflects the way we think and see.
Our mental and physical landscapes are the product of those who lived their everyday lives and the few who did exceptional things. Each generation leaves its mark on them.
Proof of Title
Hostile outsiders (and misguided or foolish insiders) often scoff and say, “I suppose you think you are Anglo-Saxon” or “Do you have a family tree that shows your ancestors where here a thousand years ago” or worst of all – and from the certifiable – “But we’re all Celts”. The answer is that I don’t have to prove my ancestry by means of formal records and bits of paper. It is enough that I am a member of the English community – its history is my history. As a member of the English community I am linked to the communal history and imagination of those who have for over a thousand years called themselves English and regarded England as their homeland. I have no more need to prove my ancestry than does a Sioux, a Maori, or an Irishman.
So, I am English and there are two Englands that are meaningful and important to me - both are an essential part of my communal and individual identity - both are my homeland.
Tony Linsell is the editor of Steadfast Magazine