Thinking About 7/7: Enoch Powell's Revenge?

[Peter Brimelow writes: We are always delighted to welcome John Derbyshire, whose last appearance here was as an immigration reformer supporting the Iraq War, having heroically agreed to balance our syndicated columnists Paul Craig Roberts and the late Sam Francis. (Apparently Derbyshire now doesn't support the war enough to satisfy his colleagues at Empire Review). However, I must enter my usual protest against all this pessimism—for reasons I outlined here. Great nations like Britain and America have bad patches, even centuries. But, as Powell himself said in his 1961 St. George's Day speech, "we know not what branches yet that wonderful tree will have the power to put forth."]

[Also by John Derbyshire: Nice Guys Get Illegal Immigrants]

In one of those curious juxtapositions of events cherished by commentators—they make great "hooks" for opinion columns—Edward Heath, who was Prime Minister of the U.K. from 1970 to 1974, died just ten days after the horrible bombings in the London subway, that killed 54 people. The nature of this particular juxtaposition is as follows.

Heath was the leader of the Conservative Party, then in opposition, in the spring of 1968 when Enoch Powell made his famous "Rivers of Blood" speech . Powell's speech was intended to alert his nation to the future dangers inherent in mass Third World immigration. His conclusion was that

"nothing will suffice but that the total inflow for settlement should be reduced at once to negligible proportions, and that the necessary legislative and administrative measures be taken without delay."

Powell was at that time defense spokesman in Heath's Shadow Cabinet. After hearing of the speech, Heath fired Powell from that position (though he remained a Member of Parliament and a political gadfly). Powell never again held political office, though a poll taken four years later found him the most popular politician in Britain.

And the connection to the 7/7 bombings? Not really hard to figure out. What happened in London that dreadful day, and very nearly happened again two weeks later—neatly bracketing Ted Heath's passing—can, I think, fairly be described as Enoch Powell's revenge.

I have now read half a dozen articles, some by friends or colleagues, about the bombings arguing that what Britain must do to prevent future atrocities like this, featuring native-born but disaffected young men of Third World parentage, is to assert British national identity more clearly and strongly, so that young Britons have something to identify with.

John O'Sullivan said it in the New York Post : "[The July 7 bombers] were fully assimilated into a nullity. The British identity presented to these young people under multiculturalism was at best thin and at worst vicious."

Anthony Browne said it in The Spectator: "What is needed is something to make the people who live in these islands feel good about being British…"

Boris Johnson, also in The Spectator, called for "the re-Britannification of Britain."

Mark Steyn chimed in somewhere or other… though Niall Ferguson, the thinking man's multiculturalist, failed to do so, calling only for Muslims to be better citizens of the world.

There seems to be a fair consensus, therefore, that immigrants, especially Muslim immigrants, in the UK must assimilate to Britishness, and Britishness must be more firmly asserted by Britain, so that immigrants actually have something to assimilate to.

There is not the slightest prospect that anything like that will happen. A strong and confident assertion of Britishness would go against the entire socio-intellectual trend of the past 40 years—against all the apparatus of culture, education, and liberal-elite commentary, against everything two entire generations of Britons have been brought up to believe, against the entire zeitgeist.

I venture to say that there is no chance whatever that Britishness will confidently assert itself again, not in my lifetime.  

Don't you know that Britain was an imperialist nation, that oppressed and exploited colored people in distant places? That invented the term "concentration camp"? That was beastly to the poor Irish for 800 years? That forced opium down the throats of the wretched Chinese? That sent little children underground to mine coal? That helped plant Israel on Arab land, dispossessing thousands of helpless fellaheen?

This stuff is taught in schools now, and absorbed early in life, so that it is difficult for British people to doubt or question it, or to understand it in any proper historical context. Why on earth would anyone wish to assimilate to such a nation, with such a history?

A confident assertion of national identity is hard to bring off unless you believe, as most British people probably did believe until 40 years ago, that your nation is better than other nations, that your people are better than their people. Lingering traces of this belief in national superiority remain, both in Britain and here, or did until recently. You can catch a glimpse of it in artifacts like the first Indiana Jones movie, where the mental, physical, and moral superiority of Americans is taken for granted.

Clear verbal expression of such a sentiment is, though, now completely prohibited. Our people are better than their people— Who on earth would dare say such a thing out loud now? How long would a person last in public life, having uttered such a thing?

I hear the voice of my father (b. 1899), speaking ex cathedra, i.e. from his armchair: "Foreigners? Bloody fools for all I can see... One Englishman is worth ten Frenchies..." etc., etc. And here is a more sophisticated commentator, writing in 1940:

"[I]s a country necessarily inferior because it is one's own? Why should not a fellow feel proud of things in which a just pride may be taken? I have lived in many countries, and talked in several languages: and found something to esteem in every country I have visited. But I have never seen any nation the equal of my own."

"Frank Richards Replies," in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell, Vol. 1, p.538.

Of course, hardly anyone believes those things any more. But can you have a strong national identity if people don't believe them?

I am not speaking of intellectual people like the contributors to, and readers of, VDARE.COM. Intellectual folk can cook up rationalizations for anything. I am speaking of ordinary unreflective people. Once they have had those deplorably inegalitarian attitudes beaten—browbeaten—out of them, in what sense can they be patriotic?  

An assertion of Britishness? Huge numbers of people—including practically all of what over there are called "the chattering classes," as well as the most influential spokespersons for the immigrant communities—would regard such an assertion as racist.

Discomfiting though it may be to admit it, they have a point. I can actually remember when there was a strong communal sense of Britishness in Britain. One of my very earliest memories with any political content at all, in fact, is of being taken out into the playground of Far Cotton Junior Primary School on Empire Day (May 24—this was 1951 or 1952), along with the whole of the rest of the school, to sing "There'll Always Be an England."  I find I can still sing it.

And yes, horrifying to report, every one of the 300-odd kids in that playground was a white Christian from an English-speaking home. The great majority descended from great-grandparents who were born within two or three miles of that school.

That's not the world we live in any more, for better or worse. (Unless we live in one of the dwindling number of ethno-states—Japan, Korea, China, Finland, Iceland, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and a few others.) Yet it may be that without that level of homogeneity, or something not too far removed from it, "Britishness," or any other strong national feeling, is not possible.

The Multicultural Theorem—that nothing but the lowest and grossest kind of human wickedness ("hate") stands in the way of peoples from all regions of the world living together in happy harmony—has not been proved.

Of course, any society can easily accommodate, and surely profit from, a leavening of foreigners. However, as Enoch Powell said again and again (and again and again): Numbers are of the essence. The 2001 U.K. census showed nine percent of the population of England—4½ million souls—as belonging to "minority ethnic groups" (including "mixed"). That's a higher proportion of the population, I think, than was represented by England's last successful invaders, the Normans.

Perhaps strong national feeling doesn't have any place in the modern world, and we ought to bid it good riddance. Perhaps that is so. Whether it is so or not, I am afraid that strong national feeling, like innocence, is a thing that, once lost, can't easily be regained.

A reassertion of Britishness? In your dreams.

John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. His most recent book, Prime Obsession: Bernhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics, (see!) comes out in paperback in May.