Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Interview with John Carney, Resident of Manchester

Pearl of Tyburn: Tonight I’ll be speaking with John Carney, resident of Manchester. Mr. Carney, could you tell us a bit about your background?

John Carney:  Certainly. I'm an Englishman of Anglo-Irish heritage born and raised in Manchester by two wonderful parents, a proud, patriotic Brit, a good Catholic boy (I hope!), a fervent Tory and Unionist, an underemployed accounting graduate of the University of Liverpool, and a part-time customer service assistant and occasional furniture fitter.

P.T.:  What’s your reflection on this past year and the many political and cultural ebbs and flows of it?

J.C.:  I suspect there will be few other years in our nation's history more momentous, powerful or poignant in which to consider the nature of British identity than 2014; the year not only of the centenary of the start of the Great War which deprived an entire generation of the prime of its youth, men whose tremendous courage and sacrifice in the name of King and country is a debt our contemptibly useless politicians have consistently failed to repay, but also of the dreaded Scottish independence referendum, a plebiscite which has the power either to destroy the greatest bi-national partnership the world has ever seen or to silence those calling for its dissolution for decades, perhaps even centuries, to come. In June we recalled our past and mourned our fallen, now in September we are contemplating our future and deciding what sort of country we want to be or, perhaps more precisely, whether to continue being a country at all.

P.T.:  What do you think about the way the Better Together campaign has been conducted to preserve the union?

J.C.:  Unfortunately, British culture and history, the very things which should be the foundation of the Better Together campaign, have hardly featured at all thus far in the debate but, sadly, this is far from surprising. Most of our politicians, commentators and academics suffer from a tremendous liberal guilt complex over the legacy of British colonialism and historic English aggression towards her immediate neighbours; therefore, out of sheer moral weakness, they have largely conceded the argument to the Scottish, Welsh and Irish nationalists. They dare not even mention such things as common purpose, shared destiny and historic ties of friendship and co-operation for fear they will be laughed to scorn and branded an imperial apologist.

P.T.:  Why do you think so many people have dismissed these aspects of Britishness?

J.C.:  Many have chosen to take the easy way out and claim that Britishness is a meaningless concept only to be given meaning by the individual or ignored completely according to personal preference. In the bleakly parochial view of such people, one can only be authentically English, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish (as though they were comparatively simple to define!) but I find this utterly absurd; our identities, national and otherwise, are composed of multiple complex, interconnected cultural strata and are made infinitely richer for being so - should a man choose between being a Basque and a Spaniard, or a woman between being, say, a Marylander and an American?

P.T.:  You telling me about an application form you signed recently. What are your feelings about the way identity options were presented to you in it?

J.C.:  Upon reaching the end of the application form, I was asked, after the usual, highly impertinent questions about my gender, potential disabilities and sexual orientation, to select what I considered to be my ethnic origin from a variety of alternatives (quite what bearing any of this has on a person's suitability for a job is something which has always baffled me - I always opt for "prefer not to say" on principle) when I noticed something to which I had previously never given much thought. Non-white British applicants were confined to options under the headings of "Black British" and "Asian British" whereas white applicants were offered the full complement of British national identities to choose from - "British", "English", "Irish", "Northern Irish", "Welsh", "Scottish", etc. Such identities as "Black English" or "Asian Welsh" are rarely expressed and so do not feature as demographic terms but why should this be the case? Just why do our ethnic minority countrymen feel more comfortable describing themselves as British rather than anything else regardless of whether they live in Birmingham, Belfast, Blantyre or Bangor?

P.T.:  What do you think is the reason behind this phenomenon?

J.C.:  Unlike our cowardly politicians, they, like their forebears in India, Jamaica, Kenya, Afghanistan and ex-British colonies all around the world, know what to be British means and why they are proud to call themselves so. For them, for me and for lovers and admirers of my beloved nation wherever they may live, Britishness is more than a culture - it is an ideal, an aspiration, even a dream. Differences of region, race and culture may divide us as a people but Britain unites us as a nation; truly, our story is that of the oldest and greatest melting pot in the world. Of course, the Romans, Saxons, Angles, Jutes, Vikings and Normans all changed Britain permanently and immeasurably for the better, but what is more significant to me is what they failed to change and, even more importantly, how profoundly they were changed by her!

Our early past has been traditionally presented as one group of foreign invaders after another remorselessly suppressing the native culture and supplanting it with an alien one but recent historical and archaeological research has proven this simply is not the case. Instead, a more careful reading of our island story shows a very clear, consistent set of beliefs and practices that existed prior to Roman occupation, which indeed not only survived but positively thrived during all of the subsequent conquests and which eventually evolved into those values, customs and institutions we now regard as quintessentially British.

P.T.:  What would you consider foremost among these customs/institutions?

J.C.:  Love of personal liberty, freedom of expression, trial by jury, a hatred of cruelty and injustice, local government, the underdog spirit, a sense of fair play, the importance of history and tradition, tolerance, constitutional monarchy, strong communities, the stiff upper lip, resistance to dictatorship, parliamentary democracy, respect for private property, etc. It would of course be arrogant to the point of megalomania for me to claim that Britain holds an absolute monopoly on these things but, my own obvious partiality aside, I am struggling to think of a nation which has done better justice to them on such a grand scale, over so long and proud a history.

P.T.:  What is your opinion on the British Empire and the way that hit has cast something of a shadow of shame over those who have British identities?

J.C.:  Ah, yes, that unspeakably awful embarrassment to well-meaning, half-educated liberals everywhere: the British Empire. Perhaps that is the one thing on the venerable list of British virtues and institutions which is conspicuous by its absence. At the widely critically acclaimed opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012 (which I thought rather gaudy and vulgar but never mind), tremendous emphasis was laid on our literature, film, music, NHS, industrial revolution etc. But there was no acknowledgement whatsoever of Britain's almost single-handed contribution towards spreading good administration, honest politics and the rule of law all around the world. Indeed, a stranger observing such edifying spectacles as James Bond and the Queen pretending to leap out of a plane and Rowan Atkinson playing a one-note synthesizer with the London Symphony Orchestra would be forgiven for thinking that we'd never so much as strayed beyond our shores let alone established the largest empire in human history which, at its apogee, covered almost a quarter of the planet.

Unfortunately, this very deliberate campaign to whitewash over the Empire and its achievements is nothing new and certainly doesn't lack for volunteers, not least in Britain itself; many are terribly sincere but ignorant liberals or New Labour zealots who seem to detest our history (a prejudice which invariably leads them to squander once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for genuinely patriotic celebrations in favour of insipid, anaemic affairs like the ludicrous Millennium Dome) whereas others are simply dishonest, deliberately distorting our history by highlighting its faults whilst carefully avoiding its virtues.

P.T.: What do you think about the way Hollywood portrays Britain/the British Empire on screen?

 J.C.:  Such things occur frequently and even on the most mundane level, e.g. entertaining but unhistorical cinematic drivel such as Braveheart, The Patriot and Pocahontas - all of which ridiculously romanticised their subjects and vilified the English to the point of disconnection from reality. Yes, I know its trashy Hollywood fiction and shouldn't make any difference and, indeed, wouldn't were our current education system much better instead! The scariest thing about die Große Lüge (the big lie) is that it actually works unless it's refuted.

P.T.:  So what’s your personal view on the benefits of the Empire?

J.C.:  I am writing, as you've no doubt gathered, as a convinced imperialist - by which I mean that I believe the case for the British Empire as one of the greatest things ever visited upon an undeserving world has been proved, open and shut. Of course, like all great human endeavours, it had its faults (some, like slavery, were terribly grievous) and they remain undeniable, indelible blots on our historical record but what nation since time began has been totally blameless? If history is, as the cynics say, just one long catalogue of theft, conquest and slaughter then surely there can be no dispute that Britain was second to none in these things? We were, and remain I think at heart, a nation of buccaneering merchant adventurers and we should be proud of the fact, not only because it has made us who we are but, more importantly still, because it has made so much of the world what it is today.

You may well have heard it said that Britain conquered half the world in a fit of absence of mind; a clever little phrase but I feel there is far more sophistry there than sophistication - presence of mind, by all means, but certainly not absence of it. For myself, I believe the Empire was founded on and sustained by many things, most of them paradoxical: avarice and Protestantism, idealism and cynicism, compassion and cruelty, policy and lunacy, commerce and thievery, strategy and accident, duty, arrogance, ignorance, curiosity, expediency and, last but by no means least, a fanatical determination to beat the French to it! And the most sublime irony of all is that, for all of the lust for power and plunder which motivated our ancestors (just as that which inspired our Saxon forebears to cross the North Sea centuries before), they left their colonies far, far better places than they found them.

P.T.:  What would be your answer to the charge the British Imperial project was particularly brutal?

J.C.:  If, as I passionately believe, that Britain was unsurpassed in her ruthlessness, rapacity and commercial aggression then she was also unmatched in her commitment to establishing freedom, democracy, prosperity, sound government and the rule of law wherever the Union Jack was flown. As a force to enlighten and civilise the world, the British Empire was unique and, if proof were required, one need only compare the condition of our former territories with their present state. At best, as in India, Malaysia, Singapore, Ghana, Botswana and numerous other smaller countries where the British legacy remains strongest, the people are, to say the least, certainly no more wisely nor humanely governed than they were under the Empire; at worst, independence (often, laughably, referred to as freedom) has been an absolute disaster, as in Zimbabwe, Iraq, Somalia, Burma, Yemen and various other previously stable, thriving, law-abiding nations now transformed beyond all recognition into bankrupt, bloody dictatorships riven by extremism, corruption, terrorism and violence. 

P.T.:  What do you think about the way the Empire came to an end?

J.C.:  There can be no question that the Empire had to end eventually; however, it was the reckless haste in which it was done that was largely responsible for the ensuing chaos and tragedy in many territories which immediately followed British withdrawal, e.g. in 1947, the Labour government under Clement Attlee were so terribly keen to partition India and get out that their callous stupidity caused the displacement of over fourteen million Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims and the consequent mass migration (the largest in recorded history) lead to such carnage, riot and disorder that nearly one million people died as a result. Furthermore, those who were so active in accelerating the Empire's dissolution also bear their share of the blame; including, sadly, the United States who rather myopically took such pleasure in twisting the imperial lion's tail and now wonders why places like the Middle East are in perpetual turmoil - it'd be almost funny if it weren't so tragic.

Anyway, perhaps all of this explains why, for many people, Britishness remains an awkward subject; although, ironically, from my experience, the overwhelming majority of people who feel (or at least claim to feel) angry or ashamed by the legacy of British colonialism are generally the descendents of the colonisers whereas the descendents of the colonised are actually only too proud to call themselves British precisely because of, rather than in spite of, what the Empire did for their forebears in Pakistan, Kenya, Jamaica and elsewhere, as I suggested earlier. Ah, well, who knows? Still, we did what we did - it was definitely worth doing and nobody could've done it better, or even half as well.

P.T.:  Why do you think that so many Scots have come forward with such antipathy towards their British identity during the course of this referendum?

J.C.:  Sadly, I do think there is a huge wellspring of latent anti-English sentiment (which has steadily grown as the UK's overall standing in the world has declined) for the SNP to draw upon and, for many, the independence vote represents nothing more than a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get back at Westminster. Indeed, the very notion of Scottish nationalism is founded largely upon a narrow-minded, bitter, deeply parochial hatred for and rivalry with their English neighbours (just listen to the unofficial national anthem, that dismal dirge "Flower of Scotland") and it's certainly no coincidence that the SNP pushed so hard, and sadly successfully, for 16- and 17-year-olds to be allowed a vote in the referendum, as they are by far the most susceptible to this sort of nonsense.

P.T.:  What do you think is responsible for the SNP’s rise to power as of late?

J.C.:  The truth is that what really lies behind the growing strength of the SNP's cause is that, for many years, the Scots have felt so increasingly isolated from the prosperity, advancement and job-creation in the South East of England and London in particular (a complaint with which we in Northern England, Wales and Northern Ireland are all too familiar!) that they now no longer truly feel a part of the UK anymore and so they can see no other way forward but secession from the union. The Scots have enjoyed, and understandably so, the steady trickle of powers devolved to Holyrood since 1997 and a considerably higher level of per capita public spending (including free prescriptions, free tuition fees, etc. which I very much doubt they’d be able to maintain on the existing tax rates without Westminster subsidy) than the rest of the UK.

P.T.:  But do you think of the lure of independence, in and of itself, might be a persuasive hook for seperation?

J.C.:  Actually, the vision Alex Salmond is offering the Scots in the name of “independence” is something of a fraud anyway; keeping the Queen as your head of state, retaining the pound sterling as your currency (with interest rates set "abroad" by the Bank of England) and ceding your hard-won national sovereignty to the EU as soon as the votes have been counted as he hopes to do isn't really my idea of independence! Much as the SNP might hate it, the reality is that the economic future of an independent Scotland would rest almost entirely upon factors over which they would have either limited or no control whatsoever: their share of the sadly not inconsiderable UK national debt (at least £150 billion although, after negotiation, it could be double that) and the terms under which it must be repaid would give them and successive administrations a good deal of financial trouble for many decades to come.

The Scots don’t even know whether they'll be allowed to keep the pound sterling at all (the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already stated categorically that they won't, the EU is, quite understandably, extremely reluctant to allow them to join the crisis-stricken euro instead and establishing your own currency is a mightily expensive business indeed). Independence is a massive financial gamble and I think it's only when they actually go to vote that the sheer enormity of the risk the Scottish people are considering will dawn on them and the majority of them will decide to play safe and vote to remain within the UK.

P.T.:  Aside from the referendum, what are your personal political beliefs?

J.C.:  I've always been a Tory ever since I became interested in politics several years ago; however, I've largely abandoned my faith in capitalism (at least insofar as we've hitherto practiced it), secularism, classical liberalism and the market as the ultimate impartial, efficient economic mechanism, and now the position closest to my views is that of a High (or traditionalist) Tory. High Toryism is much more of an attitude than a hard-and-fast ideology like Socialism and which emphasis tradition, the Church, strong local community, the rights and responsibilities of the aristocracy, integrity and duty in public office, etc. It is, in short, the complete antithesis of everything the modern mainstream parties (including, sadly, the modern Tory party) offer us in the UK.

My economic awakening came a couple of years ago thanks entirely to one author to whom I already owed so much and cannot recommend highly enough to you if you haven't read any of his work; at the dawn of the twentieth century, the superlatively wonderful G.K. Chesterton (in collaboration with the great Hilaire Belloc) formulated the only economic philosophy based entirely upon Catholic social teaching and it goes by the rather unfortunate, ironically Communist-esque name of Distributism.

P.T.:  Can you explain what you mean by Distribution exactly?

J.C.:  To borrow a quote from Chesterton: "The modern world is not evil; in some ways it is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues." Both Conservatism and Liberalism have great advantages as well as terrible faults and it is the beauty of Distributism that it enables us to enjoy the fruits of these philosophies whilst restraining their destructive excesses. Very briefly, Distributism advocates a via media between the evils of unfettered capitalism on the one hand and the perils of state Socialism on the other through spreading the ownership of property and the means of production as broadly as possible to individuals in the form of small businesses, not-for-profit organisations and local co-operative enterprises throughout the land (instead of concentrating it in the hands of large, faceless corporations or the state as we do currently) and replacing rapacious competition with Christian co-operation as the core driver of economic growth and wealth creation.

P.T.:  As someone from an Anglo-Irish background, what’s your opinion on the divided and divisive state of affairs in Ireland?

J.C.:  As a patriotic Englishman, I deplore the craven manner in which successive governments have appeased the former IRA members and collaborators now walking the corridors of power in Belfast yet, as a Catholic of Irish heritage, I am all too aware of England's extensive history of persecution, oppression and violence against the Irish people and cannot help but wonder just how long we were expecting them to let us get away with it.

P.T.:  What do you think the historical beginning of this antipathy between England and Ireland was?

J.C.:  The genesis of the historically negative English attitude towards the Irish is very simple. The Gaelic Christian kings and noble families were among the oldest in Europe but, rather than this being something worthy of admiration, the problem was that they were so old as to be effectively pagan, not in their beliefs, but in their origins, rituals and ceremonies. Unlike such relative arrivistes as Clovis the Frank who looked to the Pope to provide legitimacy to their kingship, the Irish aristocracy needed only to look back to their own history to find their authority as rulers; thus, to the deep disapproval of Rome and other European noble houses, they were able to unite and celebrate fully both their ancient pre-Christian royal heritage and their orthodox Christian faith.

The Irish Church too began to show disturbing tendencies towards independence from Roman authority (mixed sex monasteries, married clergy, etc.) so that it finally became necessary for our only English Pope, Adrian IV, to issue his laudabilitur empowering Henry II to invade Ireland and bring her Church and government under English, and effectively Roman, authority. Thus began the Norman conquest of Ireland in 1167 and the beginning of nearly 850 years of bloodshed and misery.

P.T.:  Do you have any thoughts on how the Irish Question might possibly be solved in the future?

J.C.:  The supreme tragedy of the Irish Question is that what makes it most difficult to solve is the very policy that we, the English, have pursued for centuries (stuffing Ulster with pro-Union Protestants who have no wish to live under the rule of their Catholic nationalist neighbours) and which was a wonderful idea when we had the political will and resources to be an imperialist power but today means that allowing the Republic to claim the rest of the six remaining northern counties would necessitate turning our backs on hundreds of thousands of people who consider themselves just as British as anyone living in any other part of the UK. Riot and disorder (perhaps even a civil war?) on a scale the like of which has not been seen in that troubled land for centuries would doubtless follow any such decision by the British government to cede Ulster to the Republic but, regrettably, I'm struggling to see a future in which that isn't a likely, if rather distant, occurrence.

The solution of an independent Kingdom of Ireland being a full, voluntary part of the Commonwealth realms is certainly a novel one (and all the more ironic when you consider how desperately we're currently trying to hold onto the UK we already have!) and one I should love to see happen but, with the present state of public opinion, I really can't see it. But it's definitely something we should devote every effort to achieving.

P.T.:  Could you tell us about some of your personal interests, hobbies, and plans for the future?

J.C.:  I am a lover of literature, poetry, history, philosophy and science, an aspiring learner of foreign languages, a devourer of good food and drink, and a keen amateur runner and weightlifter. It would be an exceptional understatement to say that life has turned out the way I'd expected even as little as five years ago, but I'm certainly not complaining - I know that matters rest in the hands of One infinitely wiser and more powerful than myself and I'm content just to enjoy the journey as it unfolds.

P.T.:  Thank you so much, Mr. Carney, for everything.

J.C.:  Aw, you’re very, very welcome.

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