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Being British: Our Once And Future Selves Paperback – June 24, 2016
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This is a sane, witty and shrewd picture of British identity--neither cynical nor paranoid, which is quite an achievement. Chris Parish sketches very skilfully the history and habits that make up this many-layered identity and gives us some essential tools for working out what we can properly celebrate, what we should properly regret and what we might reasonably hope for--what a mature sense of national self-esteem might look like. ~ Dr Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, theologian, Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge
Chris Parish provides a welcome reasoned statement for moderation and integration in approaching major issues and Britain's place in the world. Parish calls for taking a long-term approach to these issues, one that incorporates a more positive view of Britain's past while integrating that history into British identity and Britain's approach to current problems. ~ Dr George L Bernstein, Professor of History, Tulane University Author of The Myth of Decline: The Rise of Britain since 1945
Thought provoking, humbling, inspiring--a veritable tour de force. Concerned that our postcolonial guilt has left no metanarrative or clear sense of who we are, Parish steps lightly, yet studiously, through our shared story. He encourages us to be in touch with the creative thread of this country, to know the past, warts and all, so that we might rediscover our connection, continuity and rootedness and remain a major player in the postmodern world. I am left with strengthened pride in being British. ~Prof Julia Hausermann MBE, founder and President, Rights and Humanity
Enjoyed its breadth and ambition--and optimism ~ David Goodhart, founder of Prospect magazine, former Director of Demos think tank, author of The British Dream
About the Author
Chris Parish is passionate about British culture and identity, having spent years studying the subject. He directed a UK charity for over two decades and is an accomplished speaker on human development.
Top customer reviews
Parish starts exactly where I would want to start: with a recent British triumph, the 2012 Olympic Games. I well recall all the pessimism about it from the whole press spectrum, all of which evaporated in praise for the spectacular opening choreographed by the renowned British filmmaker Danny Boyle. The opening had all you needed to ponder the remarkable number of world-leading developments that Britain was responsible for, starting with the Industrial Revolution. Boyle’s masterpiece had great humour and even the Queen was co-opted into the spectacle, treading a typical British balance of respect and mockery. The days that followed were also typical of all that is best in the British temperament, as Parish records them, and leaves us again with this question: why do the Brits so easily queue up ahead of such events to pour scepticism on them and so quickly forget the achievement afterwards? Is it really down to an undigested guilt over Empire?
There is much more to this book than that. Much of it is a personal journey, but one that is typical, Parish concludes, of millions of Brits with similar upbringing. Similar, one has to say quickly if you are middle-class. And it is just here that Paris is unerringly acute; the educated middle-classes are flag-shy. Where their working-class neighbours might fly the British flag in their garden, or have an easy sense of nationalism, the educated classes are embarrassed by the Union Jack in a way that most Americans would find astonishing. Here I think Parish is right, that an uneasy sense of what Empire actually entailed weighs heavily on the university-educated Briton. For some postmodern philosophy is the answer, in that expressing a skepticism towards the grand narrative of Empire and progress means a liberation of sorts from its legacy. This is a sophisticated form of pessimism perhaps, whereas the average Briton is more inclined to a cruder form in which irony and sarcasm are elevated into an art form.
The answer? To see firstly that Empire was of its day. It took millennia for the world as a whole to see that what it had thought to be entirely natural – slavery – was in fact an abuse of human rights. Empire was also a natural expression of national vigour in times gone by, and we should not judge it by the moral standards of today, moral standards which are the very measure of our social advancement and which we should not downplay. Secondly, Empire also brought many developments to colonies that they willingly retain: for example railways, parliament, the legal system, all of which are British in nature. By connecting us to our “national creative thread” – as Parish puts it – and acknowledging both the good and the bad that Empire brought, the British could become more relaxed and confident in their national identity.
Yes, I think, but to go back to my opening remarks, the disenfranchised who voted for Brexit and Trump need perhaps more persuasion that their national history is so positive. At the same time the legacy of British Empire and American foreign interventions has resulted in anger at the West perhaps a little downplayed by Parish. Fully acknowledging Empire, and also the role the British played in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, is perhaps not a quick and easy undertaking, and may take a lot of listening to those badly affected. But such a process – a therapeutic one – is sorely needed and Parish has pointed that out with humour, insight, and considerable research.