There’s no shame in feeling proud to be British – if only it hadn’t taken a foreigner to point that out

Last Saturday was Saint George’s Day. An important date for the English who love their country. But in recent years it has also become an important date for English people who hate their country. Because it’s the day they take great pleasure in pointing out that, in fact, St George was not English. He was Turkish.

Personally, I find this a rather weak form of pedantry. Not least because it’s not even accurate. At the time of St. George, in the 3rd century, Turkey didn’t yet exist, nor did England – so he wasn’t really Turkish either. In any case, if you’re going to question the historical veracity of this particular legend, it seems somewhat odd to focus on the nationality of its protagonist. Rather than, say, the claim that he slew a dragon.

I understand, however, that I am losing my breath. Because we know the real reason these people like to point out that St George wasn’t English. It has nothing to do with historical accuracy. Instead, they do so to flaunt their progressive credentials and to express their amused disdain for such unintellectual and low-status pursuits as flag-waving and patriotism. It’s a way of saying, ‘Look at all those silly, conservative, Brexit-loving gammon. They hate foreigners. Yet the patron saint of their own country was a foreigner! And they don’t even realize it! Or at least they didn’t, until we started reporting it to them every year!

In the age of Twitter, this great radicalizer of the modern left, this kind of contempt for ordinary patriotism has become very fashionable. But one man, at least, has had enough. He is fed up with middle-class liberals bashing their country.

And he’s not even British. He is Australian.

George Brandis is a senior diplomat who has just completed a four-year term as Australian High Commissioner in London. And, in a speech this week to mark his departure, he said it was high time modern progressives showed some pride in their country and its history.

“I wish the self-sacrificing classes in Britain would realize that the world respects their own country far more than many of them do,” Brandis said. “There are members of the commentariat, perhaps members of the Foreign Office, who are almost guilty of Britain’s imperial past, and think notions like the Commonwealth should be pronounced sotto voce.”

He is right. Except in one small detail. “Self-laceration classes” is a nice phrase, but it’s not quite accurate. Because it’s not themselves that these people are lacerating. They are their distant ancestors. And by denouncing so loudly the crimes that these distant ancestors once committed, they signal their own superior moral virtue: they emphasize how compassionate, caring, appalled they are by injustice. It’s not self-lacerating. If anything, it’s self-aggrandizing.

The truth is, it’s easy to apologize for your country’s past. You deserve all the credit for apologizing, without incurring any damage to your own reputation, because everyone knows that you are personally not responsible for the thing you are apologizing for.

The only risk is that you start to look comically self-centered. Harry Enfield used to do a character called “Jurgen the German”, who passed each sketch around Britain, offering unsolicited apologies to random members of the public for World War II. “I must apologize for the conduct of my nation during the war,” he groaned, about nothing. “I assure you that I will take my shame to my grave!” The recipients of this apology seemed perplexed. Neither they nor “Jurgen” were even born when the war ended.

This may be the future of our royal family; perpetually wandering around the former British colonies, offering unsolicited apologies to bewildered locals for events that took place three centuries earlier. Indeed, this loudly contrite new era may already be near. Following the recent royal tour of the Caribbean, the Duke of Cambridge expressed his “deep sadness” over the slave trade. “Grief” isn’t quite “sorry”. But it’s probably only a matter of time.

I wonder if progressives in other parts of the world devote so much energy to condemning the old empires in their own countries. Are middle-class Italians constantly decrying the Romans? Are the Viennese liberals wringing their hands on the Habsburgs? Do woke Mongols still apologize for Genghis Khan’s excesses?

Yet, we know one thing for sure. Russians do not feel guilty about the Russian Empire. Because they are currently trying to bring him back.

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