English Nationalism: A Short History

In This Review

English Nationalism: A Short History
By Jeremy Black
Hurst, 2018
224 pp.
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Does England have a national identity distinct from that of the United Kingdom? Recent political conflict between England and the rest of the union over Brexit, Scottish independence, Irish unity, and other issues has made this a hot-button question. Black argues that English nationalism is genuine: Englishness rests on the shared experiences of Magna Carta, the Reformation, the Thirty Years’ War, the British Empire, and World War II. Yet Black struggles to persuade. Memories of internal and external warfare hundreds of years ago neither distinguish England from the rest of the United Kingdom nor reveal much about how media-savvy politicians, a sensationalistic press, and right-wing skinheads are redefining populist nationalism today—something the author all but admits in the last chapter, “Postscript From a Pub.” In general, current events stymie Black. In considering Brexit, he dismisses (without evidence) any thought that Euroskeptical voters are ignorant or have been manipulated, or that they are indulging in nationalism. Yet he fails to provide a plausible alternative explanation for their behavior.

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