Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Hitting the right note

Who said the protest song was dead? I recently listened to the song Roots by English folk-rock group Show of Hands on You Tube. It's a stirring song with a catchy tune and the following lyrics:

Now it’s been twenty-five years or more
I’ve roamed this land from shore to shore
From Tyne to Tamar, Severn to Thames
From moor to vale, from peak to fen
Played in cafes and pubs and bars
I’ve stood in the street with my old guitar
But I’d be richer than all the rest
If I had a pound for each request
For ‘Duelling Banjos’ ‘American Pie’
Its enough to make you cry
‘Rule Britannia’ or ‘Swing Low’
Are they the only songs the English know?

Seed, bud, flower, fruit
They’re never gonna grow without their roots
Branch, stem, shoots - they need roots

After the speeches when the cake’s been cut
The disco is over and the bar is shut
At christening, birthday, wedding or wake
What can we sing until the morning breaks?
When the Indian, Asians, Afro, Celts
It’s in their blood, below the belt
They’re playing and dancing all night long
So what have they got right that we’ve got wrong?

Seed, bud, flower, fruit
Never gonna grow without their roots
Branch, stem, shoots - we need roots

Haul away boys let them go
Out in the wind and the rain and snow
We’ve lost more than we’ll ever know
Round the rocky shores of England

And a minister said his vision of hell
Is three folk singers in a pub near Wells
Well I’ve got a vision of urban sprawl
It’s pubs where no one ever sings at all
And everyone stares at a great big screen
Over-paid soccer stars, prancing teens
Australian soap, American rap
Estuary English, baseball caps
And we learn to be ashamed before we walk
Of the way we look and the way we talk
Without our stories or our songs
How will we know where we've come from?
I’ve lost St George in the Union Jack
It’s my flag too and I want it back

Seed, bud, flower, fruit
Never gonna grow without their roots
Branch, stem, shoots - we need roots

Haul away boys let them go
Out in the wind and the rain and snow
We’ve lost more than we’ll ever know
Round the rocky shores of England.

You might remember that in my last column I discussed the issue of liberalism and neutrality.

The argument is that liberals in the late 1600s began to see neutrality toward religious truth as the highest ordering principle of society and over time adopted the same neutral stance toward other substantive goods, such as ethnicity.

As a consequence Westerners, as the liberal "subject", either relegated their own ethnic identity to a sphere of private sentiment, or else failed to project their own ethnicity and became passive observers of other ethnic traditions.

The song by Show of Hands seems to me to be a protest against this failure to project one's own tradition. It's a rejection of "Invisible English Syndrome", in which one's own cultural roots are ignored and unacknowledged, whilst other ethnic traditions or a commercialised global culture are given free play.


  1. great post. The only question I have is how do we hammer down the constituent parts of an "authentic" Enlgish culture? Or any culture for that matter. Culture seems to be this unacknowledged entity that just "is". There must be a starting point where culture must begin, and presumably where it ended. For example, if recapturing England's lost Christian heritage is a part of recapturing authentic culture, couldn't someone argue that England wasn
    t always Christian? I want to argee with you, but to do that in any meaningful way would mean that I would have to pin down what culture is. That seems impossible. Just some thoughts

  2. Mark, thanks for the introduction, and keep the cultural recommendations coming - there is so little to appreciate. I am ordering a CD right away!

    In response to Mathew v, one way to look at culture is as a kind of vast storehouse of practices, memories, words, music, beliefs, etc. which is largely the achievement of your ancestors (literally or spiritually), forms and informs you and your community, and which you have ACCESS to even if you don't personally know this or that element of it. So, for instance, Shakespeare is part of the heritage of every English speaker even though most people don't normally read Shakespeare.

    Westerners urgently need to get back in touch with their "roots," which does not mean turning back the clock, but re-engaging in their civilization in a dynamic way. Think about what you love about your civilization, and think about what elements, cultural, religious, linguistic, geographic, even biological, make these things possible. Lawrence Auster deals with some of these questions (in an American context) in a posting entitled "What is American Culture?"

  3. Mark, I happened to see this video over at Majority Rights. Thanks for posting the lyrics. It is a stirring song and it's sad and poignant, too. It seems the world over, Anglo-Saxon culture is the more neglected, as many of us in the Anglosphere are happier to claim Celtic roots than Anglo-Saxon. Somehow the Celtic blood is considered more to be respected (maybe because in our victim-centered world, the Celts were and are seen as noble underdogs rather than conquerors and oppressors.) As a result, even the most heritage-conscious Americans, Southerners, often claim their Celtic heritage at the detriment of the Anglo-Saxon.
    Once when I was visiting Ireland, I had an Irishwoman tell me flatly that 'the English have no folk tradtions or authentic music.' I was stunned by that statement, but I think it's widely believed.
    Maybe the Celtic cultures have done a better job of preserving their traditions because they were more self-consciously trying to preserve them. But it would be wonderful for England to rediscover its roots, which may be neglected or ignored, but still there.
    In response to mathew v, culture is not a thing that has a 'starting point and and ending point'. It is just the outward expression of the innate soul and character of a people. Liberalism as such denies that there is such a thing as the spirit and soul of a nation, but it is shown by the culture which grows organically among that people. Nation and culture are intertwined.