Saturday, 29 August 2009

Tramps like us...

Light ‘blogging’ this week - I’ve been enjoying a staycation. Back to normal on Monday.

A minor highlight appealing to my love of the quirky and unexpected: I noticed this memorial stone hidden by foliage at a point I must have passed a few hundred times on foot - thousands in cars:

‘The corner of a corner of England is infinite, and can never be exhausted,’ Hilaire Belloc, ‘The Sea-Wall of the Wash,’ in Hills and the Sea.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Smith on the resources nationalists can draw upon

These quotes are from Anthony D. Smith, Myths and Memories of the Nation (Oxford University Press, 1999), Chapter ten: The Resurgence of Nationalism? Myth and Memory in the Renewal of Nations.

Previously published in the British Journal of Sociology, Volume no. 47, Issue no. 4, December 1996.


The real question raised by the present spate of ethnic nationalisms is not, why they have re-emerged now, or why they proliferate in an era of globalization, but how we can explain both the continuing power and the diversity of expression of ethnic nationalisms.

The usual account of the power and variety of nationalism is some version of modernization theory. Its basic proposition is that modernity in one of its many guises requires the formation of nations. Some regard nationalism as a response to incipient industrialization and the nation as a necessary and functional element of industrial modernity. Others seek to derive the nation and nationalism from the modern rational state and its self-reflexive capacities, or from the interests of sub-élites who use national arguments to wrest control of the state. Still others regard nationalism, and nations, as ideological constructs of intellectuals and professionals seeking to undermine ancien régimes and establish modernized states in societies committed to the ideal of progress, or to control the mass mobilization of a democratic era.

Now, in general terms it may be true that the processes of modernization, variously defined, create the conditions for the formation of national states and the spread of ‘nationalism-in-general’ and in this respect each of the above modernization perspectives undoubtedly captures an important aspect of the phenomenon of nations and nationalism. At the same time, they are incapable of explaining the paradox of variety and persistence in nationalism, of why nations and nationalisms have such staying power in the modern epoch, yet manifest such vast differences in their content and style of expression.

This is because they fail to take seriously three sets of components, or resources, that underlie all nationalisms: the uneven distribution of ethno-history, the varying impact of religious ideals, and the differential nature and location of the ‘homeland’ or ancestral territory. By exploring the nature and influence of these sets of ethnic-symbolic resources, we are able, I believe, to give a more convincing account of the power and variety of modern nationalisms.

Let me start with uneven ethno-history and a general proposition. As I intimated, any identity is based on memory conceived of as an active principle of recall of earlier states of activity and experience of that person. By analogy, collective cultural identities are based on the shared memories of experiences and activities of successive generations of a group distinguished by one or more shared cultural elements. Ethnic identity in turn may be seen as the product of shared memories of collective experiences and activities of successive generations of a group claiming a common origin and ancestry. Ethnicity in turn may be defined as the sense of collective belonging to a named community of common myths of origin and shared memories, associated with an historic homeland.

Ernest Renan had long ago, of course, recognized the significance of shared memories of great sacrifices and battle experiences for the formation of nations. But collective memories range more widely. They include recollections not only of wars and their heroes, but of religious movements and their leaders, migrations, discoveries and colonizations, foundations of cities and states, dynasties and their kings, lawcodes and their legislators, great buildings and their architects, painters, sculptors, poets, musicians and their immortal works. Above all, the idealized memories of a ‘golden age’, or golden ages, of virtue, heroism, beauty, learning, holiness, power and wealth, an era distinguished for its collective dignity and external prestige.

It is notoriously difficult to disentangle the elements of genuine shared memory from those of exaggeration, idealization and heroization which we associate with myth and legend, since there is usually more than a kernel of truth in the latter. But we can say that the more faithfully recorded, better documented and more comprehensive a golden age, the more impact it can exert over later generations and epochs of that community (or in some cases other communities). In this respect, Periclean Athens can have a greater and more varied impact for modern Greeks and others than, say, Kievan Rus can have for modern Ukrainians.

Now there is nothing fixed or immutable about a golden age or the principle of its selection. Successive generations of the community may differ as to which epoch is to be regarded as a golden age, depending on the criteria in fashion at the time. For some it will be a golden age because it boasted religious virtuosi, saints and sages; for others because great art, drama, music and philosophy flourished; for still others because the community enjoyed its greatest territorial extent and military power; or pioneered great moral and legal codes and institutions. Thus the ethnohistory of a community may boast more than one golden age from which to choose, and different sections of the latterday community may look back to quite different golden ages, as with modern Jews who look back nostalgically to the Davidic and Solomonic kingdom, or revere the era of the Talmudic sages or dream of the Golden Age of Spain with its many poets and philosophers.

The ideal of a golden age is not simply a form of escapism or consolation for present tribulations. For later generations, the standards of golden ages come to define the normative character of the evolving community. They define what is and what is not to be admired and emulated. They define what is, and what is not, distinctive about that community. They define an ideal, which is not so much to be resurrected (few nationalists want actually to return to the past, even a golden past) as to be recreated in modern terms. Even the Jacobin leaders who dreamt of emulating Brutus the Consul, Cincinnatus and Leonidas had no intention of founding an agrarian city-republic in France, only of transposing the ethos and heroism of republican Rome and Sparta to French soil.

A second function of the ideal of a golden age is the sense of regeneration which it stimulates. Just as ‘our ancestors’ created a great culture or civilization, so surely can ‘we’, runs the leitmotif. This is important, exactly because most nationalisms, viewed from inside, start out from a sense of decline, alienation and inner exile, and go on to promise renewal, reintegration and restoration to a former glorious state. The nationalist mythology into which the memory of the golden age is inserted is one of humble, if special, origins, miraculous liberation, glorious efflorescence, divisive conflict, inner decay, even exile--and then national rebirth.

A third function of the golden age is its suggestion of potential through filiation. The emphasis is always on the descendants of heroes, sages, saints and poets having within themselves, in virtue of their blood relationship, the inner resources to become like their glorious forefathers and foremothers; and hence the inherent capacity of grandsons and granddaughters and their descendants to give birth to a civilization and culture worthy of the golden age. So the community will be purified of alien accretions, and by returning to its former faith and purity will be renewed and restored ‘as in the days of old’. In this respect, the golden age reveals to the latterday community its ‘authentic’ (usually pre-industrial and rural) self and bids it rediscover and realize that self under quite different conditions.

Finally, the memory of a golden age is closely linked to a sense of collective destiny. The road that the community expects to take in each generation is inspired and shaped by its memories of former heroic ages. Their values and symbols form the basis and spur to heroic feats of communal self-sacrifice in the future, a future that can become as glorious and fulfilling as the days of old. Memories of Irish golden ages, pagan and Christian, endowed Irish men and women with a vision of a resurrected Ireland and inspired Irish nationalists to heroic self-sacrifice on its behalf. In early twentieth-century Egypt, two visions of a resurgent Egypt, the one strictly Egyptian and territorial, the other Arab and ethnic, competed for the loyalty of Egyptians; the secular, territorial vision drew on the memories of Pharaonic grandeur to underpin a separate Egyptian destiny, whereas the more religious, ethnic vision harked back to Islam and the Fatimids for the Arab destiny which it sought. In other words, the ideal of self-renewal and the vision of collective destiny are built into the collective memory of a golden age and justify all the sacrifices that citizens may be asked to make.

So much for the concept and general functions of the golden age. In concrete historical instances, golden ages, like the ethno-histories of which they form the high points, are unevenly distributed across the globe. Just as some communities can boast full, rich and well-documented ethno-histories with more than one golden age, others must be content with only shadowy memories of a collective past and its heroes. Slovaks, for example, had great difficulty disentangling their ancient past of ‘greater Moravia’ with ninth-century heroes like Svatopluk from the better-known and fuller records of the Bohemian kingdom of the Czechs. To this day, Ukrainians seek to disentangle their closely related culture yet separate past with its golden ages in Kievan Rus and the Cossack hetmanates from the much more all-embracing culture and better documented Muscovite and ‘Great Russian’ golden ages. One must add that it is not only large and powerful nations with long-independent states like Russia, China, Japan, France and Spain that can boast rich, well-documented ethno-histories with more than one golden age to emulate. Smaller, but ancient communities like the Irish, Armenians and Jews can also point to several golden ages in their long and well-recorded ethno-histories.

On the whole, those communities with rich ethno-histories possess ‘deep resources’ on which to draw, and so can sustain themselves over long periods and maintain an extended struggle for recognition or parity. Even where they lack political and military security, their successive layers of cultural resources underpin their political claims as well as their sense of common ethnicity. This is not to say that ethnic nationalisms will only emerge in communities able to boast rich ethno-histories, but simply that such communities are unlikely to disappear or be submerged and, once aroused, can continue their struggle for long periods under adverse circumstances. Communities that lack these well-documented ethnohistorical resources may well rise up in protest, as have the Moro and Eritreans. Some of them may even succeed in gaining independence after a long struggle, but whether, in the absence of such cultural resources, they will be able to sustain their new-found sense of community forged in battle, remains an open question. If they cannot create out of their prolonged struggle an ethno-history and even a golden age of heroic resistance to be recalled and emulated in times of crisis, they will not have those ‘deep’ cultural resources to fall back upon when internal conflicts and dissensions break out. In these as in other cases, history must be turned into ethnic myths and shared memories must become the basis of an ethno-heritage.

On the other hand, their very lack of rich ethno-histories relative to other better endowed neighbours stimulates these culturally peripheral and politically disprivileged communities to remedy this deficiency in a world where power stems from culture, in the same way as relative economic deprivation often spurs resentment and political emulation. Thus analysts would do well to focus on the comparative politics of uneven ethnohistory, and more especially of golden ages, if they wish to understand both the power and variety of ethnic nationalisms.


The second major set of ‘deep resources’ on which different nationalisms can draw relates to religious belief, and more particularly to myths of ethnic election.
The general proposition here concerns the relationship between popular mobilization and sanctification. In order to mobilize large numbers of people, leaders and movements need to appeal to either material and status interests or promise individual salvation, or both. For many, status interests at least are served by a promise of individual and collective salvation. Now salvation in turn requires men and women to sanctify their lives and situations through correct belief and practice on the part of each member of a community of believers, and through the periodic ritual and moral renewal of that community.

Where a population is defined through processes of sanctification as a community of shared faith or belief, such a community tends to underpin and redefine populations united by shared memories and myths of origin, and thereby impede their politicization. To memory and myth are added collective beliefs and rituals; yet these selfsame beliefs and rituals may prevent the population in question from conceiving itself in any other way than as a ‘faith community’ or acting outside the limits of traditional orthopraxy, as occurred for some time with both Arabs and Jews.

One of the most important and influential of these collective beliefs is the myth of ethnic election. This singles out the community as a ‘chosen people’ entrusted with a sacred mission to proselytize or crusade or act as standard-bearer of the true faith. The mission sanctifies the community and the world and its fulfilment brings closer the salvation of the community and the world of which it forms the epicentre.

This is the general form of election myths that we encounter among so many peoples and communities in history from the Neo-Sumerian revival under the Third Dynasty of Ur and the ancient Egyptians of the New Kingdom to medieval Catholic France and early modern Protestant America and modern Afrikanerdom. In all these cases, election myths attach redemption through sanctification to a community of shared memories and myths of origin, turning it into a chosen people entrusted with a sacred task in the world’s moral economy and thereby helping to purify and set that community apart from outsiders. Here we have a potent source of the moral exclusiveness of so many ethnies, their belief that by being entrusted with a sacred mission they stand in a position of superiority at the moral centre of the universe.

Among some communities, a stronger form of election myth has emerged. This is the idea of ‘the covenant’, the belief in a once-for-all contract between the community and its god, which requires the members of the community to fulfil certain ritual and moral obligations which define their sacred mission in return for which the deity will accord the community a special status, protection and privileges. The covenantal scheme was pioneered in ancient Israel, but it has been adopted elsewhere by such communities as the Armenians, Ulster Irish and Afrikaners. The ideal of a covenant as the source of their ethnic election has given these communities of shared memory and origin myths a durability and self-renewing capacity which forms one of the bedrocks of their contemporary political struggles.

Covenanted peoples manifest a particular intensity and persistence in their sense of ethnic election which validates their orthodoxy and sustains their communal practice through continual acts of sanctification. These in turn strengthen their belief in collective salvation through the periodic mobilization of a sacred community. In this way, the community’s shared memories and origin myths are drawn into the covenantal scheme and are reinterpreted as sacred events in the formation and mission of a holy people.

There are a number of important consequences of such myths. Ethnic election myths, and particularly covenantal schemes, confer on the communities that evolve such beliefs an extraordinary sense of rectitude and moral superiority. This contrasts starkly, and indeed often compensates for, the many hardships and tribulations endured by the ethnic elect. These myths endow the persecuted, exiled or subject community with a determination and moral fibre which enables the community (if not all its members) to withstand a harsh fate, thereby providing the people with what Herder would have regarded as a deep well-spring of energy (Kraft).

Second, myths of ethnic election offer the members of a community a chronological scheme of status reversal. The elect may be persecuted now and subjects today; but in time their sufferings will be recognized and their virtue rewarded. They will, in the end, triumph over their enemies and attain the goal of their journey in history. This is particularly vividly expressed in covenantal schemes of which the Israelite Exodus from Egypt stands as the prototype, but it also applies to peoples without a clear covenantal scheme like the Catholic Irish or the Welsh who nevertheless regard themselves as an elect community. Conversely, the triumphant elect, those communities that are regnal and dominant like the Castilian, French or Amhara, credit their high status and privilege to the fulfilment of their sacred mission and the virtue of their members.

Linked to the ideas of mission and status reversal is the broader ideal of collective destiny which draws on the concept of chosenness to chart a unique path for the elect community. Reinforced in its mission by a sense of election, the nation can look forward confidently to a unique and glorious future commensurate with its true status. This sense of a distinctive and peculiar destiny has become, in secular form, part of the rhetoric of party politicians and statesmen; but it also has important moraleboosting and unifying functions in times of crisis and danger, as in Churchill’s or de Gaulle’s speeches to the British and French during the Second World War.

Fourth, ethnic election myths and especially covenantal schemes draw a strict boundary between the members of the elect and outsiders who cannot be redeemed. It is because they have accepted the obligations of their sacred mission that they have in turn been sanctified and chosen as a community. Conversely, it is because the outsiders have rejected those obligations and that mission that they have become profane and excluded, even damned. Such a sharp boundary demarcation appears to justify the ethnic elect in programmes of self-purification through exclusion and segregation of outsiders.

Finally, ethnic election myths are demotic. The energy they tap is that of the people, the whole community and not a particular segment; similarly, it is only through the mobilization of the people, the whole community, that the sacred mission can be achieved. The mission in turn requires every member to fulfil their sacred duties and regards every member as being equally eligible to enjoy the privileges of ethnic election--something that is particularly clear in covenantal schemes which are always contracts between whole peoples and their god.


The third set of ‘deep resources’ relates to historic territories and more specifically an ‘ancestral homeland’.

In general, a specific geographical area or space becomes associated with a particular collectivity, in the eyes of its members and of those around, in so far as it provides the location and arena for, and is felt to contribute uniquely to, key moments or turning points in the past experiences of the collectivity. The mountains, rivers, lakes and forests of a particular geographical space have afforded a special place and provided the scene for historic events--battles, treaties, revelations, oaths, shrines, migrations and so on--associated with a given community, and in subsequent lore have become an indispensable part of the shared memories and mythology of that community.

For ethnies a particular geographical area has become associated with a given community either as the traditional place of origin (in the origin myth) or as the locus of its liberation, settlement and golden ages. The association is threefold: first, as the unique and indispensable setting of events and experiences that moulded the community; second, in so far as the ethnic landscape is felt to have influenced and contributed to the course of events and the efflorescence of the community; and third, and perhaps most important, as the final resting-place of our forefathers and foremothers. These shrines underline the way in which a special space has come to belong to a particular community and, reciprocally, the community has become part of a specific land and particular ethnic landscapes. So, the land becomes ‘our’ territory and the ‘eternal home’ of our ancestors, an ancestral homeland, a motif that figures prominently, along with the paeans to ethnic landscapes, in the folklore and cultural heritage of ethnic communities.

This relationship between people and land is the product over the longue duree of continual myth-making and the recitation of shared memories. Through the elaboration of folktales and legends and the performance of rituals and ceremonies, successive generations are reminded of various periods of their ethnic histories, and above all, of their golden ages.

In this way, a particular territory and specific landscapes are historicized. They become essential elements of the community’s history, and the land becomes an historic homeland.

The association is even stronger where the ethnie is also a community of believers, animated by a unifying faith and cult. In these circumstances, the ancestral and historic homeland becomes also a ‘sacred territory’. A holy people must be located in an equally sanctified land, a land conferred by the deity on a sanctified people as a reward for correct belief and conduct in the execution of their sacred mission. The terms of the covenant between the community and its god requires a sacred arena set aside for the fulfilment of the spiritual mission, a ‘promised land’ When the community is sundered from it, it is said to be in a state of spiritual exile; spiritual redemption therefore requires its restoration to the ‘promised land’.

Interestingly enough, the sanctification of the land came later, as a result of the community’s sense of election, of being set apart from its neighbours in the pursuit of the sacred mission with which God had entrusted the people. Thus the land of Canaan, though it figured prominently in the early formulations of the Covenant between God and Abraham as a reward for its fulfilment, did not become sacred in the eyes of the ancient Israelites and Jews till the late eighth century B.C., although it was long revered as the site of burial of the patriarchs and other holy figures.

There is an alternative scenario. Here the elect must search for, and discover, a promised land, a territory that a community of believers will sanctify through the performance of moral and ritual actions in building an ideal ethnic and civic community. It is the believer-pioneers themselves who, in creating their New Jerusalem whether on the African veldt or the American prairie, will realize the promise of a land whose features are integral to the utopia which they hope to build in fulfilment of their sacred mission.

In both cases, the historic homeland becomes sacred partly through the same processes of myth-making and shared remembering as occurs in all ethnic communities, but also through the special heroic acts of moral and ritual conduct of a community of believers and its religious heroes. It is the memory of their example in moments of revelation and crisis that creates a special bond of holiness between the community and its homeland, as well as the piety and awe which surrounds the tombs of prophets, poets and holy men and the sepulchres of righteous kings and warriors, laid to rest in the land of their people.

The ancestral land also links memory to destiny. For it is in the reborn land, the homeland which is renewed, that national regeneration takes place. The sacred land of our ancestors is also the promised land of our descendants and posterity. It is only on our ‘native soil’ that we can realize ourselves, that the nation can become truly free and authentic again. Hence the liberation of the land from oppressors is not simply a political or economic necessity; it is demanded by a unique history that requires fulfilment in a glorious destiny through the rebirth of a community on its own terrain.

The ‘deep resource’ which an ancestral, even a sacred, homeland offers, is not isolated from the other deep resources. Usually the three sets of resources are combined. Shared memories of golden ages are always associated with attachments to ancestral homelands, even where these are not sacred territories; and myths of ethnic election require both ancestral homelands for their execution, and usually a standard or model of inspiration for future generations, the memory of a golden age in which the sacred mission was heroically fulfilled. Hence the tendency for the three sets of deep resources--ancestral homelands, golden ages and myths of ethnic electionto combine and recombine in varying forms and degrees, thereby endowing many ethnies with great resilience and staying power down the ages.

Monday, 24 August 2009

St. Bartholomew

Today is the feast day of St. Bartholomew. Flayed alive and beheaded, his emblem is a butcher’s knife and he is the patron saint of leatherworkers and tanners. Earlier this month Christians remembered St. Lawrence whose martyrdom involved being grilled over a slow fire, emblem: gridiron and patron saint of cooks.

The associations are made so direct that they serve as aide-mémoires to the sacrifices the Saints made and that Christians may ever be called upon to make. In the centuries of Christian growth the idea that Christians may have to give their lives to preserve a country’s Christian character or take the faith to new lands was at the heart of the culture. I think I read that more homes in pioneer America had a copy of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs than any other book. What a contrast with today. St. Bartholomew sacrificed himself; today’s Church leaders sacrifice their nations for their own status.

Taylor and the Little Picture

In an otherwise strong review of Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West, Jared Taylor makes a common error of specialists. Because his professional focus is entirely on the symptoms of mass non-White immigration into the West Taylor rationalises that Europe’s political leaders are reluctantly compelled by the principle of non-discrimination to impose their solution for immigrant related problems on all communities:

By contrast, Europeans act on principle. When the French decided they couldn’t have Arab girls wearing veils to school, they felt compelled to ban yarmulkes and ‘large crucifixes’ as well. Italians and Germans couldn’t ban veils without taking down classroom crucifixes that may have been up for centuries.

Europeans therefore cannot bring themselves to combat alien practices head-on. When the Danes got sick of Muslims fetching brides from the old country, they had to ban young spouses rather than illiterate Third Worlders. By forbidding the import of marriage partners under the age of 24, the Danes mostly stopped the practice, but they had to pretend they had an underage-spouse problem rather than an immigration problem.

Measures like this bother people who shouldn’t be bothered. If the authorities step up surveillance on fire-breathing imams, they think they have to keep tabs on other people, too. If they cut back on welfare because of immigrant chiselers, they have to change the rules for everyone. Although it came to nothing, one Swedish bureaucrat, shocked to discover female genital mutilation was going on in her country, argued for mandatory checkups for every Swedish girl.

If Taylor did not choose to limit his study to the effect and ignore the cause he might have concluded that Europe’s rulers find ‘managing diversity’ a useful excuse for imposing the policies they prefer but that would otherwise have little justification.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Maurras on Rulers

An appropriate comment on the last post and on the day’s news, Charles Maurras in Le Mauvais Traité (capitalised in the original for emphasis):


Lewis Carroll (on the likes of Lewontin and Gould)

Lewis Carroll, Sylvie and Bruno Concluded

The Professor’s Lecture

“Our Second Experiment”, the Professor announced, as Bruno returned to his place, still thoughtfully rubbing his elbows, “is the production of that seldom-seen-but greatly-to-be-admired phenomenon, Black Light! You have seen White Light, Red Light, Green Light, and so on: but never, till this wonderful day, have any eyes but mine seen Black Light! This box”, carefully lifting it upon the table, and covering it with a heap of blankets, “is quite full of it. The way I made it was this--I took a lighted candle into a dark cupboard and shut the door. Of course the cupboard was then full of Yellow Light. Then I took a bottle of Black ink, and poured it over the candle: and, to my delight, every atom of the Yellow Light turned Black! That was indeed the proudest moment of my life! Then I filled a box with it. And now --would anyone like to get under the blankets and see it?”

Dead silence followed this appeal: but at last Bruno said “I’ll get under, if it won’t jingle my elbows.”

Satisfied on this point, Bruno crawled under the blankets, and, after a minute or two, crawled out again, very hot and dusty, and with his hair in the wildest confusion.

“What did you see in the box?” Sylvie eagerly enquired.

“I saw nuffin!” Bruno sadly replied. “It were too dark!”

He has described the appearance of the thing exactly!” the Professor exclaimed with enthusiasm. “Black Light and Nothing, look so extremely alike, at first sight, that I don t wonder he failed to distinguish them! We will now proceed to the Third Experiment.”

The Professor came down, and led the way to where a post had been driven firmly into the ground. To one side of the post was fastened a chain, with an iron weight hooked on to the end of it, and from the other side projected a piece of whalebone, with a ring at the end of it. This is a most interesting Experiment!” the Professor announced. “It will need time, I’m afraid: but that is a trifling disadvantage. Now observe. If I were to unhook this weight, and let go, it would fall to the ground. You do not deny that?”

Nobody denied it.

“And in the same way, if I were to bend this piece of whalebone round the post--thus--and put the ring over this hook--thus--it stays bent: but, if I unhook it, it straightens itself again. You do not deny that?”

Again, nobody denied it.

“Well, now, suppose we left things just as they are, for a long time. The force of the whalebone would get exhausted, you know, and it would stay bent, even when you unhooked it. Now, why shouldn’t the same thing happen with the weight? The whalebone gets so used to being bent, that it ca’n’t straighten itself any more. Why shouldn’t the weight get so used to being held up, that it ca’n’t fall any more? That’s what I want to know!”

“That’s what we want to know!” echoed the crowd.

“How long must we wait?” grumbled the Emperor.

The Professor looked at his watch. “Well, I think a thousand years will do to begin with,” he said. “Then we will cautiously unhook the weight: and, if it still shows (as perhaps it will) a slight tendency to fall, we will hook it on to the chain again, and leave it for another thousand years.”

Here the Empress experienced one of those flashes of Common Sense which were the surprise of all around her. “Meanwhile there’ll be time for another Experiment,” she said.

“There will indeed!” cried the delighted Professor. “Let us return to the platform, and proceed to the Fourth Experiment!”

“For this concluding Experiment, I will take a certain Alkali, or Acid--I forget which. Now you’ll see what will happen when I mix it with Some--” here he took up a bottle, and looked at it doubtfully, “--when I mix it with--with Something--”

Here the Emperor interrupted. “What’s the name of the stuff?” he asked.

“I don’t remember the name,” said the Professor: “and the label has come off.” He emptied it quickly into the other bottle, and, with a tremendous bang, both bottles flew to pieces, upsetting all the machines, and filling the Pavilion with thick black smoke. I sprang to my feet in terror, and--and found myself standing before my solitary hearth, where the poker, dropping at last from the hand of the sleeper, had knocked over the tongs and the shovel, and had upset the kettle, filling the air with clouds of steam. With a weary sigh, I betook myself to bed.

More from Tocqueville on Democracy

I would have titled the post ‘More from de Tocqueville’ but it seems the ‘de’ is not appropriate there. I don’t know why that is, why we call ’em de Gaulle and de Beauvoir and just Tocqueville, but my Chambers Biographical Dictionary can’t be wrong - it is edited by Magnus Magnusson. (Prior A. de T. post here)

Whenever social conditions are equal, public opinion presses with enormous weight upon the mind of each individual; it surrounds, directs, and oppresses him; and this arises from the very constitution of society much more than from its political laws. As men grow more alike, each man feels himself weaker in regard to all the rest; as he discerns nothing by which he is considerably raised above them or distinguished from them, he mistrusts himself as soon as they assail him. Not only does he mistrust his strength, but he even doubts of his right, and he is very near acknowledging that he is in the wrong, when the great number of his countrymen assert that he is so. The majority do not need to force him; they convince him. In whatever way the powers of a democratic community may be organized and balanced, then, it will always be extremely difficult to believe what the bulk of the people reject or to profess what they condemn.


I think, then, that the species of oppression by which democratic nations are menaced is unlike anything that ever before existed in the world; our contemporaries will find no prototype of it in their memories. I seek in vain for an expression that will accurately convey the whole of the idea I have formed of it; the old words despotism and tyranny are inappropriate; the thing itself is new, and since I cannot name, I must attempt to define it.

I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and all alike incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.

Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood; it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided that they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances; what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?

Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things; it has predisposed them to endure them and often to look on them as benefits.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Black Police Associations

Excerpts from a journal article interspersed with commentary:

British Journal of Criminology: Volume 44, Number 6 Pp. 854-865

The Development of Black Police Associations: Changing Articulations of Race within the Police

by Simon Holdaway and Megan O'Neill

Black Police Associations have been established in 35 of the 43 constabularies in England and Wales. The pace of their development has been considerable, marking a significant change in the organization and articulation of race relations within the police workforce … They bring their membership of ethnic minority officers and support staff into a formally recognized structure, fulfilling a number of functions. A seat on constabulary committees is secured; individuals are given support; social events are held; and the profile of ethnic minority staff is raised.

The Home Office recognizes the importance of associations in a number of ways. Financial and other support is given to the National Black Police Association, whose offices are provided by the Home Office. Membership of Home Office and constabulary working groups and committees is offered to its officers. Local associations have become indicators of good practice within Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary inspection framework. Black Police Associations are therefore based securely within the contemporary police landscape, shaping one feature of a wider, sometimes turbulent, terrain of police race relations.

[Omitted here is a lengthy passage about the ‘feelings’ of non-White officers and the rise of the complaints culture. Long story short: non-White officers often felt isolated working mainly with Whites whose culture and attitudes were different from theirs (I can think of one answer to that problem that appears not to have been considered), and started to sue the force charging racial bias when passed over for promotion. The upshot is the Met decided in 1990 to hold a series of seminars to investigate the non-White officers’ complaints.]

cont… This has been etched into the history of associations as ‘The Bristol Seminars’, held at Bristol Polytechnic in July 1990. All ethnic minority officers serving in the Met, together with a sample of white officers, were required to attend discussions in small groups about many aspects of their work. A report of the seminar was written by ethnic-minority officers, detailing, in clear terms, a very different experience of employment for white and for ethnic-minority officers. In the preamble to the report of the seminar, it is said that:

Many officers from the white group, however, remained distrustful and uncooperative; most did not acknowledge that their black and Asian colleagues had any specific problems and were therefore unable to address themselves to these problems.

[Every non-White officer attends but merely a sample of the White officers... The report of the findings is written up by exclusively non-White officers. If the intention had been to prejudice the findings and place on record the greatest number, widest range and most provocative examples of non-White officers’ experiences that’s how you’d do it. And the converse: you’d also have set things up to minimise coherent opposition to minority race-based claims.

You can understand the White officers feeling a mite aggrieved at having to attend this kind of seminar. They were of the view (recorded in the section I cut) that where officers had legitimate grievances there existed a functioning complaints procedure. But in this period we were entering the era of ‘institutional racism’ where an aggrieved party does not need to show that his antagonist has done anything wrong, he merely has to show that he is aggrieved for ‘racism’ to be demonstrated. Holding these seminars and structuring them in such a way as they did seems to suggest that the Met had accepted the non-White officers were suffering some form of unjust treatment at the hands of their White colleagues. And yet the evidence is vague and the ‘punishment’ collective. What employee would not feel aggrieved? Even I would feel hard done by - and I am racist!

The requirement that Whites should uncritically accept the non-Whites’ claims and ‘acknowledge’ the problem exists before changing accordingly is a demand that would return again in the Macpherson Report ten years later: ‘there must be an unequivocal acceptance that the problem actually exists as a prerequisite to addressing it successfully.’ It’s really a way of outlawing dissent. The problem, racism, exists because non-White officers say it does, so an uncooperative White officer is tolerating racism. And it doesn’t matter that the systematic focus on non-White perceptions is objectively racist, because any White officer, as in society generally, who dares to say White people also have race-specific interests in these matters is ‘racist’ anyway.]

cont… The report of the seminar raised the status of ethnic-minority officers, setting out their perspectives and the changes that they believed necessary to create a compatible working environment. Crucially, it also brought a large number of officers together, fostering a developing consciousness of the highly racialized context of their work; that racial prejudice and discrimination were a common experience; and that, together, they could develop a strategy to lobby for change.

[Raised their status and set out their perspectives… how nice - for them. / If you set out to racialize a context there’s a better than average chance you’ll subsequently be conscious of that context being racialized. / I’ll bet the racial prejudice implicit in the seminars and the discrimination explicit in their structure and focus were an unacknowledged part of the ‘common experience’ - even though you must ‘acknowledge’ the racism, even objectively demonstrable racism, before you can remedy it...]

cont… It is important to remember that the seminar was organized by the Met’s senior ranks, who required ethnic-minority officers to attend. The reasons for it are not clear, save that the number of industrial tribunals gaining pace may have prompted some senior officers to act. Whatever the formal intention, the heightening of a racialized consciousness amongst ethnic-minority staff and their expectation of change was an unintended consequence of the seminar. As far as the development of associations was concerned, the seminar created a strong network of ethnic-minority officers, who continued to meet socially.

[It is more likely that the ‘heightening of a racialized consciousness’ amongst ethnic minority officers was an intended consequence of the seminar. This is perfectly consistent with the general tenor of ‘multiculturalist’ discourse at the time and is a practically inevitable consequence of a process designed to ascertain a picture of these officers’ racial consciousness! It’s a point often emphasised with regard to issues of local councils deciding not to fund Christmas celebrations that the impetus for these excesses comes more often from raceless managerial elites than from ornery minorities. It’s also quite possible that it was seen as beneficial to make White officers as White officers feel uncomfortable and pressured. An early variant on Ian Blair’s hanging ‘em out to dry approach.]

cont… Regular social events were held at central London venues for officers who had attended Bristol and their partners. Attendance at what became known as the ‘Bristol Reunions’ grew quickly, with upwards of 300 people purchasing tickets. The officers who organised the events have said that they became a major task, eventually needing a committee to coordinate arrangements.

Their organizers described the events as ‘safe’, meaning they had three key characteristics. First, officers attending could be sure that they would not be the subject of racial jokes and banter, or other expressions of racism. Secondly, the required dress code was formal - a style that members of Afro-Caribbean communities within the police liked. Thirdly, there would be no rowdy behaviour, no drunkenness, no spilling of drink over each other and no atmosphere of bravado, common to many police rank-and-file gatherings. (Authors’ note: This was the perception of officers. We are not sure about its accuracy. It may have been an exaggeration - a stereotype against which ethnic-minority reunions could be compared.)

[I love that. You can feel the authors’ discomfort at having to recount a litany of racist stereotypes and double standards - this coming from their designated victims of racism.]

The social events are of particular interest when considering the move from an individualistic to a collective understanding of ethnicity within the police. Officers who attended the reunions chose to do so because they perceived themselves to be united by their categorization and ascription to membership of an ethnic group. White partners of black officers were given a proxy ethnic status and welcomed. What Handelman has called an ‘ethnic network’ was forming in the Metropolitan Police. Officers chose to meet with their ethnic peers. They identified each other and their attendance at reunions in relation to an ethnic ascription, to being black. Reunions offered opportunities to make an investment in and to exchange resources that could be gathered and fostered as members of an ethnic network. An awareness and group consciousness of being a member of an ethnic group was one such resource - an affinity with other black officers. Stronger alliances between officers became a possibility. It was feasible to cultivate and strengthen one’s sense of ethnic identity, to sustain relationships based on the criterion of ethic ascription.

[Yes, I too am wondering how they write approvingly of all this when their knickers would be in a real old twist if it was a network of White officers they are describing.]

The reunions were shot through with meanings of ethnicity of relevance to employment within the police. Cultural symbols recognized by members of the one ethnic group were displayed and affirmed. Organisers of the events talked about their formality, the smart dress code required, the rules of decorum, of manners, of speech, and so on. Some of these were described as distinct characteristics of events that ‘black people attend’. They were recognized and strengthened by these gatherings.

Most of these features, however, can only be understood when juxtaposed to other, more negative meanings. The formality of events attended by black officers was in contrast to the perceived informality and, at times, perceived delinquency of those attended by white officers. The formal dress code was characteristic of ‘black events’ and in marked contrast to the casual code of white events. The language used was free from negative, racist expletives and connotations, common to the rank and file. The socials were ‘safe’, controlled by and for ethnic-minority people, free from the disruption threatened by ethnic-majority colleagues.

Bristol reunions created a space within which black police officers were not assumed to be like white officers. To attend a Bristol reunion was to be a black police officer and a black person within a ‘safe’ environment - the opposite of the ‘unsafe’ environment of other police gatherings. In a sense, to attend the Bristol reunions was to not attend socials organized by white officers; it was to declare that one was not white and, by default, to categorize the ethnicity of white police officers. One was, in many ways, the opposite of the other, orchestrated to counterbalance the damaging, as Wilson emphasized in his evidence to Macpherson, pervasive occupational culture … Ethnicity was and is not expressed in and of itself, but to gather capital for ethnic-minority officers and, perhaps, their partners.

[A common complaint in the section I cut was that White officers tended to see the ethnic-minority officer not merely as another officer, but as an ethnic-minority officer. Here we have that complaint turned on its head. Apparently they wanted to have their distinctive non-Whiteness recognised all along - just not by Whitey - even though they intended it be recognised at his capital expense.]

cont… […] The reunions were more symbolic than instrumental. Constabularies do not change because ethnicity is affirmed and ethnic opposites are defined at social events. Much more is required if ethnic resources are to be used in relationships of power; a range of alternative policies need to be developed to touch pressure points of racial prejudice and discrimination within constabularies; and the voices of black officers need to be heard as authentic, persuasive and demanding of change. Deeper incursions into police territory were required if changes of policy and practice were to be realized. Something more robust and visible than an ethnic network was required.

[If ‘more is required if ethnic resources are to be used in relationships of power’ how did White racism come to define the police force without any visible policies, pressures, voices or incursions, robust or otherwise? The Whites didn’t even have a Whites-only association where they defined their members by contrast with tolerant, smart and sober Blacks! How’d they do it?]

cont… […] A momentum to develop the Bristol reunion network increased and an association was formed. Membership of the new association was inclusive, offered to black and Asian officers and support staff. The association took a vigorous stance when supporting colleagues alleging discrimination in employment.

[Placing those last two sentences together … what does it say about the authors’ smug self-confidence in the justness of their racist-anti-racism?]

cont… […] The association could not be seen as divided in any way or by any tactic that senior command might deploy. A unified, black police association was to challenge a unified, white constabulary.

In 1997, the Metropolitan Police Black Police Association announced its public launch at New Scotland Yard. The Commissioner was invited as the keynote speaker but his permission to hold the very public event that attracted the attention of the national media was not requested. The association took the initiative away from the Met, pressing its senior command to make a decision about whether or not they offered support. In effect, the Commissioner was presented with a fait accompli. His failure to offer no or qualified support could be seized upon as an endorsement of the status quo, including its racially discriminatory features. The Commissioner responded in his keynote speech at the launch, acknowledging that his choice was to either offer the association his full support or to sit on the fence, which was not an option. The Metropolitan Police Black Police Association was launched - the first ethnic-minority police association in the United Kingdom.

[This reads like a Hollywood movie: the Black freedom fighters snatch victory from the unified White constabulary ... sorry ... conspiracy in the final scene, outwitting the head Nazi with their superior smarts (racists are always dumb and Blacks are always clever in the movies). A Morgan Freeman voiceover would tell us over triumphal music that the freedom fighters went on to achieve recognition from the rest of the country’s elite, other top cops, the government, the media and academics. And not just their organisation but their righteous ethos, too. And that is what happened... Pretty much... Except for the absence of any White person anywhere near the levers of power who objected to the creation of the Black Police Associations and their agenda... In fact, every White person anywhere near the levers of power raced to embrace the associations and their agenda. But aside from that ...]

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

The ‘Latinoization’ of Miami

Here’s an eye-opening history of the ‘Latinoization’ of Miami. It’s disturbing enough in what it says, calling attention to the way ‘Miami’s old-line, non-Hispanic white political and business elite’ subsidised its own dispossession assisted by the CIA pursuing its imperial goals, but I suspect the deeper truth is even worse: that the ‘Cold War’ was largely a phoney war whose primary purpose was domestic social control and Military Industrial profit; and that the ‘American’ state considered the presence of Cubans in Miami beneficial not only for their anti-Communist views but because they contributed to ‘diversity,’ i.e., social division, so adding to pressure that America’s racial and cultural identity be redefined. But like I say, if the truth is only as bad as presented here, that’s quite bad enough.

Latinos: Remaking America, Eds. Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco and Mariela M. Páez (David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, Harvard University and University of California Press, 2002) pp. 75-81

Chapter 3: Power and Identity: Miami Cubans

by Alex Stepick and Carol Dutton Stepick

The Building of Cuban Miami

We Cubans made Miami. Before us, Miami was nothing but a decaying winter vacation spot and swamp. Now, it’s the capital of Latin America. And, we Cubans did it!

-- A Miami Cuban businessman

Indeed, Cubans do deserve much of the credit for shifting Miami’s economic focus from northern tourists to international southern trade. But their stories of self-congratulation usually fail to acknowledge the critical political context that encouraged them—even permitted their success.

Cubans fleeing Castro’s Cuba began arriving in significant numbers in the 1960s, following the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion. Their arrival reflected both the failure of a U.S.-backed military invasion of Cuba and the failure of a socialist revolution to retain those who had the most skills and resources for reconstructing Cuba. The Cubans’ arrival also coincided with the construction of Great Society programs that provided extensive benefits to minority populations and that were quickly expanded to include Cuban refugees. The U.S. government created the Cuban Refugee Program, which spent nearly $1 billion between 1965 and 1976. Through this program, the federal government paid transportation costs from Cuba and offered financial assistance to needy refugees and to state and local public agencies that provided refugee services. Even in programs not especially designed for them, Cubans seemed to benefit. From 1968 to 1980, Latinos (almost all Cubans) received 46.9 percent of all Small Business Administration loans in Dade County.

Even more important was indirect assistance. Through the 1960s, the private University of Miami had the largest Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) station in the world, outside of the organization’s headquarters in Virginia. With perhaps as many as twelve thousand Cubans in Miami on its payroll at one point in the early 1960s, the CIA was one of the largest employers in the state of Florida. It supported what was described as the third largest navy in the world and over fifty front businesses: CIA boat shops, gun shops, travel agencies, detective agencies, and real estate agencies. Ultimately, this investment did much more to boost Cubans in Miami economically than it did to destabilize the Castro regime.

The state of Florida also passed laws that made it easier for Cuban professionals to recertify themselves to practice in the United States. At the county level, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, 53 percent of minority contracts for Dade County’s rapid transit system went to Latino-owned firms. Dade County Schools led the nation in introducing bilingual education for the first wave of Cuban refugees in 1960. The Dade County Commission also designated the county officially bilingual in the mid-1970s. With about 75 percent of Cuban arrivals before 1974 directly taking advantage of some kind of state-provided benefits, and with virtually everyone profiting from indirect aid, the total benefits available to the Cuban community appear to surpass those available to any other U.S. minority group.

The first wave of Cubans has been labeled the “Golden Exiles,” the top of Cuban society who were most immediately threatened by a socialist revolution. These new arrivals were different from other minorities in the United States. They were not only white but also predominantly middle or upper class. The presence of entrepreneurs and professionals in the Cuban refugee flow provided a trained and experienced core who knew how to access and use the extraordinary benefits provided by the U.S. government. Some had already established a footing in the United States and, when the revolution came, abandoned one of their residences for another across the straits of Florida. A Cuban shoe manufacturer, for example, produced footwear for a major U.S. retail chain before the Cuban revolution. He obtained his working capital from New York financial houses. After the revolution, the only change was that the manufacturing was done in Miami rather than Havana. He even was able to keep some of the same employees.

The earlier-arriving, higher-status refugees created the first enterprises in what came to be known as the Cuban enclave and allowed Miami to be the only U.S. city where Latino immigrants created a successful and self-sustained ethnic enclave economy. Miami has proportionally the largest concentration of Latino businesses (over fifty-five thousand) and of large Latino enterprises in the country. Although Miami-Dade County has only 5 percent of the total U.S. Latino population, thirty-one of the top one hundred Latino businesses in the United States are located there. U.S. Cubans’ rate of business ownership is more than three times that of Mexicans and nearly six times that of Puerto Ricans.

The Cuban enclave benefits not only Cuban business owners but also the broader Miami Cuban community. Most later-arriving Cuban immigrants from more modest origins than the Golden Exiles are employed by Cuban Miami enclave firms in various entry-level positions, which may offer low wages but can often be apprenticeships rather than dead-end jobs. Miami Cuban employers frequently provide training to their Miami Cuban workers and may even help them establish their own independent businesses. Miami Cuban garment workers become subcontractors, establishing informal workshops in their homes. Miami Cuban construction workers become contractors or subcontractors, also working out of their homes. For financing, workers who have turned entrepreneurs can go to banks (sometimes owned by Miami Cubans and certainly staffed by Miami Cubans) where they are likely to find sympathetic loan officers. For markets, they rely on the Miami Cuban community’s loyalty and preference for buying from “their own.”

The result has been a most economically successful immigrant community. A comparison of Cubans and Mexicans who came to the United States in the mid-1970s, for example, revealed that the Cubans not only had higher wages than the Mexicans, even Cubans with the same educational level as Mexicans received higher wages.

Miami Cubans also transformed Miami by attracting investment and migration from the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean, turning Miami into a diverse, dynamic Latino economic center of the Americas. Only New York has more foreign-owned banks than Miami. Nearly 50 percent of U.S. exports to the Caribbean and Central America and over 30 percent of U.S. exports to South America pass through Miami. Miami’s Free Trade Zone is the first and largest privately owned trade zone in the world. With more non-stop cargo flights to Latin America and the Caribbean than Orlando, Houston, New Orleans, Atlanta, Tampa, and New York’s Kennedy combined, Miami’s airport is the top U.S. airport for international freight. The airport has more airlines than any other in the Western hemisphere; it is frequently easier to get from one Latin American country to another by going through Miami than by going directly. Miami also has the largest cruise port in the world, ironically transporting primarily U.S. passengers on vacations throughout the Caribbean and Latin America while many of the citizens of those countries are immigrating to Miami. Miami may not be a global city equal to New York or London, but it is assuredly the economic capital of Latin America, and its Cuban immigrants made it so.

The economic transformation has also altered much of Miami’s culture. For example, at a 1998 event held by the University of Miami and the state of Florida to discuss plans for educating a “multilingual workforce for the 21st Century,” the university’s newly installed dean of education, an import from a university up north, spoke of language diversity as a problem that people where he came from would soon be encountering. The faculty member who was moderating the conference gently reminded the dean that in Florida multilingualism is viewed as an asset and promised to continue to educate him.

Antibilingual-education measures such as those that passed in the late 1990s in California no longer have a chance in Miami. It is easier to find a job, to shop, and just to get things done if one knows Spanish. It is also much easier to advance economically if one knows English. Miami is truly bilingual and multicultural. Miami Dade Community College has more foreign students, mostly Latino, than any other college or university in the nation. One of the three Spanish-language local television newscasts has more viewers than any of the local English-language television stations. The main Spanish-language daily, El Nuevo Herald, reprints articles from eleven Latin American newspapers. The 1990 census showed that Spanish had replaced English in Miami-Dade as the language most often spoken at home. Even at work, the language most frequently spoken by Latinos in South Florida is Spanish (42.2 percent).

It is not just the number of Latinos and the pervasive use of Spanish that makes Miami the de facto capital of Latin America. Latinos are also the demographic majority in some Texas cities, such as Laredo, El Paso, and San Antonio, and in other border areas such as California’s Imperial Valley, but there they lack the political and economic clout exercised by Miami Cubans.

Miami Cubans translated the favorable reception by the U.S. government and the millions of dollars of resettlement assistance not only into a self-sufficient economic enclave and thriving international economic city but also into a “direct line” to the centers of political power in Washington. Despite considerable political diversity among Miami Cubans in the early 1960s, by the 1970s politics and profits had become fused. Anti-Castro, anticommunist Miami Cubans invested locally and also enforced political consensus by harassing, boycotting, and even terrorizing their more liberal political and economic compatriots, a process referred to as enforceable solidarity.

The outcome was a profound economic and political solidarity. From the 1960s on, most Miami Cubans, despite their diverse class origins and social views, patronized other Miami Cuban-owned businesses and preferred conationals as business associates at the same time that they shared a coherent anti-Castro, anticommunist ideology. Expelled and despised by the government of their country, abandoned at the Bay of Pigs by a supposedly friendly host government, bartered away during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, and ridiculed by Latin American intellectuals, the exiles had few to trust but each other. As illustrated in a full-page advertisement in the Miami Herald that was paid for by the most powerful Miami Cuban organization, the Cuban American National Foundation, resentment and a sense of persecution had evolved:

All our achievements have been accomplished with a national press coverage that has often portrayed us as extremists. This has been the most unfair and prejudiced perception we have experienced in America. . . . The Miami Herald is aggressive in its ignorance of our people. It refuses to understand that Cuban Americans see the struggle between totalitarianism and democracy as a personal, ever-present struggle. We live the struggle daily because our friends and families enslaved in communist Cuba live it daily. (Cuban American National Foundation 1987)

Unlike other minorities, which usually adopt antiestablishment, progressive positions, Miami Cubans have been militant conservatives on foreign policy, specifically on anticommunism issues. As a result, anticommunist policy positions and anticommunist rhetoric are de rigueur for local political candidates. For example, in the mid-1980s the City Commission passed a resolution barring any expenditure of “funds of the City of Miami . . . where representatives of Communist-Marxist countries have either been scheduled to participate or invited to attend.” Subsequently, Miami-Dade County passed a similar resolution. In an effort to win Miami Cuban readership, the Miami Herald created an entirely new Spanish-language edition run almost exclusively by Cuban exiles who seldom have a favorable word for the Castro government.

The Miami Cubans’ solidarity has produced tangible political results. Miami’s city and county mayors are foreign-born Cuban immigrants, as are the superintendent of the public schools (the fourth largest district in the nation), the president of the community college (the largest in the nation), and the president of the local state university (one of the country’s most rapidly growing). In the wake of the Elián crisis, the Miami Cuban mayor fired the Anglo police chief and the Anglo city manager. They were replaced by Miami Cubans. Also Cuban-born are the Miami-Dade County police chief, the state prosecutor for Miami-Dade County, two congressional representatives, and the majority of the Miami-Dade County state legislative contingent. Nationally, the two Miami Cubans in the U.S. House of Representatives, along with the Cuban American National Foundation, successfully promoted Radio and T.V. Martí, which broadcasts to Cuba, as well as the Cuban Democracy Act, which tightened U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba. More generally, Miami Cubans have emerged as a group whose support is actively courted by a growing number of officeholders from outside the state—from presidential candidates to members of Congress seeking campaign contributions.

These victories have not been without costs to the image of Miami Cubans and the well-being of the overall community. In response to an intolerance concerning political opinions about Cuba, the Inter-American Press Association and the human rights group Americas Watch in 1992 condemned the Miami exile community for violations of civil liberties. There have been many other lost opportunities. The most recent examples: An international music market conference that focused on the Americas had met in Miami Beach for several years, but in 1998 the county blocked the conference because Cuban musicians were scheduled to attend. Also in 1998, the Miami Light Project, a leading local arts group, had to forgo presenting a Cuban musical group in order not to lose $60,000 in county funding. The July 1999 Junior Pan American Games track and field meet was moved to Tampa after Miami-Dade refused to support it because Cuba would be represented in the games. The Latin Grammys scheduled for September 2000 pulled out of Miami. For similar reasons, a local group bidding to hold the 2007 Pan Am Games in Miami-Dade pulled out after realizing that the county would not support the games because Cuban athletes would participate.

Achieving both economic and political success as a Miami Cuban did not necessarily shield individuals from prejudice and discrimination. Certainly during the early stages of Cuban settlement in the 1960s, Cubans confronted significant prejudice when apartment owners, for example, posted signs declaiming, “No Pets, No Kids, No Cubans.” Moreover, in an effort to prevent the political empowerment of Cubans, local Anglo politicians in the 1960s and 1970s successfully urged federal officials to relocate new Cuban refugees outside of Dade County. Public resentment against Cuban Americans mounted, especially in the wake of the 1980 Mariel boatlift when the Miami Herald editorialized repeatedly against Cubans and when national polls listed Cubans as the least desirable immigrants. This was largely a reaction to Castro’s propaganda about those leaving Cuba in the boatlift. As late as 1993, a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll found that only 19 percent of the respondents believed that immigration from Cuba has benefited the United States. Dade County was also the birthplace of the English-only movement in the United States during the 1980s.

By the late 1980s, after the election of a Cuban-born mayor, a majority on the city council, numerous state representatives, and a congressional representative, and recognizing the business elite’s inability to advance their agenda without the support of the Cuban business community, Miami’s old-line, non-Hispanic white political and business elite switched to a policy of incorporation. In the meantime, the Cuban enclave had been forging itself into the staging ground for a profound Latinoization of Miami.

Geoffrey Ashe on the power of Myth for renewal

Geoffrey Ashe, Mythology of the British Isles (Methuen Publishing Ltd., 2002)

Epilogue [pp. 305-307]

William Blake in his conception of the giant Albion, ranged far beyond accepted legend. By making this island the source of the primeval world-order, he was able to present the giant as a symbol of humanity, Primordial Man. Yet he did not turn him into a pure abstraction. He kept in touch with the mythologies he transcended, and, in particular, with a leading figure in the mythology of Britain. He wrote:

The giant Albion, was Patriarch of the Atlantic; he is the Atlas of the Greeks, one of those the Greeks called Titans. The stories of Arthur are the acts of Albion, applied to a Prince of the fifth century.

That last sentence has an air of profundity, but what does it mean? Blake is referring to several things, but pre-eminently to an aspect of Arthur that we have glimpsed more than once. A major reason for his recurrent spell, in a variety of guises, has been his golden-age aura. Other legends express the same dream, but the Arthurian golden age has an extra dimension. The king is gone … but he is not gone for ever. He is asleep in his cave, or immortal in his magical island; he will return, and presumably bring the golden age back.

That Blake saw Arthur in this light is manifest from what he does with his Albion, chiefly in the prophetic book Jerusalem. He depicts the symbolic giant’s career in such a way that Arthur’s departure-and-return story becomes a reflection of it. Wise and glorious in his primary state, Albion goes spiritually astray and sinks into a deathlike sleep, in which he lingers for aeons. This is externalised in the ills that beset humanity through loss of vision: the apostasy of the sages, and their decline into historical Druidism, prototype of oppressive religion; war, division, perverted science, and, in Blake’s time, the factory system and the iniquities of wealth. But at last light breaks in, Albion awakens, humanity is reintegrated, the world is reborn in love and forgiveness.

Even apart from Blake, Arthur himself, in this aspect, is a distinctive contribution to world mythology. There is nobody else quite like him - no human hero, at least. Other legendary sleepers, who may or may not wake up, are very probably imitations of him. And in any case they do not carry his golden-age quality. What Arthur stands for is the idea of a long-lost glory or promise, plus a belief (as may be repeated here) that it is not truly lost; that it can be reinstated for a fresh start, with intervening corruption swept away. Belief of that kind is a real and potent motive force which is seldom given due weight as a factor in history. It has inspired, or helped to inspire, several of the most radical movements for change.

Thus, the sixteenth-century Christian reformers, both Catholic and Protestant, held that the Church once had its golden age of apostolic purity. Cumulative abuses had corrupted it, but the Reformation, however conceived, would abolish them and recapture the pristine rightness. Or again, Rousseau gave the French Revolution a driving mystique by his doctrine of a virtuous, long-ago natural society ruined by bad institutions, but capable of being restored by good ones. Engels and Lenin invigorated Marxism by adding what was not at first part of it, a classless idyll of ‘primitive communism’ at the dawn of history, which the Revolution could restore on a higher level by ending the long succession of class tyrannies. In India, under British rule, nationalists who favoured westernised progress made no headway with the masses. The leader who did rouse them was Mahatma Gandhi, who condemned westernisation and evoked a wiser pre-conquest India of village communes and handicrafts, and the need to re-create it.

More recently the same motif has appeared again in the work of some women prehistorians, drawing on the poetic insights of Robert Graves, but also on the work of so accomplished an archaeologist as Marija Gimbutas. Their view was foreshadowed some time ago by the ‘Goddess’ interpretation of the megaliths. Once, they claim, there was a ‘matristic’, Goddess-oriented epoch when both sexes had their proper status, and society had a basic balance and rightness. This was brought to an end by the advent of a patriarchal, male-dominated age of gods. Suitable enlightenment through an informed women’s movement can bring the lost rightness back.

These phenomena, and others like them, have nothing explicit to do with Arthur, and many of those concerned would reject such an association. The point, however, is that Britain has evolved a myth embodying a way of looking at things which has deep roots in human nature. Some might speak of an archetype. It may be reasonable, it may be misguided. It certainly calls into question the humanistic idea of progress. Yet it remains a fact, recurrent in history. Why this should be so, is a matter for debate. Perhaps we should see it as an affirmation of life against death, against a sense of things-closing-in, which is all too frequent and natural. The glory did exist once; therefore it is not a mere phantasm, an impossibility; it can exist again. To have created a myth expressing that affirmation, however irrelevant its literary trappings may seem, is a unique achievement for Britain’s story-tellers. Was it an accident? Or did it grow, as Blake implies, out of the whole character and life-span of Albion? Certainly, when he traced that life-span in the same terms, with an apocalypse of awakening at the last, he was creating a myth himself, in full harmony with the materials that came to his hand.

Geoffrey Ashe: The Saints and the Kings

Geoffrey Ashe, Mythology of the British Isles (Methuen Publishing Ltd., 2002)

The English Inheritance: The Saints and the Kings [pp. 299-303]

Gregory, a Roman monastic founder, afterwards pope, was walking one day through the city’s slave market. He noticed some fair-haired, blue-eyed lads and asked what country they had come from. They were heathen Angles from Deira, the southerly portion of Northumbria. ‘Not Angles but angels,’ Gregory commented, ‘if they had the Faith.’ He planned a mission and even set out himself, but was prevented, first by a message from the Pope saying he was needed in Rome, later by his own election to the papacy.

As pope he dispatched a mission led by another monk, Augustine, which arrived in the island in 597. Augustine made his first contact with King Aethelbert of Kent, at that time Bretwalda. Aethelbert’s queen, Bertha, a Frankish Christian princess, had ensured that he would be granted a hearing. Aethelbert received the clergy in the open, because he feared that if he met them indoors they could use magic against him. With growing trust, however, the king housed them at Canterbury and finally adopted the new religion. While he made no attempt to impose it on his Kentish subjects, they gradually conformed. Augustine founded a Canterbury bishopric which was to become the Church’s headquarters in England. Progress, however, was slow and slight. Aethelbert arranged a conference with the Welsh bishops, but they had little interest in evangelising the old enemy, and Augustine’s attitude estranged them. They declined to cooperate in expanding his mission. Overtures to other kings by his aides and successors established only limited bridgeheads.

Many suppose that St Augustine converted England. Many even suppose that there were no Christians in this island before 597. The latter belief is manifestly false, and the former, though not manifestly so, is false none the less. Augustine’s only solid success was in Kent, and England’s Christianisation came from several sources, over nearly a hundred years.

The most promising extension from Kent, which happened in 625, was almost totally abortive. A priest from Canterbury, Paulinus, travelled north as chaplain to Aethelbert’s daughter, who was marrying the Northumbrian king Edwin, the fifth Bretwalda. After much wavering, Edwin summoned a council to debate a change in religion. He was persuaded when a councillor compared human life to the flight of a sparrow through firelight in a hall from darkness into darkness again - and urged the value of a doctrine that shone light into the obscurity before and after. But Edwin and his nobles had not been Christian very long when a Welsh invasion threw the north into anarchy. Edwin fell in battle, the queen and Paulinus fled, and hardly any of the neophyte Christians remained. The northern Angles’ true conversion was due to Celtic monks from Columba’s community, led by the humble and endearing St Aidan. They came at the invitation of King Oswald, who had taken refuge in Iona during the invasion, become a Christian there on the Celtic model, and returned to clear out the Welsh.

Oswald reigned at Bamburgh, formerly Din Guayrdi, perhaps the home of Lancelot. Once, when he and Aidan were at dinner, the king’s almoner reported that a number of his poor subjects were outside. Oswald handed the almoner a silver dish and told him to give them the food on it, and break up the dish itself so that each could have a fragment of silver. Aidan touched the king’s right hand and exclaimed, ‘May this hand never perish!’ and it never did; after his death it was enshrined in a silver casket and remained uncorrupted. Oswald died fighting Welsh and heathen Mercians in Shropshire, where Oswestry, Oswald’s Tree, commemorates a cross he set up. Miracles were worked by earth from the spot where he fell, and pilgrims carried so much away that they scooped out a pit. Oswald was revered as a saint in many places. He is the celestial patron of Zug in Switzerland.

The differences between Romans and Celts, notably over the fixing of Easter, came to a head in 663 at the Synod of Whitby. This was held at a religious community of Celtic type, with inmates of both sexes under an abbess, St Hilda. Oswald’s brother Oswy, who had followed him as king of Northumbria, presided. Wilfrid, abbot of Ripon and a strong advocate of Roman ways, appealed to the practice of the Church everywhere else, in conformity with the Pope, St Peter’s successor. As he put it, ‘The only people stupid enough to disagree are these Scots and their obstinate adherents the Picts and Britons, who inhabit only a portion of these two islands in the remote ocean.’ Colman, for the Celts, cited St Columba and others.

Arguments and precedents were tossed back and forth, till Wilfrid quoted Christ’s words to Peter, appointing him as the gatekeeper of heaven. Oswy turned to Colman: ‘Is it true that Our Lord said this to Peter?’ Colman acknowledged that it was. Oswy persisted: ‘Did he say anything like that to Columba?’ ‘No.’ ‘Then,’ said Oswy, with a smile of relief at having found a way to close the dispute, ‘I must rule in favour of Peter, or he may not let me in.’ So Rome won. Peripheral rumblings and mutterings lingered on, but the Church in England was henceforth united in its administration and practice, and governed from Canterbury.

Meanwhile, the slowly advancing West Saxons, themselves Christianised, had reached Glastonbury. The British monastery passed peaceably into their hands. It was the first institution in which the old and new people came together, with Christian continuity from ‘Arthurian’ times. Kings of Wessex made it a temple of reconciliation. After a while it attracted Irish scholars. The way was prepared for that fusion of traditions which gave the medieval Abbey its role in the formation of Arthurian legend.

Glastonbury’s first major patron was King Ine, a successor of Cerdic. In the ninth century it was a successor of Ine, Alfred the Great, who set England on course towards political unity, for which religious unity had laid the foundation. Alfred’s name, ‘Elf-rede’, hints at inspiration from good fairies. When he was crowned in Wessex, the other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms had been overrun by marauding Danes, and little remained of Wessex itself. It was told in later days how Danish victories reduced Alfred to a wandering resistance leader; how he refused to give up; how he spied out the camp of the Danish chief Guthrum disguised as a minstrel; how he took refuge in Athelney in the Somerset marshlands near Glastonbury; how, when deep in thought, he let a cottager’s fire burn some cakes which she had set him to watch, not knowing who he was; how the Virgin Mary appeared to him with words of encouragement; how he raised a final army, routed Guthrum at Ethandune, and forced him to retreat; how he commemorated the struggle by having a White Horse cut, or even two; how he recovered southern England and founded a navy. Let it be added that because he kept Wessex in being when the rest of the kingdoms were effaced from the map, his heirs were able to extend their domain with no rivals, and to become sovereigns of a united England, destined, for better or worse, to draw the Welsh and Scots into a united Britain.


What may be called the ‘St Augustine delusion’ is the last of the modern myths requiring notice, and one of the stubbornest. In its crude form it really does assert that there were no Christians in Britain till 597, and then Augustine arrived, and converted all of the population that mattered. The crudity is sometimes toned down, but much of the delusion persists. An ironic feature is its stark contradiction of the other myth about Britain’s early Christianity, that a separate and admirable Celtic Church flourished over most of the British Isles, till intrusive ‘Romans’, who had never had any jurisdiction before, enslaved and perverted it.

Neither account is anywhere near to being true. Augustine’s Kent was at one pole of the conversion process, Aidan’s Northumbria at the other, and the rest of the kingdoms were subjected to various influences over a long period, some from Kent itself and the continent, some from the north, some from Ireland. The Historia Brittonum claims that despite the Welsh bishops’ holding back, a Cymric northerner named Rhun, a son of Urien, played a leading role in the first Northumbrian mission and officiated in some way at the baptism of Edwin.

Anglo-Celtic Christianity had much to be said of it, and the uniformity following Whitby brought both gain and loss. Thanks largely to the redoubtable Wilfrid, rapid advances were made in art and architecture. The appointment in 669 of a learned Greek, Theodore of Tarsus, as Archbishop of Canterbury, helped to give the Church a firm structure and intellectual force. In the early eighth century, Bede of Jarrow was easily the foremost scholar in Europe. But the freer, more imaginative Celtic spirit lost ground. The prevalence of the continental outlook, with its fierce rejection of the old gods and all that went with them, may be part of the reason why the Anglo-Saxons fell so far short of Celtic achievement in the creation of mythology.

Alfred the Great was genuinely extraordinary. Besides his dogged resistance to the Danes, and final triumph at Ethandune (probably Edington near Westbury, where the horse is), he gave the crown of the West Saxons a new kind of lustre, and impressed himself on history as a personality. When at peace, he lived in a modest-sized manor at Cheddar, not only hawking and hunting but acquiring enough expertise in both pursuits to give advice to his falconers and kennelmen. He collected Anglo-Saxon poems and songs, welcomed travellers, and listened to their reports of distant countries. To promote his subjects’ education he founded a school for the sons of nobles (sending his own to it) and brought foreign scholars to his court, including a Welshman, Asser, who became his biographer. Part of his programme was to inform the people about their own past, and to this end he sponsored a compilation of traditions which was the first version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. He learned Latin, and presided over the translation of important books into ‘the language which we can all understand’ - an obvious thing to do, yet nobody had done it, and it was many years before anything comparable was done abroad.

He issued a code of laws drawn from the best of Kent and Mercia, as well as Wessex. Those he added himself were humane, limiting the custom of blood-feud, for instance. It will be remembered that according to Geoffrey of Monmouth, he copied laws from the ancient Britons; not so, but proof of the prestige which his code still possessed in Geoffrey’s time. That had been shown already by its adoption or imitation in other parts of England and Wales. To plan his work he invented a kind of clock, a graduated candle inside a transparent casing, which admitted air but kept out draughts so that the candle burned at a regular rate.

Several Welsh princes placed themselves under Alfred’s protection or became allies. Thanks to the Danes’ extinction of the other kingdoms, and their own waning, his son and daughter established their rule in Mercia, and his grandson Athelstan took over Northumbria. Athelstan routed a coalition of Scots, Irish and Norse, and was uncontested sovereign of the whole of England.

Alfred deserved the honour of a national epic, yet no one composed it. As a hero of legend Arthur leaves him so far behind that there is no comparison. The few Alfred legends, such as the anecdote of the cakes - probably bannocks - and his acceptance of the housewife’s rebuke, suggest that he was recalled as not only ‘great’, but human, good-natured and free from pride. Still, he had to wait a long time for a poetic celebration with any value. It came at last in G. K Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse, which conserves popular fiction about the Uffington horse being Alfred’s, by acutely postulating a pre-Alfred original which he restored. The Ballad is a perceptive and colourful mini-epic, with passages as fine as any poetry in English inspired by Arthur. Alfred’s companions in the poem rightly include representatives of Celtic and Roman traditions as well as Anglo-Saxon.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Blake uploaded

I have uploaded a 120KB PDF file of Kathleen Raine’s essay ‘William Blake’ to ifile and scribd. Download links here:

Geoffrey Ashe: Beowulf

Geoffrey Ashe, Mythology of the British Isles (Methuen Publishing Ltd., 2002)

The English Inheritance: Beowulf [pp.295-298]

Like the Scots, the Anglo-Saxons had their own minstrelsy. But with them, too, the first hero of legend in the new lands came from the legacy of the old. And he was not even one of themselves.

Beowulf is the only long Anglo-Saxon poem drawing its inspiration from pre-Christian antiquity. Its setting is in Denmark and thereabouts. In unrhymed alliterative verse, it begins by telling how the Danish king Hrothgar built a splendid hall. He named it Heorot. But when he had assembled his court in it, a frightful, half-human monster called Grendel started a series of raids, killing and eating Danish noblemen. Grendel lived in a cave under a lake. Wandering over the fens, he had seen Heorot and conceived a hatred for its lights, music and revels. The raids were his response, and he carried them out with impunity, because a devilish spell made him impervious to weapons.

Over a stretch of years he invaded Heorot many times, always after dark, and the Danes became afraid to go there except in daylight. At last Beowulf, a nephew of King Hygelac of the Geats, arrived by sea with fourteen companions and offered his help. Tall and handsome, a swimmer of unrivalled prowess, he had already dealt with water-monsters and believed he could defeat Grendel by strength alone. Hrothgar gave him leave to attempt it. That night the Geats lay down in the hall and waited. Grendel entered, slew one of them so quickly that Beowulf could not stop him, and devoured the corpse. Then he turned to Beowulf. The prince seized him in a wrestling grip. A fearful struggle ensued. The other Geats could do nothing to aid their leader, because their swords were useless against the demon. Eventually, Grendel wrenched himself free, leaving his arm in Beowulf’s grasp. He staggered back to the pool and reached his cave, but the wound was mortal.

The Geats hung the severed arm from the roof as a trophy. When the Danes saw it they rejoiced. The king and queen rewarded Beowulf’s party with many gifts. No one, however, had reckoned with a second monster, Grendel’s mother, who also dwelt under the lake and now came out to avenge her son. She carried off and killed one of Hrothgar’s most valued thanes. Hrothgar asked for Beowulf’s further help, and rode with him along the water-hag’s tracks, with a number of Danes and Geats following. One of the Danes lent Beowulf a sword called Hrunting.

The lake was a sinister place, with serpents writhing in it, and the head of the recent Danish victim lying on its rocky bank. Beowulf dived in, going down and down. Suddenly Grendel’s mother fastened her claws on him and dragged him into the cave, a sort of huge bubble enclosed by rock and lit by a fire. He soon found that the sword Hrunting made no impression on her. He attempted a wrestling hold as he had with her son, but stumbled and fell, and she broke free and attacked him with a knife. His chain mail saved him. Springing to his feet again, he caught sight of another sword, a gigantic one, taken in some earlier combat. Against this weapon the ogress had no defence, and he snatched it and cut her head off. Exploring the cavern in the firelight, he found the corpse of Grendel and cut the head off that too, to take back to Hrothgar. The blade of the sword melted in the venomous blood and he returned with the hilt only.

Most of the group at the lakeside had despaired of seeing him again, but he surfaced at last. Amid renewed Danish acclaim he took his leave and went home. Time passed. Beowulf became king of the Geats, and reigned prosperously for half a century. When he was not far short of a hundred years old he perished with glory, defending his people against another monster. This was a winged dragon that lived in the chamber under a burial-mould, guarding treasure stowed there by the last of the family possessing it. A runaway serving-man had crept into the chamber while the dragon lay sleeping and stolen a cup. The dragon began making forays and devastating the country with its fiery breath.

Guided by the thief, Beowulf traced it to its lair and approached behind a specially made iron shield. He had eleven warriors with him. When the dragon emerged, however, they all fled except for a youth, Wiglaf. With his aid the old king managed to kill the beast, but he was fatally wounded, and, having no son to succeed him, presented Wiglaf with his own armour and weapons and a gold necklace. Wiglaf brought some of the treasure out of the mound, and Beowulf1ooked at it, but died a moment later. The young man decided that it had been won at too high a price and no one deserved to have it. When the cowards returned he upbraided them scathingly. Under his direction the king’s body was laid on a funeral pyre and cremated, and the treasure was buried with his ashes under a tumulus called Beowulf’s Barrow, visible from far out to sea. So ends the tale.

Unlike Finn [MacCool], Beowulf was never acclimatised in Britain. A transfer of his Grendel exploit to Hartlepool, in County Durham, did not find favour.

Beowulf survives in a manuscript of about 1000 AD. Its date of composition is a matter of controversy. The Anglo-Saxon poet, like the Welsh author of the Pryderi tales, shows a personal Christianity in various touches and asides. He cites Genesis and even makes out that Grendel was descended from Cain. But his subject is pagan, and if his descriptions of artefacts are compared with items at Sutton Hoo and elsewhere, it is clear that knowledge of pre-Christian craftsmanship, as of the early seventh century, has gone into the poem’s making. King Hygelac can be dated after a fashion and puts the action earlier still. He is one among a number of named persons who occur in other contexts, though Beowulf himself does not. They include (not as a contemporary) a certain Hengest, possibly the Hengist with whom Vortigern made his fatal deal. Scandinavian parallels confirm the authenticity of the background. It is by no means certain, however, who the Geats are. They are generally located in southern Sweden, but they are not Swedes.

Heorot means ‘stag’. The derived English word is ‘hart’. Its explanation here may lie in royal symbolism. The abortive Hartlepool transfer was prompted by the first syllable of the place-name itself, basically heorot, with an allusion to stages on the headland.

So far as documentary evidence goes, Beowulf stands alone. The Anglo-Saxons in Britain never developed a real mythology. When the eighth-century poet Cynewulf composed narratives he turned to Christian themes, such as St Helen and the True Cross. Even such borrowing was restricted in scope. No Anglo-Saxon took the slightest notice of Arthur or anyone else in Welsh tradition. It was not till after the Normans turned Anglo-Saxondom into a different realm, in a new relation to the continent, that the island’s heritage began flowing together in England.

The Anglo-Saxons did make a contribution to Arthurian folklore. This was the Wild Hunt. Originally a gallop among the clouds by Woden and his Nordic companions, it became, in Britain, a more elaborate affair. Among the new huntsmen were Gwyn ap Nudd with his white, red-eared hounds, and Arthur himself in some spectral guise. The Wild Hunt spread to the continent as the Chasse Artu. The huntsmen summoned ghosts of the dead and the souls of unbaptised infants. Their visitations, especially with hounds (Gwyn’s or others), could be portentous of doom.

While the substance of Arthur’s literary legend owed the Anglo-Saxons nothing, several of the poets who enlarged it in English did adopt the alliterative verse-form, as in Beowulf. Though modified, this is the essential metre of three masterpieces: Layamon’s Brut, his epic rehandling of Geoffrey of Monmouth; the marvellous fairy tale, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; and a pre-Malory Morte Arthure. England’s annexation of the Celtic hero did not, after all, involve a total setting-aside of ancestral Englishness. That was still a presence in format if not in matter. Moreover it was Malory, not any French or German romancer, who gave the legend a definitive form and handed it on to future generations.