Thursday, 11 September 2008

On National Mythmaking

by Edwin Hesselthwite

A long while back yours truly got into a heated web-argument (one must learn to hold one's temper) with an American Patriot about the sacred role that the pioneer/revolutionary heritage plays in their national identity... While ranty and opinionated, I've thought back on this pair of paragraphs as something worth saying, whenever the words "Revolution" or "Constitution" are raised. It's a slow day at The Little Man, so it seemed worth recycling.

Every country is allowed to have its national-founding myth, however preposterous they may sounds to those not indoctrinated in it. French schools are allowed to teach a history of the first modern European constitutional republic (actually it was Poland), Greece's education is allowed to dwell heavily on the ancient civilisation that existed roughly where their country is, while avoiding all mention of The Turks, British monarchists are permitted to discuss at length 1066 as if the founding of the royal bloodline were the starting point for the habitation of these islands (it's always baffled me that Magna Carta plays a bigger role in the American national narrative than it does in the British). These national narratives are convenient shorthand for teaching children your cultural values, and they make very good movies... But they are national founding myths. And the older and more inflexible they are, the staler they become.

Almost every country in the world has, at some point or another, had a large scale revolution/major exchange of power (I'm rather fond of Britain's Glorious Revolution of 1688, and the radicals of the English Civil War were a pretty impressive bunch too). I think it's fair to say that the Eastern Europeans who overthrew communism, the Africans who overthrew colonialism and the Indians who kicked out the British have every bit as much right to claim a rebel heritage (did I mention we kicked out The Romans? No, because it isn't relevant.). I don't want to get into an argument that smells of Anti-Americanism, so lets stop this one here... Suffice to say that I regard the pioneer people/broke the nefarious British 200+ years ago argument as intellectually bankrupt.

Normal service will be resumed when we can think of something interesting to say.



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