There never has been a single cultural identity that all English people have possessed, no value that they have all shared. The only concrete example that Aslet identifies reveals the vacuity of his vision. He laments the loss of the cultural practice of the "whole nation" sitting down to watch the Nine O'Clock News.
Aslet says that historically the British "behaved politely towards one another. They did not urinate, spit or belch in public. They did not beg. They were tolerant of one another's peculiarities ..." This Enid Blyton version of British history is not only fantastical, arrogant and pompous, it is also insulting, as the other side of the story is, of course, that non-British peoples do beg, urinate, belch, spit in public, and so on.
Aslet's lament for the "loss of quaint rituals" cannot be dismissed as a harmless plea for a lost idyllic age - it is an intolerant ideological vision which justifies, and does not avoid (as he claims), the racism, homophobia and other forms of violence that have typified English culture. Taking pride in the nation's past is often merely sad, but it is also dangerous when that past is mythologised and "others" blamed for disrupting that idyll.
Dr PHILLIP COLE
Lecturer in Applied Philosophy
London N17Reuse content