Ed West on his Substack page “Wrong Side of History” has written a searing criticism of the modern obsession with ‘values’ and the ephemera of popular culture as the supposed foundation of British identity. Such tweeness is an ersatz substitute for the things that really bind a people together, he says.
British Twee is the patriotism of the soft-Left. While consciously anti-nationalist, this kind of tweeness is obsessed with defining British national character and values. This reaches its peak with pride about Britain’s universal healthcare, something enjoyed by literally every developed country except the United States.
And what does define national character and ‘British values’? Queuing, gin, tea, Harry Potter, and fish and chips (with the tedious proviso that, ackshuaally, fish and chips was brought over by immigrants.)
It’s twee to define a country by any values, especially such ephemeral matters as what beverage it prefers. Values don’t actually matter to a nation; what makes a land pleasant to live in is a shared sense of identity and history, creating social capital which allows prosocial norms to flourish. That’s how you get to Denmark.
The real purpose of a sense of patriotism is posterity — you care about your ancestors because you care about your descendants, and the descendants of your family and friends. A national obsession with the fripperies of British identity is the reverse; it’s cringe, the same cringe unleashed in the 1960s during the satire boom but which has become the national vibe.
This will be an unpopular view but ‘Keep calm and carry on’, the never-used Second World War poster, was in my opinion a good example of British Twee, a slogan that grew in popularity with the growing problem of terrorism. Just as much twee is cynicism and despair masked as irony, this was the pretence of Victorian-Churchillian stoicism covering up what was really learned helplessness. There are an estimated 20,000 or more potential jihadis in Britain — this is not a joke, and it’s not going to go away by laughing it off. ‘Carrying on’ is what got us into this mess.
The same goes for the other deep-rooted problems affecting a country that can’t afford complacency. To put it bluntly, we’re now quite poor, and we’re going to get poorer. Public services are collapsing, crime is on the rise, everyone I know below the age of 35 wants to leave. Immigration, the main reason we hamstrung our economy to leave the EU, is now running at record levels; the Tories promised to get it down to five figures, and instead it’s pushing seven. Housing costs are running at astronomical levels and family formation — the ultimate register of cultural optimism — has collapsed.
And the cultural leaders who like to think of Britain as forward thinking and global and all those good things can only see their national identity through the prism of recent pop culture; this is not ‘patriotism’, it’s the sad spectacle of a person trapped in middle-age misery wallowing in childhood nostalgia.
Tweeness is the mark of a people who know deep down that it’s right and healthy to honour the gods of their ancestors, but don’t believe in them anymore. They can only be treated ironically, as parodies, while things that should be laughed at are treated with reverence and even fear.
Worth reading in full.