England: An Elegy, by Roger Scruton

Here is a book for Anglophiles.

There are four things that make up what is England; Scruton uses Shakespeare to discern them. 1 – the common people; 2 – the individual; 3 – England, by which he means its living incarnation in a representative, the English crown which is the spirit of England; and 4 – enchantment.

Scruton of course reaches far and wide, synthesizes observations, finds peculiar and compelling insights in unexpected places and manages as always to put a clear argument before the reader. Those four bare points above he embellishes with whole paragraphs set in a chapter where those themes are reinforced. The book itself is an elaboration of what those four points mean.

Enchantment is the point which I become most interested. The English managed to cast an enchantment over their land in no small part by means of the Church of England. It gave us the shire, and I wonder if it is not what gives us the whole genre of fantasy. England was an ideal, but that ideal is no longer at work in the land of its manifestation.

When people are animated by an ideal, then, to whatever small degree, they endeavor to live up to it. It is not in the gross material thing that a national character is revealed, but in the superfluities, the places where people are at one with themselves and endeavor to be what they ought: the institutions of education, justice, religion and leisure.

The ideal no longer lives significantly in the people of England. I often wonder what will come about in the next centuries, should there be more centuries. Surely if there are, out of the ruins somewhere someone will revive the ideal that was England once, like the ideal of the Rome and the ideals of the Greeks, and the enchantment of Palestine, and in a new way put them all to good use.

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