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Governing EnglandEnglish Identity and Institutions in a Changing United Kingdom$
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Michael Kenny, Iain McLean, and Akash Paun

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780197266465

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197266465.001.0001

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English Nationalism in Historical Perspective

English Nationalism in Historical Perspective

(p.271) 13 English Nationalism in Historical Perspective
Governing England

Michael Kenny

British Academy

This chapter proposes that much current talk of ‘English nationalism’ and its role in the vote for Brexit in 2016 is either empirically misinformed or conceptually misleading. Instead it proposes a historically informed perspective via an engagement with three different characterisations of the genesis of Englishness: the contention that the English are doomed to be ‘little Englanders’ until they cast off the shackles associated with the British state; the notion that it is empire above all that has moulded the character of English nationhood; and, finally, evolutionist accounts which trade upon familiar forms of national exceptionalism. Drawing selective insights from these accounts, while also questioning aspects of each, the author concludes that the ingrained habit of conflating Englishness with Enoch Powell’s anti-immigrant and anti-EU nationalism has stunted our understanding of this lineage of national sentiment and its politically contingent character.

Keywords:   English nationalism, British state, Englishness, English nationhood, exceptionalism

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