Genocide ! Ethnic cleansing ! Minority rule ! Apartheid ! Mass expropriations ! Yes, you've guessed it. The history of England !
The kingdom of England was born of one of the most thoroughgoing campaigns of ethnic cleansing ever carried out. According to Peter Beresford Ellis in Celt and Saxon this is borne out by the complete lack of surviving Celtic place names left on the map. We hear that a century or two after driving off the remaining Celts to the wilds of Scotland and Wales, the Saxons (sassenachs in Gaelic) were Christianised and repented. This didn't stave off their comeuppance, first at the hands of the Danes who took over the North-East of the country and then, far more grievously, with the Norman invasion.
With this event the oppression of the foul by the fair went into high gear, and was to outlast Magna Cartas, civil war, rebellions and Reform Acts. The divisions it created survive today as virulent as ever, and can be seen in patterns of land ownership, class divisions, linguistic features, as well as in the so-called "mindless violence" which is so much a trademark of the English scene. To this list must be added the extraordinary survival of the House of Lords, an institution whose primary function has been to block the one thing England most badly needs - Land Reform.
Those who watch westerns will be familiar with the civilised ploy of usurping a preliterate people's tenure of ancestral lands by demanding to see written title deeds. This fruitful exercise was first carried out with resounding success by William the Conqueror and his aides and resulted in the so called Domesday Book. Schoolboys are given to understand that this book was a sort of census of smallholdings for tax purposes. We were also told that William brought about "much needed" strong government to Britain. In the immortal words of Molesworth in 1066 and all that, these were "Good Things".
To understand why, 935 years later, these evil acts continue to bear violent fruit, a comparison with modern Spain might illuminate. The hostilities played out in the Spanish Civil War have attenuated a mere two generations later into friendly regional rivalries. The significant difference is that in the case of Spain the victors were not land-grabbers. As a thought experiment, it is easy to see that if my grandfather murdered yours in the heat of war, you and I can still carry on a normal relationship. But if my grandfather killed yours and stole his land and you are now paying me rent to live or work on it, I will always be your enemy no matter how nice I try to be about taking your money or crops.
For nearly 400 years the official language of the administration in England was French. The adoption of English in 1457 was hailed as some sort of victory for the underclass, but from a linguistic point of view the divisions remained intact. The blond invader's "fair speech" was a creole of Saxon, Danish and French far removed from the basic Saxon or Danish-based "dialects" of the grovelling field labourers. Even today Fair Speech and Foul Language still represent the two irreconcilable poles of English society. In an imaginary slanging match between a member of today's ruling class and a cockney cabbie, the former might use terms of French origin such as "imbecile", "unpleasant individual", "stupid person", while the cabbie's Anglo-Saxon reply would get this page blocked by half the firewalls of today's schools. And while the colour of a man's hair and even his dress are no longer a guide to his ascendance, his vowel sounds are a badge of allegiance which he would do better to disguise if he walks into the wrong kind of pub.
What the Normans started, the Tudors were prepared to carry on with a vengeance (their takeover was, actually, vengeance). Their first obsession was to improve their own racial stock as well as their landholdings by imposing themselves on as many blonde Norman ladies as possible. As a reaction to this, Norman snobbery ("my family goes back to William the Conqueror") probably dates from this time. The new royalty's landgrabbing task was complicated by the aforementioned title deeds, and new methods of expropriation were invented. "Morton's fork" was invented by a chancellor of the exchequer who was a past master at the art of squeezing the barons, who in turn squeezed the peasants. As a last, or sometimes first, resort there was always the hanging method. This involved paying spies to fabricate evidence of treason against rich landowners. The lands of those executed on this charge became Crown property. But the biggest prize was the ecclesiastical lands. Henry the eighth's bust-up with the Church of Rome was just the prelude to a long and very profitable tide of expropriations both of lands actually owned by the church and of lands belonging to so-called recusants. The new Church of England provided a way of vastly widening the purview of "treason", using the protestant religion as its pretext. Founded on greed for land, it was to reach its logical conclusion when exported by Oliver Cromwell to Ireland with the Penal Laws debarring Catholics from all ownership of land. These laws were a stroke of English genius, a double whammy for Ireland, for when they were repealed 150 years after their introduction, apparently in the name of Justice and "Fair" play, they produced such a huge rise in land values owing to the suddenly increased demand, that even the reform's opponents were won over.
The one large remaining block of unseized land was the so-called Common Lands. They were a thorn in the flesh of the oppressor class who didn't enjoy the sight of dirty-faced, insolent shepherds browsing their flocks on land for which they paid no rent. The Enclosure acts which put an end to this intolerable situation were predicated on a neat and novel argument - efficiency ! The idea was that people who had to pay rent were more likely to put the land to more intensive and efficient use. The food shortages which added weight to this argument may or may not have been engineered to this end. The only remaining question was: Who should they pay rent to? Why, obviously, to those who would then make sure the Crown got its cut - the landowners.
Unfortunately the labouring class were still very much in evidence. The threat of prosecution (or a bottom full of shot) for Trespass could keep them at bay, but no amount of tree planting could render them completely invisible. Their untidy hovels were a blot on the landscape even when they weren't rioting under the influence of drink How much more enjoyable country life could be if a way could be found to dispense with their services ! They could be sent to war, for example. Now there was an idea ! They could be used to grab land abroad !
The nineteenth century saw the putting into effect of various solutions to the "unwanted people" problem, from the Industrial Revolution which started by replacing agricultural workers by machines, and corraled the dispossessed into the grimy Bantustans of Greater Manchester and Birmingham, and the rise of the British Empire, culminating in the carnage of the Great War.The global increase in scope for dubious real estate management practices afforded opportunities for new upstart players to join the ranks of the old Norman elite. On the whole they met with such success worldwide that a new optimistic feeling of putting the world to rights became the normal swaggering style of the British as a nation.
Since the Brits went global the results are everywhere to see. A glance at today's world map shows that no continents bar South America have escaped the British mania for redrawing boundary lines. Millions of lives have been lost and continue to be lost in wars over lines drawn by British colonisers. In the Twentieth Century various dictators and maverick states have taken leaves out of the British book - some more grotesquely than others. Most have failed to hang on to their winnings not because they used the wrong brand of sanctimoniousness or picked the wrong victims or were too crude. They failed because they arrived too late. The Brits got there first then rewrote the rules.
Today huge swathes of the most expensive rent-bearing urban land in Europe are owned by the Church and Crown of England, and a large slice of the working lives of city dwellers is devoted to swelling the coffers of these two entities, who through the unique British system of leasehold manage to perpetuate the ruthless hold of PLU (People Like Us - i.e. sons and daughters of the nobs) on the bloody winnings of their forebears.
Brits, doncha love 'em? Now we are showing Afghanistan the way to peace ! Watch out !