‘An English look’, The art of decay

In An English look, Lluís Foix, with an enthusiasm that is contagious and a healthy nostalgia, leaves on record his admiration for the English, recreating the experiences of when he was a correspondent in London for The vanguard, for more than seven years, and of travels around the world from the capital of an empire in decline that still marks everywhere a very unique way of doing and thinking. Through its pages parade William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, insularity, cemeteries, landscapes, Brexit, lords and hooligans, the monarchy and the House of Commons, Oscar Wilde, George Orwell and Sherlock Holmes. Also the role of the English press.

Editorial advance

For some time now, the English have settled into a placid and pleasant decadence, long, priceless. They have known it since they have been the losers of the wars they won. The cultural and political alliance with the United States has allowed them to resist the erosion of a hegemony that was already fictitious. England faced Hitler from the solitude of an island hit by the economic crisis of the thirties of the last century.

Churchill desperately relied for more than two years that President Roosevelt would join the war against Nazism. Until December 7, 1941, the Japanese did not provide the pretext by attacking Pearl Harbor, something that was described as infamy by the White House.

The effort of the British to stop the feet in Germany was the key to the victory of the Allies. General de Gaulle, who was not at all Anglophile, recognized that without the bravery and courage of England the freedom of Europe would have been shattered. Relations between de Gaulle and Churchill would be stormy and at the same time expressly collaborationist. They admired and mistrusted each other. Churchill wanted to win the war against Hitler, allying himself with the devil if necessary, and de Gaulle also wanted to defeat Nazism but he was very interested in saving the honor of France tarnished by the delivery of the Vichy regime, presided over by Marshal Pétain, to the Berlin orders. Gaullist France Libre was the symbol and soul of the resistance.

At the end of the conflict, the British began a social policy that laid the theoretical and practical foundations of the welfare state. Labor, incomprehensibly, won the election and left the Conservatives led by Churchill in opposition. The country was living the consequences of two bloody wars that had killed hundreds of thousands of young people in the continental trenches. It could not respond to the threat that Stalinism posed in Western Europe. He was not even in the mood to defend Greece and Turkey from the economic and military pressures of the Soviet Union.

Western leadership had crossed the Atlantic and settled in Washington. The defense of democratic values ​​depended on the military and economic power of the United States. The two great countries, separated by a common language, began a long period of dependence on the old metropolis with the American friend. The winners of the 20th century were the United States.

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England was gently beginning its decline. After all, it is not so bad to enjoy the decline of a great nation. The most creative and humanly richest times of Athens and Rome were precisely those of the long course of their decadence. The most splendid period of the Bourbons in France preceded the Revolution of 1789, which guillotined Lluís XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. The tremendous boiling of Russian literature coincided with the corruption and misrule of the last tsars. The Spanish Golden Age, both in the field of painting and in literature, took place while the last Habsburgs lost control of an empire as distant as it was ungovernable.

It is not easy to be decadent. One of the constants of the most interesting decline is its gradual slowness, the fact of living as if nothing happened. The English considered the loss of hegemony with sportsmanship. Let us be honest, they said without finishing it, we have been the first country in the world for centuries, we have done very well and it is time for others to take over. We have to savor the decline as if we are still the best at everything.

Once the downturn started, they tried not to notice it. And, even more remarkable, one has believed that decadence was precisely one of the great assets of a particular way of seeing the world. One of the wonders of knowing how to be decadent is exalting the advantages of decay.

I have found many times that there are more Anglophiles abroad than in England itself. The common Englishman is patriotic and passionate, but those who know how the cycles of history go have realized that times have changed. They have read and have assimilated the great work of Arnold J. Toynbee on the evolution of peoples and civilizations.

The first display of quiet decadence is the famous expressionYou’e never had it so good, delivered by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan at a Conservative rally a few months after he was elected. You have never been so good. Go all over the country, visit the industrial cities and farms, and you will see prosperity everywhere. ” “I can say”, said Macmillan, “that I had never seen it in my life, in fact a similar situation was not known in the history of the country.”

The English like to exaggerate their character traits and character. They are not taken seriously

The economy, certainly, had dawned, and was translated into a current of collective enthusiasm in the sixties that took shape in Swinging London, a movement that made London and England a fashionable destination, with a special emphasis on everything that it was new and modern. It was a period of optimism and hedonism, a certain cultural revolution, which had its epicenter in London’s Carnaby Street. The short skirts, the rock, the disorderly order of a city that exhibited the bobbies walking two by two through the quiet neighborhoods of London, or the image of a policeman covering the most intimate parts of a citizen who jumped naked onto a football field. Everything was a metaphor for splendid decadence.

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It is not easy to decline. A collective effort is needed and it is a task for everyone, for politicians, for the rich, for the poor, for the young and old, for the intellectuals and the ignorant, for the bosses and for the workers. The English know how difficult it is to convince others that they are no longer what they were. The British brand is too powerful not to last beyond the deterioration it has suffered. The global imaginary of English excellence is maintained because the civic and institutional symbols have been maintained.

It has to be said, however, that once they have ascertained that they are coming down from the top, they have done so with the style and determination with which they dominated half the world, faced Hitler, or have stupidly engaged in fighting among themselves to flee. of Europe.

“I prefer constructive decline to frivolous progress,” one journalist from the 1980s used to say in a London tabloid column. It is not the enthusiasm of the Premier League or the indecipherable game of cricket that maintains this spirit. the wealth and the implantation of a universal language, culture, universities and, above all, the 132 Nobel prizes in Physics, Chemistry and Economics that have been awarded until today. Among the ten best universities in the world there are five English, and in museums of all kinds hoard the glories of a past that is positively projected into decline.Let’s not forget that his ingenuity invented the steam engine, the sewers and the London Underground.

As the country enters a happy twilight horizon, there are attitudes that have not changed at all. They are the invariable features of the national character. You have to talk about the weather with fervent interest, almost with passion.

No one will ever skip a queue or ask for anything in a store if the clerk has not previously spoken to you. They are not hobbies. They are attitudes that are still traded, and a lot, in old England.

The English like to exaggerate their character traits and character. They don’t take themselves seriously. Although the supremacism of Brexit has led many English to believe that they are still the world reference, the typical English, not contaminated by the growing populism since 2016, the opinion that outsiders have of them is not believed. If someone begins by saying that they are a great country, the oldest parliamentary democracy, an example of coexistence, in exquisite ways, many will get tired of laughing. And those who do not laugh will be offended because no one has enough authority to distribute medals on their qualities or their defects. They are most comfortable when told that they were a great empire and that they won many wars. ‘Oh, and that in 1966 they were proclaimed world soccer champions with that Bobby Charlton, who is a national icon. The inventors of most sports have not won the greatest number of trophies in the international arena, except perhaps cricket.

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But they always show uninhibited skepticism without showing any sign of ostentation. The most common thing is that if you have a superiority complex of any kind, it has to be subtle, an inch at most, priceless, even if it is real. A little and enough.

And to flatter these Britons who have made decadence, fictitious or real, a gesture, a way of moving, the best thing is to tell them that they are indolent, lazy and stupid. The Irish writer Bernard Shaw won fame and fortune by writing and proclaiming that the English were stupid.

They are winners by nature, but they also accept losses as if they were victories. It should not be forgotten that the explorer and captain Robert F. Scott is as legendary as Edmund Hillary, the New Zealand mountaineer and explorer who first topped Everest in 1953 on behalf of the British Empire. The feat was announced on the day of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Scott found himself involved in a race on the ice of Antarctica with the Norwegian Roald Amundsen, who was the first to plant his country’s flag at the South Pole.

It is not easy to be decadent, one of the constants of decadence is its gradual slowness

Amundsen arrived on December 14, 1911, and Captain Scott appeared on January 17, 1912. For a few days, with the misfortune that the entire expedition died on the way back to the base where they had left the ship. Neither glory nor life. Still, Captain Scott’s feat is duly recognized in one of the many bronze statues to be found near Trafalgar Square. He was an officer in the Royal Navy who had competed with sportsmanship and courage, despite finishing second.

The decline of empires and civilizations is going little by little. You are not in a hurry, because moments of loss of power or strength are used to live peacefully. These are the times of great artistic and cultural creativity that produce phenomena like the Beatles, the great actors of theater and cinema, the literature on the guts of their tendency to produce great spies, good diplomats and excellent academics. A country that can go on forever in its decline because it is comfortable going downhill slowly, without push, but knowing that the frivolities of conservative elites can lead it to the precipice.

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