IN Wantage’s marketplace stands a statue of King Alfred the Great. It was erected in 1877 to commemorate the Oxfordshire town’s most famous son.
Accompanying the statue is a plaque which reads from the standpoint of Britain in 2021 as if it were from another planet:
‘Alfred found learning dead and he restored it. Education neglected and he revived it. The laws powerless and he gave them force. The Church debased and he raised it. The land ravaged by a fearful enemy from which he delivered it. Alfred’s name will live as long as mankind shall respect the past.’
Admittedly I’ve never seen the statue. That last sentence, however, has stayed with me: ‘Alfred’s name will live as long as mankind shall respect the past.’
Until very recently I knew little about Alfred the Great. Something to do with Wessex and that he was the man who somehow saved the Anglo-Saxon realm – that was about all. I’d wager this morsel is still more than the average person in the United Kingdom who has been a victim of a ‘modern education’.
What could account for this lack of knowledge? By most standards I am ‘well educated’ – whatever that means nowadays – but I knew almost nothing of one of England’s greatest historical figures until my third decade.
History classes at school were instead full of the slave trade: I remember lying on the floor with my classmates to simulate the cramped conditions of a slaving vessel en route to the New World. Somehow 20 seconds on the floor during GCSE history probably wasn’t quite the same as a voyage along the Middle Passage.
On a side note, the bustling Barbary slave markets full of their white chattels strangely never got a mention. Perhaps subsequent syllabi have included it.
It wasn’t just the slave trade, natch. We had the New Deal and the Holocaust too. At some point the Tudors made an appearance. Henry VIII and his six knives and all that, though we didn’t yet know that Anne Boleyn was black. Overall, the amount of English history – let alone British – was on the thin side, to put it mildly. History wasn’t a mandatory subject either, so my experience was an improvement on many in my cohort.
Without a past you have no present. I always found it particularly galling when, while studying history at university (which I didn’t enjoy, but not because of the history; I managed to avoid the ‘Exploring gendered realities in ancient Mesopotamia’ modules), a certain category of cretin would straighten his or her back in a cocksure manner upon hearing that I was reading about reforms to Roman coinage and say something groundbreakingly pithy such as ‘Oh, but why study history? It’s all in the past!’
I wish I could say it was an isolated incident.
The fetishising of the present is one of the modern world’s most destructive kinks. Having little knowledge of both the outside world (aside from ‘travelling’ – formerly known as ‘going on holiday’ – and YouTube vlogs) and of their own history, people are unable to recognise the comparative fortune of living in a modern, well organised society. It’s all taken for granted: the plumbing that takes away your effluent, the paved roads on which to drive and the seeming mundaneness of rubbish collection. Not knowing that world was different before, the historically ignorant assume that their luxury was ever thus. They view the relative miraculousness of society’s condition as akin to a hardy boulder which can withstand a thousand small chips, when it is in fact a rare blossom threatened by their ignorant stamping boot.
It is not just the young. The middle-aged have largely adopted a Flagellant’s view of British history: guilt through empire, slavery and other nasties, simultaneously adopting an inveterately hostile attitude to anything vaguely ‘conservative’ and an obsequious kowtowing to whatever appears remotely ‘foreign’. Personal experience testifies to this: my firmly Left-liberal uncle succumbed to an apoplexy of disbelief when I told him I had gone to church one Christmas; he rounded off the morning by calling me ‘Jayda Fransen’ (of ‘Britain First’ fame). It was one of our more pleasant festive encounters.
As a society we are many miles away from having a collective respect for the past, as celebrated on the plaque next to King Alfred’s statue. Events during the pandemic showed just how low we have sunk. Last year’s unedifying scenes of BLM-inspired thuggery on the streets of the UK were perpetrated by many imagining themselves the first to desire a ‘clean break’ from the past.
Perhaps said protesters would benefit from reading a book about Mao Zedong, Pol Pot or Lenin.
Nevertheless, if the low-information rioters had even heard of these people, it would have undoubtedly been met with the inevitable ‘yeah, but like, real communism has, like, never been tried’. Still, it is far easier to have a break from the past when you know so little of it; they probably think Lenin was one of the Beatles.
There would have been a time when such brainless, antisocial idiocy would have been met resolutely by the adults in the room. Not today, though. The answer of today’s ‘grown-ups’ is to acquiesce to every one-minute-old demand of the illiterate woke mob.
Perfectly demonstrating this is Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol. Instead of being put back on its plinth, it has been humiliatingly ‘exhibited’ lying on its back, graffiti mockingly still there. It is presented to the public in the manner of a trophy taken from a defeated enemy.
The proper response would have been swiftly to return the statue to its rightful spot. If needs be, a small security detachment wielding paintball guns could be stationed on rooftops around the statue, bombarding any determined ‘activists’ should they try to recreate last June’s shameful scenes. I’d happily volunteer for the first shift.
After all, it is now more than urgent to protect our history as the Left deceitfully seeks to degrade and deny our past.
Anglo-Saxon England was in dire straits when Alfred became king. While we are materially better off than our forebears of over a millennium ago, who could argue today that our learning, education, laws and Church are not seriously debased and in need of thorough reform? Although the Viking threat has long been neutered, that we are a land ‘ravaged by a fearful enemy’ rings distressingly true to the modern ear.
Britain in the 21st century has a choice to make. If we respect the past we will have a future; perhaps one day we’ll even be rewarded with our very own Alfred the Great. If we don’t, it is all but certain that our future will be closer to the fate of Edward Colston’s statue: defaced, demeaned and dumped into the harbour.