In 2003, when Tony Blair was about to join the Americans in the invasion of Iraq, I picked up a copy of a book by a Catholic commentator, called Chosen People, the big idea that shapes England and America. 

The book disturbed me. It analyses how political leaders and movements, especially Protestant ones, use the idea of God being on their side.

It’s done by making speeches that create parallels between a contemporary problem and an analogous story in the Bible. The author, Clifford Longley, quotes Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech as an example. It also popped up in George W Bush’s 2001 inauguration speech, ‘Do you now think an angel rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm?’

These ideas still circulate in our subconscious and speechwriters can be very adept at drawing on them. At the time I read it I was troubled by the book because I realised my Anglican education had given me the idea of the English being a ‘special’ nation. Other European countries, for example, couldn’t do things as well as we could. We had won the Second World War and our institutions were the envy of the world.

Ever since the war in Iraq, I’ve thought this idea absurd and wrong. But it still lingers in our private schools and our political institutions. Is it the reason why the British continue to insist on playing such a prominent part in foreign conflicts?

The English might not really believe they’re chosen any more, but they support the Americans who do. Lord Hannan, the man who drew upon some of these myths in support of the Brexit campaign, gave a startling speech earlier this year in the House of Lords. He’s still preaching the ‘chosen’ message.

He articulates the idea that the West is special, and he outlines the threat to its status.

Ultimately the only way to protect our democracy, open society and the rule of law, according to Lord Hannan, is to use ‘proportionate violence’ – which is why Clifford Longley has a problem with the idea of ‘chosen people’ – ultimately according to this idea you’re going to have to impose your values through force rather than persuasion.

Hannan doesn’t invoked God, but he does end his speech with a reference to a poem by Matthew Arnold about the loss of faith.

Watch it here:

Leave a reply