The British Struggle:
Tradition vs. Progression
While in England these past few weeks, I have observed a cultural battle that the British people seem to be fighting in many aspects of their culture. This struggle is that of balancing the weight of their strong historical traditions with a need to progress with the modern world.
Whether it be their political or personal identities, The British are seem to be grappling with tradition and progression, but the question is why? Where does this originate?
I believe this battle began at the very start of British history, when Britain was just an isolated island, of a number of factions without names and without political structures, who were invaded by the ever-growing Roman Empire. Dr. Mike Ibeji, wrote “In the wake of the Roman occupation, every ‘Briton’ was aware of their ‘Britishness’.” The Romans invaded these nameless, poorly organized Tribes and gave them each a name, centralized rule, and organized them into political entities who were all united under one empire. Britain was essentially “born” as a group of people united under the most powerful regime, which has been known for its vastness and leadership in technology, politics, and militarism. This Roman invasion was the beginning of Britain shifting from a traditional, unorganized civilization to a progressive, united sector. It was the first time the “British” had to fight this particular internal battle, but it wouldn’t be the last. From the time of the Roman Invasion all the British have ever known was a conflict between tradition and progression.
We spent some time in class discussing British identity as a global empire, which had expanded farther than any nation had previously. In more recent years, England has moved forward from its era of imperialism, learning that it is not the superpower it was before. This can be seen in their recent political and economic turmoil, taken in the form of Brexit, a referendum that has highlighted the British struggle of progression vs. tradition. Britain was THE superpower, leading the European Union, and its informal empire in trade, technology, military power, etc. But, through its recent start to transition itself out of the European Union it has met the tradition vs. progression struggle head on. In the streets of London we find anti-Brexit stickers and European Union flags being passed around at celebrations of British culture, and yet the Brexit referendum still won a majority vote. The British people are themselves divided by traditional, European Union-Leading past and future apart.
You can see this internal conflict, rising from the Roman Era all throughout the British personality today. It is painted across their capital City, all you need is look when walking through the streets of London. The Tower of London, a medieval palace and fortress is accompanied by a view of the Shard, which is an example of groundbreaking architectural design. The ancient Roman wall scattered throughout the Financial district, arguably the financial center of the world, which is home to modern and Victorian buildings alike. Even in Portsmouth, where we spent time before crossing the water to the Isle of Wight, we see the preservation of old English battleships next to a progressive viewing tower.
This struggle is so deeply engrained in British personality. When riding the tube, you see averted eyes, Brits minding their own business and avoiding conversation with those they aren’t associated. It’s the Brits of the isolated island predating the roman invasion and rather than conversation between those who know one another and those who don’t, an openness more common in modern open cultures throughout the world, they isolate themselves. This very aspect of their identity is so well known that its joked about in their own public transit.
From their very start, at the time of the Roman Invasion, to the Imperialist era, and even in their current culture, the British have been in a continuous battle between the ancient inhabitants of an isolated Island and who they seek to be.