From Socialist Review, No. 170, December 1993.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The English Gentleman – the rise and fall of an ideal
‘Never since the heroic days of Greece has the world had such a sweet, just, boyish master,’ wrote George Santayana at the turn of the century. The Spanish born American philosopher, whose perceptive work has influenced none but the severely mentally disadvantaged, was describing the English ruling class of the time which was then exercising its paternal care over one fifth of the inhabitants of the globe.
From the squalor of city life in England to the squalor of city life in India, our masters treated us all equally – with total contempt. But just what was it that enabled our betters to maintain such high standards of behaviour throughout the length and breadth of that great empire? At last someone of stature and bravery, a Captain Oates of the literary world, has stepped forward to give us the definitive answer – it was the concept of the ‘English Gentleman.’
Philip Mason, who was born in 1906 and educated at Sedburgh and Balliol College, Oxford, before carving a career in that force for civilisation the Indian Civil Service, has skillfully traced the development of this elusive phenomenon from the works of Chaucer down to today. He has distilled out the very Englishness from this historic experience through painstaking research. One example takes in his relationship with one Minoo Masani, an opponent of the British Raj who then became a critic of the Indian government after independence.
‘He was by profession an adviser to one of the largest businesses in India,’ Mason tells us. ‘His employers told him that he must either leave the firm or give up criticising the government. “But I used to oppose the British and you raised no objection.” “Ah, but they were gentlemen,” his employers replied.’
Who can argue with such clear headed empiricism?
Trotsky had a slightly different line on the English gentlemen of the likes of Mason and his chums.
‘All the viciousness of the ruling classes, every form of oppression that capitalism has applied against the backward peoples of the East, is most completely and frightfully summed up in the history of the gigantic colony on which the British imperialists have settled themselves like leeches to drink its blood for the past century and a half. The British bourgeoisie has fostered every remnant of barbarism, every institution of the Middle Ages which could be in the service of oppression of man by man.’
You should buy this book for when you’re feeling tired and a bit like you can’t be bothered. Flicking through this pathetic idiocy will not only reflame your class hatred, it will make you wonder just how it is that a class whose best education can produce such a plonker as this has managed to hold on for so long.
Last updated: 1 March 2017