Civil Liberties

Why Is 'Un-British' Bad?


I was struck by British Defense Minister Liam Fox's description of the new Medal of Honor video game set in Afghanistan. He called it "thoroughly un-British," a phrase that presumably refers to something more than the game's country of origin. (Electronic Arts, which produces the Medal of Honor series, is based in Redwood City, California.) I surmise that un-British, like un-American, implies a contradiction of values that are part of the national identity. But what exactly are those values? I would have guessed that they include decency, fair play, tolerance (except of indecency and unfairness), and maybe a stiff upper lip. But after doing a little research, I'm not so sure. Here is a list of things that recently have been deemed un-British:

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's manner

British director Ridley Scott's boasting

Burka bans


Retroactive legislation

Rude talent show hosts

Coalition governments

"Living life at a high level of intensity"


Choosing health coverage


The Jeremy Kyle Show (which I gather is a British version of The Jerry Springer Show)

Political correctness

The "compensation culture"

"Public paranoia about everything from smoking to sunshine"

Punishment without charge

Invasions of privacy

If the standard is what British people actually do, several of these are more wishful (or wistful) than realistic. Unfortunately, the more appealing the implied value, the less likely it is to be upheld in practice.