A GENERATION AGO, not even the most rabid of Briton-baiters would have called the British an introspective people. Egotistical we were, no doubt, but in the smug, comfortable way of folk who have money in the bank and an unshaken confidence in the police. John Bull had become somewhat less expansive, and he was already a little jealous of his rich American cousins. Nevertheless he was still pretty certain that Pax Britannica represented an unmitigated blessing to the world. At home, there were rumors of class war, but the failure of the General Strike in 1926 and Stanley Baldwin’s work of reconciliation had taken social revolution off the agenda before the “revolutionary” 30′s began. And those writers of the 30′s– Auden, Spender, Orwell, Kingsley Martin, Harold Laski, John Strachey-made astonishingly little impact on English society at the time. It is safe to say that the average Englishman knew very little of the doings of the Left Book Club, and cared less. As long as Germany and Russia were weak, and America isolationist, Britain could lord it over India, the Middle East, and half of Africa, without fear of contradiction. And the basis of her power was still what it had been in the 18th century: Britannia ruled the waves.
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