Jerusalem for 2010

This post was written by Reuben Bard-Rosenberg on July 30, 2009
Posted Under: Football,Music

If, like me, you are a  football fan then you will already be getting vague itchings of world cup fever. Yet, as things draw nearer another feeling may come over you. It will be a feeling of dread for the ridiculous spectacle with which England begins every match.

At the world cup, every national anthem has the potential to be silly and tasteless. The music is poor and players look embarassed. Yet we  in England  have particular reason to feel hard done by when it comes  to the anthem foisted upon us. The anthems of other countries do, in  some way or another, tend to celebrate the nation at large, and the  people who constitute it. By contrast our national anthem – or at  least the bit that gets sung – invokes nobody but the monarch,  as  though she were the nation. It is, in other words, predicated on a  conception of nationhood which was anachronistic even in the 19th  century.

But do not fear,  for there is potentially an alternative afoot. Given  that the language of patriotism has long been dominated by the right,  it is quite remarkable that there exists an ‘unofficial’ anthem that  is as radical as it is popular. Jeruasalem is a song that is unlike other anthems. Most national anthems are intrinsically conservative  insofar as they celebrate what is. By contrast Jerusalem does not celebrate the England that we see before us. Rather it is a hymn to what might be built and what might be done. Love for one’s country is invoked as a call to action, as a call for change.

There is indeed a certain backward looking element to it. Yet this  should be understood within the traditions English radicalism at the  time. Amongst the chartists in the 1830s and 1840s, amongst the  radical clubs and associations of the 1790s and many before them it  was common to invoke a semi-mythical pre-Norman England. I’m doing so radical reformers were able to look so far back that they could look  forward: Onto the ancient Anglo-Saxon society – for which knowledge was scarce – such men were able to project their vision for how they wished society to be organised in the future.  It is within this  tradition that I think Jerusalem stands.

There is one final context-specific reason why this song strikes a  chord.  It is that  today people rarely conceive of  building  the new Jerusalem in England. One part of the left has  bought into exagerrated pragmatism – to the idea of making the best of things  within the existing parameters, and all the conservativism that this implies.  Meanwhile on the ‘real’ left, revolutionary change is to rarely  imagined as a potentially british experience. Similarly, liberal gap year students seem to love the poor as long as they are somewhat exotic. Speaking for myself I know that before I went to university I  had read more than one bio of Che but could not name anybody who had  lead the chartists.

So who will join me in my crusade to make Jerusalem the world cup anthem?

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Reader Comments

I’m definitely with you. The one thing I worry about is the issue off reclaiming the song from its more jingoistic connotations. I generally feel that the correct interpretation of the poem is now widespread enough that this is easily possible, but I also know that some people associate it much more strongly with millitary recruitment, and wince every time they hear it.

At the risk of sounding jingoistic myself, I think that in some ways our ruling classes have abandoned all their ambition about what we can achieve as a country. I refer in principle to the idea of the service based economy. Obviously my main objection to the idea is that it is complete bollocks; however, there is another aspect loudly competeing for attention in my mind which is that it is just so undignified. It sounds like we want to provide secretarial support for the rest of the world.

Did I imagine it, or did New Labour at one point have “No more new Jerusalems” as a slogan?

Written By Michael on July 30th, 2009 @ 9:49 am

I’m surprised you’re so taken by Jerusalem given Blake’s use of religious metaphor to criticise burgeoning industrialism and its destruction of English pastoralism. I know you’re not the insane anti-environmentalist you once were, but I can’t believe that’s a message you would endorse Mohandas K. Rosenberg.

Written By Salman Shaheen on July 30th, 2009 @ 10:03 am

Didn’t know it was used for recruiting.

But I agree with you about the ruling classes. I think there was a time when the ruling classes actually believed – albeit mistakenly – in the capacity of industry and enterprise to forge a new world in which we would all prosper. Today governing is about managing expectations.

Written By Reuben on July 30th, 2009 @ 12:45 pm

I’ll join you — and perhaps we should tell the WI how radical it is. The slogan ‘Jam and Jerusalem’, which is always used to describe them, could sit quite nicely alongside ‘Bread and Roses’.

Written By julia on July 30th, 2009 @ 2:31 pm

What’s wrong with “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” especially when you consider who won the world cup for England in ’66?

Written By DavidR on July 30th, 2009 @ 2:34 pm

Definately. Jerusalem is a beautiful, inspiring song – and a clear favourite among sports fans for cheering england along. Is it a bit england-centric for UK though? possibly.. but eff it. its a wicked tune. implement immediately

Written By Paddy on July 30th, 2009 @ 4:14 pm

Paddy: Reuben’s suggesting Jerusalem as an anthem for England’s World Cup campaign. Surely Anglocentricism’s kind of the point?

Written By Owen on July 30th, 2009 @ 4:46 pm

I agree that it’s a fantastically radical song, but I’m not sure I want to give it to the England team. I find the entire odious hysteria that surrounds the national team at international tournaments so depressing that it might put me off the song entirely.

Written By Dan on July 30th, 2009 @ 5:51 pm

yes, i know, i had the idea in my head of the anthem being replaced entirely when i wrote that (ie not just for world cup but all occasions)

Written By Paddy on July 30th, 2009 @ 5:51 pm

icic. That would be anglo-centric. Yet the idea of England having anthem would be reasonable enough. England is after all a nation.

Written By Reuben on July 30th, 2009 @ 6:04 pm

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