United Kingdom

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Map of the United Kingdom
Britain is a complex harmony, not a male voice choir. ~ David Cameron

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK), commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, is a sovereign country in north-western Europe, off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands within the British Isles. Northern Ireland shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland, and Great Britain has road and rail links with France via the Channel Tunnel. The United Kingdom consists of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The capital is London, a global city and financial centre with an urban area population of 10.3 million. The national language of the United Kingdom is English. Its current head of state is Charles III, its current head of government is Prime Minister Keir Starmer, and its Parliament is currently controlled by the Labour Party.


If Great Britain were defeated in war I hoped we should find a Hitler to lead us back to our rightful position among the nations. ~ Winston Churchill
Dear land of hope, thy hope is crowned! God make thee mightier yet! ~ Arthur Benson
Land of hope and glory, mother of the free! How shall we extol thee, who are born of thee? God, who made thee mighty? Make thee mightier yet. ~ Arthur Christopher Benson
Great Britain is a republic with a hereditary president. ~ The Knoxville Journal
When Britain first, at heaven's command. Arose from out of the azure main! This was the charter of the land. ~ James Thomson
In today's Britain, the idea that there could be a Constitution more powerful than any crowned head or elected politician is thought of as a breathtakingly new and daring idea. ~ Christopher Hitchens
Five generations ago, Britain was ashamed to write books in her own tongue. Now her language is spoken in all quarters of the globe. ~ Frederick Douglass
Britain still thinks it's 1999. ~ Irwin M. Stelzer
To cure the British disease with socialism was like trying to cure leukaemia with leeches. ~ Margaret Thatcher
Some talk of Alexander, and some of Hercules. Of Hector and Lysander, and such great names as these. But of all the world's great heroes, there's none that can compare with the tow-row-row-row-row-row of the British grenadiers! ~ "The British Grenadiers"
But where says some is the King of America? I'll tell you Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Royal Brute of Britain. ~ Thomas Paine
A British vessel, stopping on the way back from India at the Comoro Islands in the Mozambique Channel, finds the native inhabitants in revolt against their Arab masters; and when they ask why they have taken arms, are told, "America is free, could not we be?" ~ Gijsbert Karel, Count van Hogendorp
  • Whether it is North Korea, Sierra Leone, or Zimbabwe, we’ll show that poor countries are poor for the same reason that Egypt is poor. Countries such as Great Britain and the United States became rich because their citizens overthrew the elites who controlled power and created a society where political rights were much more broadly distributed, where the government was accountable and responsive to citizens, and where the great mass of people could take advantage of economic opportunities. We’ll show that to understand why there is such inequality in the world today we have to delve into the past and study the historical dynamics of societies. We’ll see that the reason that Britain is richer than Egypt is because in 1688, Britain (or England, to be exact) had a revolution that transformed the politics and thus the economics of the nation. People fought for and won more political rights, and they used them to expand their economic opportunities. The result was a fundamentally different political and economic trajectory, culminating in the Industrial Revolution.
  • Dear land of hope, thy hope is crowned! God make thee mightier yet... By truth maintained, thine empire shall be strong... Land of hope and glory, mother of the free! How shall we extol thee, who are born of thee? God, who made thee mighty? Make thee mightier yet.
  • These are some of the first principles of natural law & Justice, and the great Barriers of all free states, and of the British Constitution in particular. It is utterly irreconcilable to these principles, and to many other fundamental maxims of the common law, common sense and reason, that a British house of commons, should have a right, at pleasure, to give and grant the property of the Colonists. That these Colonists are well entitled to all the essential rights, liberties and privileges of men and freemen, born in Britain, is manifest, not only from the Colony charter, in general, but acts of the British Parliament.... Had the Colonists a right to return members to the British parliament, it would only be hurtful; as from their local situation and circumstances it is impossible they should be ever truly and properly represented there. The inhabitants of this country in all probability in a few years will be more numerous, than those of Great Britain and Ireland together; yet it is absurdly expected by the promoters of the present measures, that these, with their posterity to all generations, should be easy while their property shall be disposed of by a house of commons at three thousand miles distant from them...
  • The twentieth century saw Britain having to redefine its place in the world. At the beginning of the century, it commanded a world-wide empire as the foremost global power. Two world wars and the end of empire diminished its role, but the UK remains an economic and military power, with considerable political and cultural influence around the world. Britain was the world's first industrialized country. Its economy remains one of the largest, but it has for many years been based on service industries rather than on manufacturing.
  • Britain is blessed with a functioning political culture. It is dominated by people who live in London and who have often known each other since prep school. This makes it gossipy and often incestuous.
  • I am constantly filled with admiration at this – at the way you can wander through a town like Oxford and in the space of a few hundred yards pass the home of Christopher Wren, the buildings where Halley found his comet and Boyle his first law, the track where Roger Banister ran the first sub-four minute mile, the meadow where Lewis Carroll strolled; or how you can stand on Snow's Hill at Windsor and see, in a single sweep, Windsor Castle, the playing fields of Eton, the churchyard where Gray wrote his 'Elegy,' the site The Merry Wives of Windsor was first performed. Can there anywhere on earth be, in such a modest span, a landscape more packed with centuries of busy, productive attainment?
  • I want to help try and build a more responsible society here in Britain, one where we don't just ask what are my entitlements but what are my responsibilities, one where we don't ask what am I just owed but more what can I give, and a guide for that society that those that can should and those who can't we will always help.
    • David Cameron, first speech as Prime Minister, at 10 Downing Street (11 May 2010)
  • Britain is a special country. We have so many great advantages: a parliamentary democracy where we resolve great issues about our future through peaceful debate; a great trading nation with our science and arts, our engineering and our creativity, respected the world over. And while we are not perfect, I do believe we can be a model of a multiracial, multifaith democracy where people can come and make a contribution, and rise to the very highest that their talent allows.
  • I have always said that if Great Britain were defeated in war I hoped we should find a Hitler to lead us back to our rightful position among the nations. I am sorry, however, that he has not been mellowed by the great success that has attended him. The whole world would rejoice to see the Hitler of peace and tolerance, and nothing would adorn his name in world history so much as acts of magnanimity and of mercy and of pity to the forlorn and friendless, to the weak and poor. ... Let this great man search his own heart and conscience before he accuses anyone of being a warmonger.
  • We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the Old.
  • When I warned them that Britain would fight on alone whatever they did, their generals told their Prime Minister and his divided Cabinet, 'In three weeks England will have her neck wrung like a chicken'. Some chicken! Some neck!
  • British democracy approves the principles of movable party heads and unwaggable national tails.
    • Winston Churchill, address to a joint session of Congress, Washington, D.C. (17 January 1952); reported in Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches, 1897–1963, ed. Robert Rhodes James (1974), vol. 8, p. 8,326
  • ...the twelve or fifteen millions in the British Empire, who, while they possess no electoral rights, are yet persuaded they are freemen, and who are mystified into the notion that they are not political bondmen, by that great juggle of the ‘English Constitution’—a thing of monopolies, and Church-craft, and sinecures, armorial hocus-pocus, primogeniture, and pageantry!
    • Richard Cobden, letter to F. Cobden (11 September 1838), quoted in John Morley, The Life of Richard Cobden (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1905), p. 130
  • I want to take the opportunity to thank the countless numbers of people here in the UK, including the many then-exiled members of the ANC and the South African Communist Party, who built a powerful and exemplary antiapartheid movement in this country. Having traveled here on numerous occasions during the 1970s and the 1980s to participate in antiapartheid events, I thank the women and men who were as unwavering in their commitment to freedom as was Nelson Mandela. Participation in such solidarity movements here in the UK was as central to my own political formation as were the movements that saved my life.
    • Angela Davis December 13 2013 speech included in Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement (2015)
  • Look at England, whose mighty power is now felt, and for centuries has been felt, all around the world. It is worthy of special remark, that precisely those parts of that proud island which have received the largest and most diversified populations, are to day the parts most distinguished for industry, enterprise, invention and general enlightenment. In Wales, and in the Highlands of Scotland the boast is made of their pure blood, and that they were never conquered, but no man can contemplate them without wishing they had been conquered. They are far in the rear of every other part of the English realm in all the comforts and conveniences of life, as well as in mental and physical development. Neither law nor learning descends to us from the mountains of Wales or from the Highlands of Scotland. The ancient Briton, whom Julius Caesar would not have as a slave, is not to be compared with the round, burly, amplitudinous Englishman in many of his qualities of desirable manhood.
  • The British monarchy inculcates unthinking credulity and servility. It forms a heavy layer on the general encrustation of our unreformed political institutions. It is the gilded peg from which our unlovely system of social distinction and hierarchy depends. It is an obstacle to the objective public discussion of our own history. It tribalises politics. It entrenches the absurdity of the hereditary principle. It contributes to what sometimes looks like an enfeeblement of the national intelligence, drawing from our press and even from some of our poets the sort of degrading and abnegating propaganda that would arouse contempt if displayed in Zaire or Romania. It is, in short, neither dignified nor efficient...

    The United States, for example, has never had a President as bad as George III, but neither has Britain had a king as admirable as George Washington (of whom William Thackeray rightly said that 'his glory will descend to remotest ages' while the memory of the sovereign went the other way).

  • In today's Britain, the idea that there could be a Constitution more powerful - and even sacrosanct - than any crowned head or elected politician (thus abolishing the false antithesis between hereditary monarchs and capricious presidents) is thought of as a breathtakingly new and daring idea...

    Too many crucial things about this country turn out to be highly recommended because they are 'invisible'. There is the 'hidden hand' of the free market, the 'unwritten' Constitution, the 'invisible earnings' of the financial service sector, the 'magic' of monarchy and the 'mystery' of the Church and its claim to the interpretation of revealed truth. When we do get as far as the visible or the palpable, too much of it is deemed secret. How right it is that senior ministers, having kissed hands with the monarch, are sworn to the cult of secrecy by 'The Privy Council Oath'. How right it is that our major foreign alliance - the 'special relationship' with the United States - is codified by no known treaty and regulated by no known Parliamentary instrument.

    • Christopher Hitchens, The Monarchy: A Critique of Britain's Favourite Fetish (1990), Chatto Counterblasts
  • The British ministry have so long hired their gazetteers to repeat and model into every form lies about our being in anarchy, that the world has at length believed them, the English nation has believed them, the ministers themselves have come to believe them, & what is more wonderful, we have believed them ourselves. Yet where does this anarchy exist? Where did it ever exist, except in the single instance of Massachusetts? And can history produce an instance of a rebellion so honourably conducted? I say nothing of its motives. They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness.
    • Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to William S. Smith (13 November 1787), The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd, vol. 12, p. 356 (1955)
  • We weren’t taught Shakespeare or Milton in order to understand our own situation—they were taught as the jewels in Queen Victoria’s crown. The point of the colonial enterprise was that it had all these people to control. Our education was about imprinting on us the greatness of England, the idea that the people who could produce these works were of a superior kind of people...I came to understand that I should separate Shakespeare and all of the rest from Disraeli and Horatio Nelson—that the British Empire is one thing and literature another. I’ll take everything except Kipling. Wordsworth would have been very upset to know that his wonderful poems were being used as a weapon of empire.
  • England is an amazing and paradoxical country; there are, in spite of the great emphasis upon "democracy," all indications of the existence of an aristocratic and oligarchic rule, yet this generally recognized fact caused little if any human resentment among the lower classes. […] The tacit and genuine, human acceptance of aristocratic or at least upper class leadership gives Britain the right to call itself a "democracy" without being one in reality. Hierarchic feelings always were very strong in England, but the extreme elasticity of the class system has always mitigated the apprehensions if aroused. Nowhere are classes more receptive to new elements, nowhere is it easier to rise socially, yet nowhere are the differences between the classes so marked as in England (with the exception of India and certain sections of the United States).
  • There is no doubt that the treacherous attack has confirmed that Britain and America are acting on behalf of Israel and the Jews, paving the way for the Jews to divide the Muslim world once again, enslave it and loot the rest of its wealth.
  • The British tourist is always happy abroad as long as the natives are waiters.
  • We were wrong to believe that the British are our friends. You are obsessed solely with your own selfish interests and treat us as a people beyond the pale. But your attitude is a matter of profound disinterest. Your democratic system has already erupted into chaos. We shall soon overtake you and in a decade you will be struggling in our wake. Perhaps then you will remember how you treated us.
  • But where says some is the King of America? I'll tell you Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Royal Brute of Britain. Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve as monarchy, that in America the law is king.
  • The position of the United Kingdom is as usual so nuanced that it's difficult to see where they are on the spectrum, but look, that's what Britain's like...
  • His expedition against the Britanni was celebrated for its daring. For he was the first to launch a fleet upon the western ocean and to sail through the Atlantic sea carrying an army to wage war. The island was of incredible magnitude, and furnished much matter of dispute to multitudes of writers, some of whom averred that its name and story had been fabricated, since it never had existed and did not then exist and in his attempt to occupy it he carried the Roman supremacy beyond the confines of the inhabited world
  • The whole existence and development of capitalism in Britain and France between 1885 and 1960 was bound up with colonization, and Africa played a major role. African colonies meant surplus appropriated on a grand scale; they led to innovations and forward leaps in technology and the organization of capitalist enterprise; and they buttressed the capitalist system at home and abroad with fighting men. Sometimes, it appeared that these two principal colonial powers reaped so many colonial benefits that they suffered from “too much of a good thing.”
  • We have been told, to-day, that it was a woman that agitated Great Britain to its very centre, before emancipation could be effected in her colonies. Woman must go hand in hand with man in every great and noble cause, if success would be insured.
  • I can't bear Britain in decline. I just can't.
    • Margaret Thatcher, Interviewed by Michael Cockerell for BBC TV's Campaign '79 (27 April, 1979).
  • The significance of the Falklands War was enormous, both for Britain's self-confidence and for our standing in the world...We had come to be seen by both friends and enemies as a nation which lacked the will and the capability to defend its interests in peace, let alone in war. Victory in the Falklands changed that. Everywhere I went after the war, Britain's name meant something more than it had. The war also had real importance in relations between East and West: years later I was told by a Russian general that the Soviets had been firmly convinced that we would not fight for the Falklands, and that if we did fight we would lose. We proved them wrong on both counts, and they did not forget the fact.
  • When Britain first, at heaven's command,
    Arose from out of the azure main,
    This was the charter of the land,
    And guardian angels sung this strain:
    “Rule, Britannia, rule the waves;
    Britons never will be slaves.”
  • The British have always fought, to be sure. No nation on Earth can be taken seriously in historical circles unless it has had at least one war with the British; it's like not having an American Express card. And yet the very idea of Britain in a contemporary war is a shock. Britain, one feels, fights in history books and not on TV.
    • Gene Wolfe, "A Few Points About knife Throwing", Fantasy Newsletter (1983), as reprinted in Gene Wolfe, Castle of Days (1992)

See also

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