In recent years, particularly since devolution in the UK, there have been many attempts to identify exactly what constitutes Englishness. In this major contribution to debates about English identity, leading theorist Robert Young argues that the recent uncertainty about the nature of the English arises from more than just the challenges of devolution. It is rather the long-term result of the fact that in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Englishness was never really about England, its essence or national character, at all. It was rather developed as a form of long-distance nationalism, as an ethnic identity for those who were precisely not English, but rather made up the English diaspora around the world, Americans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans. Englishness was constructed as a translatable quality or identity that could be taken on or appropriated anywhere - which is why the most English Englishmen have always been Americans.
Robert J. C. Young is Julius Silver Professor of English and Comparative Literature at New York University. His previous publications include White Mythologies (1990), Colonial Desire (1995), and Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction (2001).