The Hong Kong Protests Tell Us What We Have Forgotten About Ourselves.

Photo Credit: South China Morning Post

The Hong Kong protests have given an emotional reaffirmation to something we in the Anglosphere — particularly England, Canada, and the United States — have sadly come to reject, our unique and exceptional foundation and our equally exceptional legacy.

There are many reasons why mentions of this exceptionalism are, at times, rejected. Often its critics speak with much truth — though usually without taking into consideration the necessary context. We’ve done things out of lust and vainglory, out of greed (that all too human fallibility) and misinformation, and for all of that we ought to be self-critical. However, what makes the west stand out — despite all these failings — is the fact that it is our very ideal of what we ought to be that acts as the standard by which we judge our failures.

This is something that is not spoken of enough. It is something that the protesters in Hong Kong seem to believe is represented in the flags of our nations — yes, the very flags that our students and athletes (some of the most privileged in society)burn, step on, and disrespect — a heritage based around an ideal that all men should be equal under the law, that government should serve the people, and that tyranny is to be opposed whether foreign or domestic.

The foundations of this ideal are something uniquely espoused by England and intertwined in its history, from the romanticism of the Saxon cause to the Magna Carta. As a result they are deeply ingrained in the core of the culture of America as well, from The Constitution to the “spirit” of the pioneers and early pilgrims. It is a tradition and a desire for personal freedom. A desire to pursue ones own destiny while also accepting ones responsibility to family and nation.

This spirit resides at the heart of the other great settlements across the former empire: Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. After all, these nations were not only colonies but settlements in which Britons brought their culture and customs and established, in their own unique ways, similar versions of this heritage. At their core, each of these nations is England in the same way that a son is a representation of his father. It is this ingrained ideal of freedom, this very culture that now provides hope for the people of Hong Kong. This is what the protestors in Hong Kong appeal to when waving the flags of The UK and The United States. And, dare I say, this is what governments and the tyrants that so often find their way into positions of authority fear — not just in Hong Kong and China, but across the western world as well.

This legacy is one so well known throughout the world that when the time comes for any people in any nation to cry for liberty they turn quickly to the nations in which it was founded.

While we must understand the failings of the past — how human nature plays into the potential for tyranny and how the desire for power over others can misuse even the noblest of founding ideals. We must never forget the legacy for good that was left behind: The abolition of slavery and its enforcement across the empire and beyond, the idea of individual freedom and liberty (progressing from the rights of lords and freemen to eventually encapsulating all men and women), the connecting of the world, and the introduction of systems of law and administration along with modern technology, science, and medicine.

We must not allow ourselves to fall into the ways of thinking of those who can only see through low resolutions, believing this legacy was either all and only good, or, as is now more popular, all and only evil. If we can, in the words of Mufasa, “Remember who we are,” we can once again take pride in the legacy of our nations and of our culture, while observing our own ideal and holding ourselves accountable to it.

The people of Hong Kong remind us of the old hero within. One that through time and vicious propaganda has become a fading memory, but still exists. These protesters, these true freedom fighters, remind us that, if we can shake off that which holds us back, we can be that hero once again and come to their aid, in this their time of need.

I think this final line from Tennyson’s great poem Ulysses is applicable:

“…Come, my friends, ‘T is not too late to seek a newer world…

Tho’ much is taken, much abides;

and tho’ we are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”