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The word "Powellism" was, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, coined by The Economist on 17 July 1965. However the day before Iain Macleod had reviewed a book of Powell's speeches entitled A Nation Not Afraid in The Spectator in which he mentioned the word:
Enoch Powell has the finest mind in the House of Commons. The best trained and the most exciting. There is an attitude of mind which can be called "Powellism" and it is excellent that now we have the evidence collected in a book.
The word was originally used to describe Powell's views on economics, and Powell offered his own definition: "[Powellism is] an almost unlimited faith in the ability of the people to get what they want through peace, capital, profit and a competitive market".
Powell was a romantic British nationalist and viewed the nation state as "the ultimate political reality. There is no political reality beyond it". He believed the British Parliament to be the expression of the British nation and his opposition to British membership of the European Economic Community stemmed from his belief that it would abolish the sovereignty of the British state and nation.
His views on Britain's relations with the rest of the world derived ultimately from the belief in the independent nation-state. The United Nations, to Powell, was an "absurdity and a monstrosity" by its very nature because it sought to preserve the international status quo without the use of force but that the "rise and growth and disappearance of nations is mediated by force...Without war the sovereign nation is not conceivable".
Powell's opposition to mass immigration derived from his nationalist outlook. Powell claimed that the children of Commonwealth immigrants to Britain did "not, by being born in England, become an Englishman. In law he becomes a United Kingdom citizen by birth; in fact he is a West Indian or an Asian still...he will by the very nature of things have lost one country without gaining another". Powell claimed that Commonwealth immigration to Britain post-1945 was "in point of numbers out of all comparison greater than anything these islands have ever experienced before in a thousand years of history". Powell asserted that as this immigration was concentrated in urban areas, the result would be violence: "I do not believe it is in human nature that a country...should passively watch the transformation of whole areas which lie at the heart of it into alien territory". Powell claimed his warnings were political:
It is the belief that self-identification of each part with the whole is the one essential pre-condition of being a parliamentary nation, and that the massive shift in the composition of the population of the inner metropolis and of major towns and cities of England will produce, not fortuitously or avoidably, but by the sheer inevitabilities of human nature in society, ever increasing and more dangerous alienation.
He further believed that "parliamentary democracy disintegrates when the national homogeneity of the electorate is broken down by a large and sharp alteration in the composition of the population". To prevent "civil war" Powell advocated a system of voluntary repatriation for immigrants and their descendants, and in February 1967 he wrote:
The best I can dare hope for is that by the end of the century we shall not be left with a growing and more menacing phenomenon but with fixed and almost traditional 'foreign' areas in certain towns and cities which will remain as the lasting monument of a moment of national aberration.
For Powell, as Roy Lewis has stated, the situation in Northern Ireland "went down to the roots of his position on nationhood, on British national identity, on the uniqueness of parliamentary government". Powell believed that the unionist majority in Northern Ireland were "part of the nation which inhabits the rest of the United Kingdom" and therefore Northern Ireland should remain in the United Kingdom.
Speaking in March 1971, Powell claimed that "for the past eighteen months a part of the United Kingdom has been under attack from an external enemy assisted by detachments operating inside... when one part of a nation is under attack, the whole is under attack". He claimed that the vocabulary used in the Ulster context concealed the truth of the situation: "vocabulary is one of the principal weapons in the enemy's armoury". A person who perpetrated acts of violence, Powell asserted, was not an "extremist" but a criminal, and if their motives are "detaching part of the territory of the United Kingdom and attaching it to a foreign country" they become an "enemy under arms". Powell distinguished between those who commit crimes because they believe, "however mistaken", that they are thereby helping to safeguard their country's integrity and their right to live under the Crown, and those who commit crimes "with the intention of destroying that integrity and rendering impossible that allegiance": the two were described as "extremist" but Powell believed that "the former breaches the peace; the latter is executing an act of war". Powell also disagreed with the notion that the British Army were "glorified policeman" solely designed to keep order between two warring sides. Powell instead argued that the British Army were in Northern Ireland "because an avowed enemy is using force of arms to break down lawful authority...and thereby seize control. The army cannot be 'impartial' towards an enemy".
Powell advocated that Northern Ireland should be politically integrated with the rest of the United Kingdom, treated no differently from its other constituent parts. He believed that successive British governments, under American pressure, were determined one way or another to get Northern Ireland into an all-Ireland state.
European Economic Community
Powell opposed British membership of the EEC because he believed it to have extinguished British independence. He claimed that British membership "must be the question which subtends all others...for – in peace as in war, it is the great, the ultimate, question for any nation". "Independence, the freedom of a self-governing nation", Powell argued, "is in my estimation the highest political good, for which any disadvantage, if need be, and any sacrifice, are a cheap price".
Powell outlined his opposition when the House of Commons debated the European Communities Act 1972:
It shows first that it is an inherent consequence of accession to the Treaty of Rome that this House and Parliament will lose their legislative supremacy. It will no longer be true that law in this country is made only by or with the authority of Parliament...The second consequence...is that this House loses its exclusive control – upon which its power and authority has been built over the centuries – over taxation and expenditure. In future, if we become part of the Community, moneys received in taxation from the citizens of this country will be spent otherwise than upon a vote of this House and without the opportunity...to debate grievance and to call for an account of the way in which those moneys are to be spent. For the first time for centuries it will be true to say that the people of this country are not taxed only upon the authority of the House of Commons. The third consequence...is that the judicial independence of this country has to be given up. In future, if we join the Community, the citizens of this country will not only be subject to laws made elsewhere but the applicability of those laws to them will be adjudicated upon elsewhere; and the law made elsewhere and the adjudication elsewhere will override the law which is made here and the decisions of the courts of this realm.
This issue which ultimately caused Powell to leave the Conservative party and the issue which Powell placed above all others in importance, the EEC, Powell believed that it eroded national sovereignty in an unprecedented way not known since the English Reformation. This was because EEC law had primacy over law made in the United Kingdom Parliament, which Powell considered the true representation of the British nation with the monarch as its head.
Powell opposed devolution to Scotland and Wales because of his British nationalism and because he believed devolution to be incompatible with the unitary nature of the British state. Powell stated that it was impossible for the same electorate to be represented in two legislative houses unless Britain became a federal state. Powell wanted the British nation to be represented in one Parliament. If, Powell said, the Scottish and Welsh considered themselves to be separate nations from the English and Northern Irish, they should become independent sovereign states outside the United Kingdom.
British Empire and the Commonwealth
Powell was also against the Commonwealth of Nations because Powell believed that independent countries which were once part of the British Empire were no longer Britain's responsibility and that no national interest compelled Britain to be a member. Powell believed patriotism should in the post-Imperial age be derived from the patria, the nation-state, regardless of the racial composition of foreign states.
Mau Mau Rebellion
Powell was one of the few MPs who campaigned against the brutality of British troops in combating the Mau Mau rebellion. He called for British troops guilty of atrocities to be punished:
- "I would say it is a fearful doctrine, which must recoil upon the heads of those who pronounce it, to stand in judgment on a fellow human being and say, 'Because he was such-and-such, therefore the consequences which would otherwise flow from his death shall not flow.'"
The United States of America, Powell thought, was Britain's enemy not its ally. Powell believed that America was against Northern Ireland being part of the UK because it wanted a united Ireland within NATO to help combat the Soviet Union. Powell thought that Ulster should be integrated with the rest of the Kingdom and treated no differently from the rest of it. He also blamed the United States for the dissolution of the British Empire and for the declining influence of the United Kingdom in international affairs.
Moreover, Powell also thought that Russia posed no threat to the UK and claimed that the UK and Russia were "natural allies" in holding the European balance of power, not foes.
Unilateral nuclear disarmament
Powell rejected the view – given by successive British governments – that nuclear weapons deterred Russia from conquering the countries of Western Europe and that as these nuclear weapons were mainly American, that British security rested on "the American alliance and American armament". Powell believed that even if Russia had wanted to, they would not have dared to invade Western Europe "for one simple overwhelming reason: it would have meant a war they couldn't expect to win" against the United States. Powell asserted that the nuclear deterrent was "a pretend deterrent". Powell argued that the existence of separate nuclear weapons for France and Britain demonstrated that they believed that the United States would not risk a nuclear war over Western Europe, and that therefore they were "victims to their own reasoning" as neither France nor Britain would themselves use nuclear weapons in the event of an invasion because the consequences of nuclear war would be too horrific. Powell also disagreed with the notion that nuclear weapons protected Britain from blackmail since Britain would have to choose between "unlimited devastation" from nuclear weapons or surrender.
Powell was staunchly anti-interventionist in economic and monetary affairs. He believed that business interests should be looked after by the people that best understood them – businessmen – not politicians. Having criticised conventions on business practice organised or funded by the government, he was the first major politician to call for de-nationalision of public services in the 1960s. Powell was very much a monetarist, but defended the welfare state and labor unions.
Powell's social views differed from those of his conservative allies in that he supported no-fault divorce and other aspects of the (so-called) permissive society put forth by Labour. It is worth noting that the majority of Powell's Old Right and far-right supporters strongly reject his social views, whilst neophytes tend not to be as oppositional. As with his economical viewpoints, Powell was anti-interventionist, although it would be more accurate to regard him as an anti-paternalist than an anti-traditionalist. Powell supported the maintenance of monarchy, established religion and hereditary peers in governance. He voted to decriminalise homosexuality and did not regard "it as a proper area for the criminal law to operate".
His views on forms of punishment, judiciary and educational were not those of most contemporary or even present day Conservatives. He described the death penalty as "utterly repugnant" and voted consistently against corporal punishment in schools.
On 11 April 1973, he wrote in The Daily Telegraph:
I should be the last to imply that a Member of Parliament ought to subordinate his judgement of what is wise or right to even the most overwhelming majority of opinion. If he believes a thing harmful, he must not support it; if he thinks it unjust he must denounce it. In those judgements the opinion of those he represents have no claim over him. But capital punishment is not for me in that category; it is not self-evidently harmful or self-evidently unjust. I cannot therefore deny that in this context a settled and preponderant public demand ought to be taken into account or that at a certain point it would have to prevail. I do not believe that point has been reached: but it would be disingenuous for me to deny that it could exist.
Distinction from related philosophies
Differences with Thatcherism
The former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, based many of her defining policies along the lines of Enoch Powell's rhetoric. There are not a great many differences; although Margaret Thatcher did make attempts to curtail immigration, it was not to the extent that Powell had proposed in 1968. Thatcher also intended to greatly reduce the power of the welfare state and national assistance, which Powell had not been so enthusiastic about.
The most notable schism between Powell and Thatcher lies not in economic or social decisions, but in foreign affairs. Enoch Powell's sentiment on Britain as part of the wider world would be more in line with Salisbury's "Splendid Isolationism" than Thatcher's advocacy of the Special Relationship. Powell was a well-travelled man who spoke a dozen languages, but his foreign policy did not align with the stereotypical view some may hold of such a man. He simply had no more like of America than he did of Europe.
Enoch Powell distanced himself philosophically from Margaret Thatcher; notably when it was remarked to him that she was a convert to Powellism, Powell replied: "A pity she never understood it!"
Divergence from libertarianism
Ralph Harris of the Institute of Economic Affairs wrote to Powell claiming that his views on immigration were antagonistic to the rest of his generally libertarian views, a notion with which Powell disagreed.
- Conservatism portal
- Andrew Roth, Enoch Powell: Tory Tribune (London: Macdonald, 1970), p. 328.
- W. H. Greenleaf, The British Political Tradition. Volume II: The Ideological Heritage (London: Methuen, 1983), p. 320.
- Simon Heffer, Like the Roman: The Life of Enoch Powell (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1999), p. 153.
- Heffer, p. 153.
- Heffer, p. 563.
- T. E. Utley, Enoch Powell: The Man and his Thinking (London: William Kimber, 1968), pp. 27-8.
- Rex Collings (ed.), Reflections of a Statesman: The Writings and Speeches of Enoch Powell (London: Bellew, 1991), p. 393.
- Collings, p. 401.
- Collings, p. 390.
- Heffer, p. 450.
- Richard Ritchie (ed.), A Nation or No Nation? Six Years in British Politics (London: B. T. Batsford, 1978), p. 166.
- Roy Lewis, Enoch Powell: Principle in Politics (London: Cassell, 1979), p. 114.
- Lewis, p. 195.
- Lewis, p. 199.
- Collings, p. 487.
- Collings, pp. 487-8.
- Collings, p. 488.
- Collings, p. 263.
- Enoch Powell, The Common Market: Renegotiate or Come Out (London: Elliot Right Way Books, 1973), pp. 110-1.
- Collings, pp. 218-9.
- Heffer, p. 767.
- Mau Mau uprising: brutal history of Kenya conflict, BBC News, 7 April 2011
- Collings, p. 647.
- Collings, pp. 648-9.
- Collings, p. 649.
- Naim Attallah, Of a Certain Age (Quartet Books, 1993), p. 238.
- Heffer, p. 445.
Books on Powellism
- Rex Collings (ed.), Reflections of a Statesman: The Writings and Speeches of Enoch Powell (London: Bellew, 1991).
- Roy Lewis, Enoch Powell: Principle in Politics (London: Cassell, 1979).
- T. E. Utley, Enoch Powell: The Man and his Thinking (London: William Kimber, 1968).
- John Wood (ed.), A Nation Not Afraid: The Thinking of Enoch Powell (B. T. Batsford, 1965).
- Article on Powellism
- Powell's St. George's Day speech 1961--an example of the nationalism in Powell's thinking