The Great Wall

What does the image of the migrant tell us about the ways we construct humanity, power and love? 'The Great Wall', a new film by Irish director Tadhg O'Sullivan, explores the ideological and geographical limits of the European project in search of an answer.

Ian Maleney
I. Defensive Geometry

In 1527, Albrecht Dürer published Etliche Underricht zur Befestigung der Stett Schloss und Flecken, or Some Instructions on the Fortification of City Castle and Town as it is known in English. It was the first printed work on the subject of fortification and it was out of date almost as soon as it appeared on the streets of Nuremberg. The book’s diagrams and detailed instructions had been outstripped by developments further south, where warring factions made invasion a near-constant reality. Dürer had visited Italy twice, in 1494 and 1505, to observe the building methods employed there, but he didn’t make it as far south as Rome or Florence, where the most advanced military engineering was taking place. In his extensive history of fortification, Siege Warfare, Christopher Duffy suggests that Etliche Underricht marks an end as much as a beginning, capping the era of the fortified castle just as the more modern city-based structure took over. “Durer's designs look mostly to the past,” he says.

As volatile as Germany was in the early 16th century, the country remained free from major foreign invasion, and so Dürer’s ideas had little opportunity to become a physical reality at home. His designs were expensive, and sometimes largely impractical, but given their easy availability in print, they came to be noticed by soldiers, scholars and civilians with a growing interest in the specifics of fortification. Gunpowder and artillery were becoming inescapable elements of battle in Europe; the musket first saw action in 1521, a time when Holy Roman Emperor Charles V could lay claim to fifty different calibre of artillery. The defences of towns and cities needed to adapt, and learn how to take advantage of these relatively new technologies.

The real strength of Etliche Underrict was Dürer’s skill as an illustrator. The large, clear woodcuts which punctuate the dense type make obvious the aesthetic pleasure that can be derived from all well-laid plans. The woodcuts allow the reader the satisfaction of grounding the chaos of war in the rather more palatable precision of the pen, ruler and compass. Towers, turrets and keeps are all simply and elegantly drawn, standing in perfect proportion to each other and looking truly insurmountable on the page. There is an undoubtable appeal to Dürer’s defensive geometry, a reassuring regularity. Ultimately, the appeal of the project like Dürer’s lies in the possibility of a perfect system, beautiful in its functionality. Clear, concise, and eternally replicable. In keeping with the spirit of the time, this system could be worked out by intelligent men, and circulated widely in print. Logic, and the resolute character of stone, would surely win the day against the tumultuous rabble of war. Hundreds of authors and enthusiasts soon followed Dürer’s lead, tweaking and complicating his ideas or inventing indefatigable systems of their own. Each new iteration had the potential to be definitive. It is impossible to over-estimate the lure of conclusive solutions.

It’s fair to say that Dürer’s designs left little impression on the building strategies of the continent’s royalty, but versions of his ideas were taken up by Henry VIII as he built up his defences in fear of an invasion from the allied forces of Emperor Charles V and King Francis I of France. According to Duffy “the cockles of Durer's heart would have warmed at the sight of the forts which sprang up along the south coast of England,” particularly the coastal defences at St. Mawes, in Cornwall, and Deal, the town in Kent which lies just twenty-five miles from the French coast. Deal Castle, built in 1540, was once thought to be the spot where Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire first came ashore in the year 55BC, though it’s now generally assumed that the actual landing took place about half a mile to the south, at Walmer.

Deal castle, built of Kentish ragstone brick and Caen stone, is the best existent proof of Dürer’s concept, adapted and improved for its particular situation by Bohemian engineer Stefan von Haschenperg. The castle comprises a three-story central citadel, with six semi-circular towers projecting from it. These in turn are surrounded by six low semi-circular bastions, which form a curtain wall on the inside of the dry moat. Seen from above, the castle is shaped like a Tudor Rose. The walls could hold up to 145 guns, with the heaviest artillery firing from the top of the outer bastions. Holes for hand gunners ring the basement level of the bastions, to allow defenders to fire into the bottom of the moat. “The walls are massive, but the roof is very thin,” says Duffy. “And therefore vulnerable to mortar fire”.

The entire south-eastern coast of Britain is pockmarked with such defensive structures, and has been for some time. Remains of Roman architecture are still visible along the seafront, often appended by structures from later centuries. Massive concrete additions appeared in the last hundred years, as two world wars turned the Kentish countryside into the first line of defence against German aggression from sea and air. Warships, submarines, air-strips, nuclear bunkers, radar stations, gun-powder factories; you’ll find them all within walking distance of the chalk white cliffs. In 55BC, the Romans chose not to land at Dover because those famous cliffs gave the gathered natives a perfect platform from which to throw spears at the invaders. Two thousand years later, the same cliffs harboured over 200,000 Allied troops evacuated from the disaster at Dunkirk. Beneath the earth, a warren of secret tunnels, built in anticipation of an invasion by Napoleon, housed the only underground army barracks in Britain. Later, during the Cold War, the tunnels were to form a “Regional Centre of Government” in the event of nuclear disaster.

It’s about eight miles from Deal Castle to the first of two Roman pharos, or lighthouses, that flank the town of Dover. The first, located to the east of the town and inside the grounds of Dover Castle, is now a bell tower for the Church of St. Mary-in-Castro. It was built some time during the first century AD, and was originally about eighty feet in height. It lit the way for Roman ships arriving in the night from Gaul, and marked the beginning of the imperial road to London. The second tower stood about a mile further west, among the cliff-top fortifications known as the Western Heights. The Heights were first designed to supplement the already ancient Dover Castle in efforts to resist invasion from the planned French and Spanish Armada in 1779. Over the next century, the initial earthworks were added to, culminating in two large forts, two barracks, a military hospital and miles of dry ditches. Most of the buildings were demolished in the 1960s, leaving the two forts - the Citadel and the Drop Redoubt (named after the local name for the original pharos; ‘the Devil’s Drop of Mortar’).

A decade or so before Julius Caesar landed at Deal, his consulate co-conspirator Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus - otherwise known as Pompey the Great - had taken an army east from Rome. After making his way through Turkey, Albania and Syria, Pompey conquered the Phoenician lands in the year 63BC. The Phoenicians were not exactly a single ethnic or cultural group, but a society of independent Semitic city-states centred on the Mediterranean coast of what is now Lebanon, which had been in decline for some centuries before Pompey arrived. Persian and then Macedonian rule had hollowed out their cities, and Pompey found them easily overcome.

In the two thousand years before Pompey’s arrival, the Phoenicians had created colonies along the north African coast, and west as far as the Gulf of Guinea, with a settlement at Carthage that would grow into an empire of its own. They were expert sailers, having developed the first galleys to use two sets of oarsmen. They had sea-based trade links with the Egyptians and Somalis, and the Greek historian Herodotus claimed a Phoenician ship successfully circumnavigated the African continent, a couple of millennium before Bartolomeu Dias made it clear round the “Cape of Storms”.

Goídel Glas, a grand-son of the Phoenician/Scythian king, Fénius Farsaid, himself a great-great-grandson of Noah of the Ark, is said by the Lebor Gabála Érenn to have invented the Ogham language used in Celtic Ireland and given his name to the Gaelic people, who are his supposed descendants.

The Phoenician’s most important resource was the purple dye they extracted from the shell of the Murex sea-snail. They sold much of this dye to the Greek aristocracy, who used it to colour their clothes, and the name Phoenicia derives from the ancient Greek word phoínios, meaning "purple”. However, the word itself, at least written down, was Phoenician; they were the first society to use a script with a strict, regular form based on phonemic sounds rather than syllables or whole words. Theirs was the first alphabet.

Having developed out of earlier hieroglyphic languages in the Levant, Mesopotamia and Egypt, the earliest known example of the Phoenician alphabet is to be found inscribed on the sarcophagus of King Ahiram of Byblos, who died at least a thousand years before Pompey was born. These letters spread to the Greeks, who added vowels to the equation, and it became the basis of what we now read as Ancient Greek and Latin. Spreading east, it became Aramaic and Hebrew. When Pompey came to Phoenicia, he brought the imperial bureaucracy and the refined, “golden age” Latin of Caesar and Cicero with him, back to where it had first sprouted, more than a millennium earlier. Horace and Virgil were children when Pompey walked in Tyre and Sidon. The roots of modern writing, and all that has come of it, are buried in the earth of ancient Syria.

Though smaller than the great imperial city at Carthage, the Phoenicians also settled at a place called Rusadir, along the northern coast of what is now Morocco. Between its establishment and the eventual Spanish take-over, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Visigoths and Arabs all laid claim to Rusadir, tribe and empire alike. By the time Pedro de Estopiñan Virues conquered the city for the Spanish in 1497, the city was known by the Berber name of Melilla and it contained the foundations for one of the most resolute fortresses in northern Africa. A network of caves and tunnels, in use since Phoenician times, runs underneath Melilla la Vieja, the fortress erected when Philip II of Spain began to solidify his hold on a number of key outposts along the African coast in the 1570s. His forces got as far east as Algiers, taking it for a brief time in 1573 before being ousted the following year.

Philip’s fortresses are quite different from those his father-in-law, Henry VII, had been building in England. Melilla la Vieja, or the old city, consists of four walled enclosures built up gradually over the course of nearly three hundred years, containing a church, a convent, warehouses, barracks, towers, a cistern and a secure port. It was considered to be practically impregnable by the Moroccan forces that laid siege to it, and in 1774 some 3000 soldiers were able to repel an attacking force of 40,000 men. There were 25,000 troops deployed in 1893 to resist a Berber siege during what became known as the Margallo War. It has never fallen. The final enclosure was completed in the mid-19th century, and in 1862 an agreement between Spain and Morocco defined the city limits by how far a cannon, called ‘El Caminante’, could fire from the fortress walls. Today the enclave of Melilla covers about twelve square kilometres and is home to about eighty thousand people.

Pedro de Estopiñan Virues was not yet thirty when he commanded an army of over five thousand men in the taking of Melilla and oversaw the first attempts to build up the ancient defences the settlement possessed. Inside the old city a square is named in his honour. There is also statue of him, a little more than life-sized, holding aloft a flag and a sword. There’s a royal crest on his breastplate. He looks every inch the conqueror. The statue appears for just a few seconds in Tadhg O’Sullivan’s latest film, The Great Wall, as the camera swoops around its base. It seems so tall and strong against the spotless blue sky. On first viewing I thought the statue was of Neptune, or perhaps Poseidon; ancient gods of the seas, shaped by Grecian visions of sea-conquering Phoenicians. Nearby, a group of middle-aged tourists linger around a cannon that faces mutedly out to sea. The walls of the old fortress rear up above the Mediterranean, waves breaking noiselessly a hundred feet below.

There is little evidence in The Great Wall of the city which can rival Barcelona for the quality and quantity of its modernist architecture. Instead, we see inside the military museum; a map of colonial Spain, a tiny model of the city, a computer animation of its eruption over the centuries. Most of all, we see Melilla’s most distinctive feature; a security fence, six metres tall, patrolled day and night by armed police, which throws shadows the length of Melilla’s perimeter. This is the faultline which separates Spain from Morocco, Europe from Africa, us from them. The Great Wall is an attempt to map this line, to seek out the forces which push in on it from both sides, to uncover the brutality and violence which the fence engenders. It takes Kafka’s short story, ’The Great Wall of China’ and transposes it, keeping the narration - in its original German - and all its latent unease, but relocating it to the crisp sunlight of the Mediterranean, to the Frontex-guarded borders of a continent that has for centuries divvied up the known world along lines of its own making.

II. The Castle And Its Man

Melilla is an unusual place in today’s world. The great cities of the west are not nowadays circumscribed by walls or fences. Unafraid of physical attack, at least from the ground, they have no need of medieval fortification. Contemporary urban sprawl has made such an idea difficult even to imagine, with most large cities now merely a focal point for a vast agglomerate of homes, businesses and infrastructure. The last meaningful wall within Europe came down in 1989, and few towns in the brief history of the United States have ever been fortified in the European sense. As the renaissance-style city-state has been subsumed by the modern nation-state, walls and fences have been pushed out, away from the centre. They characterise now the borderland, the edge and end of the territory.

This is not to say that our cities today have no defences. Quite the opposite. Rather, the science which starts - in print at least - with Dürer has turned in on itself. The story of defensive architecture is a five-hundred-year about-face, from barbarians at the gate to an altogether more subtle, more self-conscious construction. Today’s defensive architecture comes primarily in two forms. The first is a silent type, transparent almost. It is discussed in offices and council meeting rooms, dreamed up on drawing boards or with 3D modelling software. The defensive possibilities of what we call urban planning were first realised in Paris. Baron Von Haussmann’s famed remodelling of the French capital utterly changed the character of the city, and consciously embedded the protection of wealth and property in its very foundations. Haussmann ironed out the kinks in the city’s fabric, actively neutering the revolutionary potential latent in the unpredictable maze of the medieval city. “Everything moves towards Paris: main roads, railways, telegraphs,” said Haussmann in 1859, “everything moves out from it: laws, decrees, decisions, orders, officials.” Capital flows in, and the conditions for the accumulation of capital flow outward.

Haussmann’s project continued throughout the 20th century, perhaps most obviously in the racist planning practice known in the U.S. as red-lining. A product of the Federal Housing Administration, red-lining divides the classes; those designated as important are kept separate from those considered superfluous and expendable. As Ta-Nehisi Coates details in The Case for Reparations, the FHA ranked neighbourhoods in terms of their “stability” for the purposes of insuring mortgages, and they created colour-coded maps of American cities where the “first grade” neighbourhoods were green, and the “fourth grade” neighbourhoods were red. Red neighbourhoods were those occupied by black people, who were not to be given the same state-backed mortgages and low interest rates that white people took for granted. Coates focuses on the Chicago neighbourhood of North Lawndale, where the dream of non-discrimination briefly flared before being extinguished by “a racial policy that could well have been culled from the Nuremberg laws”.

“In Chicago and across the country, whites looking to achieve the American dream could rely on a legitimate credit system backed by the government,” writes Coates. “Blacks were herded into the sights of unscrupulous lenders who took them for money and for sport.” The idea is replicated all across the continent; citizens on one side, the problematic, the unstable, the vulnerable on the other. This is a pattern which signals and then fulfils its own conclusions, removing the net and then watching in mock-surprise as those with nothing to cling to fall from view, become disregarded.

In Europe, the utopian ideals of early modernist architecture - the designs of Gropius and Le Corbusier that influenced so much building in central and Eastern Europe between the wars - were soon little more than an avant-garde veneer on old fashioned slums. Whether through intent or neglect, the over-sized and under-funded housing projects of the post-war era became emblems of urban decay. The suburban towers of Ballymun and Inchicore were some of the best examples around, with the valuable land occupied by tenements in Dublin’s inner city cleared to make way for high-value development while the occupants were moved to shoddy concrete boxes on the edge of nowhere. The originals now mostly demolished, they have been replaced with buildings that will soon enough endure the same fate, if they have been replaced at all. The splintering of family and community relationships, the lack of public services and the hellishness of the buildings themselves continue to leave people isolated and vulnerable, alone in near unimaginable living conditions and often weighed down with debt or dependency. The idea of streamlined communal living has been repeatedly undercut by governmental failure to understand the investment of money, time and energy required to make such a situation liveable. The story is mirrored in London’s satellite towns, and the banlieue of Paris, where the “surveilled surplus populations”, descendants of the colonised and the exploited, are forced to reside. The I.F.S.C., Canary Wharf and La Défense all rise from the dust of this mass relocation, and a particular balance of power and purpose rises with them.

The second type of contemporary defensive architecture is a violent out-growth of the first, or perhaps its loud-mouthed partner. It is relatively easy to spot, if you’re looking for it. Homeless spikes, anti-vagrancy benches, high-pitched tones, hidden sprinklers; it takes many shapes. The ultimate goal of each iteration is to limit access to space, and to define the ways in which that space might be used. Homeless spikes, the little mounds of concrete or metal which bubble nefariously out of the ground wherever one might find overhanging shelter, are by far the most controversial of these methods, perhaps because they are so baldly anti-human in their aims. Unlike public benches designed to be impossible to sleep on, there is no hiding the purpose of homeless spikes. Unlike the sounds only people under a certain age can hear, or the myriad anti-skateboarding strategies, homeless spikes cannot be passed off as deterrents against “anti-social” teenage behaviour. It is difficult to imagine them ever being aesthetically or ethically pleasing - they offend just about every sensibility.

Architectural features such as these are evidence of a discrete power within the urban environment, a force which occupies the city and attempts to control its potentialities. The message is clear; certain people are not allowed to be in certain spaces. Certain gatherings are illegitimate. Certain purposes are to be resisted and repressed. These aims are achieved through the combination of physical, structural barriers like the homeless spikes or Haussmann’s over-wide boulevards, and the public-private partnership of the urban police force. There is no greater evidence of capital as an eternally occupying power than the image of riot police arrayed against protestors, against the very people who pay their wages, against the bodies they apparently exist to protect. For most of the past decade, it’s been rare to go a month without a fresh deluge of such images appearing, whether in London or Istanbul or Baltimore. But, as Haussmann understood, the purpose of the city is frictionless accumulation and anything that sticks in the gears must be dislodged.

This is the second strand of The Great Wall, the alternate thread that creates the film’s pattern. The strange anti-community of Melilla’s border, the security forces and refugees looking at each other through the chain-link fence, is contrasted with the soaring glass architecture and suited bodies of London’s financial district. Of course, this financial district could be anywhere; it is a sort of non-aesthetic, tied to no place in particular. The buildings have few identifying markers and the workers are uniform, which gives the space they occupy a strange sense of being out-of-time, of resisting the erosions of time in some way. Their anonymity creates the illusion of imperviousness, or as Georg Simmel put it, “Where the individuals are not distinguished, there the immortality of the species swallows up the mortality of the individual.” Specificity is friction and, ultimately, death. The city of capital can allow neither disturbance.

The streets of Athens, November 2014.

The Great Wall does not indulge in the simplistic counterpoint of patrolled borders and an open, liberated interior. Instead, the images of finance are inflected by the crack-down of the state against itself. In several ways, Greece has become the focal point of these overlapping narratives, as the country receives thousands of refugees every year, including up to 20,000 in the first three months of this year alone - more than scale the fence around Melilla, more than make the treacherous crossing from Libya to Italy. In 2012 the Greek government erected a 10.5km fence along the short border they share with Turkey, so the refugees, many of them Syrian, must now risk the narrow channels between Turkey and the eastern Aegean islands. They land on picturesque rocks where the people are almost as poor as themselves. They recover if they can, and move further inward, toward Athens and on to Berlin, Amsterdam, Stockholm. Many gather now at Calais. They cross a charged border; for most of the last two thousand years, Greece and Turkey have been inseparable. The history of empire has twinned these two ancient countries time after time, since at least Alexander the Great, but now five or ten miles of water is a vast and dangerous expanse, a physical and ideological chasm.

In The Great Wall, the streets of Athens broil, waiting for a match to set them alight. Black bloc youth carry anti-austerity messages into the faces of the riot police, who march legion along the streets. The film was shot before Syriza came to power in Greece, a development which has only added to the strangeness of such scenes. Today it is impossible not to notice the imposed nature of the austerity policies that these people are protesting, the ways the people of Greece are being used as an example, a warning to others. If the resistance shown at European level to the relatively mild social democratic project of Syriza is evidence of the ideological battle being waged in Europe, the scenes from Athens are examples of the physical battles which underpin it. They show a militarised force that any colonial power would be proud of; a body of soldiers, smaller in number but technologically superior to the natives they are paid to suppress. They patrol no border, but a set of social, economic and philosophical limits.

The protestors on the streets of Athens, and the election of Syriza just a few months later, show that many Greek people realised what was being done to their state. June’s referendum on the conditions of a proposed third bailout only confirmed this knowledge. The policies implemented as part of the previous Greek bailouts were not designed to work, at least not in the way they were described. Instead, they have accelerated the flow of wealth from the bottom of society to the top, and decimated public services in the process. When Syriza arrived, creditors simply refused to negotiate any changes to the Greek loan agreements, forcing through a third bailout and further crippling the Greek state, even though the IMF and several European governments acknowledged the pointlessness of the scheme. The Greek people and government have argued that austerity hasn’t worked in Greece, and that it can’t work, when the people who have demanded austerity know it doesn’t work, don’t particularly want it to work and yet can’t admit that it doesn’t work. Any other perspective must be illegitimate - populist, fantasist, communist.

This is how power operates, maintaining its own legitimacy by discounting the legitimacy of all other points of view. By insisting on the mantra implicit in every interaction, every transaction, every purchase - this is the way it is and must be. “Avoid further meditation,” as Kafka’s narrator says in The Great Wall. Much like the physical structures of its buildings and its neighbourhoods, the structures of governance across Europe are designed to bolster the legitimacy of certain types of people, certain types of opinion, certain types of political approach. There are insiders and outsiders in all of this, a static centre from which the norm is derived and a boundary beyond which there is nothing to be considered, a core and a periphery. The goal of the European project is free trade and the free movement of people within its borders, physical and otherwise. The goal is a frictionless continent, for capital at least.

The particulars of nations and cultures are the first things to be exercised in pursuit of this goal. The desires for both individual and collective subjectivity, the desires for tradition, family, community, these must be overcome in such a way that their usefully motivational and self-interested characteristics are retained, while the awkward stickiness they usually entail is side-lined. The ghosts of such desires are often harnessed and saddled when required to pull some burden, such as the “duty” a country might have to pay its debts, regardless of how those debts were accumulated. Is there a government in Europe that hasn’t used the “we’re all in this together” line over the past seven years? There has been no more insightful critic of this duality than Stuart Hall, who recognised in Thatcher and her successors the wish to move both fervently into the free market future and to resurrect the strong, patriotic British identity of older, more colonial, times.

“We can now see Thatcherism's question - 'Are you one of us'? - as not only a search for true converts to the Gospel of Market Forces, but as only the latest effort, still continuing, to resurrect that rapidly vanishing species, the late-twentieth-century 'true born Englishman' (the gendered form is deliberate) and to rediscover, by a virulent form of regressive modernization (an attempt to capture the future by a determined long detour through the past) those discursive forms of manly and entrepreneurial 'greatness' which could restore 'Englishness' as a beleagured national identity: that cultural identity into which all the other diverse cultures of the British Isles and, at its peripheries, the colonized societies, were so often and so brutally collapsed.”

- Stuart Hall, ‘Culture, Community, Nation’.

Such nationalistic sentiments can be useful at times, regardless of whether anyone believes them or not. They contribute to the ambience of a system in motion, a necessary grease on the wheels. The politicians and diplomats who spout such ideas today represent a sort of upper-class bastardisation of what Hall called “hybridity”. “These 'hybrids' retain strong links to and identifications with the traditions and places of their 'origin’,” he says. “But they are without the illusion of any actual 'return' to the past.” Despite the word “we” and the lingering ideas of national confraternity with which they pepper their speeches, these political actors know there is no going home, no return to the culture of one’s roots - even if such a place once existed, it has already been transformed, is unrecognisable as itself. As the apparent fate of the British Labour Party has made clear, the road is erased as one walks it. The only route is forward, further into the blender.

Beyond the self-perpetuating platitudes and appeals to the “man in the street”, the overarching structure of the European project echoes the sheer reflective mass of the buildings one finds in the business districts of Frankfurt, Brussels, London and Paris. Though their roots lie in such institutions, these buildings are a long way from the likes of the Bank of England, a squat and unashamed monument to accumulation with its purpose plain for all to see. Rather, the investment banks, the auditors, consultants, lawyers and former politicians who occupy this more modern class of building operate under layers of secrecy and obfuscation quite different from the righteously gung-ho enterprise of the colonial Empire. Just as the light of the sun reflects off their buildings and blinds the onlooker, so the grammar and syntax of international finance befuddles the uninitiated mind. This unimaginably dense knot of information, money and personnel that, day in day out, pulses with avarice - its very purpose is complexity. It resists all scrutiny, and by the time anyone on the outside figures out what’s happening, the landscape has already been transformed. The road back is gone. There is no loose end that can be pulled to make the whole thing fall apart.

It makes sense to think of these strangely anonymous neighbourhoods as enclaves, contiguous with the countries that surround them but still separate unto themselves. They are like a decentralised network of financial embassies. They are safe places to do business, places which conceal the nature of that business and monumentalise it at the same time. They hide the concrete while elevating the abstract. Spaces such as these allow their inhabitants to control what is visible to others, to limit both what is understood and the ways in which it’s to be understood. This is a remarkable position of power.

Such enclaves are also able to control their own borders. The purpose of all enclaves - whether gated community, financial district or African outpost - is to construct a safely homogenous space for its inhabitants, a space in which to feel powerful, self-directed, capable. Such places brook little in the way of diversity, beyond what is necessary perhaps to keep the place clean. What Hall calls “the difficult problems that arise from trying to live with difference” are not an issue here. It is, in a way, a return to the idea of the local, albeit, according to Hall, “probably less the revival of the stable identities of 'locally settled communities' of the past, and more that tricky version of 'the local' which operates within, and has been thoroughly reshaped by 'the global' and operates largely within its logic.” Such localities are communities of mutual beneficence, rather than mutual dependence, more concerned with seeing one’s own success reflected in the success of those around us than in a desire for the shared rituals and responsibilities of a more quaint type of communal togetherness.

Few places are in fact as private, as sanctified, as inviolable, as the middle or upper-class home. The old saying, ‘An Englishman’s home is his castle’, remains an insightful truism, though it does presuppose a few things along the way. The first is the explicit notion that said Englishman is a man. Second is the implicit idea that the Englishman is a property-owning man. Indeed, for a long time, the property-owning man was the only person who could vote in the British democratic system, suggesting that, at the level of governance, the property-owning man was the only man that mattered. Given the amount of property - and the types of property - it has been possible for an Englishman to own over the last four hundred years, some men presumably mattered quite a great deal more than others. Finally, it suggests that the home is a fortified space, a barrier against invasion with strict rules as to who can come and go from it. This is as true in the Cotswolds as it is in the colonies. The home in this formulation is something to be guarded, something to be defended against the constant underlying threat of attack from the outside and betrayal from within.

Our hoary old saying is also a precursor to Thatcher’s oft-mentioned aphorism that there is no such thing as society, that there is only the family. The need to loosen the suffocating bind of the nuclear family has been a part of the leftist ideal since Marx’s time, and has been a particularly central element of the feminist movement in the past fifty or sixty years. Embedded in the approach of both Thatcher and the leftists is the understanding that the make-up of the family constitutes a key part of the way society functions. The defence of particular ideals of what the family is and what the family stands for is an ever-present aspect of right-wing politics, because it’s usually within the family unit (however assembled) that the individual’s understanding of society is incubated. What is learned in that environment echoes outward to become social orthodoxy, and it defines not just the present state of a nation or culture, but also that community’s future. (That the greatest recent challenge to the so-called traditional family has come in the form of “marriage equality” suggests that there is a long way to go before the institutions of that family structure - and with them the ideals of private property and patriarchy, the man and his castle - are to be dissolved.)

The conservative ideal of the family also suggests a continuum, a direct and on-going relationship to the past. It suggests a rootedness in a particular place and a particular way of being. This rootedness is what legitimises the individual claim on property, and the collective claim on a landmass - this is our land, we’ve always been here. How far this ‘always’ goes back is dependent entirely on the speaker, and on the author of the history books. This is the heart of the contradiction that Hall finds at the heart of British conservative capitalism, a drive towards both rootedness and transnational accumulation, towards both fixity and flux. You sense a wish to both have a cake and eat it.

On whatever scale it occurs, this desire for the fixed and limited private space is now an almost inextricable part of Western culture. It manifests in housing and employment practices, in education and in social settings like pubs or football matches. Georg Simmel suggested that we understand people incompletely as individuals and we must fill in the gaps in our perceptions of each other with social “types”. The type is both more and less than the individual, in that a type applies to more than one person but is never fully indicative of one person. Perhaps this is also true of our relations to our ideas of ourselves. As Hall says, the nation is not just a political agent, it is also “a symbolic formation - a 'system of representation' - which produced an 'idea' of the nation as an 'imagined community', with whose meanings we could identify and which, through this imaginary identification, constituted its citizens as 'subjects' (in both of Foucault's senses of 'subjection' - subject of and subjected to the nation).” We can substitute whatever grouping we like for nation here; bank, blood type, bridge club - it makes little difference. The idea remains that we form loyalties to “imagined communities”, which are a vital part of our understanding of ourselves and the way we orient ourselves in the world. These are the spaces we create for ourselves, like walls around an inner sanctum, with different people allowed to cross each border. They represent us, mark the type of person we are as well as the type of person we would like to be. These loyalties define the shape of our castle, and who is welcome in it.