Enoch Powell’s famous, much-maligned “rivers of blood” speech has devolved over the years to suit Powell’s adversaries. Delivered in Birmingham, in April 1968, notes The Times Literary Supplement, the famous segment read as follows:
“As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see ‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood’. . . . To see, and not to speak, would be the great betrayal.”
The TLS’s welcome, if marginal, mention of Powell is on the occasion of the publication of Tom Bower’s “balanced critique of Powell’s rhetoric”: Enoch at 100: A revaluation of the life, politics and philosophy.
Helped along by oodles of ignorance, the “foaming Tiber mutated over the years to ‘rivers of blood’, notionally streaming through British cities as the tide of immigration rose unchecked.” (TLS)
As Bower points out, “the official figure for immigrants at the time was relatively small”:
“only 7,000 males every year”, but “the government did not announce that annually a further 50,000 dependants of established immigrants were also entering Britain”.
Powell’s fear was less of immigrants as such (though his “Rivers of Blood” speech contains passages about “negroes” which might land him in [a British] court today) than of a breakdown in “social cohesion”.
“Repeatedly,” it is observed in this TLS editorial, Powell “pointed to rioting in American cities, then at a fearful pitch. Why was Britain inviting the ‘tragic and intractable phenomenon which we watch with horror on the other side of the Atlantic but which there is interwoven with the history and existence’ of the country?”
Stupidly, the TLS editor joins in blaming Powell’s “oratory” for making “immigration a taboo subject by silencing even reasoned opponents of immigration and multiculturalism who feared being tarnished as racists.”
From the fact that “plain talk about the topic is rare, even dangerous,” the TLS concludes that Powell is at fault.
I do like what Saul Bellow said about the “intractable phenomenon” in the US: “we lack a language in which to talk about it.”
IT being unfettered immigration, also known as “The Suicide of the West.”
Still, I’m pleasantly surprised that the TLS (July 6, 2012) made even marginal mention of Enoch at 100. Surprised because the TLS, once so objective and rigorous, is tilting to tinny, lefty, obscurantist postmodernism. (To modify a Joan Rivers witticism, Why would you want to reproduce a rash?)
That’s one way to reduce circulation, and suck the joy out of English literature (“the English-speaking people” is a concept TLS reviewers now routinely mock or “deconstruct”).