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On Enoch Powell—Fifty Years Later
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Today, April 20th, is the fiftieth anniversary of British politician Enoch Powell’ s Birmingham speech against mass Third World immigration into his country. Editor Peter Brimelow has an eloquent post about this and has reposted the speech itself, with supporting hyperlinks brought up to date.

There are YouTube clips of Powell actually delivering bits of it, although apparently the entire thing was not recorded.

Here are the opening two sentences:

The supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils. In seeking to do so, it encounters obstacles which are deeply rooted in human nature.

Powell’s speech is commonly called “the Rivers of Blood speech,” but that’s a misnomer. There is only one river in it, the River Tiber on which Rome was built.

Near the end of the speech Powell said:

As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood.”

That inner quote is from Book VI of the Aeneid. Aeneas, the hero of the epic, consults with the Cumaean Sybil, asking her what the future holds. The Sybil looks into her crystal ball and says the thing Powell famously quoted.

According to Powell’s biographer, he first gave the quote in Latin, et Thybrim multo spumantem sanguine cerno, then translated it into English for the benefit of audience members who’d forgotten their Virgil.

Embarrassingly for Powell, who had been a Professor of Classics before he went into politics, the Cumaean Sybil was Greek, not Roman, so strictly speaking he should have said, “Like the Greek …” We Powell fans generally give him a pass on that. Virgil, who wrote the epic, was definitely a Roman, so the words Virgil put into the Sybil’s mouth were his words by copyright.

That snippet of Latin aside, Powell’s classicism shows through at several points in the speech. Here, for example, where he’s enlarging on those obstacles that hinder human nature from dealing with preventable evils, quote:

Above all, people are disposed to mistake predicting troubles for causing troubles and even for desiring troubles: “If only,” they love to think, “if only people wouldn’t talk about it, it probably wouldn’t happen.”

Perhaps this habit goes back to the primitive belief that the word and the thing, the name and the object, are identical.

That last sentence there is straight out of Sir James Frazer’s strange and fascinating book The Golden Bough, which a classicist of Powell’s generation would certainly have read, and whose title is itself taken from an episode in the Aeneid.

For me, a math geek, the bit of Powell’s speech I most often quote is:

Numbers are of the essence: The significance and consequences of an alien element introduced into a country or population are profoundly different according to whether that element is one per cent or 10 per cent.

Powell’s biographer tells us he doubled down on that in an interview he gave to the Daily Mail after the speech:

Asked whether he was a racialist, he answered, “We are all racialists. Do I object to one colored person in this country? No. To a hundred? No. To a thousand? No. To a million? A query. To five million? Definitely.”

There were two things at the front of Powell’s mind when he prepared the “Rivers of Blood” speech. One of them was us—the Americans.


Powell and his wife had spent three weeks in the U.S.A. the previous Fall. We were at that point still in the throes of the Civil Rights movement, and events over here—America was convulsed with rioting in April, 1968—had given Powell much food for thought. There is a reference at the end of the speech:

That 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 States itself, is coming upon us here by our own volition and our own neglect.

The other thing at the front of Powell’s mind in April 1968: Th e Race Relations Bill of that year, which was at that time making its way through Parliament, and which would ban racial discrimination in private exchanges like property rentals.

Of this Powell said:

There could be no grosser misconception of the realities than is entertained by those who vociferously demand legislation as they call it “against discrimination” … They have got it exactly and diametrically wrong.

The discrimination and the deprivation, the sense of alarm and of resentment, lies not with the immigrant population but with those among whom they have come and are still coming.

Enoch Powell was a great man; a brilliant man, both literate and numerate, and a fine patriot. His speech isn’t just for the Brits: Anyone of any nation can read it with profit. Nor was it just of its time: It is still pertinent today.


2010-12-24dl[1] John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him. ) He is the author ofWe Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. He has had two books published by com:FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle) and FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT II: ESSAYS 2013.

(Republished from VDare by permission of author or representative)
• Category: History • Tags: Britain, Enoch Powell, Immigration 
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  1. Stick says:

    Jeebus, one might start thinking that a nation was made up of a homogeneous people? Can’t have that kind of thinking these days. It would rule out ghetto politics.

  2. 36 ulster says:

    There are several biographies of Powell out there. THE LIVES OF ENOCH POWELL, by Irish journalist Patrick Cosgrave, is a pretty good read. Of interest to some will be coverage of Powell’s stint as the articulate voice of the Molyneaux faction of the Ulster Unionist coalition, the other faction being led by Rev. Ian Paisley. Included are several caricatures of Powell as the stern face of Tory dissent (he was a cartoonist’s dream figure). THE TIME OF MY LIFE, the autobiography of Denis Healey, Labour politician, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Defence Secretary, provides an interesting comparison and contretemps to the works devoted to Powell, as they were contemporaries in age, served as officers in the British Army during World War Two, sported distinguished educations, and sat on opposite rows of benches in Parliament.

    • Replies: @Sean
    , @Sean
  3. Sean says:
    @36 ulster

    Half the indigenous population of London left the city. It was all they could do.

    • Replies: @36 ulster
  4. And yet:

    1/ Lots of people here are big supporters of Jez, who will bring in lots more non-British into Britain (don’t blame him-they’ll vote for him).

    2/ Lots of people here oppose May who is in the middle of a ‘scandal’ caused by her governments’ relatively higher immigration controls:

    • Replies: @Sean
    , @El Dato
  5. Sean says:

    No one was deported. The mayor of London is demanding that they get aggravated damages on top of the compensation they have already been promised. Bankers creating money out of nothing forces up house prices and the rate of new builds, so they need immigration to keep wages down in the construction industry jobs (that business had to be forced to start advertising in Britain instead of just in Romania).

  6. Sean says:
    @36 ulster

    Healey said he did not like many of his ideas but thought him the most impressive intellect in the house. Powell was not brainwashed by the CIA, unlike Healey who was very left wing until he went to America. Many Catholics must have voted for Powell in his NI constituency.

    • Replies: @36 ulster
  7. That speech is one of history’s finer rhetorical moments. I get goosebumps rereading certain parts of it. Those two opening sentences are perhaps the finest description of realistic statesmanship ever written. Powell was prescient in his predictions. If anything the current reality has proved that those predictions were understatements. Enoch Powell was – and will always be – a man for the ages. Unfortunately we live in a corrupt time and a degenerate, decaying culture; a situation which allows moral pygmies to gang up and bring down giants like Enoch Powell

  8. 36 ulster says:

    Ah, the joys of life in a global village.

  9. 36 ulster says:

    Powell may have had a similar respect for Healey who, socialist sympathies aside, was a formidable intellect in his own right, not to mention a pretty good photographer and linguist. (Powell’s fluency seemed to be in ancient languages). I don’t know the extent of support for Powell among Down’s Catholic community, but he did reach out to priests and other prominent Catholics, and he seemed to regard sectarianism with contempt; they might have flocked to the SDLP candidate in far greater numbers if the Unionist candidate were someone from Paisley’s DUP. When he was finally bested by his SDLP opponent in the late seventies, he was said to have gone to the opponent’s hotel to personally congratulate him. Something that’s not often done in Northern Ireland’s elections, I believe.

    • Replies: @Uebersetzer
  10. Rich says:

    A true prophet. Looking like it might be too late for Britain, now. I see they have a homosexual Hindu as Prime Minister across the Irish Sea and the childless Mrs May isn’t going to do anything to stop the inflow to her country. When will King Arthur return?

  11. llloyd says: • Website

    Note in this famous speech, he never referred to Islam. I might add neither does John Derbyshire. Bill Cosby lost his immunity after he praised the Islamic religion for its positive contribution to black American life. Even though he added they don’t have to be Moslems.

  12. @SEATAF

    The article you link to also contains this quote:

    “But he was just terrible at politics, wrong on race, self-obsessed and destined to self-destruct when he grappled foolishly with the sensitive subject of immigration.”

    Really? So how much can I trust the rest of the article?

  13. @36 ulster

    Powell was defeated in 1987. He narrowly held on in South Down in 1983.

    • Replies: @36 ulster
  14. Anon[425] • Disclaimer says: • Website

    Where Powell was wrong was to argue on the basis that mass immigration-invasion will lead to violence. Maybe or maybe not. But the real issue should have been “They have their homelands, and we have ours.” So, even if rivers of blood don’t materialize, the rivers of mud will. Even if the New Order is peaceful, Britain will no longer belong to the British.

    • Replies: @Corvinus
  15. Corvinus says:

    “But the real issue should have been “They have their homelands, and we have ours.”

    Asking for a white friend–What happens when the majority of white people, by exercising their freedom of association, designate their homelands also include non-white people and they have the liberty to mix with them? Consider that a number of white homelands, most notably the United States, had been invaded by Europeans, with the indigenous folks jackbooted into submission?

    • Troll: YetAnotherAnon
    • Replies: @Hunsdon
  16. Hunsdon says:

    Is America today the some people, the same polity, the same nation, as it was it 1500?


    • Replies: @Corvinus
  17. El Dato says:

    The square was renamed after the Empire Windrush ship, which carried settlers from Jamaica to England in 1948, to celebrate the contribution of the African Caribbean communities to the area.

    How do we get from there to rude demands for gimmethats?

  18. @Rich

    “When will King Arthur return?” It will not return because of Derbyshire. Derbyshire was still an English subject when Powell gave his speech. Derbyshire could have started or participated in movements to stop the invasion of England. But what did he do? He imported himself to the USA. Then, he imported a brown Chinese woman and had Chinese offspring with her. The now American Chinese woman and Chinese daughter voted for Obama. Derbyshire is partial to Ivanhoe. His son will never be an Ivanhoe. He is infamous for his “The Talk” article. Obviously, he did not have the talk with his Chinese wife and daughter. And if he did, they ignored him. When Derbyshire lived in England, it was still a Christian country. Now he is an atheist and he wrote in article that he does understand Christians. He will help his pagan Chinese wife with her pagan ancestor worship rituals. Maybe Derbyshire doesn’t like the speech because of his Chinese family. He’s just trying to get shekels in his tincup so he scribbles nonsense like this.

    • Replies: @Verymuchalive
  19. Corvinus says:

    Answer the question rather than go all SJW.

  20. jim jones says:

    Happy St George’s Day to everyone

  21. @Rich

    “When will King Arthur return?”
    For the past, Scepter’d Islers must yearn.
    They most love misty fables
    And merrie round tables
    When the thatch ‘bove their heads starts to burn.

    • Replies: @Dave Bowman
  22. @Eustace Tilley (not)

    But just for the record, in Malory’s “Morte d’Arthur”, it was in fact the great magician Merlin, not Arthur, who, it was said, would return in due time, to save England in her hour of greatest need.

    And Yes, for what it’s worth… as an Englishman, I do actually believe that, somehow, he will.

  23. @attilathehen

    Long time no hear, Mr Hun. Glad to see you’re back and horsewhipping the old hypocrite. What’s the point in trying to persuade us great unwashed, when you can’t persuade your own womenfolk.

    • Replies: @attilathehen
  24. Anonymous [AKA "A query"] says:

    Has Radio Derb been blocked on the apple podcast app? The subscriber page is still there but the episodes are all gone.

    Meanwhile this article won’t load for me at vdare. Some sort of denial of service hijinks going on?

  25. Alan Potkin says: • Website

    I listened to the the BBC replicant of the Rivers of Blood speech. They would only play five or six minutes at a pop, before interrupting it with —what sounded to my artillery-deafened ears— as only lefty SJW multiculticulti commentary; in doses apparently larger than the replicant speech segments. The program host was himself an immigrant, or a descendant thereof, of subcontinental origins. And —quite apposite to Mt. Derbyshire’s essay above— MP Powell’s great dismay at what was happening in the USA in the preceding weeks was not Lester Maddox-style reactionary racist anger at the civil rights movement —as was bald-facedly misrepresented by the Beeb— but rather his despair over the inner city riots which were right then tearing America apart and which seemed both unstoppable and incurable. Fair enough on that!

    On the other hand, maybe the Beeb was playing 3D chess or something…like that famous New Yorker cartoon of a Soviet-era abstract expressionist painter cleverly getting away with mounting a gallery expo of proscribed Non-Socialist Realism, by insetting all of his large canvases with a little representational image of Nikita Kruschchev wagging his finger disapprovingly. You don’t think so, ehhh?

  26. @Verymuchalive

    “Verymuchalive…” I don’t remember you so you must have just risen from the dead. Also, I’m a girl. There are new readers to this site, so I have to expose Derbyshire to these people. This is why I also write that people should always cherchez la femme/le homme/la famille of these “nationalist” writers. Derbyshire is not kosher. (((Ilana Mercer))) is another who is haram.

    • Replies: @Verymuchalive
  27. @attilathehen

    Apologies, Miss Hun. Our paths haven’t met because I very rarely read the comments or comment on Mr Derbyshire’s articles. Usually, it’s just a quick once over to get the gist of the article.
    But you are right, Derbyshire’s punches are often pulled and his criticisms of Jewish interests driving immigration and foreign policies are often mealy-mouthed. Indeed, his son even joined the marines, where he could have been used in combat to help make the Middle East safe for Israel.
    If you can’t persuade your family, then maybe it is time to shut up.

  28. It was the height of hypocrisy for Powell to moan about foreigners in Britain. One historian said he came from a family of aristocratic feudal barons who in medieval times robbed Ireland of its best crop-growing land. While black people came here to work his clan went over there to steal, and no doubt it took real rivers of blood for them to achieve that because the Irish would not have just given it over.

  29. This Derbyshire chap is losing his mind. I’m glad you’re onto him. He’s afraid of Jews. His son joined the military because he needed to be straightened out. Derbyshire and his Chinese tiger mama were unable to bring him up properly. I first heard of him about 7 years ago when I came across a review of his book “We are Doomed.” I thought it an odd book and ignored it. When I started reading VDare, his articles about immigration were interesting. But when I found out his wife was Chinese, I had to take another look at his beliefs. He would talk about the dangers facing the West, but he imported a Chinese woman and had Chinese offspring. I noticed he began writing more and more about his family and the information he gave was appalling. He outed himself as a Sinophile and has written that Asians are superior to whites. In my comment #19, I listed so many other things that don’t add up to someone who says he is defending the West. The only reason I think VDare keeps him on is because Peter Brimelow is also from England and they probably talk a lot about pre-Enoch Powell England. At least Brimelow married Caucasian women and has Caucasian offspring. Deep down Derbyshire must regret what he did with this Chinese woman, but he is perversely refusing to acknowledge his mistake and wants the West to conform to his degeneracy.

  30. Powell was speaking about mass immigration to Britain solely in terms of black vs white, and in that respect, it can’t be said that blacks have the “whip hand”, as he put it, over the natives. However, what he didn’t factor in is Islamic immigration, which has turned out to be far more pernicious. Islamic immigration has damaged Britain beyond Powell’s wildest nightmares, and even a cursory read of the parallel legal system Muslims have established in Britain; the pusillanimous legal response to the mass child gang rape (i.e., genuine rape culture) perpetrated wherever Muslims have congregated in large numbers; the fact that criticism of Islam/the Quran is totally verboten, while mocking Christianity is de rigueur and encouraged; is testament to the fact that Islam has carved itself a superior social position – indeed, an unassailable beachhead – in Britain. By allowing mass Islamic immigration, and succombing to the intolerance of this minority, we have indeed heaped fuel on the “funeral pyre” of our own nation, Might take a few hundred years, but Britain will inexorably Islamise, like the Egyptians before us.

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