By Sam Tomlin
Patriotism is proud of a country’s virtues and eager to correct its deficiencies; it also acknowledges the legitimate patriotism of other countries, with their own specific virtues. The pride of nationalism, however, trumpets its country’s virtues and denies its deficiencies, while it is contemptuous toward the virtues of other countries. It wants to be, and proclaims itself to be, “the greatest,” but greatness is not required of a country; only goodness is. — Sydney J. Harris
Like most around the country, I am very much looking forward to the Jubilee celebrations. It will be a great time to spend time with loved ones and enjoy time off work. I must admit I am rather ambivalent towards the monarchy. Certainly it brings tourism and is something that brings consistency throughout the often tumultuous political system. However I understand anti-monarchic, republican arguments of inherited privilege and un-democratic influence.
What I react more strongly against is the idea in some circles that there is something about being British which somehow makes us stand out in a positive light compared to other countries. The quote above suggests this is more of a ‘nationalist’ perspective, glossing over a country’s errors and blindly viewing its virtues. Not many, it would seem are particularly ‘nationalistic’ (I would hope).
The position of patriotism sits more kindly with the majority of British people and will be frequently seen this weekend. I would suggest, however, that even this should come under greater scrutiny. Being ‘proud of a country’s virtues’ suggests there is something inherent about the country which promotes these virtues. It could be said that Britain promotes freedom of speech, women’s rights, democracy etc., which broadly speaking is true (especially compared to some countries in the world). However, I could easily find other Western democracies which promote these values just as well or better than Britain.
What certainly is specifically British would be eating picnics on village greens, fish and chips and the British flag. These, however are not values, but activities and things. There is nothing about these things which make us better people or more virtuous. Of course, it is not necessarily a bad thing to be proud of these things. But if we are to celebrate being British and cite these things, then we also need to remember the ‘deficiencies’ both in history and the present. ‘Britishness’ may mean ice cream on the pier and picnics but it also means brutal oppression and subjugation for many throughout our Empire’s history. It also means an education system which fails thousands of children and leads to current record levels of youth unemployment.
Ultimately what I am trying to say is that as a socialist Christian, I will have more in common with a socialist Christian from France or the USA than I do with a conservative atheist who lives across the street from me. On the surface we may have more in common, but at a deeper level there is nothing ‘British’ which connects us where things really matter: How we choose to live our lives and what we believe.