A Shared National Identity

“Nations are enriched by diversity, and integrated diversity coexists with a shared national identity. The best way I have found of putting it is: By being what we uniquely are, we contribute to society what only we can give. That is a way of being Christian or Hindu or Muslim or Jewish while being proud to be English. And precisely because of the rise of the far right to meet the newly resurgent far left, it becomes very urgent indeed that we recall George Orwell’s fundamental distinction between patriotism and nationalism. Nationalism, which he opposed, is “inseparable from the will to power.” Its abiding purpose is to secure ever more prestige for the nation: “Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception.” Patriotism, by contrast, he defined as “devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force upon other people.” Without patriotism, a cohesive sense of belonging and identity is impossible. But patriotism belongs to civil society—that is, to the moral community whose shared values we live by as citizens. If there is no such thing as a national moral community, if civil society atrophies and dies while all that is left are the competitive arenas of the market and the state, then liberal democracy is in danger. Identity politics is a symptom of the breakdown of national identities and the institutions of civil society. Lose the moral basis of society and you will then have what Hobbes described as “the general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death.” That is no recipe for the collective grace of a free society.”

Morality p. 143