Wednesday 1 January 2014

Ringmer debates: my country right or wrong?

Ringmer LibDems held a debate, open to all, on what national identity means. The material used to introduce the topic is available on Slideshare.

It's a bit surprising how viscerally some liberals dislike patriotism, less of a surprise how viscerally some conservatives dislike liberals for being unpatriotic.

I think there is a liberal form of patriotism. But the first thing to say is that it is patriotism made by choice. It is legitimate to ask why that choice has to be made. Many liberals eschew patriotism because of the evils done in the name of patriotism. But I think it is unavoidable in practical terms. We live by groups. Wherever we are, whatever we do, the human tendency is to clump. We identify with some things and against others. Nationality is only one possible form of identity; many others exist. If nationalities did not exist, we would find another way of dividing ourselves into groups, and we would find other reasons for denigrating, killing and maiming the people who are not in our group. The world has developed in such a way that nation states are the mechanism by which we establish territories and decide who to kill. In our world nation states hold the monopoly of legitimate violence. If it were not nation states, it would be some other form of group identity. As we are members of nation states, it is our responsibility to bend our efforts to making them behave with humanity and decency. To do that properly we must embrace our membership.

So how do we do that as liberals?

First of all, as I have already said, we must acknowledge that a liberal patriotism is chosen. I love my country because I choose to. I do not love my country because I must. (What kind of love would that be?).

I take pride in its achievements, and I acknowledge its shortcomings. I do not need to pretend that half of my country's history did not happen because I love it. (What kind of love would that be?)

My country is exceptional to me. And I can live with the fact that someone else's country is exceptional to them. I do not need to pretend that my country is better than anyone else's in order to love it. (What kind of love would that be?)

I express my love of my country  peaceably by upholding the rules and values of the place in which I live; and by being critical when criticism is needed - it is an expression of commitment to want to improve my country. And it would be an insult to my country as well as to me if I was expected not to object when the country is being pulled into doing something wrong.

And I express my love of my country by crying like a child during Danny Boyle's Olympic opening ceremony.

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