What's the point of patriotism?
A Jubilee Week Ruffian
Regent Street, May 2022. Matt Alexander/PA
The flags are out in London for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee: 70 years on the throne. Britain will be celebrating it over a four-day holiday weekend, from Thursday. On Twitter, a law professor saw this photo as a picture of incipient fascism: “The only thing missing are (sic) the tanks.” He was far from the only one - a celebrity tweeter threw in a Hitler reference for good measure. I don’t need to tell you this, but the people organising street parties in your neighbourhood next week are not fascist paramilitary in mufti. They’re probably not even ardent royalists. They’re just your neighbours: people who quite like the Queen, quite like their country, and enjoy a good street party, especially if there is bunting.
There’s little point getting exercised about obviously stupid tweets. What I find slightly more irksome are mainstream, ‘sensible’ left-liberals who go out of their way to tell us how they’re not into this whole flag-waving thing. I suppose they’re embarrassed by overt displays of patriotism. That’s OK, I can get behind that - discreetly, of course. But some people are so keen to display their aversion to overt displays that you begin to wonder if something else isn’t going on. Talking loudly about your indifference to something rather suggests you’re not indifferent to it. Here’s the nation’s most famous football pundit, who regularly gets excited by a bunch of blokes kicking a ball around a field, pretending not to understand the concept of flags, or cultural symbols, or well, anything really:
A rule of thumb: if you don’t care about something, don’t wang on about not caring about it. Wang on about all the things you do care about instead. Here’s another: if you see people getting enthusiastic and happy about something, then, as long as it’s not positively harmful, don’t tell them it’s shit. The only reason to do so is to make yourself look good in the eyes of people who already agree with you, which is a pretty shabby reason to piss on someone’s parade. (UPDATE: a reader points out that Lineker has the colours of the Ukrainian flag next to his name.)
Being anti-patriotic can be a way to gain the approbation of like-minded people. For most middle-class left-leaning folk it’s basically quite uncool to express even mild pride in your country. I don’t know how true this is elsewhere, but it is in Britain.1 Politically speaking, an emotional disconnect with one’s own country is a big reason left-wing politicians and activists fail to win converts and votes. Imagine a candidate for mayor who opens his pitch with, “I have no affection for this town, it just happens to be the one I live in.” Most voters wouldn’t listen to her proposal for new bike lanes. What oddest about this is that there’s no substantive reason for leftists not to be patriotic. It’s just inherited, unexamined prejudice.
Before saying more about that I will lay my own cards on the table: I’m a patriot, albeit a rather watery one. I don’t weep to the national anthem, but I’m sentimentally attached to Britain’s history, its literature, music and ideas, its countryside and its cities (well mainly the one in which I live, London). I like or at least admire its institutions and want them to endure: parliament, the BBC, the Royal Family, Pret a Manger. These are subjective opinions, but I also think Britons are pretty much objectively one of the most free, most happily diverse, most tolerant and least bigoted peoples in the world. Whatever past sins Britain has committed (and they are obviously significant), and whatever our shortcomings today, there is a lot in which to take pride.
I’m not out to convince anyone to feel the same way as me. Patriotism is an emotion, and you can’t argue people in or out of emotions. I just wanted to let you know where I’m coming from, before posing a question. Is patriotism, of roughly the kind I describe above (and whichever country you’re from), a good thing or not?
The rest of this piece is after the jump. If you’re not a paid subscriber, do sign up, it’s very easy and quick.
Also in today’s Ruffian: the botched police response to the Texas school shooting and what I learnt about American law enforcement from spending time with Memphis cops.
Plus lots of good stuff from elsewhere, including seven errors that destroy strategic decisions, and a reminder that according to the laws of probability none of us should be here.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to The Ruffian to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.