There is no consensus, and never can be, with how people view “patriotism”, or demonstrate their “pride” in a country.
First published in September 2020.
I have had a quote attributed to Oscar Wilde running through my head all day, “patriotism is the virtue of the vicious”. With Labour’s recent moves it seems both startlingly relevant and equally inaccurate. Not that I would ever question the wisdom of Wilde.
There is nothing wrong of being proud of where you come from. I would suggest though that “patriotism” has become more than that for some people. It is a handy term to decide whose “side you’re on”. It has become synonymous for too many with nationalism and anti-migrant rhetoric.
Now, I am not in least bit patriotic and have very little pride in any country. My personal view is that pride in a country, while nice to say, is a fluffy term which helps people feel good about themselves, ignore the bad bits and then prevents people calling out those bits.
Strange as it may seem though I am not knocking those who feel proud of their country, and I definitely don’t think it is down to viciousness. If anything it is down to a need to find an identity, and that’s fine if you have nothing else to hang your identity on.
Where the risk comes, and the related viciousness, is when political parties use the concept of “patriotism” as a means to say “if you don’t support us you aren’t patriotic”, and that’s how it is primarily used.
You can never unite people with a “sense of patriotism”, because it means too many things to too many people.
Some are proud that their country is a melting pot. That its entire culture is built on migration in one form or another. Others though see it as a reason to exclude and demonise groups they don’t see as “belonging”. There is no consensus, and never can be, with how people view “patriotism”, or demonstrate their “pride” in a country.
During the referendum we saw people from both Remain and Leave argue that their side was the only “patriotic” one. That they were the only ones fighting for Britain’s best interests. That divide runs deep and has always been there in one form or another.
For some patriotism means Britain going it alone, for others it means being part of a wider community of nations. Those are fairly irreconcilable views of who is or is not patriotic.
Neither is necessarily vicious though. It all depends on how people act on those sentiments.
If Labour wants to try and heal some of the divides, then they are going to have to recognise that no party can appeal to everyone and that the idea of “patriotism” is too divisive to be unifying. They need to be looking at more tangible concepts people can get behind.🔷
Dan Sohege, Human rights advocate, international refugee law specialist, immigration economist, charity fundraising professional and Director of Stand For All.