Patriotism takes off
Two weeks ago, Demos launched A Place for Pride, a report on patriotism in modern Britain. The findings – that patriotism is a frame many British people reject no matter how proud of their country they are, that higher levels of pride in Britain lead to higher levels of pro-social behaviour, that patriots are on average less xenophobic than those who are ambivalent about Britain – were almost of secondary importance.
We wanted to look at this issue because patriotism is a much discussed but under-analysed area of our public life. Throughout the research, in discussing the project with politicians, policy gurus and charitable organisations, people’s response to the very idea of looking at patriotism as an important and nuanced social issue ran the gamut from bemusement to outright hostility. Some felt it was irrelevant, others a nice-to-have but less than necessary sentiment – and for some, of course, patriotism was and would only ever be a gateway drug to the evils of racism and fascism.
That perception, slowly but surely, is changing. Today the IPPR have pre-released some of the findings of their own poll on patriotism, in the lead-up to the London Policy Conference – finding that Londoners are prouder of their city than they are of their country. Last night, The World Tonight discussed which historical narratives enhance patriotism and this evening, Demos’ Director David Goodhart will be taking part in a debate about whether we should be using our education system to teach patriotism, hosted by the IMPACT journal on philosophy and education.
The views may be divergent – I would argue that local patriotism enhances and encourages love of country rather than competing with it and that the best way to teach patriotism is to focus on the local and build out from there, rather than to preach our ‘island story’. But the conversations are happening and that is what matters. For too long patriotism has been the poor relation to more trendy social ideals – be it trust, aspiration or ‘civility’ – rather than being given its due respect as a peer to those ideals (and a factor in galvanising them in society). It appears that the tide is turning and that patriotism is being taken more seriously – we should all rejoice in that, even as we disagree about its impacts and the best routes to its creation.