Thirty-five per cent of Britons think we live in an “institutionally racist” society, according to a new survey. The American pollster behind it, Frank Luntz, is alarmed, says James Marriott in The Times. When countries decide they’re racist, Luntz thinks, they “don’t normally go back”. But that’s a profoundly American way of looking at things. For Americans who until recently thought they lived in a “shining city on the hill”, hating your country is a worrying novelty. For us it’s just a “venerable tradition”. In the late 18th century, many British thinkers supported the French Revolution, while in 1933 Oxford students voted overwhelmingly for a motion that they would “under no circumstances” fight for King and country.
The tradition of “unpatriotic scepticism” is perhaps more quintessentially British than patriotism itself, and it’s because of our “peculiar” national history. Britain is a safe, powerful and old country; it has the luxury of being able to cope with such infighting, something not afforded to countries that face urgent external threats. Patriotism is most deeply rooted in countries such as Ireland and Poland, which define themselves against external oppressors or have faced an “existential threat” in their recent past. English intellectuals, wrote George Orwell, “would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during God Save the King than stealing from a poor box”, but because British life is so tolerant and so firmly rooted, there is room for “anti-patriotic” sentiments to a degree almost unimaginable elsewhere.
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