Is it still possible to claim oneself, in polite academic company, to be a patriot? Both the present and the previous prime ministers have gestured, a bit apologetically but I think sincerely, towards such a frame of mind for themselves and even for their parties. Everyone is at pains to dissociate themselves, of course, from the more horrible forms of chauvinism as displayed by the British National Party, but a mild form of non-aggressive nationalism is common in Scotland and Wales, much qualified in the North by the failures and disgrace of the national banks. Explicit and boisterous patriotism is pretty well confined to sport, as witness all those cars flying the cross of St George during the recent Fifa World Cup.
Patriotism is not, absolutely not, a configuration of emotions and thoughts to be measured by attitude survey. It is too submarine and inarticulate in Britain to command a sufficient rhetoric for colloquial expression. Even at high-water moments of history – 1914, 1940 – patriotic language tended, as George Orwell pointed out 70 years ago, to commemorate defeats and to be undercut by the truculent bawdy of the marching songs as well as by brutal scepticism.
Read full story