As a tribute to the late Peter David, The Economist‘s Washington bureau chief, in whose recent obituary the magazine praised his “mind-clearing prose”, I am starting a series of quotes by other people that somehow make things amazingly clear. “45 words to wake up the world” was, with hindsight, the first of these.
In one of the countless articles written about the significance of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, the singer/songwriter/writer/activist Billy Bragg addressed the question of what makes the difference between patriotism and national pride. This is a vexed subject, because there’s often a woolly distinction in many minds, whilst it’s also one that can easily engender extreme views. There can indeed be a thin dividing line between the two concepts, and it can be difficult to know where it is. In my own humble opinion, the former is more dangerous than the latter. “My country can do no wrong” is dodgy; “my country did that [particular thing] well” is OK, and saying or believing it does not make you a fifth columnist.
Bragg, however, puts it more clearly: “…the essential difference between patriotism and national pride. The former requires us to accept whatever it is that our country has done and chastises us if we dare to ask critical questions. The latter allows us to choose for ourselves the way we express our identity and to construct a national narrative that better reflects our own experiences.” (Source: “Does national pride matter?“, National Trust Magazine, Summer 2012, p.15).