Tuesday, April 16, 2002

All for One & One for All.

I hope this will not be considered bad form, but I have to disagree with my indefatigable Comrade Goldstein when he says that Britain ought to dump any of her dependent territories that are of no use to her. No-one could make such a suggestion without disastrously misconstruing the nature of nationhood. Overseas dependencies are of course an easy case: they are geographically separate from the rest of the country, & so it is much easier to imagine them as politically separate too. But the *criterion* for political separation proposed by Emmanuel is not geographical distance, but uselessness, & uselessness is something common to plenty of British subjects who are not geographically distant at all, & whom, consequently, it is rather harder to imagine being rid of - the unemployed, for instance, or the elderly, or the very young. So I have to ask Emmanuel whether he is in favour of alienating all those British subjects who are useless, or whether he would alienate only the useless who happened to be far away, & if so, why.

Whichever answer he gives, it must be wrong. To alienate everybody who is useless – assuming we could ever agree on who really was “useless” – would destroy the fellow-feeling on which national identity relies, & thereby undermine our patriotism. Any of us could find himself useless at any moment, so any of us could be cast out at any moment: there would be no settled & stable British population with which to identify, no guarantee that our fellow British would remain so, giving as much reason to be suspicious of them as to trust them, & no guarantee that we ourselves should remain British, giving us little reason to show any loyalty to Britain. No patriot could abide such a dystopia.

There has to be some limit to alienation of the useless, so let Emmanuel draw it where the British seas end. Then ask him, Why? Why ascribe such mystical importance to geography? That is what the Euro-fanatics do. If Emmanuel is not being mystical, he must have some ground for drawing the line here rather than elsewhere; & whatever that ground is – convenience, perhaps, or practicability – it will be a ground in principle that other categories of useless people could one day meet. So although the undermining of patriotism & national identity would be neither as swift nor as complete as in the previous case, slowly the poison the whole bloodstream would fill nonetheless.

National identity cannot be a question of interest, because the nation-state is not a means to an end, created by contract, it is an end in itself, sustained by pietas. It is not a firm, whose members are dispensable units of production, it is a family, & every member of it matters as every member of a family matters. And even if that were not so, even if the nation-state were a means to an end, it could never hold itself together long enough to attain that end unless it pretended it was an end in itself.


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