In praise of patriotism

What to make of Danny Boyle’s carefully crafted opening ceremony for the London Olympics? Should we worry that it was too British? Does it confirm the eccentric nature of the British character? Will anyone beyond these shores get it’s meaning? What does it say about patriotic fervour?

For too long patriotism has been the preserve of the flag waver loudly running down other nations and beating their chests with some kind of imperial hangover. This model of patriotism is almost as much defined by other nations and people rather than us as a nation or people. It’s negative rather than positive patriotism.

Before the glitter and wonderful narrative of the opening ceremony I caught a history programme on TV about the brutal and bloody 17th century. The wonder of this century of division in the British Isles and Ireland was the birth pangs of modern democracy with the Putney debates and the rise of the diggers and levellers from the ranks of the parliamentarian forces that defeated the royalists. It was the ‘common people’ that began to shift the political teutonic plates towards a slow road of a representative democracy. Not the monarchy, not the establishment or the all powerful church. It was the men and women who tended the land and manufactured goods that brought about a very English revolution that began a journey to where we find ourselves today.

Celebrating their passion and determination should be a source of patriotic pride. Remember this is more than 130 years before the totemic American and French revolutions.

Patriotism can and should be about a positive celebration of what a nation can achieve. A source of pride about the contribution to the welfare of people and the wider international community. The stories of the men and women of these Isles that have fought for and crafted our national story deserve our support and promotion.

That is why the opening ceremony for the London Olympics got the tone right. It wasn’t about the kings and queens or the lords and ladies. It was about celebrating the campaigners, the workers and the best that we have to offer in a measured and emotional way.

This shows that patriotism can be reclaimed by people who want to tell our story of what we’re for rather than what we’re against.


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