Have a look at some of the most popular threads over on Slugger O’Toole and witness state of the art practioners in circular arguments. They ponder which Unionist Party is the most Unionist; which Nationalist Party is the most Irish. Even the ‘nice’ Alliance Party (although not that nice, one Activist called me a “little shit” on a trail yesterday) defines itself by not defining itself as Unionist or Nationalist (fact is its membership is all over the place).
Nationalism is the problem. Nationalism is always bad, always negative, and ultimately always nasty. Hence the “shit” comment. Oh, and don’t get me wrong. I include “Unionism” in my definition of Nationalism.
Some cloak nationalism in the clothes of culture. But it’s easy to see through them. The clothes are very flimsy. That’s why Sinn Fein witters on about language and culture and stuff. It’s all distracting nonsense, of course. Because, ultimately, no-one really cares. No-one speaks Irish for everyday discourse. Therefore prosaic discussions about equality of language are nonsense. Similarly no-one really gives a damn, in the normal course of things, about “loyal orders”. They are an irrelevance. Yes, certain people jump up and down and get angry about these things – but when boiled down they are of no importance because they are not elemental – not essential for day to day living. They only matter in the context of claimed cultural superiority and nationality.
Therefore the only things that should matter, in terms of political discourse, are those things that have material and practical bearing on our lives. Other stuff is not the concern of government – or, rather shouldn’t be. Governments shouldn’t have to ‘do’ culture or identity or even nationality.
Nationality is a given – a set of historical circumstances that have ordained our current land borders. If we accept the status quo (and all of our main political parties here do accept the status quo) then we need to get on with the business of governing within the context of our defined nationality (even if we harbour a desire for another nationality).
Nationalism sits outside the mainstream political discourse because it is an irrelevance. It detracts from everything else and it destroys the very idea that sits at the centre of our civil society i.e. the concept of reciprosity. Once nationalism (in Northern Ireland read Unionism or Irish Nationalism) enters the discourse (and we pretty much have nothing else) all reciprosity is taken out of the system. We have stale-mate. No decisions are taken because one side is never prepared to give the other side the benefit of the doubt.
Where nationality is side-lined from the political debate, however, the concept of ‘sides’ disappears. We end up with political parties that are very similar to each other and operate only at the policy ‘margin’. Sides become ideological positions at the most extreme. But as far as social policy discussions are concerned, we get closer and closer to consensus that reflects the ethical mood of the nation. In England that means the closest thing the world has ever seen to a secular civil society. And that is truly wonderful.
There have been times, of course, when the Conservative Party has embraced nationalism. However, I had hoped that the Party had left the trappings of nationalism behind. The irony is that nationhood is least at risk when it is taken for granted. How many Palestinians or Israelis take their national identity for granted?
Whereas in the United States there is a great sense of national identity – but it has no need to lapse into discussions on land borders. The Republican Party and Democratic Party organise in every state and every state is unequivocally part of the union. There is no need for a nationalistic discourse – nationality is taken for granted.
Therefore, if we really treasure our national identity, the best way to protect it is to take it for granted. Ranting about it is injurious to our ability to treat others as equal. And that, ultimately, destroys human decency and the democracy that should arise out of it.