Thursday 18 October 2007

Mottos, monarchy and muddling along

Having chastised Tristram Hunt here for his sneering at the 'new atheist orthodoxy' and his quivering excitement at the 'radical energy' of religious faith, I'm surprised to find myself agreeing with most of what he has to say about the search for a 'national motto'. It certainly seems like a cart-before-the-horse way of bolstering British identity. As I said here, I agree with Jonathan Freedland that national identities tend to crystallise around moments of political and constitutional change and can't be imposed from above.

At the same time, I don't accept Hunt's claim that the monarchy and 'muddling along' are somehow essential to any notion of British identity. Nor do I like his sneering at the US constitutional model, or his inevitable poke at current foreign policy: 'Britain has been gripped periodically by an evangelising impulse to stuff religion, empire, free trade, and now democracy and human rights down the throats of foreigners.' We can all agree that imperialism was a bad thing, Tristram, but do you really think democracy and human rights should be confined to our own shores?

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