The Identity Crisis That Lies Behind Our Fear of Europe ; `We Started the Second Half of the 20th Century with a Hopelessly False Self-Image after Our Finest Hour'
Patten, Chris, The Independent (London, England)
ARE WE suffering from an identity crisis? Several causes have been adduced for a purported loss of national self-esteem. First, there are the worries that multi-ethnicity has brought in its train multiculturalism, and that that has destroyed our traditional British cultural values.
Let me briefly try to unpick an argument that is loaded with value judgements, prejudices and old-fashioned nonsense. Britain is indeed a multi-ethnic society and has for centuries been what one writer after another has called a mongrel breed. But if today some say that we no longer know who we are, I think that the journalist Alexander Chancellor is right to argue that this has more to do with a collapse of old common standards among many white people than with immigration from the Caribbean and South Asia.
A second purported reason for questioning our customary idea of ourselves is a nervous worry that we have somehow lost our sense of civilised restraint along the way, that we are no longer a gentle, well-mannered people. Michael Elliot fears that we have now become a nation of rowdy slobs, known from the football grounds of northern Europe to the esplanades and beaches of the south for violence and vomit. Unfortunately, there may be some truth in this. But we should not be too shocked or preachy about this. I fear that a reputation for red-faced booziness has always sat uneasily beside the image of diffident, labrador-loving vicars reading Jane Austen, sipping weak tea, and eating cucumber sandwiches.
It is also argued (the third factor in our identity crisis) that the very concept of Britain and Britishness was an artificial construction knocked together in order to win and control an overseas empire, and that we have always been a community of disparate communities.
I am not persuaded that today's intellectual deconstruction of the idea of the British state on the grounds that it artificially provides political quarters for separate nations reflects the extent to which citizens of the whole state feel natural loyalties towards it at the same time as they feel loyalty to their nationhood.
But that does bring me to the core of my argument (the fourth reason for our alleged uncertainty about who we are): the agonising, infuriating, debilitating argument about Britain and Europe, a debate that does in a way reflect a real loss of confidence in "being British". It is a debate that confuses, confounds and mystifies our friends - many in the United States as well as in Europe - and often prevents us from pursuing our national interest as vigorously as we should or could.
We started the …
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Publication information: Article title: The Identity Crisis That Lies Behind Our Fear of Europe ; `We Started the Second Half of the 20th Century with a Hopelessly False Self-Image after Our Finest Hour'. Contributors: Patten, Chris - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: June 29, 2001. Page number: 5. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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