We unfurl our flags when the occasion seems right, an example being the recent Royal Wedding, but patriotism on a daily basis is a no-no
‘Patriotism,’ said Samuel Johnson,’ is the last refuge of a scoundrel.’ This famous remark is often misinterpreted. Dr Johnson was an arch-patriot; he was attacking cynical politicians and demagogues who used patriotism as a political weapon against their opponents.
Now that the Big Society has collapsed, David Cameron’s policy chief, Steve Hilton, has announced that the Great is to be put back in Britain. As ideas go, this is like replacing a louse with a cockroach. Mr Hilton wants Government departments and local councils to display the Union Jack on their websites and ministers and civil servants to use the phrase Great Britain, as opposed to the United Kingdom.
I’m afraid that Mr Hilton, who I have known for some time, often fails to understand the British. This maybe because he has a continental mentality. Both his parents are Hungarians who fled here after the 1956 uprising. Consequently, Mr Hilton, who was born in 1969, was surrounded by that fervent, blowhard patriotism common to those whose country has been occupied by a hostile power.
You might counter: what of the United States? Yes, America blows hard, too, but it is still a relatively young nation, and as a home to so many immigrants, it has been forced to use flag-waving to facilitate integration. Hence, in the 1900s, federal inspectors in New York collated reports on Italian immigrants who still ate spaghetti, as opposed to ‘American foods’.
The British are different. We unfurl our flags when the occasion seems right, an example being the recent Royal Wedding, but patriotism on a daily basis is a no-no. This is only partly because of our native reticence and a politically correct and often misplaced distaste for ‘nationalism’ amongst media commentators. The real reason is an obvious one, though it fails to occur to continentals like Mr Hilton. Namely, it is still the best thing in the world to be born British, and our unshakeable sense of superiority tells us there is no need to prove it.