Citizens of somewhere

Not long ago a senior politician in the United Kingdom suggested that those who saw themselves as ‘citizens of the world’ were, in reality, ‘citizens of nowhere’. I tend to take the view that Brexit has encouraged, on all sides, contributions to debate that those making them may subsequently have regretted, so I don’t want this to be personal. But the ‘citizens of nowhere’ jibe does raise some questions which merit further  discussion.

After the Second World War the widespread nationalism of the 1930s was discredited, and there followed an era of internationalism, in which there was a growing emphasis on communities and on alliances that were more global in nature. The idea of seeing one’s own country as uniquely excellent and others as less admirable was against the spirit of the age, and this contributed to the collapse of colonialism and also undermined the US in its prosecution of the Vietnam war.

For me, and maybe for others of my generation of a liberal persuasion, the current trend to re-assert nationalist principles (even ones far less toxic than those of the 1930s) is perhaps the most depressing aspect of the Brexit and Trump and Orban era. It is not that I would condemn patriotism; but patriotism in its proper sense is about supporting the wider community in which we live and which supports us, and not about about elevating our nation above others.

It is difficult to pinpoint where this resurgence of nationalism started. In 2014 the Economist magazine traced it back to India and its political system. Others have looked back further to the 1990s and argued that nationalism has been a response to the economic effects of globalisation, which itself was a product of sorts of post-War internationalism. But it is clear that nationalist messages have started to resonate more widely with electorates in various countries. Some economists now link this trend with the risk of another global recession, as major countries toy with protectionist policies that support their leaders’ nationalist rhetoric.

Maybe I am just sad that my own set of values isn’t universally shared and that these values no longer, perhaps, attract majority support. Or maybe we really are losing something that secured social and economic progress for the post-War generations. In the end, I still hope we can be citizens of the world.

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4 Comments on “Citizens of somewhere”

  1. Vince Says:

    OK, I’ll give you the basics of a case study that you know quite well.

    If you take the Tinkers in Ireland. The issue there isn’t Nationalism or Patriotism but Liberalism. Or at least that odd mix of Liberal and Tory that developed by the Irish establishment that views the poor through institutional memory as a danger.
    The general fix for the Tinkers as they see it in official halting sites. Such sites exist all over Europe for years and allow anyone a place to pitch a tent park a wagon or remain for a short time. So why didn’t the CoCO’s established services camp sites in each county.
    Remember in Germany France and much of the rest of Europe it was Liberalism and the economic consequences that caused most of the problems post WW1. That resetting to pre 1830 almost mediaevalism was the answer they came up with.
    So why the issue with the Tinkers when the solve is so easy. Well, in Ireland Racism is never very far away. Most towns, didn’t have Gaelic names in them until well into the 20th century that in any way reflected the population. But mostly it’s the reworking of old systems were one group paid tax while another were granted that money back and where the first group hate the second. The reworking part comes from the moneys stop in the civil and public service where once they would devolve to the colonel of the local militia to then be spread a good bit thinner to those lower down. Remember the budget of the Dept of Social Welfare has a budget of almost 20 billion. But the vast majority of that money is for public service pensioners, not the poor.


    • I agree that political and social structures that recognise the dignity and welfare of all members of society are the key to all of this.

      Your reference ti travellers reminds me of Micheál McGréil’s study in the 1980s (Prejudice and Tolerance in Ireland) in which he found the Irish were extraordinarily tolerant of all ethnic, religious and national groups except one: travellers. As it happens, that was the only ethnic minority group they ever came across at the time.


  2. If we have people going around calling themselves citizens of the world, that would imply that countries and their governments exist for the benefit of people, rather than the other way round, and this is obviously completely unacceptable


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