Monday, 4 April 2011
The crisis of national identity
So where does a national identity come from? It does not come from navel-gazing or looking in the mirror. Identity comes from the relationships that define us. The identity of a nation is an aspect of the common good of its people – what they know, will, feel, and love writ large; what they won’t do, and what they will. It is the past (memory) and the future (imagination). It is the stories it tells about itself, the ideals it aspires to.
Deeper than all this it is a mission. As in the case of my personal identity, I am what I am given to do. I am unfinished; I must become what I am. Thus we find our identity when we hear a call, the summons to be a self. This is why a nation has a patron saint. Often, that saint expresses the particular character and mission of the nation, at least in some symbolic way. England should be asking St George, what dragon must we conquer?