The need for a national home
Published in: Jewish Chronicle
David Goodhart, editor of the liberal magazine Prospect, has written a thoughtful article about national identity and the challenges it faces from mass immigration. He notes that although our society is essentially an association of strangers, we accept the choices it makes and the restrictions it imposes because we nevertheless share with each other a set of common values and assumptions.
This solidarity, however, is threatened if society becomes too diverse and if we therefore no longer recognise what we all have in common. A culture of solidarity is based on primary obligations to family, locality and nation. This is now opposed, however, by the internationalist view that we have equal obligations to everyone in the world, and which therefore holds that national identity and culture are exclusive and illegitimate.
Goodhart's argument finds strong endorsement in Roger Scruton's new Civitas pamphlet, 'The Need for Nations'. Democracy, he observes, is only possible if society accepts the 'we' that derives from a shared culture. That 'we' is destroyed by multiculturalism, which explicitly denies the ties that bind us. It is also destroyed by international jurisdictions such as the EU or UN, which impose upon us laws which have no legitimacy because their legislators are not answerable to us. At the end of this process, as the philosopher Kant predicted, ultimately lie despotism and anarchy.
Such challenges to majority cultures and the concept of the nation state are among the most difficult, complex and urgent issues we face. Yet a pavlovian McCarthyism seeks to shut down such debate. Thus the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Phillips, has accused Goodhart of racism, and likened him to Enoch Powell and the British National Party. Phillips falsely claims that because Goodhart says 'national citizenship is inherently exclusionary', he is also saying 'no foreigners need apply'. But Goodhart is not saying that at all. On the contrary, he says specifically that just because we tend to prefer our own kind does not mean we are hostile or unsympathetic to other kinds.
In other words, saying mass immigration is unsustainable is not the same as being beastly to immigrants. Of course, immigrants have much to offer this country. And of course, we all have a duty to offer asylum to genuine refugees. But the crisis now facing the west is a historically unprecedented mass migration of peoples, a different scenario altogether.
For Jews, with our own history as immigrants and refugees still a recent and traumatic memory, this whole debate is deeply troubling. We instinctively recoil from pulling up the drawbridge behind us. But like other minorities, British Jews have multiple identities which are stacked inside each other like Russian dolls. What binds us to our non-Jewish fellow citizens is adherence to common laws and conventions based on a culture and institutions rooted in a particular history and traditions.
True, we can't share in that history until several generations have passed. But that's no reason to destroy it; and too many newcomers mean it gets more and more difficult to share a history or identity. Thus the national 'we' gets replaced by a disparate and fragmented 'them', all competing for power and control. A 'multicultural society' -- that contradiction in terms - dissolves shared values, and so is the enemy of tolerance and minority freedoms. To label this concern as 'racist' is as stupid as it is vicious.
The attack on majority culture also directly threatens Jewish national feeling and the existence of the Jewish national home. If majority culture is illegitimate, then clearly a Jewish state is illegitimate. Indeed, the belief that Jewish national identity is 'racist' helps fuel the visceral hatred of Israel. Not, of course, that the Palestinians or any other third world people seeking national self-expression are found guilty of the same 'racism'. But then, the attack on nation and majority culture is targeted specifically at western nations and western culture.
Time and again, the enemies of western values use the same preposterous argument. They take a perfectly reasonable proposition and then falsely identify it with its own historical distortion, so that they damn the former along with the latter.
Thus, national identity is falsely identified as nationalism, so that any defence of national culture is denounced as xenophobia. Thus, defending majority culture is falsely identified as hatred of foreigners, so the desire to uphold cultural values is denounced as racism. As David Goodhart has now discovered, anyone who dares defend British national identity will immediately be smeared as a bigot by the witch-hunters of cultural deconstruction.
The outcome is that real racism and prejudice become trivialised and then altogether denied; true racists find ever more fertile territory; society's bonds of mutual respect and solidarity weaken and eventually snap; and all the while, humbugs like Trevor Phillips wrap themselves in sanctimony while they progressively silence the anxious voices of warning.