I readily admit that I am no great fan of patriotism. I was brought up in so many different places that by the time I was eleven I had been to eight different schools in four different places that were each (or in the case of Scotland, felt themselves to be) nations in their own right. In what Pierre Joseph Proudhon describes as “circles of sociability” I often feel I have as much in common with, say, the people of Nairobi, or Iringa, or even Lagos, where we lived, however briefly, than I do with the people of Newcastle, or Cardiff or Plymouth which I have never even visited, even if they happen to be within the rather arbitrary boundaries of what I am supposed to regard as “my country”.
Of course, as an anarchist, I find the idea of nation states quite abhorrent anyway, with their connotations that a particular set of people is somehow more worth my support than another, or in a worse form is inherently superior to another, because we “share” this common characteristic, a blessing no less some would say, that we were whelped on one side of one of those arbitrary boundaries rather than another. Polities that often as not were established by conquest and have been held together by some or other degree of subjugation by those with equally arbitrary power at any one time. The idea that I should somehow believe in “my country right or wrong” is utterly repulsive, especially when I think that even in my lifetime, and no doubt for most of its history before then, “it” has been as often wrong as right, as has every other nation state I can think of.
Europe, however, was a different deal. If I have only a accidental loyalty to the “United Kingdom” by birth, for nearly all of my life, and that of about 70% of the British population, that has also meant being a part of that wider European Community, latterly at least as citizens of a larger body of peoples, most of whom have at least some blood that found its way into the ancestry of what we like to call “the British”. It was just as much not a choice to be a citizen of the European Union as it is to be a citizen of the United Kingdom, both are part of who I am. In the contemporary world at least, it is a unique situation: not the same as “dual citizenship” of two separate sovereign polities where you somehow choose one or the other at different times and for different purposes, perhaps, but that the citizenship of one is part of what being a citizen actually means.
And so, in the past twenty-four hours I have read countless people going on, online, in speeches and newspaper columns and so on, demanding something to the effect that “as a patriotic Briton” I should be optimistic about the future, and strive for “our” country to be “great again” and such like. But they don’t seem to appreciate that what happened on Friday evening was that I lost, or was cut off from, something like 87% of my fellow citizens. And those who arranged for that to happen want me to be grateful and loyal now exclusively to their preferred circle of association and bollocks to whatever I think is mine.
Moreover, in terms of politics at least, I am left being expected to show most loyalty to those whom I trust the least, precisely because this little, now politically separate, corner of Europe has not shared the domestic trials, the revolutions, democides, conquests, tyrannies, that over the past few decades and centuries most of the other 87% have faced, and who have, as a result, more reason to be suspicious of how governments can turn on their people. Until yesterday, I could be proudly loyal to a Britain which, as long as I have known it, has been a part of that wider circle of sociability. But if that wider circle has been forcibly removed, why should I feel so toward what feels like only (less than) half a circle now?
I don’t get out much, as they say: for all these feelings toward the rest of the people of the countries of the European Union, I have never visited them, just as I have never visited Newcastle, or Cardiff or Plymouth. My far more important circles of sociability are my neighbourhood, my city, and, to a lesser degree, those places where those I love live and those places with which I have had a personal connection in my life. But to Britain as a whole, now “merely” a nation state, as if patriotism is some kind of duty, the failure to wholeheartedly fulfil is, it seems, so casually derided as some kind of treason? When it is “they” who have taken away a huge part of what my “citizenship” has meant throughout my life.
You’ll have to forgive me if it takes me a little longer than some to get used to that, if I am not already too old to do so in the time I have left! Especially given what I believe to be the false prospectus on which this rending of my citizenship has been sold to my supposed fellow countryfolk. I am literally quite stumped that more people do not feel similarly bereft, and many appear to have reverted so quickly almost to chauvinism, particularly toward their so recently fellow citizens (if indeed they were ever otherwise).
So, for now, the best I can say is that I am a citizen of Oxford, as Rousseau was Genevois, not French or Swiss. But nothing greater than that. Theresa May called on us not be be “citizens of nowhere” a few short months ago. The actions of her government and its successors since have certainly made me such if I wasn’t already. Well done!
As to the so-called United Kingdom. As an ethnic Scot, if not one that has lived there much in my life (though I have, at various times) I can imagine that for many in Scotland this issue is magnified. They feel citizens of Scotland, and of the United Kingdom, a more distant circle of sociability, and of Europe, and to feel, perhaps, that they have been torn away from 87% of their fellow citizens by a vote largely determined by 10% of those fellow citizens I’m sure is even more troubling. It is surely time they had the choice again as to whether they want to stick with the 87% or the 10%.