[I]t seems to me there is at least one form of patriotism that is perfectly consistent with liberalism, both in the sense that liberal citizens should embrace it and liberal governments need not shy away from it. Namely, a patriotism focused on celebrating the liberal state itself. If when flying the flag, what is going on mentally is a celebration of fundamental liberal principles like equality, and core freedoms such as that of thought and speech – what could possibly be illiberal about fostering those sorts of feelings?
And I think this sort of thought is intrinsic to and dominant in the American identity. It is reflected in their other key national symbol, the Statue of Liberty. So perhaps Britain is at a disadvantage here. As we know too well, our flag is too tied up with the monarchy and football. But maybe British liberals should get to work on changing that.
This kind of argument reminds me why liberalism is so alien to me, in many ways. I have no problem with patriotism in its most sentimental forms. In fact, I love it in all its sentimental garishness. I don't like it when it is abused by partisans, like Romney's ugly attempt to insinuate that the president doesn't "believe in America" as he does. But what Roger Scruton in his fascinating new book, Green Philosophy, calls oikophilia – a love of one's own home – requires no intellectual defense to me. It is an integral part of human nature. It comes very naturally to me.
And this is where British patriotism is particularly interesting, because it also focuses on the monarchy, which is a way of indirectly celebrating the country. Next week, Brits will have a four-day weekend to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II. Bunting, flags, flotillas, marches, street-fairs will proliferate. And it will not be some jingoistic thing. It will simply be a royal anniversary. Because the head of state is not a politician, because monarchy taps into the irrationality of love of country, it deftly deflects nationalism into patriotism. Its very anachronism empowers it. Which is why I couldn't really defend the monarchy's persistence on liberal grounds. But because I'm a Tory, I don't have to.
(Photo: A Union Jack flag flaps in the wind as people watch members of the English Defence League (EDL) march during a demonstration through the streets of Leicester on February 4, 2012 in Leicester, England. Up to two thousand members of the EDL gathered in the centre of Leicester as an opposing demonstration by anti-fascists held their protest nearby. By Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.)