On Jan. 31, 2020 at 11 p.m., the U.K. officially left the European Union after 47 years of membership, over three years after the referendum was held on June 23, 2016. In light of such a momentous event, I think it is important that we reflect upon the formation of national identity. It has wide-reaching ramifications, shaping our political opinions, the actions we take and our social interactions.
With national identity being such a powerful construct and with each individual having the power to mold their own, it is crucially important to understand how it is fashioned so that we can help navigate its formation.
One of the most renowned description is “Benedict Anderson’s” conception of nations as imagined communities (1983). Powerfully, he writes that national identities are “conceived in language, rather than blood.” Essentially, the central thesis is that nations are socially constructed communities, imagined by the people who perceive themselves as part of that group. Precisely what makes nations imagined, is the fact that you will likely never meet every person in your country but in spite of this you still feel an intrinsic link to other fellow-members of the said community.
Brexit being finalized was very disheartening and saddened me immensely. A sentiment exacerbated by the “rise of far-right nationalist politics” in Europe, such as in Hungary, Austria and Italy amongst many others. The dangers of this boom are a growth of intolerance lending itself to hateful ideologies, anti-immigration policies and xenophobic ideals. It made me question how we form our identity and how this plays such a pivotal role in our political and personal beliefs.
I’m not making the case for national identity to be foregone, as renowned political scientist Francis Fukuyama declares the inclusive sense it creates is critical to maintaining a successful modern political order. National identity enhances physical security, enables economic development, fosters trust among citizens and ultimately facilitates liberal democracy.
Nonetheless, in a globalized world national identity has become a glorious, confusing mess, with people easily swayed by others, an amalgamation of often extreme fervent beliefs. Thus, a case can be put forward for people to reconsider and reconstruct their national identity within the framework of world interdependent on different economies and populations with cross-border trade and flows of information. Typically, national identities are not fluid — they are entrenched in history — but in a world where media is 24/7 and politics is so fast-paced, why should they not be?
Simply put, national identity should be an organic process, one that is unique to each person. It should be a dialectic process of honoring the cultural traditions one sees fit, but also being open and inclusive of other cultures. Diversity is key to a rich society, but part of enabling such an environment to flourish is having a national identity that is open and accepting. For this to happen, national identities should not battle and compete against one another to deem what’s apparently better but should purely be an appreciation of other communities and a choosing of what is most pertinent and relevant for each individual.
Individuals should take control of their own narrative and realize the immense power they have when molding their national identity. It is our choice to be more accepting of others, willing to learn, to diversify our horizons and this all starts with how we construct our national identity. In the swelling toxic political atmosphere, it is time for a self-examination of the values we believe make us members of our nations and the subsequent implications of these principles.
Thumbnail photo courtesy of (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
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Camélia Lequeux is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.