6.7.4.7 A Sense of Belonging

People can feel that they belong to the society in which they live.  They can feel this at any level of political subsidiarity, but it is perhaps most noticeably effective within a neighbourhood community – where people are conscious of living next to each other and sharing local concerns – and at national level, where people can identify with a country’s history, its language and its distinctive character.  A sense of national identity is very different from aggressive nationalism, which can cause problems between countries (6.6.4.3) and which may be synonymous with intolerance and divisiveness within a country – as was the case with Nazism.

Shared local or national concerns, which might be practical, political or economic, can transcend ethnicity.  America’s ethnic ‘melting pot’ was formed in an inclusive way, with a strong sense of citizenship, national identity and shared values in the pursuit of freedom as new people arrived – as described by Francis Fukuyama in his article Identity and migration.

It is hard to foster national identity.  As noted in the IPPR report Identity, Politics and Public Policy:

“Governments make decisions that have an important impact on our understanding of who we are: from what is taught in schools to which public holidays we should have, from how we mark historical events to our relationships with other countries.” (p. 9)

The report continued, though, by pointing out that it is not easy to instil identity in a top-down way.  As Kwame Anthony Appia noted in his 2016 Reith lecture, Country, “national consciousness wasn’t a mineral to be excavated, like bauxite; it was a fabric to be woven, like kente” [p. 8].

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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/6747.htm.