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Little England’s Own Goal

The recent European football championship unexpectedly focused attention on some fundamental political issues regarding English identity. Most voters appear to have sided with England team coach Gareth Southgate’s decent patriotism, rather than the Conservative government’s knee-jerk and racially tinged nationalism.

LONDON – Few English voters, and even fewer members of the United Kingdom’s political establishment, expected the recent European football championship, deservedly won by the most experienced team, to focus attention quite so clearly on some fundamental political issues. But, like the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign, the tournament once again forced the English – and our UK compatriots in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland – to think about nationalism, and to recognize the important distinction between it and patriotism.

Nationalism has not had good press in recent years, especially in the more liberal media. Politicians like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Marine Le Pen in France, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and former US President Donald Trump have frequently been accused of undermining the basic values of free and tolerant societies and encouraging a drift toward autocracy.

In China, which has abandoned Marxism but remains resolutely Leninist, the regime drums up nationalism to substitute for the moral values that communism was supposed to reflect. Chinese “wolf-warrior” diplomats attack any country that disagrees with the Communist Party of China’s narrative about the country’s past and present, and make heroes of anyone – including those who took part in the Boxer Rebellion at the turn of the twentieth century – who fought against Western societies.

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