Nationalism and Reconciliation

I. An ethical view from somewhere

There is no moral view from nowhere. Not all views are the same, and often they contradict each other: traditional Confucians disagree with Hobbesian liberals, revolutionary Marxists with conservative Burkeans, Nietzschean relativists with Kantian universalists. There is no view from nowhere; we all stand morally in one place rather than another.

Or rather, we probably stand in several places rather than others. In the contemporary, globalised world, and especially in liberal societies, we are seldom locked into only one moral community or tradition. Our centre of gravity may be in one tradition, but our appropriation of that tradition might well be influenced by others. What is more, longstanding, historic religious or philosophical traditions themselves bear the marks of encounter and engagement with other streams of thought. Christianity, for example, was originally and fundamentally shaped by Judaism, and was subsequently formed by Aristotelian philosophy, thanks to texts preserved and transmitted by medieval Muslims. So to have a moral view that is particular does not mean that it is pure, completely uncontaminated by views from elsewhere. It might be distinctive, but it is unlikely to be unique. And if it is not unique, then it will not be simply unintelligible to outsiders. In most cases, there will be points of contact, even areas of overlap. Therefore fragmentary understanding across ideological frontiers is possible: we encounter difference, we inquire about it, we question it, and so we negotiate our way to an evolving mixture of agreement and disagreement.

I say all this by way of preface. I am not only a practising Christian, but a professional Christian theologian. I always try to speak as I think a Christian should, and I shall do so here. I try to maintain my intellectual integrity, as most of us do. So the view of patriotism, historic grievance, and reconciliation that I shall present to you will be a Christian one. I say ‘a’ view, because not all Christians will agree with it. There is almost as much plurality within religious and philosophical traditions, as there is between them. So whether you are Christian or not, I offer my thoughts as one way of seeing things. I expect that you will understand some parts, but be baffled by others; and bafflement might lead to fresh insight or to outright disagreement. All I ask is that you take what I say on its merits. …

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