Having listened to the various contributions and comments during this seminar I am
struck by a very simple but perhaps very fundamental impression: there were contributors
who made no secret of the fact that they like their country, that they identify with its
political culture, that they are even proud of their country. And then there are those who
perhaps also like their country but they apologise for it, feel embarrassed about certain
key aspects of their political culture and live at the distance from it.
At a very basic level it must be such a relief to be able to identify oneself with
one's native culture, a psychological relief which is not mere sentimentality even to a
circle of critical social scientists. It is a psychological expression which is matched by
a concrete set of political principles. The state they identify with is somehow a
"product" of their participation; it was not just handed down to them but it has
been shaped by the operation of a social contract which allowed for active participation
by the citizens. What is more, this state owes its legitimacy to the constant renewal of
this social contract in all its political practice.
While in the remarks of participants from the UK the state often appears as something
that threatens personal liberty and needs to be curtailed and kept in tight boundaries,
participants from the Northern countries see their liberties safeguarded by a strong
state, as long that state remains a reflection of "us" and not an instrument of
This spells out not just a difference in political traditions of nationhood,
citizenship and the state, it reflects a difference in political practice: the possibility
of re-working one's notion of citizenship, of forming and expressing what it means to be a
citizen today, under current conditions. It means that citizenship needs to be thought of
not just as a set of abstract rights, as a convention that locks people into a tradition
determined by ancient arrangements, but as a living practice, something that takes shape
in the daily interactions of citizens, that takes in their feelings, tastes, preferences,
joys. It is something that needs to be renewed again and again rather that
"preserved" and "guarded", that needs to be exposed to controversy and
argument, but also something that requires skills to develop, and care taken with
educational processes which mould young people into the required political practices - not
in order to politicise (and thereby indoctrinating) them, but precisely in order to give
them the ability to be autonomous, to use their liberty in a socially responsible sense.
If they can feel the benefits of this practise they are also less likely to become
alienated from others, less likely to see their liberty as something "against"
others, but instead as a shared practice.
The writer is a German working at the University College, Cork