From Britain to the United States, France to Australia, Western states are struggling with an identity crisis: how to cultivate a common cultural ‘core’, a social ‘bond’, which goes beyond the global economy and political liberalism. It is too early to predict whether Brexit is the last gasp of the old structure of national identity, or its revival.
Citizenship tests are meant to focus on facts essential to citizenship, yet reviewing them tells a different story. What knowledge makes one a good citizen? Citizenship tests are a sort of a “grab bag”; they include a little bit of everything—demography, geography, history, constitutional principles, national holidays, and a long list of practical knowledge of education, employment, healthcare, housing, taxes, and everyday needs.
Surveys show that a high percentage of British citizens “feel British.” But what exactly do people have in mind when they say this? People may think differently about this question, and perhaps it is also British to give various meanings to British identity. Still, can we define what it is to “feel” British? Or even what is un-British—be it a pattern of behavior, a belief, or a way of doing things?