Civic Identity

One positive thought coming out of Kwame Anthony Appiah’s second Reith lecture this morning is Civic Identity

As with the first lecture on Credo, this second installment on Nationality came across again as statements of the obvious on the broad difficulties in being “definitive” on such matters of Identity Politics. Mistaken identity for sure, but what about “appropriate” identities with values to support them?

The positive thought came up in one of the later questions on Civic Identity. Having thrown-away cheap-shots on philosophers wanting to be definitive, citizens of the world vs citizens of a nation, and his own father’s belief in “Unitary (National) Citizenship” one philosophy student raised the idea of Civic Nationalism.

There is always a question of “we”; a presumption that there is one that means anything. Obviously there are many that mean many things. Any identity chosen by multiple individuals for their collective identity is a statement of caring enough about that identity. (Whatever genetic or memetic, biological or cultural – familial, ethnic, religious or territorial “heritage” forms the basis of that identity. The issue is simply that we have many of these at many levels.)

National identity – a particular “peoples” collective as a nation – is a political identity – like all identities are in the final analysis. The suggestion is that this is a particular “Civic Nationalism” – one based on political principles AND narrative, existing alongside other affiliations with multiple constituencies of peoples. Broadly consistent and tolerant of difference and multiplicity, despite particular points of conflict, that we can agree to forget or give low priority in most practical situations of daily life. Again we (individually) must choose to self-identify our collective “civic” nationality as distinct from all other national and ethnic identities, the point being as a statement that we accept the practicality of the governance arrangements of that civic. We are nailing our colours to the mast of a civic identity – a nation – that we declare will be used as the basis of any significant governance of conflicts and inconsistencies arising with the many other overlapping identities. We are accepting this civic identity to handle changes and accomodations involving other identities. Choosing a civic identity in no way loses or ignores the existence of our other identities and narratives as people’s other than that civic identity.

Declaring citizenship of the world is fatuous as our civic identity until such time as there is a form of world governance “we” all genuinely share. It’s a fine identity many of us also have, and even an aspirational civic identity, but until then, governance is about jurisdictions and their borders.

I’m kinda hoping Kwame Anthony Appiah’s lectures will have some punchline in the fourth episode, to bring together practical necessities of identities which bind us for real world purpose. So far it’s all about how matters of identity are complicated and non-definitive. We already knew that.

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