‘Why I believe in patriotism not nationalism’

A new hope? Centrist Emmanuel Macron is favourite to be France’s next president. © PA
by Tim Farron

Tim Farron is leader of the British Liberal Democrats. He is a committed evangelical Christian, a strong supporter of the EU and has campaigned for refugees, women and LGBT rights.

With a right-wing populist set to top the polls in the Netherlands next week, the British Liberal Democrats’ leader delivers an urgent plea for a new politics of the centre ground.

The last year has seen the liberal consensus turned on its head all over the world.

The conventional expectations of pundits and commentators have been confounded again and again. We saw it on the morning of June 24th when the UK voted to leave the EU — a decision that struck me with a very emotional feeling that the future of my country and the future of my children had been altered forever. We saw it in the USA with the election of Donald Trump.

Next week Geert Wilders, a man who says he “hates Islam”, might become the Dutch prime minister. We see it elsewhere in France with the rise of Marine Le Pen in France and Alternative für Deutschland in Germany. As the problems facing Western democracies grow more complex, movements advocating simplistic, authoritarian, sloganeering solutions are growing in popularity.

Liberals have long been afraid to claim the mantle of patriotism fearing its association with ugly jingoism

Climate change is dismissed as the preserve of cranks and scaremongers. Civil liberties are regarded as wishy-washy liberal nonsense. Diversity and multiculturalism are portrayed as threats to our way of life.

There is a reason these populist movements have been so successful. Around the world there is a very real sense that those at the top of our politics have lost touch with reality. The established political industry is seen as self-serving, no longer addressing the needs of the communities it purports to represent.

It could be a moment for those of a liberal and rational disposition to despair.

However, liberals are optimists. And I believe that If liberals tell their story in emotive language that makes sense and they offer solutions, they can win.

Liberals have long been afraid to claim the mantle of patriotism, fearing its association with an ugly jingoism.

But patriotism and nationalism are not the same thing. Nationalism is a narrow-minded fervour for country, motivated by fear and hatred of others.

It is nasty and jingoistic. Patriotism, by contrast, is an opportunity to celebrate the values that make a country what it is. For me, for example, Britain is welcoming, outward-looking and ready to lead in the world.

Alexander van der Bellen, the self-described centrist liberal who beat the right-wing populist Norbert Hofer in the Austrian election last year, campaigned on a slogan: “Those who love their homeland don’t divide it.” He made an emotional connection with voters that expressed his liberal values. He showed it is possible to offer a robust and liberal alternative to right-wing populism.

Emmanuel Macron in France is a similar figure. It is on such people that liberals must place their hopes.

I am interested in a politics that challenges those who pursue ideology at the expense of rising inequalities. I want us to ensure we do not jeopardise our culture of entrepreneurship or a sustainable future for our children through short-term decisions.

I believe our liberal values embody the best values of the civilised world.

If 2016 saw the angry rejection of the political establishment, 2017 must be the year of liberal challenge to the new, post-truth consensus.

You Decide

  1. Do you agree with Tim Farron’s distinction between patriotism and nationalism?


  1. Albert Einstein once said: “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.” Write 500 words on whether you agree with this quote.

Word Watch

Geert Wilders
Wilders’s Party for Freedom has consistently topped the polls in the Netherlands since 2015. Currently its support is on about 25%. However, it would need the support of other parties in order to form a government.
Extreme patriotism / nationalism, especially in the form of an aggressive foreign policy.
Alexander van der Bellen
Van der Bellen won an incredibly narrow race against Hofer in June 2016, but the results were annulled due to absentee votes being improperly counted too early, requiring the election to be held again. In December van der Bellen won the re-run with approximately 54% of the vote.
Emmanuel Macron
Macron is currently the favourite to become the next French president. He describes himself as “neither left nor right”.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.