I have always found it strange that the great Russian writers like Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy could happily comment on the Russian soul, but very few modern British writers will comment on the British soul.
I suppose that it is because part of our national identity is that many of us believe we are not enigmatic enough to have a soul. Many of us are materialists and we want pragmatic answers and things that work, not ephemeral ideas. We do not want mystery. We do not want the invisible. When the wind blows across this island we cannot see the wind itself and we like it that way. We only see the effects of the wind.
All kinds of people with eclectic, backgrounds and characteristics muddle together on this island and when we run the gauntlet of the high street, board a pricey train or use the crowded NHS, we get in each other’s way. We become each other’s enemies and it is not pragmatic to afford your enemy a soul. Because that way they may not remain enemies.
Apart from liking a man in a dress on TV (as one intelligent person noted) we are rarely uniform in our likes and dislikes. Even our national landscape only goes so far to influence us, especially for those too poor to travel. And for all the calls to unity from politicians, we are often as much individual islands, individual kingdoms failing to communicate with each other on a larger island.
So people do not speak of the British soul – it is not a unifying topic. You may as well talk of national guardian angels.
Politicians may hint that the British soul is broken and needs to be fixed (before leaving it more bruised and wounded than ever). Religious leaders sometimes say that it is sick. Business leaders may say that the British soul is thriving and that any other view is a pessimistic talking down of the nation. Intellectuals and academics will rightly caution that any such talk can also lead to jingoism at best and a sick racism at worst.
But if we do have a soul, there is hope for that soul’s healing if we can avoid the sledgehammer fix of Government. And, as better men than I have said – ‘It is never too late’.
Think happy thoughts.