Take a step back and it’s a no-brainer: If you want a healthy society, you need a spirit of unity. As we saw in London during the Blitz – often romanticised for its fabled ability to ‘pull together’ – if citizens feel they are part of a national family, they can maintain their morale even in the face of great adversity.
The same is true in modern times. It must surely be the case that, the more people feel a meaningful part of a nation, the less alienation, disenfranchisement, discrimination and resentment there will be. Deaths of despair from drug abuse or suicide will reduce, as will poverty, depression and family breakdown. Productivity, optimism and wellbeing will increase.
Different countries have different historical and demographic challenges, but from South Korea – where researchers found that ‘national pride is positively associated with happiness’ – to our own shores, where the Office for National Statistics concluded that ‘perceptions of unity within Britain are associated with higher average life satisfaction, happiness and feelings that things done in life are worthwhile’, strong social bonds are essential to the health of the body politic.
Let’s talk, then, about national service. When the idea was floated during a speech by the head of the British Army, General Sir Patrick Sanders, on Wednesday, amid looming threats from Russia, China and elsewhere, it was immediately subjected to widespread mockery. Never had the suggestion of serving your country been so derided. Twitter was awash with jokes and memes poking fun at the values for which our grandparents gave their lives, and coming up with inventive ways to avoid any potential draft. I don’t want to be accused of a sense of humour failure, but you don’t need to be Sigmund Freud to understand that jokes tell you something about the unconscious of a nation.