As the British National Party edges ever further into our dimmed conscience, the political and media classes are in a rare nervous state. For there's something big lurking beneath the easy abuse, something hidden in the righteous hand-wringing. The real question is this: what do we mean by national?

Kipling wrote:

Winds of the World, give answer! They are whimpering to and fro,
And what should they know of England who only England know?

Whatever it is, it is not a sentiment that the BNP has a monopoly over. It supervenes on a human universal: all peoples know – either through good fortune or through unanswered longing – what it means to belong. To be settled as opposed to unsettled. To have neighbours as opposed to adversaries. To trust, by default, rather than to fear.

National loyalty, freely given, is a precious thing. Such as the British are lucky enough to belong to a nation that, by its particular history, has produced a viable body of common law, which applies to rulers and to ruled alike; which alone produces the consent required for democratic rule; which binds us to agree that we can disagree. Or as Roger Scruton has put it:

“If [national loyalty] is a cost that you feel cannot be borne, try loyalties of another kind – ethnic, for example as in the Balkans, or religious, as in the Middle East."
(England and the Need for Nations)

After all, what else is there? International and trans-national bodies are unproven utopias; in such hopes lurk disenfranchisement and despotism. Only self-rule by a sovereign people has ever provided the “we” that is a precondition of the good life; of basic civility and peace.

The "National" in the BNP’s name is a word which needs wrestling over, for nationalism is not the same as national loyalty. The first is a claim to something greater than the people – it is a bellicose and ultimately tyrannical path to go down. The second is a love of one’s fellow citizens – or at least love of the idea that we have a common destiny, however else we might feel about each other. Only a nation that loves itself – on some everyday and irresistible level – can be cohesive, tolerant, and sustainable.

Yet if we now appear to ourselves as shameful brutes, as little better than an after-pub sprawl, it is largely from being disinherited by our guardians and our trusted educators. A survey of teachers by London University’s Institute of Education found that three-quarters of them believed it was their duty to warn their pupils about the dangers of patriotism. Who of these hapless young citizens will be able to articulate what it is to be English? (Or even articulate in English?) It is truly a remarkable transformation; at a distance almost comedic. From the post-war onwards, the idea of national loyalty has become a thing of ridicule; the cultures and virtues of the British have been eroded by a relentlessly critical acid, an obsessive multiculturalism, a strong-arm liberalism that has left us distrustful of each other and of our kinder human instincts.

The current panic is not that the BNP leader is being recklessly allowed to wield his hypnotic and ruinous power over a vulnerable mass. The dread in the ruling class is there because it knows now – or must surely sense – that the British people are out of love with their nation. Or – and this more hopeful – have gone off the idea that they should be out of love with their nation - as their teachers have told them to be. Any politician can see that a rival party with the word National in its name is going to thrive in such conditions. Yet however justified are the BNP’s critics, they have to do better than a gagging barrage of insult - because the fault is principally their own. The nation, made of only land, law, and people, should be a beloved thing. They have rendered it loveless.