The AtlanticThe Atlantic

Can the left make peace with a national flag?

By Helen Lewis

03 Jul 2023 · 9 min read

informed Summary

  1. The English flag, the cross of Saint George, has long been associated with the Crusaders, imperial conquest, and white nationalism, argues the author. However, it is now being reclaimed and redefined, much like the Scottish saltire, the Welsh red dragon, and the Union Jack have been.

For many years, the English flag was an ambivalent symbol—the flag of the Crusaders who raided medieval Jerusalem, the flag of imperial conquest, and a flag appropriated by the white nationalists of the English Defence League. The cross of Saint George, red on a white background, was also the flag of a bunch of losers. The English men’s soccer team hasn’t won a major title since the 1966 World Cup.

Here in Europe, as in the United States, debates about flags are useful proxies for other cultural anxieties. Flags force us into a confrontation with our country’s history as a source of pride, or shame, or both. They create an us, whose composition can be inclusive or exclusive. And, quite honestly, they can stop the left from winning elections. Being uncomfortable with a national flag is often interpreted (or misinterpreted) as a sign that you don’t love the country it represents. The Scottish saltire and the Welsh red dragon have been thoroughly reclaimed by the nationalist parties of those countries, and even the Union Jack, which blends the flags of Britain’s constituent nations, was rehabilitated in the 1990s by New Labour. But until recently, the English flag languished behind them, unloved and unwaved.

Sign in to informed

  • Curated articles from premium publishers, ad-free
  • Concise Daily Briefs with quick-read summaries
  • Read, listen, save for later, or enjoy offline
  • Enjoy personalized content