Introduction: Danny Kruger

Imagining the country we want to be

On 18 January 2018 the Legatum Institute, working with Professor Sir Roger Scruton, convened a conference under the banner ‘The Country We Want To Be’. The Legatum Institute exists to create the pathways from poverty to prosperity for individuals, communities and nations. As the United Kingdom seeks its own path into the future we thought the time was right to look both back and forwards – and to do so in a spirit of honest intellectual enquiry.

In modern times Britain, like elsewhere in the West, has witnessed the growth of what Roger Scruton calls ‘a culture of repudiation’, a rejection of the habits and attachments of the people and the institutions that sustained them. Perhaps chief among these is the institution of free speech, which is best understood not in terms of the license it gives individuals to express themselves, but in terms of the opportunity it creates for the resolution of disputes. The repudiation of free speech – ironically in the name of minimising the distress of disagreement – threatens civil peace.

Talking things through is important. Roger Scruton has long argued that a country is the product of obligations and associations that precede the formal commitments of citizenship, rights, law and borders. These things take their legitimacy from prior loyalties, which must be imagined more than they can be proved. That said, the imagining of ourselves, the recasting of ‘the country we want to be’, is a deliberate act, and one that is especially necessary at times of great change. We need to ‘discuss into being’ the country we want to be.

As Maurice Glasman told us, for all its complexities and perils ‘the Brexit vote opens up a space of imaginative political reflection, on who we are and how we govern ourselves.’ These are the things we discussed at the conference: who we are – what we think our history has made of us, and the habits we have acquired of relating to each other and the world – and how we govern ourselves in practical matters: defence and housing, education and immigration, economic policy and the operations of the law.

With the exception of those of Jesse Norman MP and Professor Sir Paul Collier (which will be published separately) the talks from the conference will be serialised on this site in the coming months, and then published together in a book in the spring. All quotations in this Introduction come from the transcript.

It first summarises the critique of British policy and politics as this emerged during the day, and then sketches the outline of a solution as this also emerged. Out of the exchange of ideas something positive took shape: a rediscovered idea, on which we might found the country we want to be.

Imagining the country we want to be: Introduction.

Read about our Country We Want To Be programme.