After the 11 March tsunami people all over Japan willingly gave their money and time to help their compatriots in the north-east of the country.
Probably the impulse behind this charitable act was the thought, ‘That could have been me and I’m sure these unfortunate people would help me if roles were reversed.’ This feeling is probably not unusual among people who live in a homogenous country like Japan.
Britain used to be a homogenous country but not any longer. Now we live in a kaleidoscope of multiculturalism and multiracialism. We live alongside Polish Catholics, Albanian criminals, Somali refugees, Indian Hindus, Pakistani Muslims and various other people. Britain nowadays resembles an international airport terminal more than a coherent nation.
It has been suggested that a lack of homogeneity undermines the impulse behind welfare. After all, we don’t feel quite so much solidarity towards people who have a different history, a different religion, a different culture and often different values to us. All we really share is the same piece of land.
Welfare works fine as long as you feel you are giving to people like yourself and who would reciprocate if roles were reversed. But many people now feel they have little in common with the recipients of welfare. They also suspect that people who have come here for purely economic reasons may not return favours if push ever came to shove. Supporting others through an enforced income tax has for many become an onerous duty rather than a voluntary act of community solidarity.
The truth is that most people, if they are honest, care most about people like themselves. Liberals claim to believe in the Brotherhood of Man but others are not so convinced. Universal solidarity may turn out to be a step towards greater humanity, or simply a trendy pose that ignores human nature.