There are, periodically, attempts to define “British values”: both so that our governments can promote integration and so they can do their gallant best to appear patriotic. These tend to be lists of superficial progressive virtues – gender equality, religious tolerance and so on – which ignore other elements such as local diversity, mental acquisitiveness and ironic humour. Nonetheless, however it is done, I am sceptical of attempts to systematise a nation’s “values”. It seems optimistically, obnoxiously rationalistic.
To list a nation’s values and believe one has defined it is a bit like listing ingredients such as “flour”, “eggs” and “sugar” and believing that one has defined a Christmas cake. A national culture is sustained by subtle interactions of its elements and is not easily reduced to them. Both Britain and India value religious tolerance, for example, but they mean very different things.
Even once we have admitted this we face the problem that national traits are more complex than national values. Social trust, for example, is something we have rather than something that we believe in and is difficult to analyse let alone reproduce.
One can write effectively on a national culture but I think the people best placed to do it are poets.