chapter  4
34 Pages

The politics of national identity

As was noted at the outset of this enquiry it is commonplace in academic political theory to claim that in the countries where central planning failed the cultural turn witnessed the emergence of the politics of ethnic nationalism. Similarly, the West has witnessed a less extreme form of this trend in the emergence of multiculturalism as the principal rival to liberalism. Moreover, so influential has multiculturalism become that it is usual for political theorists concerned with diversity and the justification of public institutions to work from the fact of pluralism and proceed to outline and defend theories of justice that adequately respond to it. Importantly, however, the political concern with culture and identity has

not only been manifested in the politicisation of minority group claims within Western liberal democratic societies. Perhaps in response to mass migration, multiculturalism and events such as 9/11, there have arisen and continue to arise all over the Western world political movements of the right that address issues of culture and identity which have until recently been considered to be the preserve of the multicultural left. Significantly, these right-wing groupings are often more effectively organised in both civil society and the formal political arena than their counterparts on the left to which the overwhelming majority of attention has been given in academia. Indeed, whilst in some countries such groupings have had a significant impact upon policy, in others they have achieved national government, albeit in coalition, a point which makes Miller’s reason for ignoring the claims of the far right on the grounds that it has no ‘prospect of taking hold as the public philosophy of one of the technologically advanced liberal democracies’ seem fanciful.1 In the post 9/11 world, rumours of the death of the politics of what Kymlicka has somewhat narrowly called ‘Anglo-conformity’ are greatly exaggerated.2 Framing contemporary normative discourse in terms of the adequacy or otherwise of a particular tradition of political theory to come to terms with cultural diversity may well be inadequate, for it excludes from the outset the increasingly mainstream view that is, at best, sceptical of the public recognition of cultural diversity and seeks instead to defend national identity.