This paper is partly about liberalism, partly about communitarianism and mostly about the drawbacks of both. It is also, and primarily, about univeralism. I use this term in various, not always interchangeable, senses. Two, though, are predominant: the idea that to be adequate, ethics and ideas of political progress require, at some level, a notion of universal respect for human beings qua human beings; and the idea that the critical norms used in ethical discourse must in some sense be independent of their immediate socio-historical context – that they are not, in other words, simply culturally relative. Now universalism in both these senses is, to put it mildly, under a fair amount of pressure – both theoretically and historically. On the one hand, there is the retreat from universalism common to the most influential among current political theories, especially those of a communitarian or postmodern hue. On the other, there is the resurgence of particularisms, exclusionary nationalisms and outright racisms witnessed across the board of 1990s politics, most especially in Europe. 1