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Identity parades

The dilemma for modern liberal states is how to combine tolerance for diversity with a commitment to universal civic values. Michael Ignatieff considers how Britain, and British identity, is dealing with this dilemma in the face of ethnic and religious difference, Celtic devolution and European integration

The recent death of Enoch Powell provided the Conservative party with the occasion to mourn the loss of a great English nationalist; it allowed others to heave a sigh of relief; it enabled everyone to notice how much the debate about British national identity has changed since 1968. Then we spoke of race; now we talk about ethnic minorities. Then the ambient atmosphere of the debate was relative economic decline and post-imperial despondency. Now our new elite is “branding” Britain as “the young country,” which suggests that we have not lost the capacity to tell ourselves agreeable fairy tales. National…

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