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Who do we think we are?

The attempt to find a British national story by rummaging through history is bound to fail

By Jon E Wilson   February 2008

When they feel anxious about the modern world, British politicians and commentators reach for the supposed certainties of history. Insecure about social change, conservatives have been doing this for more than a century. But in the past couple of years the centre left has become nostalgic too. The trouble is, the thing they are trying to find from the past—a stable set of identities and values—simply isn’t there. The study of history is far more likely to dissolve a coherent sense of who “we” Britons are than to buttress a stable form of identity. For the left, that should be…

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