[Paleopsych] New Left Review: Eric Hobsbawm: Identity Politics and the Left

Premise Checker checker at panix.com
Sun Jan 1 23:11:08 UTC 2006

Eric Hobsbawm: Identity Politics and the Left
New Left Review 217, May/June 1996

[This is a significant article by an old-line 20th century British 
leftist. It deplores the replacement of "equality and social justice" as 
the essential aim of the Left with identity politics and mourns the 
disappearance of universalism on the Left.

[The article, nearly a decade old, should be read carefully. He states, 
"Since the 1970s there has been a tendency-an increasing tendency' to see 
the Left essentially as a coalition of minority groups and interests: of 
race, gender, sexual or other cultural preferences and lifestyles, even of 
economic minorities such as the old getting-your-hands-dirty, industrial 
working class have now become."

[Since then, the trends he deplores have been exacerbated, with 
universalism further in retreat. It is now getting to the point where 
Whites are starting their own identity politics.

[Hobsbawn calls "equality and social justice" the essential defining 
characteristic of the Left, and this was true--or rather equality formed 
the *principle* Left-Right divide--but only for a while after the nearly 
universally recognized failure of central planning. The failure of 
egalitarian politics is becoming nearly as manifest as the failure of 
central planning. What is replacing equality, I have been arguing 
repeatedly, as the new major Left-Right 
divide in politics is universalism (on the Right, now taking the form of 
spreading "democratic capitalism" to the world or else the universal 
truths of one religion or another) and particularism (on the Left, now not 
very coherent, except to resist Rightist universalism).

[Hobsbawm is quite correct to say that the Left in Britain degenerated 
into rent-seeking for higher wages for those who happen to be unionized. 
(Unionization simply cannot, and never could, raise wages overall in a 
competitive economy, but that's another story.) And the Central Planner in 
him remains in his Unchecked Premise that, while it is true that 
identities are multiple and fluid--but only to a degree, only to a 
degree--a Central Planner can make them what he will.

[I could argue that capitalism is defective, in that it rewards 
inventors, entrepreneurs, capitalists, and businessmen too small a share 
of what they contribute to society (far less than their marginal product), 
while the workers collect nearly their full marginal product and that 
"social justice" demands regressive taxes. But all this would serve only 
to continue 20th-century Rightist arguments, coming down on the side of 
inequality rather than equality.

[The politics of the 21st century will move away from the increasingly 
dead issue of equality. Hobsbawm writes that "the emergence of identity 
politics is a consequence of the extraordinarily rapid and profound 
upheavals and transformations of human society in the third quarter of 
this century," and quotes Daniel Bell as noting that "the breakup of the 
traditional authority structures and the previous affective social 
units-historically nation and class...make the ethnic attachment more 

[But identity is not just a matter of politics and rent-seeking 
coalitions. Identity is becoming ever more salient, for it provides 
islands of stability in an world where everything else changes. This will 
only increase as change itself increases. This is deep culture change 
indeed, and the inevitable emergence of political entrepreneurs to form 
rent-seeking coalitions is a small aspect of this.

[So read the article, not for the politics or for Hobsbawm's nostalgia for 
20th century Leftist politics (but 1996, the date of the article, was 
still in the last century!) Try to think about the sociology of identity, 
how individuals will remake their identities to create new islands of 
stability, and how those with a particular identity, or mixture of them 
(as Hobsbawm quite correctly emphasizes--he is at some level a Public 
Choice man himself), will react to those with other identities.

[Think, in other words, how those with particular enhancements will deal 
socially with those of different enhancements or with no enhancements?]


My lecture is about a surprisingly new subject. [*] We have become so used 
to terms like 'collective identity', 'identity groups, 'identity 
politics', or, for that matter 'ethnicity', that it is hard to remember 
how recently they have surfaced as part of the current vocabulary, or 
jargon, of political discourse. For instance, if you look at the 
International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, which was published in 
1968-that is to say written in the middle 1960s-you will find no entry 
under identity except one about psychosocial identity, by Erik Erikson, 
who was concerned chiefly with such things as the so-called 'identity 
crisis' of adolescents who are trying to discover what they are, and a 
general piece on voters' identification. And as for ethnicity, in the 
Oxford English Dictionary of the early 1970s it still occurs only as a 
rare word indicating 'heathendom and heathen superstition' and documented 
by quotations from the eighteenth century.

In short, we are dealing with terms and concepts which really come into 
use only in the 1960s. Their emergence is most easily followed in the USA, 
partly because it has always been a society unusually interested in 
monitoring its social and psychological temperature, blood-pressure and 
other symptoms, and mainly because the most obvious form of identity 
politics-but not the only one-namely ethnicity, has always been central to 
American politics since it became a country of mass immigration from all 
parts of Europe. Roughly, the new ethnicity makes its first public 
appearance with Glazer and Moynihan's Beyond the Melting Pot in 1963 and 
becomes a militant programme with Michael Novak's The Rise of the 
Unmeltable Ethnics in 1972. The first, I don't have to tell you, was the 
work of a Jewish professor and an Irishman, now the senior Democratic 
senator for New York; the second came from a Catholic of Slovak origin. 
For the moment we need not bother too much about why all this happened in 
the 1960s, but let me remind you that-in the style-setting USA at 
least-this decade also saw the emergence of two other variants of identity 
politics: the modern (that is, post suffragist) women's movement and the 
gay movement.

I am not saying that before the 1960s nobody asked themselves questions 
about their public identity. In situations of uncertainty they sometimes 
did; for instance in the industrial belt of Lorraine in France, whose 
official language and nationality changed five times in a century, and 
whose rural life changed to an industrial, semi-urban one, while their 
frontiers were redrawn seven times in the past century and a half. No 
wonder people said: 'Berliners know they're Berliners, Parisians know they 
are Parisians, but who are we?' Or, to quote another interview, 'I come 
from Lorraine, my culture is German, my nationality is French, and I think 
in our provincial dialect'. [1] Actually, these things only led to genuine 
identity problems when people were prevented from having the multiple, 
combined, identities which are natural to most of us. Or, even more so, 
when they are detached 'from the past and all common cultural practices'. 
[2] However, until the 1960s these problems of uncertain identity were 
confined to special border zones of politics. They were not yet central.

They appear to have become much more central since the 1960s. Why? There 
are no doubt particular reasons in the politics and institutions of this 
or that country-for instance, in the peculiar procedures imposed on the 
USA by its Constitution-for example, the civil rights judgments of the 
1950s, which were first applied to blacks and then extended to women, 
providing a model for other identity groups. It may follow, especially in 
countries where parties compete for votes, that constituting oneself into 
such an identity group may provide concrete political advantages: for 
instance, positive discrimination in favour of the members of such groups, 
quotas in jobs and so forth. This is also the case in the USA, but not 
only there. For instance, in India, where the government is committed to 
creating social equality, it may actually pay to classify yourself as low 
caste or belonging to an aboriginal tribal group, in order to enjoy the 
extra access to jobs guaranteed to such groups.

The Denial of Multiple Identity

But in my view the emergence of identity politics is a consequence of the 
extraordinarily rapid and profound upheavals and transformations of human 
society in the third quarter of this century, which I have tried to 
describe and to understand in the second part of my history of the 'Short 
Twentieth Century', The Age of Extremes. This is not my view alone. The 
American sociologist Daniel Bell, for instance, argued in 1975 that 'The 
breakup of the traditional authority structures and the previous affective 
social units-historically nation and class...make the ethnic attachment 
more salient'. [3]

In fact, we know that both the nation-state and the old class-based 
political parties and movements have been weakened as a result of these 
transformations. More than this, we have been living-we are living-through 
a gigantic 'cultural revolution', an 'extraordinary dissolution of 
traditional social norms, textures and values, which left so many 
inhabitants of the developed world orphaned and bereft.' If I may go on 
quoting myself, 'Never was the word "community" used more indiscriminately 
and emptily than in the decades when communities in the sociological sense 
become hard to find in real life'. [4] Men and women look for groups to 
which they can belong, certainly and forever, in a world in which all else 
is moving and shifting, in which nothing else is certain. And they find it 
in an identity group. Hence the strange paradox, which the brilliant, and 
incidentally, Caribbean Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson has 
identified: people choose to belong to an identity group, but 'it is a 
choice predicated on the strongly held, intensely conceived belief that 
the individual has absolutely no choice but to belong to that specific 
group.' [5] That it is a choice can sometimes be demonstrated. The number 
of Americans reporting themselves as 'American Indian' or 'Native 
American' almost quadrupled between 1960 and 1990, from about half a 
million to about two millions, which is far more than could be explained 
by normal demography; and incidentally, since 70 per cent of 'Native 
Americans' marry outside their race, exactly who is a 'Native American' 
ethnically, is far from clear. [6]

So what do we understand by this collective 'identity', this sentiment of 
belonging to a primary group, which is its basis? I draw your attention to 
four points.

First, collective identities are defined negatively; that is to say 
against others. 'We' recognize ourselves as 'us' because we are different 
from 'Them'. If there were no 'They' from whom we are different, we 
wouldn't have to ask ourselves who 'We' were. Without Outsiders there are 
no Insiders. In other words, collective identities are based not on what 
their members have in common-they may have very little in common except 
not being the 'Others'. Unionists and Nationalists in Belfast, or Serb, 
Croat and Muslim Bosnians, who would otherwise be indistinguishable-they 
speak the same language, have the same life styles, look and behave the 
same-insist on the one thing that divides them, which happens to be 
religion. Conversely, what gives unity as Palestinians to a mixed 
population of Muslims of various kinds, Roman and Greek Catholics, Greek 
Orthodox and others who might well-like their neighbours in Lebanon-fight 
each other under different circumstances? Simply that they are not the 
Israelis, as Israeli policy continually reminds them.

Of course, there are collectivities which are based on objective 
characteristics which their members have in common, including biological 
gender or such politically sensitive physical characteristics as 
skin-colour and so forth. However most collective identities are like 
shirts rather than skin, namely they are, in theory at least, optional, 
not inescapable. In spite of the current fashion for manipulating our 
bodies, it is still easier to put on another shirt than another arm. Most 
identity groups are not based on objective physical similarities or 
differences, although all of them would like to claim that they are 
'natural' rather than socially constructed. Certainly all ethnic groups 

Second, it follows that in real life identities, like garments, are 
interchangeable or wearable in combination rather than unique and, as it 
were, stuck to the body. For, of course, as every opinion pollster knows, 
no one has one and only one identity. Human beings cannot be described, 
even for bureaucratic purposes, except by a combination of many 
characteristics. But identity politics assumes that one among the many 
identities we all have is the one that determines, or at least dominates 
our politics: being a woman, if you are a feminist, being a Protestant if 
you are an Antrim Unionist, being a Catalan, if you are a Catalan 
nationalist, being homosexual if you are in the gay movement. And, of 
course, that you have to get rid of the others, because they are 
incompatible with the 'real' you. So David Selbourne, an all-purpose 
ideologue and general denouncer, firmly calls on 'The Jew in England' to 
'cease to pretend to be English' and to recognize that his 'real' identity 
is as a Jew. This is both dangerous and absurd. There is no practical 
incompatibility unless an outside authority tells you that you cannot be 
both, or unless it is physically impossible to be both. If I wanted to be 
simultaneously and ecumenically a devout Catholic, a devout Jew, and a 
devout Buddhist why shouldn't I? The only reason which stops me physically 
is that the respective religious authorities might tell me I cannot 
combine them, or that it might be impossible to carry out all their 
rituals because some got in the way of others.

Usually people have no problem about combining identities, and this, of 
course, is the basis of general politics as distinct from sectional 
identity politics. Often people don't even bother to make the choice 
between identities, either because nobody asks them, or because it's too 
complicated. When inhabitants of the USA are asked to declare their ethnic 
origins, 54 per cent refuse or are unable to give an answer. In short, 
exclusive identity politics do not come naturally to people. It is more 
likely to be forced upon them from outside-in the way in which Serb, Croat 
and Muslim inhabitants of Bosnia who lived together, socialized and 
intermarried, have been forced to separate, or in less brutal ways.

The third thing to say is that identities, or their expression, are not 
fixed, even supposing you have opted for one of your many potential 
selves, the way Michael Portillo has opted for being British instead of 
Spanish. They shift around and can change, if need be more than once. For 
instance non-ethnic groups, all or most of whose members happen to be 
black or Jewish, may turn into consciously ethnic groups. This happened to 
the Southern Christian Baptist Church under Martin Luther King. The 
opposite is also possible, as when the Official IRA turned itself from a 
Fenian nationalist into a class organization, which is now the Workers' 
Party and part of the Irish Republic's government coalition.

The fourth and last thing to say about identity is that it depends on the 
context, which may change. We can all think of paid-up, card-carrying 
members of the gay community in the Oxbridge of the 1920s who, after the 
slump of 1929 and the rise of Hitler, shifted, as they liked to say, from 
Homintern to Comintern. Burgess and Blunt, as it were, transferred their 
gayness from the public to the private sphere. Or, consider the case of 
the Protestant German classical scholar, Pater, a professor of Classics in 
London, who suddenly discovered, after Hitler, that he had to emigrate, 
because, by Nazi standards, he was actually Jewish-a fact of which until 
that moment, he was unaware. However he had defined himself previously, he 
now had to find a different identity.

The Universalism of the Left

What has all this to do with the Left? Identity groups were certainly not 
central to the Left. Basically, the mass social and political movements of 
the Left, that is, those inspired by the American and French revolutions 
and socialism, were indeed coalitions or group alliances, but held 
together not by aims that were specific to the group, but by great, 
universal causes through which each group believed its particular aims 
could be realized: democracy, the Republic, socialism, communism or 
whatever. Our own Labour Party in its great days was both the party of a 
class and, among other things, of the minority nations and immigrant 
communities of mainland Britainians. It was all this, because it was a 
party of equality and social justice.

Let us not misunderstand its claim to be essentially class-based. The 
political labour and socialist movements were not, ever, anywhere, 
movements essentially confined to the proletariat in the strict Marxist 
sense. Except perhaps in Britain, they could not have become such vast 
movements as they did, because in the 1880s and 1890s, when mass labour 
and socialist parties suddenly appeared on the scene, like fields of 
bluebells in spring, the industrial working class in most countries was a 
fairly small minority, and in any case a lot of it remained outside 
socialist labour organization. Remember that by the time of World War I 
the social-democrats polled between 30 and 47 per cent of the electorate 
in countries like Denmark, Sweden and Finland, which were hardly 
industrialized, as well as in Germany. (The highest percentage of votes 
ever achieved by the Labour Party in this country, in 1951, was 48 per 
cent.) Furthermore, the socialist case for the centrality of the workers 
in their movement was not a sectional case. Trade unions pursued the 
sectional interests of wage-earners, but one of the reasons why the 
relations between labour and socialist parties and the unions associated 
with them, were never without problems, was precisely that the aims of the 
movement were wider than those of the unions. The socialist argument was 
not just that most people were 'workers by hand or brain' but that the 
workers were the necessary historic agency for changing society. So, 
whoever you were, if you wanted the future, you would have to go with the 
workers' movement.

Conversely, when the labour movement became narrowed down to nothing but a 
pressure-group or a sectional movement of industrial workers, as in 1970s 
Britain, it lost both the capacity to be the potential centre of a general 
people's mobilization and the general hope of the future. Militant 
'economist' trade unionism antagonized the people not directly involved in 
it to such an extent that it gave Thatcherite Toryism its most convincing 
argument-and the justification for turning the traditional 'one-nation' 
Tory Party into a force for waging militant class-war. What is more, this 
proletarian identity politics not only isolated the working class, but 
also split it by setting groups of workers against each other.

So what does identity politics have to do with the Left? Let me state 
firmly what should not need restating. The political project of the Left 
is universalist: it is for all human beings. However we interpret the 
words, it isn't liberty for shareholders or blacks, but for everybody. It 
isn't equality for all members of the Garrick Club or the handicapped, but 
for everybody. It is not fraternity only for old Etonians or gays, but for 
everybody. And identity politics is essentially not for everybody but for 
the members of a specific group only. This is perfectly evident in the 
case of ethnic or nationalist movements. Zionist Jewish nationalism, 
whether we sympathize with it or not, is exclusively about Jews, and 
hang-or rather bomb-the rest. All nationalisms are. The nationalist claim 
that they are for everyone's right to self-determination is bogus.

That is why the Left cannot base itself on identity politics. It has a 
wider agenda. For the Left, Ireland was, historically, one, but only one, 
out of the many exploited, oppressed and victimized sets of human beings 
for which it fought. For the IRA kind of nationalism, the Left was, and 
is, only one possible ally in the fight for its objectives in certain 
situations. In others it was ready to bid for the support of Hitler as 
some of its leaders did during World War II. And this applies to every 
group which makes identity politics its foundation, ethnic or otherwise.

Now the wider agenda of the Left does, of course, mean it supports many 
identity groups, at least some of the time, and they, in turn look to the 
Left. Indeed, some of these alliances are so old and so close that the 
Left is surprised when they come to an end, as people are surprised when 
marriages break up after a lifetime. In the USA it almost seems against 
nature that the 'ethnics'-that is, the groups of poor mass immigrants and 
their descendants-no longer vote almost automatically for the Democratic 
Party. It seems almost incredible that a black American could even 
consider standing for the Presidency of the USA as a Republican (I am 
thinking of Colin Powell). And yet, the common interest of Irish, Italian, 
Jewish and black Americans in the Democratic Party did not derive from 
their particular ethnicities, even though realistic politicians paid their 
respects to these. What united them was the hunger for equality and social 
justice, and a programme believed capable of advancing both.

The Common Interest

But this is just what so many on the Left have forgotten, as they dive 
head first into the deep waters of identity politics. Since the 1970s 
there has been a tendency-an increasing tendency' to see the Left 
essentially as a coalition of minority groups and interests: of race, 
gender, sexual or other cultural preferences and lifestyles, even of 
economic minorities such as the old getting-your-hands-dirty, industrial 
working class have now become. This is understandable enough, but it is 
dangerous, not least because winning majorities is not the same as adding 
up minorities.

First, let me repeat: identity groups are about themselves, for 
themselves, and nobody else. A coalition of such groups that is not held 
together by a single common set of aims or values, has only an ad hoc 
unity, rather like states temporarily allied in war against a common 
enemy. They break up when they are no longer so held together. In any 
case, as identity groups, they are not committed to the Left as such, but 
only to get support for their aims wherever they can. We think of women's 
emancipation as a cause closely associated with the Left, as it has 
certainly been since the beginnings of socialism, even before Marx and 
Engels. And yet, historically, the British suffragist movement before 1914 
was a movement of all three parties, and the first woman mp, as we know, 
was actually a Tory. [7]

Secondly, whatever their rhetoric, the actual movements and organizations 
of identity politics mobilize only minorities, at any rate before they 
acquire the power of coercion and law. National feeling may be universal, 
but, to the best of my knowledge, no secessionist nationalist party in 
democratic states has so far ever got the votes of the majority of its 
constituency (though the Québecois last autumn came close-but then their 
nationalists were careful not actually to demand complete secession in so 
many words). I do not say it cannot or will not happen-only that the 
safest way to get national independence by secession so far has been not 
to ask populations to vote for it until you already have it first by other 

That, by the way, makes two pragmatic reasons to be against identity 
politics. Without such outside compulsion or pressure, under normal 
circumstances it hardly ever mobilizes more than a minority-even of the 
target group. Hence, attempts to form separate political women's parties 
have not been very effective ways of mobilizing the women's vote. The 
other reason is that forcing people to take on one, and only one, identity 
divides them from each other. It therefore isolates these minorities. 
Consequently to commit a general movement to the specific demands of 
minority pressure groups, which are not necessarily even those of their 
constituencies, is to ask for trouble. This is much more obvious in the 
USA, where the backlash against positive discrimination in favour of 
particular minorities, and the excesses of multiculturalism, is now very 
powerful; but the problem exists here also.

Today both the Right and to the Left are saddled with identity politics. 
Unfortunately, the danger of disintegrating into a pure alliance of 
minorities is unusually great on the Left because the decline of the great 
universalist slogans of the Enlightenment, which were essentially slogans 
of the Left, leaves it without any obvious way of formulating a common 
interest across sectional boundaries. The only one of the so-called 'new 
social movements' which crosses all such boundaries is that of the 
ecologists. But, alas, its political appeal is limited and likely to 
remain so.

However, there is one form of identity politics which is actually 
comprehensive, inasmuch as it is based on a common appeal, at least within 
the confines of a single state: citizen nationalism. Seen in the global 
perspective this may be the opposite of a universal appeal, but seen in 
the perspective of the national state, which is where most of us still 
live, and are likely to go on living, it provides a common identity, or in 
Benedict Anderson's phrase, 'an imagined community' not the less real for 
being imagined. The Right, especially the Right in government, has always 
claimed to monopolize this and can usually still manipulate it. Even 
Thatcherism, the grave-digger of 'one-nation Toryism', did it. Even its 
ghostly and dying successor, Major's government, hopes to avoid electoral 
defeat by damning its opponents as unpatriotic.

Why then has it been so difficult for the Left, certainly for the Left in 
English-speaking countries, to see itself as the representative of the 
entire nation? (I am, of course, speaking of the nation as the community 
of all people in a country, not as an ethnic entity.) Why have they found 
it so difficult even to try? After all, the European Left began when a 
class, or a class alliance, the Third Estate in the French Estates General 
of 1789, decided to declare itself 'the nation' as against the minority of 
the ruling class, thus creating the very concept of the political 
'nation'. After all, even Marx envisaged such a transformation in The 
Communist Manifesto. [8] Indeed, one might go further. Todd Gitlin, one of 
the best observers of the American Left, has put it dramatically in his 
new book, The Twilight of Common Dreams: 'What is a Left if it is not, 
plausibly at least, the voice of the whole people?...If there is no 
people, but only peoples, there is no Left.' [9]

The Muffled Voice of New Labour

And there have been times when the Left has not only wanted to be the 
nation, but has been accepted as representing the national interest, even 
by those who had no special sympathy for its aspirations: in the USA, when 
the Rooseveltian Democratic Party was politically hegemonic, in 
Scandinavia since the early 1930s. More generally, at the end of World War 
II the Left, almost everywhere in Europe, represented the nation in the 
most literal sense, because it represented resistance to, and victory 
over, Hitler and his allies. Hence the remarkable marriage of patriotism 
and social transformation, which dominated European politics immediately 
after 1945. Not least in Britain, where 1945 was a plebiscite in favour of 
the Labour Party as the party best representing the nation against 
one-nation Toryism led by the most charismatic and victorious war-leader 
on the scene. This set the course for the next thirty-five years of the 
country's history. Much more recently, François Mitterrand, a politician 
without a natural commitment to the Left, chose leadership of the 
Socialist Party as the best platform for exercising the leadership of all 
French people.

One would have thought that today was another moment when the British Left 
could claim to speak for Britain-that is to say all the people-against a 
discredited, decrepit and demoralized regime. And yet, how rarely are the 
words 'the country', 'Great Britain', 'the nation', 'patriotism', even 
'the people' heard in the pre-election rhetoric of those who hope to 
become the next government of the United Kingdom!

It has been suggested that this is because, unlike 1945 and 1964, 'neither 
the politician nor his public has anything but a modest belief in the 
capacity of government to do very much'. [10] If that is why Labour speaks 
to and about the nation in so muffled a voice, it is trebly absurd. First, 
because if citizens really think that government can't do very much, why 
should they bother to vote for one lot rather than the other, or for that 
matter for any lot? Second, because government, that is to say the 
management of the state in the public interest, is indispensable and will 
remain so. Even the ideologues of the mad Right, who dream of replacing it 
by the universal sovereign market, need it to establish their utopia, or 
rather dystopia. And insofar as they succeed, as in much of the 
ex-socialist world, the backlash against the market brings back into 
politics those who want the state to return to social responsibility. In 
1995, five years after abandoning their old state with joy and enthusiasm, 
two thirds of East Germans think that life and conditions in the old gdr 
were better than the 'negative descriptions and reports' in today's German 
media, and 70 per cent think 'the idea of socialism was good, but we had 
incompetent politicians'. And, most unanswerably, because in the past 
seventeen years we have lived under governments which believed that 
government has enormous power, which have used that power actually to 
change our country decisively for the worse, and which, in their dying 
days are still trying to do so, and to con us into the belief that what 
one government has done is irreversible by another. The state will not go 
away. It is the business of government to use it.

Government is not just about getting elected and then re-elected. This is 
a process which, in democratic politics, implies enormous quantities of 
lying in all its forms. Elections become contests in fiscal perjury. 
Unfortunately, politicians, who have as short a time-horizon as 
journalists, find it hard to see politics as other than a permanent 
campaigning season. Yet there is something beyond. There lies what 
government does and must do.There is the future of the country. There are 
the hopes and fears of the people as a whole-not just 'the community', 
which is an ideological cop-out, or the sum-total of earners and spenders 
(the 'taxpayers' of political jargon), but the British people, the sort of 
collective which would be ready to cheer the victory of any British team 
in the World Cup, if it hadn't lost the hope that there might still be 
such a thing. For not the least symptom of the decline of Britain, with 
the decline of science, is the decline of British team sports.

It was Mrs Thatcher's strength, that she recognized this dimension of 
politics. She saw herself leading a people 'who thought we could no longer 
do the great things we once did'-I quote her words-'those who believed our 
decline was irreversible, that we could never again be what we were'. [11] 
She was not like other politicians, inasmuch as she recognized the need to 
offer hope and action to a puzzled and demoralized people. A false hope, 
perhaps, and certainly the wrong kind of action, but enough to let her 
sweep aside opposition within her party as well as outside, and change the 
country and destroy so much of it. The failure of her project is now 
manifest. Our decline as a nation has not been halted. As a people we are 
more troubled, more demoralized than in 1979, and we know it. Only those 
who alone can form the post-Tory government are themselves too demoralized 
and frightened by failure and defeat, to offer anything except the promise 
not to raise taxes. We may win the next general election that way and I 
hope we will, though the Tories will not fight the election campaign 
primarily on taxes, but on British Unionism, English nationalism, 
xenophobia and the Union Jack, and in doing so will catch us off balance. 
Will those who have elected us really believe we shall make much 
difference? And what will we do if they merely elect us, shrugging their 
shoulders as they do so? We will have created the New Labour Party. Will 
we make the same effort to restore and transform Britain? There is still 
time to answer these questions.

[*] This is the text of the Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust Lecture 
given at the Institute of Education, London on 2 May 1996.

[1] M.L. Pradelles de Latou, 'Identity as a Complex Network', in C. Fried, 
ed., Minorities, Community and Identity, Berlin 1983, p. 79.

[2] Ibid. p. 91.

[3] Daniel Bell, 'Ethnicity and Social Change', in Nathan Glazer and 
Daniel P. Moynihan, eds., Ethnicity: Theory and Experience, Cambridge,
Mass. 1975, P. 171

[4] E.J. Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes. The Short Twentieth Century, 
1914-1991, London 1994, p. 428.

[5] O. Patterson, 'Implications of Ethnic Identification'in Fried, ed., 
Minorities: Community and Identity, pp. 28-29. O. Patterson, 'Implications 
of Ethnic Identification'in Fried, ed., Minorities: Community and 
Identity, pp. 28-29.

[6] O. Patterson, 'Implications of Ethnic Identification'in Fried, ed., 
Minorities: Community and Identity, pp. 28-29.

[7] Jihang Park, 'The British Suffrage Activists of 1913', Past & Present, 
no. 120, August 1988, pp. 156-7.

[8] 'Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, 
must raise itself to be the national class, must constitute itself the 
nation, it is itself still national, though not in the bourgeois sense.' 
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 1848, part II. 
The original (German) edition has 'the national class'; the English 
translation of 1888 gives this as 'the leading class of the nation'.

[9] Gitlin, The Twilight of Common Dreams, New York 1995, p. 165.

[10] Hugo Young, 'No Waves in the Clear Blue Water', The Guardian, 23 
April 1996, p. 13.

[11] Cited in Eric Hobsbawm, Politics for a Rational Left, Verso, London 
1989, p. 54.

More information about the paleopsych mailing list