our common humanity and stuff


Now, The Undivided Past suggests, the only solidarity that is acceptable is solidarity with humankind: nothing less will do because anything more partial risks dividing us, and division means fisticuffs or worse. Yet is there not something ultimately quietist about writing off many of the conceptual vehicles that have previously allowed people to mobilise? Not all conflict, after all, is bad and justice sometimes may even require it. Behind Cannadine’s story of identities that need to be shrugged off is the interesting intellectual question of when we all got so hung up on this business of identity and started seeing it as something limiting rather than liberating. Nazism and fascism took the shine off nationalism for many European liberals. “Identity” began to be used in the contemporary sense sometime in the 1950s but it acquired a harder and more negative edge during the culture wars on British and American campuses. In an earlier book, Ornamentalism (2001), Cannadine criticised Edward Saïd’s influential account of Orientalism by claiming that in the British empire divisions of class trumped race. In The Undivided Past he seeks to do away with such categories completely, trumping them by an appeal to our common humanity.

more from Mark Mazower at the FT here.