The theory and practice of multiculturalism, of which multicultural and antiracist education form a central part, currently faces opposition on two key fronts. The first constitutes an alliance of conservative and some liberal commentators whose principal aim is to defend orthodox liberalism against a politics of difference represented by multiculturalism (see, for example, Bullivant, 1981; Hughes, 1993; Ravitch, 1992; Schlesinger, 1991, 1992). Building on a post second world war consensus of orthodox liberalism in social and political theory (see Claude, 1955; Glazer, 1975; Porter, 1965, 1975), these commentators argue that only the current organization of nation-states-represented most clearly by the neutrality of the civic realm-can ensure personal autonomy, equality, and common citizenship (at least in theory). In contrast, they argue that the politics of multiculturalism-which they equate directly with the increasing public recognition of various minority ethnic, cultural and/or religious identities-is inherently destabilizing and destructive of the common bonds of nationhood. In their view, multiculturalism is an approach which replaces universalism with particularism and which introduces ethnicity unnecessarily and unhelpfully into the civic realm-that is, ‘civil society’ in Gramsci’s (1971) sense of the term.1

Indeed, at their most apocalyptic, these critics suggest that the accommodation of multiculturalism may result in the immolation and/or ‘balkanization’ of previously quiescent, harmonious nation-states. And all because the ‘cult of ethnicity’, to use Schlesinger’s (1992) pejorative phrase, unnecessarily hardens ethnic group boundaries; bringing difference and division where once was unity and common purpose. The spectres of Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia provide convenient and seemingly salutary examples here of where multiculturalism might eventually take us.