That human beings and human cultures are heterogeneous is not a novel thought. But in the last twenty-five years the idea of difference has emerged, in the academy and in popular culture, as a profound challenge to the assumptions and practices of politics, particularly politics grounded in the idea of equality. To take two striking historical cases from the end of the last century, the former Soviet Union, bound together by a seemingly impregnable authoritarian system, and Canada, united around what seemed a harmonious social-democratic consensus, found themselves in the throes of fragmentation. In these cases, the claims of various ethnic and regional identities put into question the modern idea of citizenship as membership in a collective, universal entity that subsumes diversity and particularity in order to treat its members as equals. These political developments were mirrored in philosophical theory by the rise to prominence of the concept of difference. Difference was invoked to challenge both liberal and socialist forms of modern polities as sources of a false universalism. Feminist and postmodern critics both sought to expose a myth of commonality in political thought since the Enlightenment. Instead of ‘the citizen,’ ‘the self,’ or even ‘the proletariat’ or ‘Party,’ these critics posited political subjects bearing diverse and incommensurable identities that cannot be subsumed within the confines of a single discourse. As is often the case with intellectual innovation, an idea that began as a radical intervention is now almost a commonplace. Today it is widely acknowledged that we must heed the significance of cultural identity and seek to recognise its importance in people’s lives. Thus it might seem that the concept of difference is now so firmly engrained that it is beyond criticism. And this, it might be argued, is something we owe to those who brought the concept to prominence a generation ago. However, the concept of difference manifests itself in a variety of ways in political theory, from radical poststructuralist identity politics, which seeks thoroughly to transcend the categories of modern political thought to establish a new ‘imaginary,’ to forms of multiculturalism that are a variation, albeit an important one, on traditional liberal themes. In this chapter, my target will be any form of difference politics, radical or otherwise, that extols the virtue of cultural identity over identification with

transcultural political values. I believe that although many advocates of difference were motivated by concerns about equality – that some cultures are more equal than others, as it were – there is often a profound tension between the recognition of difference, on the one hand, and the political ideal of equality, on the other. I propose to explore this tension. After examining the complex roles of difference and universality in the liberal and Marxist traditions, I proceed to argue that, whilst an emphasis on difference can be a useful antidote to abstract universalism and a welcome invitation to value the diversity of human experience, social justice is not best pursued by the politics of difference or identity. Rather, what is required is a form of egalitarianism that focuses on human flourishing beyond the confines of cultural identity, and that combines a pluralistic vision of the good with a universalist commitment to equality. This conception of egalitarianism will be developed in subsequent chapters.