The Commonwealth: A Common Culture?

By Richard Maltby; Peter Quartermaine | Go to book overview

8: KENNETH PARKER
A Common Wealth of Difference

My starting point is that of difference – inevitably and inescapably because it is precisely the notion of difference that is highlighted when one compares the theme of Professor Ramphal’s lecture with the title of the collection to which it has given rise. The argument in favour of concentrating upon the notion of ‘difference’ does not arise simply because the theme of the lecture is to assert the sense of a ‘common purpose’, whereas that of the collection’s title raises that of a ‘common culture’ (no matter, for the moment, how that term is defined), but more fundamentally, because one needs to account, in the light of the confident tone of the lecture, for the existence and role of the questionmark in the title page. To do that, it might be useful to restate, briefly, some of the key propositions in the lecture, in order not only to note what it asserts, but also to draw attention to what it omits, in relation to ‘common purpose’, before proceeding to say something about ‘common culture’ and its associated questionmark.

Leaving aside the sense of worldweariness (‘… a world that shows signs of losing its way in the twilight of this fading century’; ‘For the world community, taken as a whole, it is close to the worst of times’; ‘The agenda of anxiety’), the following would seem to be the key propositions: firstly, that ‘… it was Britain’s genius for political innovation that helped to give the world the modern Commonwealth’; secondly, that a ‘functional definition’ of the Commonwealth is that it is a ‘facility for harmonizing differences, even contrariness, within the framework of community’, since, thirdly, the Commonwealth ‘… represents the supremacy of community over otherness’.

The proposition that the British have a particular ‘genius’ for innovation in statecraft is as regularly proclaimed as it is challenged. The proposition is proclaimed by those who incorporate that assertion in the more general theory of a beneficent ‘Mother Country’, slowly letting go of the burdens of rule, by which theory struggles for self-determination and independence are marginalized. Thus, the popular British image of

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