The British government's current educational policy for England draws on E.D. Hirsch's writings on 'cultural literacy'. This paper aims to uncover the roots of Hirsch’s influential views through a genealogical critique. Hirsch admired the Scottish Enlightenment educator Hugh Blair as a model architect of a hegemonic culture to unite disparate members of a nation. Following Hirsch, the government Department for Education in England called for ‘shared appreciation of cultural reference points’ and ‘a common stock of knowledge on which all can draw and trade’. Consequently, the literature curriculum in England increasingly disenfranchises a significant component of the population in terms of both gender and cultural heritage. Recent ‘culture wars’ have highlighted the legacy of colonialism and have led educators to decolonise the curriculum and prioritise social justice. Continuing racism within civil society demonstrates the need for a general recognition that cultures are desirably diverse and internally plural.