There is a rather striking refutation of identity politics today on Salon, which put elements of the ideology in striking contrast for me. (I hesitate to link to this, because I don’t want to disappoint all the leftists who think telling me “you get all your news from Fox” is some sort of effective refutation of my positions. But, there you go.:-) )
Also note: the author here is a liberal. I agree with his diagnosis of identity politics in concept, but I do not always agree with his prescriptions. When I have a disagreement, I’ve noted that with a double **, and boldfaced passages I see as particularly insightful.
Time to give up on identity politics: It's dragging the progressive agenda down
Race is the foundation of identity. I would say that that's kind of a more touchy-feely version of this, but it's maybe…
Choice tidbits from the article:
- I didn’t come around to disliking identity politics recently. Long before the 2016 election, 15 years ago in fact, I predicted the kind of white identitarian politics that eventually came to fruition in the last election. It had seemed to me inevitable, from the beginning, that white nationalism would arise as a necessary outgrowth if liberals kept up with their identity politics obsession, and that is precisely where we find ourselves.
- My generation was the last to have escaped the full brunt of this pernicious ideology. We grew up believing that human difference was not biological but primarily intellectual. We didn’t treat racial, sexual or other differences as inevitable, defined in stone, but fluid realities to be worked around. In fact, it was an insult, if you came of age in that time, to have to commit to a particular identity. Wasn’t that the antithesis of the American idea? How could reinvention take place if you took your spot along a particular identity and stuck with it all your life?
- When Francis Fukuyama published his “End of History” thesis in 1989, around the time the Berlin Wall fell, we could see through his simplifications on behalf of a kind of capitalism we were weary of. No one among my cohort actually expected history to end, but it did fit into the tenor of the times, when thinkers reached for the universal. We were proud inheritors of the Enlightenment: That was the intellectual legacy we had to improve on, it was to be our perpetual lodestar, if we were not to be trapped in particularistic thought that could have no good results for anyone.
- …in the early 1990s, Samuel Huntington came out with his “Clash of Civilizations” thesis, a direct riposte to Fukuyama, a template for a re-energized worldwide conflict of irresoluble identities that has only grown in intensity with each passing year.
- I go over this material because I realize that those who are in their 20s and 30s today have not known any other ideological order. Identity politics — the brand of communalism it flows from, i.e., multiculturalism, and the brand of expression it leads to, i.e., political correctness — is existentially unassailable for the young. They know no other means of self-understanding, artistic expression or personal solidarity. They can only be organized around this principle. They see the world strictly through this framework, not through some Enlightenment perspective of universal human rights irrespective of one’s biological identity. The trendy concept of “white privilege,” unmoored from class conditions, exemplifies this simplistic tendency.
- (Identity Politics) privileges culture, instead of politics. My first point is that when you fight for identity, you’re giving up politics in favor of culture. And that’s exactly where neoliberalism wants you, fighting for your culture (or what you imagine is your culture), rather than the arena of policies, where the real consequences occur. You may gain some recognition of your identity, but you may also have to pay the price of losing everything else that makes life worth living.
- During the Obama years, a crisis of affordable housing arose all over the country, which has gotten little attention because that is a policy discussion not suited to identity politics.
- What could be a greater indictment of identity politics than the utter hollowing-out of the Democratic Party, its rank electoral defeat at every level of government, which began in earnest with Bill Clinton’s commitment to neoliberalism in 1991–1992, going hand in hand with identity politics of a kind that had little patience with actual poor people?
- The result is the evisceration of the Democrats as a party with even a rhetorical claim to the working class, as it has become a club for egotistical, self-branding urbanites who pay lip service to identity politics while having no sympathy for real wealth redistribution. **
- Obama was immune to liberal criticism, because he fit the identity politics matrix so perfectly. He may have ruthlessly** deported millions of people, kept in place and strengthened the entire extra-constitutional surveillance apparatus, and escalated illegal drone attacks and assassinations, but the color of his skin provided immunity from real criticism.
- Not only politics, but economics is taken out of the equation. It’s astonishing, even after living under the principles of neoliberalism for around 40 years, how few liberals, even activists, are able to define our economic system with any sense of accuracy. They keep acting as if the fight is still on between the old New Deal liberalism (laissez-faire economics slightly moderated by some half-hearted welfare programs) and a right that wants to shred those welfare mechanisms. In fact, both parties are committed to slightly different versions of neoliberalism, and their transformation proceeded apace with the rise of identity politics.
- A common objection to my line of argument is that “we can do both.” Why can’t we do both identity politics and economics? Why can’t we do both identity politics and legislative politics? My answer is that this is not possible, based on the evidence I have seen over my lifetime. As a general rule, I find the “we can do both” argument a cop-out. I have never known anyone whom I consider typical of the identity politics strain of activism — i.e., engaging in call-out culture for various racial, sexual and cultural offenses — also be engaged with such fights as the preservation of privacy and anonymity, the end to the surveillance state and the dominance of the intelligence agencies, or economic redistribution** on a meaningful scale, not just limited to the populist idea of the living wage**.
- If they think of inequality, they think in terms of racial inequality as the fount of all inequality, not the concrete economic terms in which equality can be achieved. Partly this is because of the institutional context in which modern identity-politics warriors operate; for them to ask for economic equality aside from identity would be to challenge the core of the institutions that patronize and legitimize them. (…) identity politics simply comes from a different part of the brain than the economic interpretation of society.
- Identity politics always breeds its equal and opposite reaction. Identity politics is in fact the father, or the Great Mother, of white nationalism, rather than white nationalism being an independent force that has arisen from quite different sources. At root, both share the same particularistic, extralegal, extra-constitutional, anti-democratic, metaphysical, folkish impulse. Whenever a misguided movement tries to alter people’s thoughts and intentions, rather than limiting itself to people’s performance and action in the transparent democratic arena, then totalitarianism is the necessary result.
- Liberals have been on a relentless mission to transform people’s souls — to rid them of impure ideas about race and sexuality — for exactly the period of time that neoliberalism has deprived them of actual power to do anything about class inequality. The neo-Nazis are latecomers to this game; they have only recently adopted the cultural techniques that have already been mastered by the liberals.
- When Richard Spencer, …, discusses race as destiny, he is no different than liberals who have been articulating every aspect of identity, split into narrower and narrower niches, in precisely the same terms. Jared Taylor of American Renaissance, … suddenly finds his thought in sync with the “alt-right,” his ideas gaining traction because he can now ask his audiences, “Isn’t what we white nationalists seek exactly what every other race wants in America?” And he’s right, on that score, because separatism, or the privileging of biological destiny, is a notion popularized by liberal identity politics.
- Identity politics is not winnable. (…) This is because liberals are rhetorically dedicated to pursuing a goal which can never be realized in practice, i.e., the complete self-realization of each identity. This should be evident across many different dimensions. The more a particular group becomes validated in the broader culture’s eyes, the less it feels satisfied with the recognition, and the more it feels it needs more of that rush of acknowledgment and credit based on identity alone. There is no end to it. It becomes a substitute for reward in the capitalist sphere, which is disconnected to identity, as though the economic self were private and identity were public — an odd division, since historically the norm has been the opposite.
- The kind of political communication identity politics thrives on is based on maximizing emotionalism and minimizing rationality. Therefore, the idea of law that arises when identity politics engenders a reaction is one that severs the natural bonds of community across differences (which is the most ironic yet predictable result of identity politics) and makes of the law an inhuman abstraction.
- This depoliticization has gone on so long now, about 30 years, that breaking out of it is inconceivable, since the discourse to do so is no longer accessible. (…) Short of that, we are committed to the dire nihilism of identity politics for the duration of the imperial game.