Monday, September 26, 2016

Sensible Identities versus Insane Identity Politics

Unhinged identity politics is one of the worst aspects of the modern world, and the worst is on the left.

But, you might ask, isn’t every kind of politics a form of “identity politics”? Well, yes, every type of political movement is ultimately based on some kind of identity, but this is really a trivial sense of “identity politics.”

Some “identities” and political movements based on them aren’t really a problem, and, generally speaking, tend to be a very positive force in politics, e.g.,
(1) consumer rights groups;

(2) trade unions;

(3) modest and healthy national identities and civic nationalism.
Let us take (3): a healthy form of national identity and liberal nationalism is, as I have argued here, probably one of the most important civilising forces in human history, because it can forge a successful nation out of disparate regional communities and people. Although there does need to be a strong degree of cultural compatibility and assimilation, it can work well.

The degree and type of nationalism does vary between nations, of course. But a nation which is the majority historical homeland of a given group of people is inevitably going to have a type of nationalism that binds it together, and that, generally speaking, is natural and healthy, because homogeneous societies tend to be very high trust societies.

At the same time, there is no doubt that even these types of identity politics like nationalism and even trade unions (when they, say, become ultra-far left institutions) can get out of hand. What reasonable person would deny this?

But to pretend, say, that the European nations that are the historical homelands for the Danish, Austrians, Polish, or Irish must throw their borders open to the whole world and commit demographic and cultural suicide is an unhinged idea, as Bob Rowthorn points out:
“Many nations, especially in Europe, have deep roots and their existence promotes the global diversity that cosmopolitans claim to value. Many cosmopolitans accept the right of ‘oppressed peoples,’ such as the Palestinians, to a homeland and identity, but they regard such aspirations as illegitimate when expressed by the historic majorities of western Europe. ....

Most European countries lie between the two extremes. They are not as homogeneous as Iceland, but they are also not countries of recent settlement. Although some have significant immigrant groups, they still have long-standing ethnic majorities that form the core of the nation. It is unrealistic to expect that the population of European countries will knowingly accept immigration on a scale that would transform them out of recognition. Yet this is what will happen if their governments continue to be persuaded by the claim that continued economic prosperity requires mass immigration.”
Rowthorn, R. 2003. “Migration Limits,” Prospect Magazine (February 20).
A left given over to a type of militant irrationality that demands cultural suicide of every Western nation is doomed to total failure and will implode the left, because it is fighting against the most important and overarching form of “identity” in the modern world that really matters: national identity.

National identity has constructed powerful and successful nations out of people who were disparate. Even in Europe this is true.

Even in a nation like, say, Germany before 1871, people were divided because of hundreds of different politically independent units, different dialects of German, cultural differences and, above all, divided between a Protestant majority in the north and a Catholic majority in the south. But national identity and nation building have created Germany, and it remains the most economically powerful nation in Europe.

But modern left-wing identity politics is fundamentally flawed and goes well beyond any of the healthy forms of nationalism or identity politics listed above.

Regressive left identity politics is all about dividing people, and savagely destroying the most precious identity that matters: national social cohesion.

People are already divided on traditional conservative and left-wing disagreements on economics, social and cultural questions, but regressive left identity politics makes this far, far worse.

And, while politics on the basis of class interests has in the past been divisive, at least it has shown it has the power to do highly constructive things, like tame laissez faire capitalism.

By contrast, regressive left identity politics derives from all the rotten ideas of Postmodernism and usually entails what can only be described as paranoid conspiracy theories, e.g., about the “evil” patriarchy, straight white men, or Western civilisation in general. It is also guilty of a massive disregard for and neglect of economics and real economic justice.

Regressive left identity politics is horrendously divisive, irrational and frequently based on lies. It divides people in ways that wreck communities and, when taken to the extreme of multiculturalism, might even wreck a whole nation.

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  1. Not sure I'd entirely agree on this one. Nationalism can be equally as divisive, if not more, than any dogma. Just look at the Khmer Rouge, Tito in his treatment of the Serbs, and North Korea as examples apart from the obvious one. Obviously these are extremes, but I can distinguish between patriotism and nationalism. De Gaulle put it best : "Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first, Nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first." I find the cultural relativists and SJWs as tragic as you do (a guest on a Joe rogan podcast talked about someone who came to the interesting conclusion that Star Wars was racist because of Vader being black, I kid you not) but I don't think either extreme has a monopoly on craziness. I'll also say that although class war attitudes can be, and are, equally divisive, from any class to another. Just because Marxism / communism criticises hard line neo liberalism doesn't lead to "enemy of my enemy = friend", likewise for thatcherite attitudes towards Marxist Leninist regimes. Mixed economies with balanced social liberalism and opportunities and input from both blue collar and white collar workers (like in Italy's automobile industry and "social corporatism" in Sweden) are the answer IMO.

    1. Correction: "I'll also say that class war attitudes can be and are equally divisive from one class to another."

  2. Identity politics is certainly as stupid as you say. But is it really of powerfull trend (I mean outside some humnanities faculties) ?
    As for mutliculturalism what does it mean beside fuzzy justification for open borders (that are actually bad)?
    The "-ism" here is rather misleading I think. Neoliberalism or imperialism for example refer not only to a set of tenets but also to real political agenda being carried out. Whereas multiculturalism refers to an academic gibberish, sometimes used to cover up the violent process of globalisation ("free" international movement of labor, capital and commodities, destroying what little say the workers once had in the functionning of the economy).