A left wing writer called Anis Shivani has written a piece in Salon which I commend to your most serious attention. It is entitled “Time to give up on identity politics: It’s dragging the progressive agenda down”. Salon is not normally my preferred reading, but Shivani puts his fingers on some very large issues and says some quite interesting things that have helped me understand the Left’s strange behaviours.
His contention is that the Left’s obsession with identity politics occurred during a period when the owners of this planet got away with the most massive concentration of wealth in their hands, and that this identity obsession was a futile distraction from the real business of politics.
….identity politics, wherever it has manifested, has been absolutely devastating to the cause of liberty.
- It 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.
- 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. Politics was freed to take its course, because culture became the site of contestation, and this meant an unobstructed opportunity to redefine economics to the benefit of the elites.What identity politics has done is to take the shine off the political process itself. This is more than a consequence of identity politics. It is because identity politics has garnered so much attention that political reform, which needs to be ongoing and consistent, has stalled for nearly 30 years. Instead of campaign finance reform of the McCain-Feingold brand, which sought to make a little advance toward taking money out of politics, we went, during the period of identity politics’ ascendancy, to the total capitulation of politics to money. The same process has held true in every arena of policymaking. Even issues like climate change are framed in cultural terms — i.e., as identity politics, because today culture cannot be spoken of without being defined by identity politics — and therefore overwhelmed by paralysis.
- 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. Even when we dream of an anarchist utopia, we do not try to alter people’s souls, we aim to alter economic arrangements in such a way as to allow people the maximum possible room for freedom. We cannot be readers and interpreters of people’s hearts and minds; such a venture has no business in politics. (emphasis mine)
- Identity politics is not winnable. The idea of the nation, in a post-Cold War world, as my generation imagined for a moment, should have led to a redefinition of the concept in rational, empirical, scientific, utopian and ultimately anarchist terms. The founding principles of the Enlightenment were available all over again, in that brief moment, to be recharged with potent liberal energy, extending across the globe. Instead we got neoliberal globalization, dedicated entirely to consumerism and shallow identity politics, working in sync to enervate democracy to the point of nonexistence.
It pleases me to read a leftist who is clearly NOT a totalitarian engineer of souls, who thinks the entire leftist project of the current time (identity politics) is fundamentally mistaken. Of course, if you reduce politics to tribes, you end up in a sort of Afrikaner state, with the dominant tribe being – guess what? – whites. This is not Enlightenment politics; this is a form of polity we thought we had escaped from centuries ago.
Another interesting read is a book by Mark Lilla, The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics, which was based on an article in the New York Times of November 2016 from which I quote here.
“But the fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life. At a very young age our children are being encouraged to talk about their individual identities, even before they have them. By the time they reach college many assume that diversity discourse exhausts political discourse, and have shockingly little to say about such perennial questions as class, war, the economy and the common good. In large part this is because of high school history curriculums, which anachronistically project the identity politics of today back onto the past, creating a distorted picture of the major forces and individuals that shaped our country. (The achievements of women’s rights movements, for instance, were real and important, but you cannot understand them if you do not first understand the founding fathers’ achievement in establishing a system of government based on the guarantee of rights.)”
Shivani thinks that young people have been so indoctrinated in identity politics by thirty years of unceasing propaganda that it cannot be broken out of, except by economic or foreign policy disaster. I am not so pessimistic. I think electoral defeat at the hands of Republicans will cause the Dems to rethink a great deal.
It also explains to me why the Left has been branding Trump a racist and a fascist and so forth: since identity politics is the way they conceive what they are doing, then all political opposition to their project looks like identity politics of a different tribe. As always, the Left projects onto the Right – really, all forms of opposition – what is on the minds of the Left; it sees only itself. It reminds me of a thought from a book written by David Horowitz, the son of two American Communists, that he did not actually find freedom of discussion until be broke with Leftism, whereupon he discovered that all sorts of conservatives exist, few of whom agree with each other about anything. Horowitz’ Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey is a must read for all those who are curious about the strange mental prison which is Leftism.
Further prison breakouts may be expected soon.