“Identity politics” has become an irritating fixture in the culture war, its most notable advocates being the moderate left. Liberals.
The belief that all members of said group share a common interest or political goal is, in most cases, bogus. (Don’t worry Marx fans, I’m not going near class interest, an economic partition with some grounding.) If asked to describe moi, some stoic soul may respond with “Irish” or “white male”. But the fact is, these labels say very little about me. I feel no particular affinity with those men and women who also own a green passport, or with my white brothers for that matter, or with the male half of the species in general. This may seem obvious – in which case you probably won’t vote Clinton.
Whether one accepts their club membership or not aside, categories of identity are frequently found to clash. Listen again to Morrissey’s song Irish Blood, English Heart. It highlights one such clash many occupying the island which gave the world Cromwell and TOWIE experience (present writer included). Simply put, the passions of a rebel combined with the deference of a subject. In identity political terms, how can one be expected to show admiration to a Queen whose head it’s presumed you would like to see atop a pike?
And that’s just a relatively straight-forward case of nation-hood – where does the overweight transgender black disabled Cherokee lesbian even begin?
I see little point in feeling common cause with millions of others who also happen to share the same accident of birth, and certainly no reason to derive my political stances from it (and even I did, which accident would I choose?). To do so seems is so obviously illogical and – importantly – illiberal.
Liberalism, as envisioned by its fathers, was quite different to what is bandied around today by the moderate Left. Individualism, free inquiry and universality in law, both moral and legalistic, were central to the arguments of John Locke, John Stuart Mill and Thomas Paine. In opposing the absolute rule of Kings and the stupidity of inherited rule, these figures sought to demolish the psychological barriers to progress: caste-thinking, institutionalised nepotism and, although, they themselves wouldn’t have put it this way, groupthink.
I would fully expect having to defend these truisms against conservatives but, more often than not, I am finding that I have to defend the principles of liberalism against those who claim to be its bearers. Black Lives Matter is just the most recent iteration of this. To think that uttering the line “all lives matter” could make one a target of scorn and abuse ought to make all leftists shudder. Internationalism and equality, I shouldn’t have to remind you, is what we’re about. (“All mankind is my brethren.“)
And wasn’t Martin Luther King who said
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
Not their melanin count, nor what they were, but what they thought and did.
Unsurprisingly to anyone who can see the sorry state of affairs identity politics has brought us, it was an invention of the Right. A tool employed in order to provide some sort of united front against the tide of revolutionary spirit consuming America.
The Cultural Revolution was a vast movement which carried the hopes, aspirations and antagonisms of the African Americans, the Native and Hispanic, the poor, women, the young – practically everyone who became known as “special interests” in the in the Lippman-esque Crisis of Democracy.
In order to have a fighting chance against this groundswell which was rapidly speaking for anyone not frequenting the wine bars of D.C. or treating hangovers in Manhattan’s boardrooms, the Right conjured up an identity anyone should have been proud of: the WASP. Although this concept has its origins in the so-called Nativist Movement of the 19th century (moccasins and protruding copper cheekbones were notably absent) it was only in the 1960s that it really took off. White Anglo-Saxon and Protestant, this pointed declaration needed brains to back it up. The not quite canine William F. Buckley saw to that, while Wall Street supplied the brawn. Ronald Reagan, quite a bit later, supplied the, um well, “charm“.
A powerful electoral force was established. White working Christians were led to believe that they were the last line of defense in an existential battle with the ungodly forces of socialist agitation. A pretext which convinced WASPs to excuse the very worst excesses of American force. The sponsoring of brutal, occasionally genocidal dictators abroad and political assassination and mass-surveillance at home. All, they lied, were in defense of all-American values.
The white working class were conned into thinking their interests aligned with the elite’s interest, and this block is now a permanent
obstacle fixture of American politics. That’s the origin of identity politics as we know it: born in the deceit and the backwards thinking of conservatism, and that’s where it ought to stay.