The End of Identity Liberalism

Discussion in 'The Thinking Cap' started by Thurr, Nov 23, 2016.

  1. Thurr

    Thurr

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    By MARK LILLA
    NOVEMBER 18, 2016



    It is a truism that America has become a more diverse country. It is also a beautiful thing to watch. Visitors from other countries, particularly those having trouble incorporating different ethnic groups and faiths, are amazed that we manage to pull it off. Not perfectly, of course, but certainly better than any European or Asian nation today. It’s an extraordinary success story.

    But how should this diversity shape our politics? The standard liberal answer for nearly a generation now has been that we should become aware of and “celebrate” our differences. Which is a splendid principle of moral pedagogy — but disastrous as a foundation for democratic politics in our ideological age. In recent years American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.

    One of the many lessons of the recent presidential election campaign and its repugnant outcome is that the age of identity liberalism must be brought to an end. Hillary Clinton was at her best and most uplifting when she spoke about American interests in world affairs and how they relate to our understanding of democracy. But when it came to life at home, she tended on the campaign trail to lose that large vision and slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters at every stop. This was a strategic mistake. If you are going to mention groups in America, you had better mention all of them. If you don’t, those left out will notice and feel excluded. Which, as the data show, was exactly what happened with the white working class and those with strong religious convictions. Fully two-thirds of white voters without college degrees voted for Donald Trump, as did over 80 percent of white evangelicals.

    The moral energy surrounding identity has, of course, had many good effects. Affirmative action has reshaped and improved corporate life. Black Lives Matter has delivered a wake-up call to every American with a conscience. Hollywood’s efforts to normalize homosexuality in our popular culture helped to normalize it in American families and public life.

    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.)

    When young people arrive at college they are encouraged to keep this focus on themselves by student groups, faculty members and also administrators whose full-time job is to deal with — and heighten the significance of — “diversity issues.” Fox News and other conservative media outlets make great sport of mocking the “campus craziness” that surrounds such issues, and more often than not they are right to. Which only plays into the hands of populist demagogues who want to delegitimize learning in the eyes of those who have never set foot on a campus. How to explain to the average voter the supposed moral urgency of giving college students the right to choose the designated gender pronouns to be used when addressing them? How not to laugh along with those voters at the story of a University of Michigan prankster who wrote in “His Majesty”?

    This campus-diversity consciousness has over the years filtered into the liberal media, and not subtly. Affirmative action for women and minorities at America’s newspapers and broadcasters has been an extraordinary social achievement — and has even changed, quite literally, the face of right-wing media, as journalists like Megyn Kelly and Laura Ingraham have gained prominence. But it also appears to have encouraged the assumption, especially among younger journalists and editors, that simply by focusing on identity they have done their jobs.

    Recently I performed a little experiment during a sabbatical in France: For a full year I read only European publications, not American ones. My thought was to try seeing the world as European readers did. But it was far more instructive to return home and realize how the lens of identity has transformed American reporting in recent years. How often, for example, the laziest story in American journalism — about the “first X to do Y” — is told and retold. Fascination with the identity drama has even affected foreign reporting, which is in distressingly short supply. However interesting it may be to read, say, about the fate of transgender people in Egypt, it contributes nothing to educating Americans about the powerful political and religious currents that will determine Egypt’s future, and indirectly, our own. No major news outlet in Europe would think of adopting such a focus.

    But it is at the level of electoral politics that identity liberalism has failed most spectacularly, as we have just seen. National politics in healthy periods is not about “difference,” it is about commonality. And it will be dominated by whoever best captures Americans’ imaginations about our shared destiny. Ronald Reagan did that very skillfully, whatever one may think of his vision. So did Bill Clinton, who took a page from Reagan’s playbook. He seized the Democratic Party away from its identity-conscious wing, concentrated his energies on domestic programs that would benefit everyone (like national health insurance) and defined America’s role in the post-1989 world. By remaining in office for two terms, he was then able to accomplish much for different groups in the Democratic coalition. Identity politics, by contrast, is largely expressive, not persuasive. Which is why it never wins elections — but can lose them.

    The media’s newfound, almost anthropological, interest in the angry white male reveals as much about the state of our liberalism as it does about this much maligned, and previously ignored, figure. A convenient liberal interpretation of the recent presidential election would have it that Mr. Trump won in large part because he managed to transform economic disadvantage into racial rage — the “whitelash” thesis. This is convenient because it sanctions a conviction of moral superiority and allows liberals to ignore what those voters said were their overriding concerns. It also encourages the fantasy that the Republican right is doomed to demographic extinction in the long run — which means liberals have only to wait for the country to fall into their laps. The surprisingly high percentage of the Latino vote that went to Mr. Trump should remind us that the longer ethnic groups are here in this country, the more politically diverse they become.

    Finally, the whitelash thesis is convenient because it absolves liberals of not recognizing how their own obsession with diversity has encouraged white, rural, religious Americans to think of themselves as a disadvantaged group whose identity is being threatened or ignored. Such people are not actually reacting against the reality of our diverse America (they tend, after all, to live in homogeneous areas of the country). But they are reacting against the omnipresent rhetoric of identity, which is what they mean by “political correctness.” Liberals should bear in mind that the first identity movement in American politics was the Ku Klux Klan, which still exists. Those who play the identity game should be prepared to lose it.

    We need a post-identity liberalism, and it should draw from the past successes of pre-identity liberalism. Such a liberalism would concentrate on widening its base by appealing to Americans as Americans and emphasizing the issues that affect a vast majority of them. It would speak to the nation as a nation of citizens who are in this together and must help one another. As for narrower issues that are highly charged symbolically and can drive potential allies away, especially those touching on sexuality and religion, such a liberalism would work quietly, sensitively and with a proper sense of scale. (To paraphrase Bernie Sanders, America is sick and tired of hearing about liberals’ damn bathrooms.)

    Teachers committed to such a liberalism would refocus attention on their main political responsibility in a democracy: to form committed citizens aware of their system of government and the major forces and events in our history. A post-identity liberalism would also emphasize that democracy is not only about rights; it also confers duties on its citizens, such as the duties to keep informed and vote. A post-identity liberal press would begin educating itself about parts of the country that have been ignored, and about what matters there, especially religion. And it would take seriously its responsibility to educate Americans about the major forces shaping world politics, especially their historical dimension.

    Some years ago I was invited to a union convention in Florida to speak on a panel about Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous Four Freedoms speech of 1941. The hall was full of representatives from local chapters — men, women, blacks, whites, Latinos. We began by singing the national anthem, and then sat down to listen to a recording of Roosevelt’s speech. As I looked out into the crowd, and saw the array of different faces, I was struck by how focused they were on what they shared. And listening to Roosevelt’s stirring voice as he invoked the freedom of speech, the freedom of worship, the freedom from want and the freedom from fear — freedoms that Roosevelt demanded for “everyone in the world” — I was reminded of what the real foundations of modern American liberalism are.

    Source: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/11/20/opinion/sunday/the-end-of-identity-liberalism.html

    A well written opinion piece. I would disagree with his analysis of the European situation, we are no better off.
     
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  2. Feanor

    Feanor Member Liaison Officer Site Staff

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    I have to be completely honest, I just don't understand identity politics in the slightest. All this gender pronoun nonsense, and this desire cater to every little group specifically seems distasteful and pointless.

    As for having different cultures in it, America mostly does a good job of obliterating the cultures of those who move here, reducing them to a set of national dishes, weird clothing styles, and some "traditional" art. Culture is a powerful set of do's and dont's. It's a set of patterns of thought and action that shapes both people and the interactions between them. Tautologically having different (truly different) cultures side by side only works if they're segregated. As soon as you integrate them they either fall into immediate sharp conflict or begin to dissolve. And the sad and ugly little subculture movements that have evolved in the US in response to different identity groups are just an attempt for those groups to define themselves, in a situation where deep down inside they know they're not really any different.

    This is where nonsense like cultural appropriation comes from. If someone else eating your national food or wearing your national dress seriously threatens your cultural identity, then you've lost your cultural identity long ago. Someone who moved to Russia today and dressed like people there do would remain an outsider for years, maybe for the rest of his life. He can't appropriate that culture. It's just not possible. And by the time he fits in, he will have to have changed his thoughts, his behavior, and his identity, a great deal.
     
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  3. ABDeL

    ABDeL
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    Critical theory is a derivative of Marxism. The idea replaces the proletariat with oppressed racial classes and the bourgeouis with the privileged whites.

    Also in response the article, its funny that Van Jones described Trump's victory as a white lash when Trump earned the same percentage of white voters as Romney. Trump won white, lower educated, blue collar workers who form 40% of the electorate. He didn't win all white voters, he just won them in the states that mattered like WI, PA and MI.
     
  4. Feanor

    Feanor Member Liaison Officer Site Staff

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    That's nonsense. Marx is first and foremost rooted in mateiralist economic analysis of history. Without that everything else is just silly social democratic critiques of capitalism. It's impossible to replace the classes because the classes are rooted in the economic arrangement of the means of production. It still doesn't explain identity politics either though.
     
  5. MatthewB

    MatthewB

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    People don't abandon their beliefs when they're told it doesn't win elections. They need to understand why it's wrong to discriminate against people based on sex, race, or income.
     
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  6. Feanor

    Feanor Member Liaison Officer Site Staff

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    You have two simple and obvious statements that don't seem related. I'm not sure what you're responding to or getting at.
     
  7. Thurr

    Thurr

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    In short; It's a blend of Marxism and post modernism.

    They build their philosophy on some incredibly misleading philosophers that took post modern philosophy into the absurd. It spawned the ridiculous ideas that categorization equals exclusion and even finds twisted arguments against science itself.
     
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  8. Feanor

    Feanor Member Liaison Officer Site Staff

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    How did this Frankenstein's monster of political thought ever get off the ground? It's sheer lunacy. They ignore the actual foundation of Marxism, borrowing little more then a spattering of Cold War era propaganda, and then proceed to misapply it.
     
  9. Thurr

    Thurr

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    Who gains more by a proletariat that is focused on identity issues rather than economic issues? Think about it.

    Meanwhile I'll try to back away from that rabbit hole.
     
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  10. ABDeL

    ABDeL
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    Well it's a huge plank of progressive identity plank. the progressive stack, oppression politics and social justice.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frankfurt_School
     
  11. Feanor

    Feanor Member Liaison Officer Site Staff

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    Plank?

    Eh. Whether they gain or not is irrelevant. The forces that will bring down capitalism as we know it are objective and don't really depend on the proletariat realizing their true interests. Feudalism didn't end because they peasants figured out that being peasants sucks.
     
  12. Thurr

    Thurr

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    Then again, if the fall of capitalism is objective/inevitable, then there is only short-term gain. Gain is still gain. Establishing your line of succession more strongly in the elite class has merit.
     
  13. SteakOnSpear

    SteakOnSpear ᛊᛏᛖᚨᚲ ᛟᚾ ᛊᛖᚨᚱ Map Maker

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    So you are actually saying the fall of capitalism is inevitable. Do you actually buy into marxism, that it's the natural course of things?

    What makes you think that? It's such an absurd idea, i can't wrap my head around it.
     
  14. Feanor

    Feanor Member Liaison Officer Site Staff

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    It is inevitable. Everything comes to an end eventually. Economies based on slave holding gave way to feudal economies, which gave way to capitalism. Eventually capitalism will give way to something else. That something else is called communism. What exactly it will look like remains unclear though many educated guesses have been made. What about this is absurd to you? Or are you just another victim of modern "education"?

    I guess so. I tend to avoid US domestic politics because I find the whole mess to be sad, distasteful, and generally unpleasant. So I suppose my confusion stems from ignorance and lack of understanding rather then the presence of some great mystery. Perhaps I should adjust my expectations of people's intelligence downward.
     
  15. SteakOnSpear

    SteakOnSpear ᛊᛏᛖᚨᚲ ᛟᚾ ᛊᛖᚨᚱ Map Maker

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    It seems absurd that everyone would come to terms with Marx definition of communism. Abolishing families and no private ownership and that. I thought it would be more profound when i read the manifest. But it was gibberish, only imbeciles would subscribe to it.
     
  16. Feanor

    Feanor Member Liaison Officer Site Staff

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    You're an idiot. The manifesto is a propaganda pamphlet from the 1800s. It has very little to do with actual Marxist political theory. Communism as is, is defined as what comes after capitalism. That's it. Everything else is guess work and suppositions. You need to consider the context of a piece of writing when you read it.
     
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  17. SteakOnSpear

    SteakOnSpear ᛊᛏᛖᚨᚲ ᛟᚾ ᛊᛖᚨᚱ Map Maker

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    Thanks for being so vague, i should have known what you meant was an other sort of gibberish.

    "What comes after capitalism", should have known that..

    You're mental Feanor.
     
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2016
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  18. Ser_Fergus

    Ser_Fergus Professional Shark Hater

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    No, communism is a projection of what will come after capitalism within a particular set of parameters.
     
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  19. Feanor

    Feanor Member Liaison Officer Site Staff

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    Correct. Within the parameters of a materialist dialectic view of history predicated on the premise that economic relations are the basis for social and political superstructures.
     
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  20. Evad_Flor

    Evad_Flor Editor

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    What the west have been dominated by since the fall of Communism is identity politics, left-centre liberalism, government expansions and stagnant economic growth.

    I think that it's being rejected. Capitalism is not going down, I think it's been on a low point in the west and is going up again along with more individualism. More EU rejections is coming in the future and since Trump became the president-elect, it's almost certain that we'll see more capitalism & individualism through the west as a whole for 4 or 8 years.
     
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