Within the Alt-Right, Red Pill, conservative revolution crowd, the phrase “Identity Politics” is a dirty word. Many of the biggest names on the new right-wing side of politics, such as Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopolous, decry Identity Politics as a tool of the left for destabilising Western Civilisation. In many respects, they are correct. However, the term also often seems to be used by right-wingers in a similar manner to how the lefties throw around the word bigot or Xphobe: “Oh, you think that aboriginals should receive affirmative action? You’re just playing identity politics!” As if that was a credible argument…
So, I would like to examine the Identity Politics argument in more depth.
What is Identity Politics?
Identity Politics (a bit of a clumsy label) is a political attitude which holds that political measures should be adopted which cater to people as members of a group, rather than people as tabula rasa individuals. It is guided by the principle that group identity is more important than individual identity. Modern conservatives (i.e. classical liberals) hold that Identity Politics is a backward, Dark Ages way of thinking.
A Brief History of Identity Politics
The ancient Greeks clearly placed great value on a person’s group identity. A reading of Herodotus, Thucydides or Xenophon shows time and time again that the Greeks considered lineage and city of origin as a critically important factor of a person’s identity. Foreigners were excluded from governance and owning land. Even descendants of foreigners were not permitted citizenship. It didn’t matter how wise or wealthy or noble you were.
Likewise, the ancient Jews considered lineage of grave importance, when we consider the Biblical book of Ezra, chapters 9 & 10, such lines as:
…the princes approached me, saying, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands, according to their abominations, those of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians and the Amorites. “For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has intermingled with the peoples of the lands…” When I heard about this matter, I tore my garment and my robe, and pulled some of the hair from my head and my beard, and sat down appalled…Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have been unfaithful and have married foreign wives adding to the guilt of Israel. “Now therefore, make confession to the LORD God of your fathers and do His will; and separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.” Then all the assembly replied with a loud voice, “That’s right! As you have said, so it is our duty to do.
Medieval European towns had similar attitudes to the ancient Greeks, whereby strangers to town were looked upon with curiosity and suspicion. Finally, there is also the fact that even modern-day Japanese culture views foreigners and their descendants as non-Japanese, regardless of their contributions to society or how long they have lived in Japan. It is clear from this very brief rundown of history that man has engaged in Identity Politics from the very beginning. People have always been judged on the basis of things which have nothing to do with individual merit and autonomy.
In the West, mere decades ago, a man would have been given career advantages over women on the basis of his sex – irrespective of merit – for the reason that it was presumed that a man would have a family to feed. Conversely, a woman in the workforce would be presumed to be just there for the short term until she found a man to marry her. Certainly, it was presumed (on the whole, a correct presumption) that she would have no dependents for whom she needed to provide. So why shouldn’t the man in such a society receive preferential career treatment? Why should a young woman receive a career promotion when there’s a young man who could do with a bit more cash to look after his wife and kids? Even if the man was single at the time, it was presumed that he would eventually have a wife and kids. So he gets the promotion on the basis of his sex. This is a form of identity politics which was once widely applied and was considered eminently fair at the time. It’s an example of a group looking after its own, and the individuals within that group returning the favour by continuing the group’s existence through procreation.
The Current Situation in the West
Consider now legislation that exists in modern Western societies. Leftist policies are currently in place with affirmative action laws in the U.S., which apply to benefit the black community irrespective of a black’s individual merit. In Germany, the law mandates that company boardrooms be comprised of at least 30% women. So, in this example, if you’re boardroom is currently 29% female, and you are choosing between one male and one female candidate for the boardroom, you’re going to (have to) pick the female candidate, even if the male is better qualified. It’s probably a matter of time until homosexual and trans quotas are introduced.
Identity Politics versus Individualist Politics
Prima facie, these affirmative action and gender quota policies appear manifestly unfair. Now that the sexual revolution has reached its logical end, we can truly say that meritocracy is a lynchpin of our liberal, democratic societies; and one would think that to discriminate in favour of someone on the basis of sex or race is still racism or sexism. So, men like Peterson uphold the classical liberal idea that politics must only cater and acknowledge the individual, and that people should be treated purely on the basis of individual merit, irrespective of sex or race or any other group characteristic. Individual identity trumps any kind of group identity, and in fact, group identity shouldn’t really exist at all. Let’s call it ‘Individualist Politics’ to distinguish it from ‘Identity Politics’. These intellectual conservatives (whom I do in fact admire) are excellent at debating leftists and showing them how – within the framework of Classical Liberalism – their ideas are destructive and unfair and that their motives probably stem from the darkest influences in the recesses of their souls. But do they examine the framework itself?
Our brief examination of history shows that it is man’s natural tendency to seek in-groups and seek the benefit and protection of those groups in a symbiotic way. This cannot be denied. Further, this also means that attempts to change this natural tendency by cultural influence (or social engineering) are doomed to fail. Modern day conservatives like Peterson argue that this tendency is undesirable (not that it matters, since it is unchangeable), presuming that Individualist Politics is in fact a sustainable and desirable method of societal organisation. Maybe this is a reasonable presumption to make: after all, they probably believe that it was classical liberalism which triggered the incredible triumph of the West over the rest of the world over the 18th and 19th centuries. But we would be wise to remember that classical liberalism is, in the end, a product of human ideology (I won’t say human rationality), and is thus prone to error and should be treated cautiously. And in fact, it’s not possible to parse out all the reasons for the West’s success during these centuries: an inculcation of ancient Roman law, Christian heritage, European feudal history, and the Protestant Revolution all had a large degree of input. To believe that a succession of philosophers during the Enlightenment finally discovered the ‘magic formula’ to societal wellbeing in the form of classical liberalism is damn foolish. Marx and Engels also thought they had found the magic formula, after all. And to those who would deny all this and still say “at least societies which adopted classical liberalism have been greatly successful, whereas Marxist societies failed swiftly and spectacularly on all fronts”, I would say “look at us now.”
In hindsight, we can clearly see that classical liberalism has taken us to where we are today: modern liberalism, and postmodernism. Modern liberalism, in one sense, does not engage in Identity Politics at all: it dogmatically applies the individualistic rationale that race and sex do not exist. When everyone is truly viewed as an individual in this clinically pure sense, everyone can finally be equal. What is this but taking the doctrine of tabula rasa to its logical conclusion? And then, when we consider that, if all individuals truly are blank slates, yet outcomes are not equal, the only possible inference is that structural disadvantages must have caused it – hence leading to Identity Politics to correct unfair imbalances. And so a philosophy dedicated to the supremacy of the individual, when pitted against the realities of human nature, has instead become a caricature.
The supposed historical success of Individualist Politics could perhaps be considered as an anecdote where n = 1. For when the Bacon’s and the Locke’s and the Mill’s were generating political theories, they hardly supposed that their theories were going to be subjected to the kinds of tests which are occurring in the West today. Individualist Politics worked just fine when individuals (funnily enough) were already all part of a group identity. So while the French killed each other over Catholic versus Protestant, in the end, a Frenchman was still a Frenchman; and though the English divided into camps of King or Cromwell, an Englishman was still an Englishman. It seems that Enlightenment political theory wasn’t really put to the test by these events. But what about when you’ve got Frenchmen living next to Muslims? Does Individualist Politics still work? And the rise of nationalist parties in Europe proves, empirically, that they clearly do not. For not only are people automatically forming groups based on cultural and racial identity, but we also see how Individualist Politics itself has led to this occurrence, for Individualist Politics holds that a Muslim individual is materially identical to a Frenchman, which is clearly false. And when a philosophy positively proves itself to be false, it must collapse.
It was never real…
I believe that we are seeing that the philosophy of individualism and Individualistic Politics was never anything but a whisper on the wind, a philosophy of the leisured and wealthy who could afford to dabble. Now that the philosophy is actually being subjected to real challenges, we are seeing how quickly men will return to Identity Politics. What we need to realise – before its too late – is that our group identity, as Westerners, must be protected, and the only way that this can be done is by being strong and cohesive as a group. The existence of other groups, hostile to the West, necessitates the formation of Western group identity and its arbitrary protection by its members. This can only be done by means of Identity Politics.