Commentary on Political Economy

Monday 19 August 2019

Identity Politics and Democracy

Identity Politics betrays itself. In two ways. One leads to destruction and one leads to construction. In the first instance, the pars destruens, in their exasperation of the concept of identity, identitarians destroy the very foundation of its defence! How can I defend my identity without thereby acknowledging the “right” of every other identity? But then, upon further inquiry, the “right” to identity must be founded – and here is the constructive part, the pars construens – on a set of values and principles that override “identity” intended as separation, as conflict. It is by turning identity into an absolute that Identity Politics betrays the very principles and values upon which it claims to be founded! Both the destructive and the constructive parts betray Identity Politics – unless and until identitarians become aware of the constructive foundations, the principles and values, on which their struggle for recognition of “identity” must be founded or else be nothing at all! (The essential reading here on the concept of ‘recognition’ is the section on “Lordship and Servitude” in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.)

I do not have a “right” to my identity unless I recognize the rights of other different identities. But such re-cognition must be based on the affirmation of a higher common “id-entity” – sameness of being, of condition – whereby the different identities can recognize one another. Any identities that by virtue or vice of their values, customs, mores, traditions, taboos, religion, fetishes, instincts, or other practices necessarily deny the identities of other people are destructive by definition of the right to identity! We must therefore move away from a universal or absolute right to identity – which is catastrophically divisive – to one that recognizes human freedom, the fulfilment of human needs and aspirations that are consistent with the co-existence of different identities! In short, we must stop speaking of “identity” as an absolute and turn to human freedom and fulfilment as an ideal goal that is unitarian and not identitarian.

As is widely known and evident, the most vocal and violent supporters of cultural and other identities are precisely the most strident enemies of political freedom! The cry for identity is simply the arrogant absolutist demand to impose one’s values over those of all others. Those very ethnic and religious and other groups who wish to defend their “identities” assert their “rights” only in places and regions and countries in which they are a minority! The minute, the instant that these groups become a majority they turn immediately intolerant and discriminatory against other “identities”! Why? For the simple and precise reason that tolerance of other “identities” is entirely foreign to their culture or custom or religion!

Paradoxically, Identity Politics seeks to protect and promote “identities” in the name of a cosmopolitanism that those self-same “identities” wish to crush and will crush if given only half a chance! A parallel example is that of a democracy that allows the formation and representation of political parties or movements whose overriding aim is – to destroy democracy! The uncritical recognition of separate identities leads to the destruction of human freedom and of reason itself. Human beings can have only one overriding identity, one all-encompassing need and aspiration: - the free fulfilment of universal individual human faculties and potential – universal in the sense that these faculties and potential do not clash with or deny the faculties and potential of other individuals. The right to identity cannot and must not belong or be attributed to groups or communities of whatever description. The right to identity is exclusively an individual right aimed at enabling the fulfilment of individual human faculties and potential.

In this regard also, Judaeo-Christian civilization is unique. (But recall that the Gospels, in particular the one according to Saint Paul, were a pure product of the Greek and Hellenistic Paideia.) True, as we argued earlier, Guilt is its hallmark. But before guilt can be considered, it is obvious that our civilization requires the concept of Self as the universal (indeed, for our religion, quasi-divine) Subject responsible for everything that happens in the life-world. In turn, the Self engenders its spiritual counterpart – the Soul – which is an exquisitely individual notion. For Western monotheistic religion, human beings are born equal because they have a soul and each soul is equal in the eyes of the Divinity.

One of the intractable problems of Identity Politics – indeed, its fatal mistake - is that contrarily to what the word “identity” suggests its unavoidable starting point is not the “individual”, because the “identity” of Identity Politics is never an individual identity! The “identity” of Identity Politics is always and everywhere a “group” identity! And that is why Identity Politics, like a parliamentary democracy that allows the representation of expressly anti-democratic parties, is either for imbeciles or for traitors and enemies of democracy.

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