Toleration, Social Justice

A Seasonal Nod to Identity Politics

Something different from what I have been working on (more on that soon enough)….

Maybe December is the month for identity politics talk.  Last year, it was it was Jacob (see here).  This year,  Akiva Malamet (see here).  I don’t think there is anything necessary or inherently laudable about identity politics, but I suspect Jacob is right that it can help enliven the quest for justice.  I suppose this is because of what Akiva discusses as “the thickly embedded nature of social interaction within communities, such that social cooperation is in part determined by the role that people play for who they are.”  Perhaps in contrast to Akiva, though, I am uncomfortable with the idea that “to pay respect to a person’s selfhood means to treat them with regard to the variety of components that make up who they are.”  At the end of the day, this depends on what is meant by claiming that those components “make up” who we are.  In my view, this cannot correctly be taken to be anything other than a matter of the contingent state of affairs of our lives.  I’ll try to briefly make this clear.

As a fortunate happenstance, I went to a universalist (not Unitarian) church service this past weekend to see a friend’s son in a performance.  I then found myself enjoying the minister’s talk, which emphasized—as part of the church’s inclusionist theology—a clear statement that we were each spirit, not black or white, not gay person or straight, not Christian, Jew or Muslim, and not republican or democrat.  Those are all contingent factors about the way we live our lives, but under (or beyond) those descriptive factors, we are each spirit.  I would prefer to use the word “agent,” but the point is the same.  It is a form of universalism I think all liberals (in the broad sense, so including contemporary libertarianism) should accept.  It’s also why I am ambivalent (at best) about so-called identity politics.  It involves taking those contingent factors and treating them as essential to our selfhood when they are not.

My first academic work (my dissertation and a series of papers that came from it; see, e.g., this and this) was an attempt to defend liberal individualism—basically, the view that each of us is essentially an individual agent, not a mere member of a community and that, as such, it is the individual that is of primary normative import.  Any moral weight given to communities on my view (then and now) is derivative of the moral import of the individuals within the community.  If a community does not help the individuals in its midst lead good lives, there is no reason to want it to continue.  The view I argued against was a form of communitarianism most forcefully defended by Alastair McIntyre, Charles Taylor, and Michael Sandel.  While they were not clear about their own positive view—the work I looked at was focused on arguing against liberal individualism—the core of it, I think, came down to the view that we are each essentially who we are because of our communities and so it is the community, not the individual, that is primary.  (Metaphysically as well as normatively.)

My main problem with identity politics should now be clear. Those favoring identity politics don’t talk about identity as something individuals choose, but as something individuals are born with. Individuals are born into groups, whether they be ethnic, racial, religious, or other.  Whichever group they are in, then, is meant to be their identity.  The group, that is, is primary.  There is no concern with whether or not people can choose to reject the group and the identity it (supposedly) imposes.  Instead, there is an implicit assumption that our group makes us what we essentially are—and that what it makes us into is what we must be.

I don’t know if any serious political philosophers accept that view now.  I hope not.  But that sort of communitarian view has a way of coming back every now and then—and must be repeatedly refuted.  And so, perhaps, must identity politics.  We ought to remind people that they can choose their own identity.  While the identities that we create for ourselves usually include elements from our group affiliations, many of us can and do choose away from those.  Some people choose against their religions, nationalities, etc.  (Rachel Dolezal might have been an extreme example.)  We each choose who we will be.  We ought not accept that we are who we are merely by virtue of the group we belong to.  (Communitarians never really come to grips with the fact that we usually belong to multiple, sometimes competing, groups.)  We ought also tolerate people’s choices in this regard and others—subject to the same limited restrictions to toleration we ought accept more generally.

To be fair, identity politics may just be an empirical-phenomenological view about how people seem to be, to themselves or others.  So, Joe is a black homosexual and identifies more as the latter than the former and votes accordingly.  But here’s the thing: if the metaphysical view is false—if people can choose away from the groups they are born to—its not clear why the phenomenological view matters.  I don’t mean to deny that identity politics—how individuals identify themselves or are identified by others—matters in politics.  That is a simple empirical claim.  But if our identities are only contingently made by our group membership, we can work to limit the extent to which this matters politically.  We can, that is, work to encourage a culture wherein all people see themselves as agents (or spirits) first and members of groups second.  If successful, people may become more able and willing to make political choices based on the recognition that we are each individuals first and group members second.  Group membership would then be less important.  Identity politics could fade away.  (And with it, concerns about cultural appropriation, but that’s a tale for another day.)  Then again, I’ve always had something of a utopian streak.

  • It seems to me that there are a number of confusions there. First, we should distinguish two kinds of identity. There is an individual’s ‘thisness’ (what the mediaevals called ‘haecceity’), which would distinguish a person from a perfect clone. Everyone knows who he is in that sense: I am me. The other kind of identity is one that a person can share with other people. It is determined by the kind of life that would be most fulfilling for the person. Call that a ‘concrete identity.’ It is this sense of identity that people employ when they say things like ‘I tried doing that/living that way/etc. but it was not really me.’

    No one can choose his identity. That is a piece of existentialist nonsense. I cannot choose my haecceity: I am me, not you. I can never be anyone but me. I cannot choose my concrete identity because what kind of life will fulfil me is a matter of fact. I can choose which way I live; but if I do not choose the way that will fulfil me, I fail to discover my concrete identity. People can and do make mistakes about their concrete identity. Everyone does to some extent because one of the challenges of a human life is for the person to discover for himself what his concrete identity is. That is why we need freedom.

    Different people (i.e. people with different haecceities) may have the same concrete identity. In that sense there is a natural classification of people, natural groups; but the groups are criss-crossing. These natural groupings do not coincide with communities that people are born into. One of the things a person has to discover, if he is to discover what kind of life will fulfil him, is to what extent he belongs in the community he was born into. He can discover that only if he is permitted to question and criticise his inherited culture; and he can be helped to do that if people outside of his culture are permitted to criticise his culture too. Thus, human fulfilment requires freedom of expression, open discussion, free exchange, criticism, rejection and adoption of ideas. Limitations on free speech, ‘hate speech’ and ‘cultural appropriation’ are therefore abominable.

    If people are to live fulfilling lives (which, I take it, is the rationale for morality), they must be free to experiment with different types of life; that is, not free to choose their identity, but free to discover their identity by choosing types of life to test, free to discover which group they belong to. I explain this stuff in more detail here:

    https://www.academia.edu/20435616/Freedom_Positive_Negative_Expressive

    I also say what I think is wrong with identity politics here:

    https://www.academia.edu/34361803/Identity_Politics_Irrationalism_and_Totalitarianism_The_Relevance_of_Karl_Popper_s_Open_Society

    Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

  • What disappoints me about all these articles is that identity is a fundamentally psychological issue, and yet none of these articles give identity politics a psychological treatment. They approach things from political or philosophical angles, but not from psychological angles.

    In practical terms, we can influence our own identity in the sense that we can change how we think about ourselves. We can determine our own ethics and values, and we control our own thoughts and behaviors. What we cannot control is how other people see us.

    In other words, if I see myself as a thoughtful libertarian, but someone else sees me as a crazy person, I can’t do much about that. I can change my behavior slightly by trying to engage the person in a conversation. I can change the words I say to try to persuade him to believe something else. But the choice to label me a crazy person is his. I can try to influence it, but I can’t control it. Nor should I.

    And this is the problem with identity politics. No person, A — not even a person who belongs to a forceful political bloc or powerful cadre — can compel any other person or group of people B to change how B sees A. When I say this, I mean it in a very literal sense. A cannot force B to believe anything. A can threaten and even kill B, but it is only B who can change B’s beliefs about A.

    If A happens to identify with a certain group that disproportionately suffers from a social injustice, that’s fine. But A cannot force B to agree with that identity or its probably conclusions. It’s just not possible. A must either be persuasive, or give up on it.

    To me, the vehemence of modern identity politics speaks to society’s growing tendencies toward narcissism (image maintenance) and schizoid inclinations (maintaining an elaborate internal fantasy world while simultaneously withdrawing from real emotional intimacy and vulnerability in the physical world).

    These are psychological problems that must be addressed psychologically. We’re not going to magically fix them all by cooking up a compromise in political philosophy or ever-greater commitments to cosmopolitanism.

    • Sean II

      The other psych problem is: this project requires people to torture their own brains into compliance. It’s like being a Marxist in the 1970s. You have to get up very early in the morning to stay ahead of your own doubts.

      Let’s say someone sets out to answer a simple political question, like why homophobia should be more prevalent in cosmopolitan in London than it is in rustic Shropshire. Nothing dangerous there, just a senior thesis level of curiosity.

      Except any honest student who undertakes the project will quickly find out it’s Muslims. The answer is Muslims.

      Now here comes the crazy part: under current norms of liberal individualism, the student who discovers this is the one we accuse of practicing identity politics.

      Because he noticed that something bad (homophobia) tracked something good (diversity, immigration, etc.)

      And you’re not supposed to do that. Believe it or not, the correct thing to think here is something like: “If I set a good example by refusing to notice such things, soon everyone will see the wisdom of abandoning identity politics.”

      Meanwhile the guy who wears a perahan in 2017 London and totes a copy of the Quran while refusing to marry anyone who isn’t a coreligionist and a cousin is evidently NOT a worrisome example of identity politics on the march. Indeed, that guy is expected to serve as the antidote.

      Sounds even crazier when you state the general policy: our plan for defeating identity politics is to incentivize identity group organization for every group except one, import lots more people from those groups, and hope the example of individualism just catches, on the strength of its own irresistible charm.

      UK version – Step 1: Encourage identity politics in Blacks and Muslims. Step 2: Import more Blacks and Muslims. Step 3: Defeat identity politics.

      US version – Step 1: Encourage identity politics in everyone who isn’t a straight white male. Step 2: Import more Mexicans. Step 3: Defeat identity politics.

      It’s a tough story to keep straight.

      You said “A must either be persuasive, or give up on it.”

      What happens when A can’t even go on persuading himself?

      • Here’s a thought. What if identity politics isn’t something that people like and encourage, so much as it is an irresistible rhetorical temptation that everyone reviles, and yet from which no one can abstain?

        We try so hard to argue our case and persuade other people to think our way, and yet — curses! — they still won’t agree with us! In the old days, we used to either dismiss them as ignorant, stupid, or evil. But that was a canard. People genuinely interested in the truth would always point out that we lost the debate as soon as we said such things. Godwin’s Law and all that.

        But what if we could do all three in one step without having to stoop to the use of canards? What if we could say, “You’re just not capable of understanding the truth because your demographic position precludes you from being able to understand. You can try to understand, but ultimately, it’s just not for you to understand it.”

        What if, deep down, we all know that this, too, is just a cheap canard? What if we all know that we’ve just essentially used the Konami Code of Argumentative Reasoning? Ha-ha! 30 extra lives! Now what!? And yet none of us can stop because it’s like catnip.

        You don’t agree with my position? Not even after all this explaining? Not even after all this data? Not even after all these citations? Here, the mature thing to do would be to settle for a slim piece of common ground, or part ways amicably with someone who’s proven himself tough in a good debate.

        …We know we should do it. We know it’s the right thing. We know it’s the moral high ground. And yet…

        up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A…

        “Oh yeah!? Well you’re incapable of understanding my intersectionality because you’re a damn white cis male!”

        Alas, another well poisoned.

        • Sean II

          Well, in some cases the temptation is more than just rhetorical. It’s practical, with real power on the line.

          If the Xs and the Ys share a country, but the Xs keep ending up poor while the Ys always stay rich, the potential political gain from organizing X into a grievance bloc is large enough you can be sure someone will seize it. And the most efficient way to organize will be along identity lines.

          The neoliberal answer is: yeah but we can keep that at bay with rising prosperity.

          Except you can’t. Rising prosperity leads to rising expectations. So paradoxically you can get more (relative) resentment even as (absolute) fortunes improve.

          Nobody does hostility to the current system like an incipient elite.

          • Rob Gressis

            I forgot who discovered this, but I recall reading that revolutions tend to happen, not when a population is suffering greatly, but rather when it *was* suffering greatly, and then starts to improve.

          • Octavian

            Rob: this would seem to be the case in our own time. On both left and right the most intense reactions against ‘the establishment’ came nor in 2008 but several years after when the economy had begun to recover; same in Europe.

            Intuition might lead one to expect Trump, Sanders, La Pen etc. to see their hay day in 2008, but apparently not.

          • Sean II

            You might be thinking of Tilly, Modernization & Revolution.

      • Peter from Oz

        There is some good stuff in this poast, but also some clangers.

        ”Now here comes the crazy part: under current norms of liberal individualism, the student who discovers this is the one we accuse of practicing identity politics.”

        Um, no. he is the one who has not payed proper obeiscance to identity poilitics. h has been caught in the intersection

        ” Step 3: Defeat identity politics”
        Surely those who who have encouraged identity politics don’t want such politics to end. That is why they want to import more third world immigrants.

    • King Goat

      This is a bunch of gobbledygook about identity politics. It’s like Ryan’s understanding of identity politics was from someone reading about it from conservative presses critical of it, then that person explaining it to an alien from Mars, and then that alien telling Ryan what it was.

      Identity politics is basically the combination of a few non-far out ideas: 1. people in some groups have, generally, different attitudes/values because they’ve had different experiences/outcomes generally, than other groups; 2. 1 has often involved disadvantage (oppression), often inflicted via force; 3. since politics involves people trying to realize their attitudes/values into policy/law, people in shared groups (1) should ally with each other to try to increase their chances of this, and especially because of 2 (policy/law could always retreat back to the days, not distant, of disadvantage).

      • R.Levine

        <>

        I think it’s just a typo in the latter; “Northerner” passes spell check just fine. No idea how long those terms have been around.

        I grew up in New England, and there was definitely *some* sense of “New Englander” identity pride there, but admittedly not much. To us growing up, taking pride in regional affiliation seemed like a hopelessly square old-person thing to be into.

        • King Goat

          “I think it’s just a typo in the latter; “Northerner” passes spell check just fine.”

          Fair enough, my mistake there!

          “I grew up in New England, and there was definitely *some* sense of “New Englander” identity pride there, but admittedly not much.”

          My first wife, a Northerner (passes!), always remarked to me that in her education up there they spent very little time on the Civil War, but when she moved South there was this long period of time spent on it!

      • CJColucci

        Damn you, King Goat. There you go spoiling everybody’s fun again.

      • This is a bunch of gobbledygook about identity politics. It’s like
        Ryan’s understanding of identity politics was from someone reading about
        it from conservative presses critical of it, then that person
        explaining it to an alien from Mars, and then that alien telling Ryan
        what it was.

        Dismissive ad hominem. Not off to a good start. Here we go…

        Identity politics is basically the combination of a few non-far out
        ideas: 1. people in some groups have, generally, different
        attitudes/values because they’ve had different experiences/outcomes
        generally, than other groups; 2. 1 has often involved disadvantage
        (oppression), often inflicted via force; 3. since politics involves
        people trying to realize their attitudes/values into policy/law, people
        in shared groups (1) should ally with each other to try to increase
        their chances of this, and especially because of 2 (policy/law could
        always retreat back to the days, not distant, of disadvantage).

        Yes, that’s it, basically.

        Identity politics isn’t some part of the modern age, it’s always been with us. Politics from the end of the Civil War to…[Ed. Here my eyes glazed over and I stopped following along. Sorry.]

        I don’t know if you noticed, but Levy, Malamet, and Cohen all wrote some specific things about a specifically modern trend. You are free to disagree with them. (But if that’s your objection, then make sure you disagree with them, not with some other guy who is merely responding to the point of theirs you might want to contest.) Even if I were to hypothetically grant you your argument, though, what I said above about how we can only control our own thoughts, not the thoughts of other people, still applied “from the end of the Civil War to” whatever else you said.

        A modest request: If you want to criticize my comments, please try to stick to the contents of my comments.

      • Lacunaria

        If identity politics is so broadly defined, then what are the salient differences from other kinds of politics?

        • King Goat

          That’s kid of the point, it’s nothing new under the sun.

          • Lacunaria

            Then why the new term? Why not just call it an interest group?

            Why define the term by what makes it indistinguishable from other politics rather than by the distinct features of the modern movement which coined the term? How does coining a synonym help the discussion?

            e.g. here’s one broad analysis of the fundamental distinction:

            What makes identity politics a significant departure from earlier, pre-identarian forms of the politics of recognition is its demand for recognition on the basis of the very grounds on which recognition has previously been denied: it is qua women, qua blacks, qua lesbians that groups demand recognition. The demand is not for inclusion within the fold of “universal humankind” on the basis of shared human attributes; nor is it for respect “in spite of” one’s differences. Rather, what is demanded is respect for oneself as different (2001: 85).

            Separatism, self-identity and corresponding image maintenance are all connected to demanding respect for being different, in contrast to the universal appeals of some other “disadvantaged” political movements, such as appealing to the content of one’s character rather than to some other identity slice.

            This is why it seems to me that Ryan is criticizing the actual modern movement which coined the term when he says that “A cannot force B to agree with that identity or its probable conclusions”.

          • King Goat

            I don’t think that distinction exists, as historically ‘identity’ groups did the same thing. First wave feminism, to take one example, was replete with references to how women’s unique nature as caregivers gave them qualities that were good for society and that difference was a reason given for *why* they should then be accepted as equal Lockean contractors (if you will). Same for Southerners (if you’ve spent any time in the South you see the bumper sticker ‘American by birth, Southern by the grace of God!’), Irish Catholics, etc., etc., etc. Nothing new here.

          • Lacunaria

            “Caregivers” is arguably an appeal to the common interest of raising children, but even if first wave feminism meets this particular criteria of identity politics, where do you see that in other cases such as black suffrage and civil rights?

            One of the major departures from the civil rights era to modern identity politics is that “colorblindness” was once the defining virtue but is now deemed offensive because it explicitly ignores color-centric identity.

            Have you seen older liberals conflict with younger SJWs over this change? I have and it is a fascinating reminder that identity politics is a distinct animal.

            Can you really see no distinction between appealing to common values vs. identity values? Does tolerating a difference imply valuing that difference?

          • King Goat

            “Have you seen older liberals conflict with younger SJWs over this change?”

            Why is this so remarkable to you? Have you read MLK’s ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail?’ It was directed from a liberal to other liberals, y’know? But it doesn’t prove that MLK was deviating from the liberal tradition his addressed detractors claimed, does it?

            “”Caregivers” is arguably an appeal to the common interest of raising children,”

            Come on. Trying to twist women citing their role as caregivers as special reasons to recognize them as equal Lockean contractors as ‘an appeal to the common interest of raising interest’ is just…a big fail. It’s *exactly* like how modern feminists cite the advantage of their *difference* to argue for their acceptance as equal Lockean contractors. You’re just determined to find something new here.

            “Can you really see no distinction between appealing to common values vs. identity values? ”

            Are you reading what I’ve been writing? It’s more about how it’s *nothing new* to cite ‘identity values’ over (?) ‘common values. Let’s take *yet another historical example*: the Slavophile movement, which argued that Slavs, due to their historical circumstances, were *uniquely* able to contribute important perspectives to Western Civilization which were critical, and therefore Slavic people and perspectives should be embraced as critically important.

          • Lacunaria

            You’re just determined to find something new here.

            No, I’m not looking for something new, I’m looking for something distinct from your broad definition of “identity politics” as merely “interest group”.

            Theresa defined it well as identity group primacy over individual or universal ideals, which corroborates my hallmarks.

            So, for example, was black suffrage justified by human rights or rather by the distinct voice of blacks as you’ve argued women did?

            Did MLK argue the primacy of human rights or the primacy of blacks to the clergy?

            Is “they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” an appeal to black primacy or individual primacy?

            These are the distinctions I’m asking you to make in defining identity politics. One plausible litmus test is if an ideal involves not discriminating on the basis of color, then it is probably a universal/individual ideal. So, affirmative action would be identity politics, as would the Black Panther Party. MLK’s dream? Not so much.

          • Theresa Klein

            I’m not sure if people object to “colorblindness” because it ignores color-centered identity, but because it is a way of deliberately ignoring the effect of color in society. In other words, it’s important to be color-conscious because you need to be aware of the fact that others have different experiences because of their color in other to understand their perspective. Pretending to be color-blind is a way of saying: “I’m not going to see who you really are. I’m going to pretend like slavery never happened, that you’ve never been the victim of prejudice and that your racial identity has no effect on how other people treat you or your status in society.”

          • Lacunaria

            Right, that’s their argument, but “colorblind” means “free from racial prejudice”, not the practically opposite “ignoring racial prejudice” used solely by SJWs. At best it’s a misinterpretation.

            They then tend to assert “impact over intent” where their (mis-) interpretation is more important than what you actually meant by your words (or their dictionary definition).

            Of course, it’s fine to argue that your group identity is relevant to certain decisions (positive is identity, negative is racism?), but redefining words is at the heart of identity politics. “Racism” is redefined to hinge upon selected power imbalances and includes statistical disparities. Same with “hate speech”, which is also not even defined by hate but rather by taking offense.

          • Theresa Klein

            Well, I do think that when many white people claim to be “colorblind”, whether they mean it or not, what they are actually doing is ignoring race, not just not being prejudiced. Not all white people, but enough that many black people find it offensive when someone claims to be “colorblind”.
            They want to be accepted for who they are, to not have to pretend to be white, to be allowed to have a separate black culture and to be approached on equal terms as someone from another culture – not to be treated as if their blackness was invisible.

          • Lacunaria

            Yes, many find it offensive. Many also find the words “niggardly” and “spooks” offensive, regardless of what is actually meant. Virtually no one who applies the word “colorblind” to themselves mean “I am trying to ignore your culture and discrimination against you”. So if it is taken that way, it is a failure of interpretation.

            How do your admonitions for separate but equal play out in practice?

            If you don’t like most rap, are you failing to approach black culture on “equal terms” as other cultures?

            If you don’t think that Michael Brown died due to racism, are you ignoring the oppression of black people? I think these honest disagreements is where your definition of “colorblind” comes from.

            How do you accept someone for who they are without actually knowing who they are as individuals?

          • So, on the one hand, we have the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Andrew Cohen, and two additional academics linked above making a claim about a distinct modern identity politics, and on the other hand we have a guy using an anonymous pseudonym saying, “Nahhh.”

            You might be able to make a convincing case for your position, but you haven’t done so yet. And your continued insistence that this whole thing that academics keep writing about is “nothing new,” seems oddly out-of-touch with the social changes that have occurred over the past 200 years.

            Feel free to actually make your case that there are no important distinctions between identity politics in the year 2018 and post Civil War interest groups.

          • King Goat

            That’s a nice appeal to authority there. On the other hand I’ve noted actual historical examples. Feel free to depart from the appeal to authority and land in an area where you address my points!

          • You noted historical examples of what, interest groups across history with similarities to modern identity politics? I’m not sure what you think this establishes, but go on and make your point. I didn’t reply to you for the sake of tit-for-tat. Out with it.

          • King Goat

            So, I’m just going to reproduce my earlier post here: “That’s kind of the point, it’s nothing new under the sun. But when people of color, or other groups long oppressed in our history (like women or gays) start consciously, and to some degree successfully, engaging in it then we start to get these analyses about what a remarkable practice full of ‘narcissistic image maintenance’ and ‘schizoid inclinations’ and so on this is.”

            “Growing tendencies” indeed.

          • Let me see if I understand you. You think that by citing a couple of examples of interest groups with some similarities to modern identity politics, you’ve managed to show that I only mean what I wrote insofar as it applies to people of color, women, and gays? Why do you think that you’ve shown this?

            I get that it’s what you want to believe about me, but I don’t understand what part of your argument actually accomplishes this work.

            Feel free to elaborate.

          • King Goat

            It’s far less about you than about “the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Andrew Cohen, and two additional academics” and etc.

            There’s this idea that’s what’s going on now is some dramatic break from what’s usual, and a break that indicates modern failings (“the vehemence of modern identity politics speaks to society’s growing tendencies toward narcissism (image maintenance) and schizoid inclinations (maintaining an elaborate internal fantasy world while simultaneously withdrawing from real emotional intimacy and vulnerability in the physical world”). It’s really a form of ‘get off my lawn’-ism.

            ‘Get off my lawn’-ism is stupid for many reasons, but it’s worst when the complaint isn’t even novel. And that’s what I’ve argued.

            ONCE AGAIN, feel free to argue that the Slavophiles or the Lost Cause Southerners or the First Wave feminists don’t exhibit the elements that your authorities indicate as unique among modern ‘identity politics’ practitioners.

          • I’ll try to be concise: If you think what I said applies equally to those other groups, I’m okay with that. I don’t know a lot about Slavophiles and Lost Cause Southerners, but if you say they also expressed narcissist and schizoid traits, I’d be okay with that. I’d feel that buttresses my theory more than it weakens it. I’ll have to take your word for it.

            Now, if it’s your contention that the Slavophiles did not express the same kind of narcissistic and schizoid traits I see in modern identity politics, I’d love to know why. Can you explain?

            As for society’s growing narcissism over time, that’s actually pretty well documented. You can even Google it. I admit, the schizoid part was something I added myself. You can call that armchair psychologizing if you like, but it appears true to me. If you have an opposing argument against that specifically, not just a lot of whataboutism, I’d genuinely be interested in hearing it.

          • King Goat

            Taking you at your word of honest discussion, how would “society’s growing tendencies toward narcissism (image maintenance) and schizoid inclinations,” which you ascribe to ‘modern identity polticis’ apply to the similar but historically far past movements of Slavophiles and Lost Cause Southerners and First Wave Feminists, given they were generations before the “society’s tendencies” you pinpoint? You can’t ascribe to some modern Zeitgeist that which is perennial.

          • I certainly don’t claim that narcissism itself is a modern phenomenon, I only agree with the evidence that society is more narcissistic now than in the past. If there were narcissistic people in ages gone by, and I think there were, that isn’t inconsistent with the claim that people are generally more narcissistic now than they used to be.

            There is one important thing that I believe highlights the fact that modern identity politics might be different from past projects. Psychologists like to tell us to be goal-oriented. Emancipation is a goal. Ending Jim Crow laws is a goal. Women’s suffrage is a goal.

            By contrast, much of modern identity politics, at least in my observation, appears to be focused on making other people think differently or use different words. It’s often not a legislative goal people want, it’s a change in other people’s thoughts. It’s as if our being equal under the law means nothing unless you believe me to be equal to you. If you don’t, that’s called “violence.”

            Like I said, I don’t know a lot about Slavophiles or Lost Cause Southerners, but I’ve never heard that they wanted that. If they did, then I certainly think my ideas also apply to them. I just don’t know enough about them to say. Still, identity politics strikes me as being more common now than Slavophiles was way back when. Don’t you think so too?

          • King Goat

            “By contrast, much of modern identity politics, at least in my observation, appears to be focused on making other people think differently or use different words.”

            My wife was a Northerner who was astonished that when she, a child whose family moved to a Southern town, was informed by her teachers, classmates and neighbors that what she was always told to call ‘the Civil War’ was supposed to be referred to as ‘The War of Northern Aggression.’ It was very important that the correct terminology be used on this and other areas for Southern Lost Causers. Similar things can be said of the Slavophiles and the Suffragettes and other past ‘identity groups.’ I recently read an article on Suffragette newspapers and how they coined and reinforced phrases and imagery (such as women in chains and women gagged, it really was interesting how much they invoked such images, the imagery was so powerful that the creator of Wonder Woman used it all the time [he also was into bondage so that likely was an added factor there]) to an almost bizarre degree. Heck, the 1884 election almost certainly turned on Irish Catholics being ‘triggered’ by the term ‘Romanism’ being used in a throw away line by one of many (and a not very prominent one at that) speakers at an event for the Republican Presidential candidate. Irish Catholic newspapers of the day rushed to print the word in banner headlines and the Irish vote, infuriated as the newspaper knew they would be, turned out giving the Democratic candidate the victory in New York and thus the nation.

            I don’t think it could be any other way because how people think about a group and the words/symbols they use regarding those groups is going to be intertwined with the social and political change the groups would like to see. Human beings are word and symbol using creatures, it’s an essential feature of our reality. So movements for social change (and movements resisting social change or instituting oppression) are going to have considerable focus on words and symbols (either retaining or changing them depending on the social movement of course).

            “identity politics strikes me as being more common now than Slavophiles was way back when. Don’t you think so too?”

            I’m not sure what frame of reference should be used here. If you lived in a Slavic country the Slavophile movement was everywhere, permeating literature, politics, culture…It was probably more prominent there than ‘identity politics’ is here (where most people encounter it via reading about some protest at a college miles away from them, or maybe in a human resources meeting at work).

          • My wife was a Northerner who was astonished that when she, a child whose
            family moved to a Southern town, was informed by her teachers,
            classmates and neighbors that what she was always told to call ‘the
            Civil War’ was supposed to be referred to as ‘The War of Northern
            Aggression.’

            I don’t think I’m doing a good job describing my position. I agree that this is ridiculous, but it’s not narcissistic. When I talk about the influence of narcissism on identity politics, I’m talking about the urge to use other people as a means to express one’s own identity. For example, a gay couple trying to force a cake-baking bigot to bake them a wedding cake. There is simply no need for this. It’s not that I think the bigot is correct, it’s that the act of forcing the bigot to uphold someone else’s identity is an act of narcissism. The same is true for people who get uptight about pronouns. It’s not that their position is wrong, it’s that when we try to force other people’s language to uphold our own personal identities, we’ve crossed into narcissism.

            This is why I say modern identity politics is in part distinguished by society’s more modern tendency toward narcissism. You’re right about the power of symbols and imagery, but the examples you’ve provided so far are not really narcissistic symbols. A better example might be some of the nazi propaganda, with those shirtless youths carrying swords and stuff. The idea that we can become a master race of bare-chested swordsmen is an overtly narcissistic appeal.

          • King Goat

            First, I wouldn’t say you’re not doing a bad job in describing your position, just as likely I may be misunderstanding it. I know we’ve had our differences here, but I’d like to say I appreciate the generally polite exchange we’ve been having over this.

            Second, I’m not sure the example is so much ‘ridiculous’ or that it’s not an example of narcissism (and here I may be doing a poor job in describing my position!). I was raised in the South. The war *has* to be described as the War of Northern Aggression because otherwise something that many Southerners take to be an apex of heritage and pride, the Confederate effort, might be tarnished with the reality that that effort was tied to some really morally odiousness. ‘Southern-ness,’ as an identity (and boy is it one!), has for many become tied to the Confederacy, and for many Southern whites it’s the only viable identity they’ve got (many have lost touch with ethnic traditions due to past assimilation, and one can’t have a general ‘white’ pride without naturally seeming quite boorish). So, as a historical, factual matter it might be ridiculous, sure, but as a socio-psychological matter it’s quite expected and sensible…It’s also wrapped in narcissism, because Lost Cause Southernism is all about how Southerners are special-we’re specially polite, specially resilient, martially special (we held off the more powerful North and such as the myth goes), and, in the end, we’re specially virtuous. American by birth, Southern by the *grace of God*! We’re special and we bring something special to the nation (world?) that it disdains to it’s loss and peril. I was raised in this, and if that’s not narcissism I don’t know what is! And so, when and where we can, all ‘good’ Southerners *insist* that the Civil War be called The War of Northern Aggression, that Lee and Davis not be referred to as traitors or slaveowners, but as heroes and statesmen, that the Civil War be characterized as a conflict over ‘state’s rights’ not ‘slavery,’ etc., . Terminology and imagery is *very* important, *because* the alternate terminology and imagery suggests that our identity is not as special as we assert it is.

          • Okay, I don’t know a lot about Southern culture since I’m an import here, but it sounds like we’re converging.

            I live in Texas, and when I moved here I was struck by the impression that, at least where I live, it seems like a high-narcissism society. One way to produce narcissism in children, for example, is to have one highly domineering parent with arbitrary rules (usually the father) and one over-protective parent (usually the mother). There is a lot of that going on around here, in my observation.

            And actually, what you’re describing does indeed sound like various expressions of narcissism to me. So I think we’re in agreement there. I guess the only potential disagreement is the extent to which things have always been thus in society more broadly. I would tend to say no, but perhaps it has been an important aspect of Southern culture for much longer than I ever imagined.

        • Theresa Klein

          I think the salient difference is outlined by Andrew Cohen in the original post. Identity politics claims the primacy of the group rather than an individual. Any group of individuals can band together and be an interest group. In order for it to count as identity politics, it has to involve the presumption of the primacy of the group – that one’s politics and interests are defined by membership in one’s group, what’s good for the group must be good for you, and failing to advance the interests of one’s identity group is a kind of false consciousness.

          • Lacunaria

            I agree, and I think that corroborates the hallmarks of identity politics which I’ve mentioned, including group pursuits over universal pursuits, measuring and achieving justice by statistical proportions, etc. As you say, what’s good/bad for the group statistically is good/oppressive for you individually.

  • R.Levine

    I agree with the general sentiment here, but the devil’s advocate position should be obvious: sometimes we are members of groups, sometimes we have no choice in the matter, and sometimes that group membership is significant.

    There are examples of this that are so obvious that they seem silly to point out: when I go to the doctor with headaches and nausea, they don’t bother to investigate whether I might be pregnant, since I’m male. Males are at zero risk for pregnancy. Obviously.

    But being male, or from a particular geographic or ethnic background, or having a particular sexual orientation, etc. might put me at greater risk for something else, and that will be and should be reflected in the physician’s line of questioning when I present with something.

    Likewise, sometimes group membership will entail different risks for the outcomes of policies. That doesn’t mean it isn’t noble to aspire to treat everyone as individualistically as possible, or that members of group A have to keep their mouths shut so that group B can speak, or that one has to endorse any of the divisive “identity-first” style of politics… but at the same time, I don’t think you can expect people not to occasionally notice “hey, I’m in group B… policy X is likely to hit me wayyy harder than it hits people in group A. Therefore, as a B, I feel that policy X… etc. etc. etc.

    • CJColucci

      sometimes we are members of groups, sometimes we have no choice in the matter, and sometimes that group membership is significant
      Hence the salience of “identity politics” among the historically put-upon. Nothing like a Hitler to turn a lukewarm semite into a self-conscious Jew.

      • Lacunaria

        Sure, but what does it mean when identity politics increases long after Hitler or slavery or suffrage?

        • CJColucci

          When the historically put-upon cease to be put-upon — which isn’t up to them — we’ll see.

          • Lacunaria

            It sound like you are answering “when will identity politics stop?”, but my question was: what does it mean when identity politics increases long after being “put-upon” vastly decreases?

            I ask because the pattern we see is opposite your motivating example. We are nowhere near the apex of genocide, at least in the US, and yet identity politics has been increasing.

          • CJColucci

            I didn’t want to repeat what people said above, which covers the point.

          • Lacunaria

            Do you mean Sean’s post that ends “Nobody does hostility to the current system like an incipient elite.”? If not, please do repeat since Sean’s explanation does not seem approving and I got the sense that you are.

          • CJColucci

            No, I mean the series of posts about how things expand or explode not when the forces of oppression are at their worst, but as some of the worst of the pressure slacks off. A Hitler may create an explicit Jewish political identity by virtue of his anti-Semitic program, but it is hard to imagine a program of Jewish identity politics in the Reich. “Never again” is another matter.
            As for approval or disapproval, I would no more approve or disapprove of identity politics than I would approve or disapprove of weather.

          • Lacunaria

            Most of that discussion seems to describe that it happens, not why it happens. Sean’s was the only actual explanation I could find. What other explanation do you see?

            Perhaps not during the Reich, but the Holocaust directly impelled the rise of Zionism and, as you point out, “Never again”. That follows your proposed pattern stemming from an atrocity. Modern US identity politics doesn’t.

            Fascinating that you think of identity politics as amoral. I think of it as moral when it appeals to universal values (which ironically may not make it strictly “identity politics”) and often immoral when it appeals to special status for select identities.

          • CJColucci

            I’m not sure what you think needs an explanation beyond the level of common sense. Is there anything to explain about group A developing “identity politics” when group B, or groups B,C & D pursue an anti-A political agenda, not necessarily of Holocaust or slavery or explicit Jim Crow level? Or about an identity-based political response not arising until the pressures from the anti-A forces ease enough to make it feasible? Or is the question to be explained why those with skin in the game, like group A, continue with “identity politics” longer than people with no such skin in the game think, based on whatever they think they know about the situation facing A, necessary or advisable? Lots of people, claiming the mantle of “universal values,” think they know when enough is enough. I claim no such knowledge myself and approach others’ assertions of such knowledge with considerable skepticism.

          • Lacunaria

            Unless you want to say that all politics is identity politics, as Goat basically did to evade narrower criticisms, then yes, a significant rise in identity politics without a corresponding motivating factor (such as the Holocaust) begs for an explanation of cause, which is why this was being discussed above as a paradox.

            Anti-A forces have been eased for a long time, which is why Sean’s framework of relative resentment seems plausible, perhaps together with having a moral-and-legal civil rights hammer lying around.

            Your “when enough is enough” analysis is too abstracted to be of much use, but it at least helps me understand why you consider identity politics to be amoral. Thanks.

          • CJColucci

            I think we are talking past each other, but since this has been a civil and substantive discussion, I’ll make one more try.

            1. I do not think that all politics is “identity politics” and I don’t think King Goat does either. Speaking only for myself, I think there is a kind of politics in which identifiable groups seek what they believe (often wrongly) to be to their objective advantage and a kind of politics in which identifiable groups oppose another identifiable group because they are that other identifiable group. To simplify greatly, a politics based on what the working classes want to get out of the general scrum of goody-grabbing is not identity politics, but a politics of the white working class that seeks not only to grab the goodies for the working class but to keep Those People, whether working class or not, from getting the goodies is identity politics.

            2. What we generally refer to when we talk about “identity politics” is people responding politically to being the target of someone else’s identity politics, much as nobody notices “class warfare” until the losers get antsy. What would a civil rights movement had been about in the absence of white supremacist identity politics?

            3. Oppression, consistently and ruthlessly applied, works. Hence the frequently-observed phenomenon of resistance rising as pressure eases, making identity politics both feasible and potentially effective. This can be a long and gradual process. Some political responses were possible during Jim Crow that were impossible during slavery. Some political responses that were impossible during Jim Crows became possible within living memory. Some political responses that were impossible, say, 20 years ago, are possible now.

            4. Which leads to the question of “Why are You People still griping? Didn’t we take care of all that in [1866/1868/1954/1964/2008, etc.]?” This has been a conundrum for libertarians and the like for a long time. Why don’t religious, socially-conservative, often economically conservative black folk join up with us instead of those rootless cosmopolitan secular lib’ruls with whom they have so much less in common? Must be some kind of identity politics. And it is. One side of our political scrum can’t win without appealing, directly or indirectly, in code or with the bark off, to a significant, though not dominant, part of our population that is actively hostile to the interests of black folk as such. Another can’t win without appealing to the interests of black folks as such. As between being taken for granted and being actively opposed, the choice is simple. The “identity politics” of the put-upon group will end when the put-upon no longer see it as useful, which probably depends more upon their opponents than upon them. And certainly doesn’t depend on people lacking skin in the game who think it has gone on long enough.

          • Lacunaria

            Thanks for elaborating!

            (1) So, by your definition, identity politics hinges upon opposition to some other identity group(s) (“Those People”)?

            Goat’s definition of identity politics was: a grouping of people with (1) similar experiences/attitudes/values, (2) often with perceived disadvantage, and (3) banding together politically. That is what seemed exceedingly broad because it is precariously hinged on #2 and it evades the unique hallmarks of identity politics as a modern phenomenon.

            (2) If identity politics is reactionary to identity politics, then where does it begin? Can one people assert disadvantage without another people asserting superiority?

            (3) That makes sense as a broad pattern and is corroborated by the increased sensitivities that we see over time, but the basic premises of those cases of “identity politics” has also changed over time.

            For example, modern identity politics emphasizes measuring and achieving justice through identity proportions and statistics, the harm from cultural appropriation and micro-aggressions, aversion to assimilation, self-identification to the point of delusion, etc.

            Whether we retroactively incorporate past movements into the term or not, these are the hallmarks of identity politics today and the reasons it is broadly criticized.

            (4) I agree that the mechanisms will be employed as long as they are useful. We also see white cis males saying they are put-upon (e.g. laid off or held back explicitly for identity ratio reasons). Do they have skin in the game?

          • King Goat

            “it is precariously hinged on #2 and it evades the unique hallmarks of identity politics as a modern phenomenon.”

            I’m not sure what you’re getting at here. Precariously hinged? I said “often.” People don’t need a perceived sense of disadvantage to be more motivated to band together with those of similar experiences, but it sure helps! And “evades the unique hallmarks of identity politics as a modern phenomenon?” What ‘unique hallmarks’ do you have in mind?

            I’m guessing you have in mind things like your list in number 3. These are just not unique hallmarks of identity politics as a modern phenomenon. The Lost Cause movement of Southern Whites (or heck, even more prominently the South pre-Confederacy), for example, engaged in them (they voted as a bloc for Southern politicians and demanded representation in things like the judiciary and other federal appointments, they didn’t use the term ‘micro-aggression’ but instead ‘assaults on Southern honor’, but otherwise they were just as hyper-sensitive to what they saw as slights to the South, they asserted a strong sense and promotion of Southern folkways and cultural practices often accusing Northern ‘carpetbaggers’ who had the temerity to move South and set up shop of both undercutting and wrongly appropriating Southern culture, and as to self-identification to the point of delusion, the Lost Cause movement existed to promote a delusion [that the Confederacy was a noble cause about freedom, not about the preservation of a brutally practiced form of slavery] because the truth was seen to denigrate Southern identity).

            This isn’t to ‘pick on the South’ (of course, the South has long and loudly claimed to be picked on, which is another characteristic critics of ‘modern’ identity politics ascribe to its practitioners), similar things could be said about other groups throughout US history (Catholics long banded together to vote as a bloc politically and demanded Catholic representation in appointments [the ‘Catholic seat’ on SCOTUS], to look for and denounce ‘micro-aggressions’ [criticisms of the practices/institutions of the Catholic church, even when those criticisms were ‘facially neutral’ criticisms of policy that just disproportionately impacted Catholic institutions [like public support for private schools], etc.).

          • Lacunaria

            Great job providing historical examples of identity politics that are similar to the modern movement which coined the term! Coincidentally, many of the criticisms here apply against those examples, too.

            The question then is: why expand the term to encompass practically everything, as your definition does, so that it verges on being useless?

            Why not define it by the hallmarks of the modern movement which coined it, from identity vs. universal appeals (as I quoted from the Stanford link), to statistical justice, etc.?

          • CJColucci

            A couple of quick responses:

            1. The paradox of the first mover: If “identity politics” is a reaction to someone else’s “identity politics,” where does the first “identity politics” come from?

            As I understand contemporary discussions of identity politics, people are talking about the identity politics practiced by the reactors, because the first mover’s identity politics are not generally recognized as such. That was the point of my reference to “class warfare,” which is commonly invoked by advocates of the winning side in a class struggle when the losers or their advocates kick up a fuss. Strictly speaking, both sides are engaged in class warfare, or identity politics, but nobody seems to be curious about why group A wants to screw group B precisely for being group B, as opposed to because group B is an objective stumbling block to the self-regarding interests of group A. (Such feelings being foreign to me, I have no explanation other than the perversity of human nature. Such questions might profitably be directed to members of group A.) People do, however, seem to want an explanation for group B banding together as self-conscious members of group B in opposition to group A’s attempts to screw them.

            2. Tactics: Certain folks are annoyed at the particular tactics currently used by practitioners of identity politics. I don’t think they are that much different from what has been done in the past, as King Goat has explained, but I have not addressed tactics and do not intend to. I leave that to the practitioners.

            3. Skin in the Game: As a white cis male myself, I do not feel put-upon because of that status and expect to glide cheerfully through what remains of my life as one of the lucky ones. If things change, I may well get involved in identity politics, and would then consider it perfectly legitimate to do so. My fellow white cis males who think they are put-upon for being white, cis males are, in my view, mistaken either about whether they are being put-upon at all, or, if they are being put-upon, the basis on which they are being put-upon. But they could be right and I could be wrong.

          • Lacunaria

            You are humble, which is good, and also abstract and broad, all of which make it hard to object to those points. 🙂

            But it is helpful that you basically think of identity politics as class warfare.

            I think any of our remaining contention is in the details, which is why matching the term to the modern movement which coined it is better. Then we can say useful things about “identity politics”, including similar historical cases, as Goat listed.

          • CJColucci

            Humility is my greatest virtue.

          • Theresa Klein

            @CJColluci,
            Great comments. I am really enjoying your responses in this thread. One question I’m interested in is: Why do so many white men feel put upon for being white? I don’t think this is just a matter of white men believing that black people are no longer oppressed, as many of them seem to believe that it’s not *just* that blacks aren’t oppressed but that blacks are now seeking an unfair advantage (via identity politics) and that white males are hence now an oppressed group.
            Part of this might be that victim culture has become the norm, as Conor Fiedersdorf argues here .
            But I think another part of this is a rejection of being guilt tripped about slavery and segregation. A lot of the left’s language about “privilege” is meant to make present day white males feel morally responsible for things that occurred before they were born. It’s a collectivization of white people as part of the tactics of identity politics – that whites are to be held collectively guilty for the actions of white people who are mostly now dead. That their identity as white people renders them guilty because it’s the community that matters not the individual. This sort of thing feels good not just because it’s a way of striking back at the supposed oppressors, but also because it’s turning the tables – making white people feel what blacks feel, treating them like a uniform collective instead of as individuals.
            But, like most normal people, white men react to those efforts to assign collective guilt by become defensive. And that defensiveness includes denying that racism exists any longer, adopting the tactics of the left, and attempting to claim victim status for themselves.
            So in that sense I would say that the left is actually creating white identity politics by collectivizing white people, and that’s politically counter-productive. Again, not that white men actually are put upon, but the effort to make them feel guilty makes them feel as if they were. (Of course, someone can only make you feel guilty if you decide to let them – if you decide to identify with “white people” as a group. And that’s the argument I would make to white cis men who feel put upon. )

          • Theresa Klein

            Anti-A forces have been eased for a long time

            Is that an objective fact? Or just the perspective of B, C and D? Shouldn’t A have something to say in the matter?

          • Lacunaria

            Anti-A easing is objective insofar as slavery >> jim crow >> disparate impact, or women as property >> lack of suffrage >> statistical disparities

            A can say whatever they want, just like everyone else.

          • Theresa Klein

            I’d say it’s objective that there has been easing in the sense that there is less oppression now than in the past, but it’s not objective that the easing has been complete. Some white people seem to feel that racism isn’t a significant force in society any more. Many black people disagree. And this disagreement is not just about disparate impacts and statistical disparities. The white people who claim racism doesn’t exist anymore would like to say that any statistical differences are purely due to intrinsic differences in ability, and that disparate impacts are purely incidental, and that therefore there is no grounds for blacks to complain. They also like to say that black people and progressive complaints are *purely* about the statistical differences per se, i.e. that statistical differences are ipso facto racist, not that the statistical differences are due to lingering prejudice. This is a strawman. There are many arguments regarding how ongoing racism continues to systematically impact blacks, both in term of lingering social bias and in terms of political power disparities. In any case, black people need to be allowed to make those arguments and not simply have white people declare that racism is no longer an issue.

          • Lacunaria

            I agree, prejudice will never be zero, in part because correlations can be useful. The question was just why identity politics is skyrocketing after Anti-A has substantially decreased.

            In any case, black people need to be allowed to make those arguments and not simply have white people declare that racism is no longer an issue.

            Both are allowed, they just disagree. The solution is to focus on common ground. Identity politics is the exact opposite of that.

            Make a list of the actual changes you’d like to see. Police cameras? Neighborhood police? Legalize drug use? Change police tactics or punishment?

            How do those benefit from appealing to racism? You don’t have to prove racism to want cops to stop shooting innocent kids or adults.

  • Lacunaria

    Andrew Cohen, your first two links erroneously include a trailing “)” which breaks the LiberalCurrents link.

  • Sean II

    “I don’t know if any serious political philosophers accept that view now.”

    A sure sign that what you’ve defeated is a straw man.

    No wonder the thing that’s bothering you won’t go away, if you’ve only burned it’s effigy.

  • DBritt

    “But here’s the thing: if the metaphysical view is false—if people can choose away from the groups they are born to—its not clear why the phenomenological view matters.”

    It is also metaphysically false to point to a category of “fat” people. Fat people can and do become thin all the time and vice versa. So why are we so committed to the phenomenological categories of “fat” and “thin?” Because that transformation, while possible, is by no means easy. There is a substantial barrier. Your metaphysical model rounds that barrier to zero. Maybe some phenomenological models round that barrier to infinity. But wouldn’t the most reasonable and correct model acknowledge that the barrier is neither zero nor infinite? And if your goal is to help people behave more like “agents” you should put 99% of your focus on the barrier itself?

  • CJColucci

    sometimes we are members of groups, sometimes we have no choice in the matter, and sometimes that group membership is significant
    Hence the rise of “identity politics” among the historically put-upon. Nothing like a Hitler to make the most lukewarm Semite into a self-conscious Jew.

    • King Goat

      It’s interesting that critics of ‘modern’ identity politics don’t talk about Jewish identity much to my knowledge. This is probably because the Right, recently, seems to allow for Jews a lot of what it criticizes that the Left has to say about people of color (that is, that anti-Semitism is a real problem and that Jewish self identity and policing of anti-Semitism is a natural thing). Facing horrendous discrimination, from the Diaspora to pogroms, and culminating in attempted genocide in the Holocaust, Jews have, quite naturally, formed a very strong sense of identity that informs their political and social identity, a sense of identity that is still strong even though pogroms and the forced wearing of yellow stars are ‘long’ in the past. This includes features that the Right criticizes and mocks when found among people of color, for example a strong sensitivity, what some (like Woody Allen, famously) even mock as a paranoia, about the chance for persecution and the need to be prepared for and fight against it ever taking wing again.

      • Lacunaria

        You’d expect a Right characterized by white supremacists to be anti-semitic, too.

        I have seen a strong Jewish social identity, but I don’t often see that translate into domestic Jewish identity politics, so there’s probably not much to talk about. Statistically, they also tend to do well despite historical discrimination against them, perhaps again for social rather than political reasons.

        About the closest analog is the Israel lobby, but its strength is more due to Evangelicals than Jews. The Right also doesn’t have much of a problem with nationalism per se and favors Israel for religious, moral, and pragmatic reasons.

        • King Goat

          The Right was historically anti-Jewish and Israel. It was when pro-Israel was framed as ‘those European looking Israelis vs. those dark skinned protesting Arabs’ that this changed. And that doesn’t conflict with white supremacy much, does it?

          And you don’t see much ‘Jewish identity politics?’ Jews are probably the most reliable voting bloc in recent US history save blacks.

          • Lacunaria

            It was when pro-Israel was framed as ‘those European looking Israelis vs. those dark skinned protesting Arabs’ that this changed.

            From where are you getting that? Because I have not seen that from zionists nor from the movement as a whole.

            And you don’t see much ‘Jewish identity politics?’ Jews are probably the most reliable voting bloc in recent US history save blacks.

            Now you seem to be defining “identity politics” even broader than “interest group” and making it simply a voting statistic. That’s not “primacy of the group”, as Theresa described Cohen — unless you are arguing that 70% of Jews vote Dem in order to help Jews as a group? If so, by what Dem policies?

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Right you are. Seventy-five percent or so of Jews reliably vote Democratic because of misplaced (IMHO) idealism. Affirmative action, government set-asides, and so on run counter to their financial interests. So do high marginal tax rates. They, Marx forfend, vote against their “class” interests.

    • Theresa Klein

      Similarly, the “palestinian” people did not exist until they lived under Israeli occupation for decades. Shared suffering creates group identity.

  • Peter from Oz

    ”He that is not free is not an agent, but a patient.”
    John Wesley