Some of you may have heard of the term “identity politics” but may not be sure just what it means. The issue of identity politics is a relatively recent one. It just did not exist as it now does a few short decades ago. But today we see it occurring throughout the West. It certainly is evident in a pronounced way in America, and Australia sees it being played out as well.
While the term itself has only been widely used for the past few years, the reality lying behind it has been around for several decades now. One online definition of the term is as follows: “a tendency for people of a particular religion, race, social background, etc., to form exclusive political alliances, moving away from traditional broad-based party politics.”
By way of introduction, let me run with some incisive words from Victor Davis Hanson. Two years ago he spoke of “The End Of Identity Politics.” He looked at how some other nations are hopelessly divided and splintered, and then looks at the American scene. He noted how the Founding Father worked for a united America:
The United States could have gone the way of these other nations. Yet, it is one of the few successful multiracial societies in history. America has survived slavery, civil war, the Japanese-American internment, and Jim Crow—and largely because it has upheld three principles for unifying, rather than dividing, individuals.
The first concerns the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution, which were unique documents for their time and proved transcendent across time and space. Both documents enshrined the ideal that all people were created equal and were human first, with inalienable rights from God that were protected by government. These founding principles would eventually trump innate tribal biases and prejudices to grant all citizens their basic rights.
But all that radically changed from around the 60s onwards:
This shift from the ideal of the melting pot to the triumph of salad-bowl separatism occurred, in part, because the Democratic Party found electoral resonance in big government’s generous entitlements and social programs tailored to particular groups. By then, immigration into the United States had radically shifted and become less diverse. Rather than including states in Europe and the former British Commonwealth, most immigrants were poorer and almost exclusively hailed from the nations of Latin America, Asia, and Africa, resulting in poorer immigrants who, upon arrival, needed more government help. Another reason for the shift was the general protest culture of the Vietnam era, which led to radical changes in everything from environmental policy to sexual identity, and thus saw identity politics as another grievance against the status quo.
A half-century later, affirmative action and identity politics have created a huge diversity industry, in which millions in government, universities, and the private sector are entrusted with teaching the values of the Other and administering de facto quotas in hiring and admissions. In 2016, Hillary Clinton ran a campaign on identity politics, banking on the notion that she could reassemble various slices of the American electorate, in the fashion that Barack Obama had in 2008 and 2012, to win a majority of voters. She succeeded, as did Obama, in winning the popular vote by appealing directly to the unique identities of gays, Muslims, feminists, blacks, Latinos, and an array of other groups, but misjudged the Electoral College and so learned that a numerical majority of disparate groups does not always translate into winning key swing states.
In essence, identity politics is a leftist, Marxist view of the world which says that we need to categorise human beings into various groups and political blocs, usually for political advantage. It tends to pit one group against another. Sadly the left has perfected the art of playing identity politics.
It is a divisive game which tears us apart instead of bringing us together. By emphasising various groups – be they women, or blacks, or transgenders, or Muslims, or what have you – and clamouring for special rights for each group, the culture as a whole suffers and is fragmented.
Indeed, the left’s obsession with things like race, skin colour, class, sexuality and gender makes it all but impossible for a cohesive and united society to exist. It creates enmity and hatred, and reduces us to warring tribes and factions. Indeed, the more the left pushes radical identity politics, the more racists, sexist and bigoted it becomes.
We see this especially in the universities, which of course is dominated by the left. There we find that certain groups are becoming an endangered species. If you happen to have the misfortune to be a white “cisgender” male who is also conservative and a Christian, you will have a hard time getting a fair go at many Western universities.
We certainly see this happening all the time when speakers fitting that description try to hold a public meeting on campus. If the speaking session is not shut down altogether, it is harassed and intimidated by mobs of leftist activists who seem to have no belief at all in freedom of speech.
But it is not just about visiting speakers: the curriculum as a whole is impacted heavily with all this. As just one example, consider a 2017 study looking at Australian universities. It carefully examined 746 history courses on offer in 35 different universities. It found that “undergraduate history degrees in Australia have become dominated by identity politics – where subjects are reduced to class, gender and race – to the detriment of important teachings on Western Civilisation.”
It is important to distinguish all this from what has gone before. For example, the American civil rights movement was not a case of identity politics. It was about getting rid of differences – in this case based on race. It sought inclusion and acceptance, not exclusion and segregation.
Modern-day multiculturalism tends to do the opposite. It insists that all cultures are equal (with some perhaps being even be more equal than others), and claims that we can somehow all get along without some overriding structure of agreed-upon values and beliefs, Pure multiculturalism offers us nothing that unites us.
Tribalism of course has long been around, but that is not identity politics. The new leftist insistence on identity politics simply exacerbates and inflames tribal tendencies. It makes matters worth. In contrast is how Western values have long operated.
And for the most part they sprang out of the Judeo-Christian worldview. This really established the notion that we are all equal, that we are all of special and unique, because we are all made in the image and likeness of God. But our politicised identity politics groups us into various ideological mobs and pits us against other such groups.
There is nothing wrong with seeking to fit in to certain groups or identities, to want to belong, and so on. We do it all the time. But that is now being heavily politicised. It has turned into an ideological battle in which certain minority groups are “good” and certain other groups – often the majority – are “bad”.
As mentioned, this has really only come about several decades ago, and it seems to be getting worse. John Howard was right to warn in 2015 about the “insidious rise of identity politics”. He said the job of government is to govern for all, and seek social cohesion, and not appeal and cater to various identity groups.
He is exactly right. The politicisation of already existing tribalism for political ends is not going to make Australia great again – it will pull us apart and result in the end of the Australian experiment. Mutual obligation and respect for others is the way to proceed here, not resorting to political enclaves that war against each other.
Wherever possible we need to emphasise what is common to all of us and not what makes us so very different. That may not always be easy, and there certainly is a time and place to stress certain differences and why we are unique. But the left’s identity politics is not about this – it is about division for political gain.