Yesterday, I argued that the center-left’s cultural marginalization of the center-right is a form of identity politics that fuels the current vicious cycle of race/gender-based identity politics and makes progressives and conservatives alike worse. Having called it a “retrograde exercise,” I want to expand on the point to examine where the vicious cycle leads.
Here’s a small passage from Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism — a book that is not about identity politics, but which cannot avoid the topic in a number of instances:
“Inherent to the Enlightenment is the idea that all mankind could be reasoned with. The philosophes argued that men were all over the world, each blessed with the faculty of reason. It was the European right which believed that mankind was broken up into groups, classes, sects, races, nationalities, and other gradations in the great chain of being. The reactionary de Maistre railed against the notion that there were any ‘universal rights of man.’ In his most famous statement on the subject he declared, ‘Now, there is no such thing as “man” in this world. In my life I have seen Frenchmen, Italians, Russians, and so on. I even know, thanks to Montesquieu, that one can be Persian. But as for man, I declare I’ve never encountered him. If he exists, I don’t know about it.’
De Maistre meant that we are all prisoners of our racial and ethnic identities. (He didn’t mention gender, but that would go without saying.) Indeed, it is almost impossible to tell the difference between today’s identity politics and the identity politics of the fascist past. As one fascist sympathizer put it in the 1930s, ‘Our understanding struggles to go beyond the fatal error of believing in the equality of all human beings and tries to recognize the diversity of peoples and races.’ How many college campuses hear that kind of rhetoric every day?
*** Indeed, the case for Enlightenment principles of individualism and reason itself is deemed anti-minority. Richard Delgado, a founder of critical race theory, writes: “If you’re black or Mexican, you should flee Enlightenment based democracies like mad, assuming you have any choice.”
Today, there are neo-reactionaries on the right who reject the Enlightenment and seek a “Dark Enlightenment.” They have no use for democratic republicanism, preferring a return to monarchy or the adoption of some form of corporate governance. They are open about what they want. They have virtually no purchase in mainstream politics (though Stephen Bannon’s comments on obscure Italian philosopher Julius Evola raised eyebrows in part because Evola is an influence on the neo-reactionaries).
Conversely, if you’re a writer immersed in identity politics who merely implies that the most likely way America’s race issues get solved is violent revolution, you can remain not only mainstreamed by the center-left, but also celebrated. The New York Times may publish an op-ed noting that such identity politics are similar to those of the alt-right… but how many NYT readers have an epiphany based on a single column? How many reflexively dismiss it due to confirmation bias?
That America’s center-left doesn’t notice this problem is a manifestation of the dynamic Megan McArdle described in the 2010 column I linked yesterday:
“It’s obviously no surprise that the lunatic BS of our own side doesn’t strike us nearly as forcefully as the absolutely appallingly unforgiveable wingnuttery of the opposition.”
Insofar as the center-left dominates America’s cultural institutions, their blind spot drives the vicious cycle of anger and hostility I mentioned yesterday. Equally significant, the center-left (and some of the center-right) remain blind to where the path of this retrograde cycle leads if we don’t seek an exit.
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