The Key Arguments
The political arguments behind the critique of identity can be boiled down to the following three:
Strongly felt ethnic or cultural identities will inevitably produce a problem of conflicting loyalties within a larger grouping, such as a nation, in which many such identities are included; Schlesinger for example targets what he calls the “cult of ethnicity” because it “exaggerates differences, intensifies resentments and antagonisms, drives ever deeper the awful wedges between races and nationalities.”(Schlesinger 1991, 226)
If identity by itself intensifies conflict, then identity based movements will weaken the possibility of coalition and lead to separatism. Call this the separatism problem.
A second criticism of identity politics is that it “encourages the reification of group identities”, as Fraser argues, which in turn leads to “conformism, intolerance, and patriarchalism.”(Fraser 2000, 112-113)
Where the separatism problem worries about relations between groups, this criticism worries about the kinds of problems that exist in intragroup relations: the policing for conformity, the arbitrary defining of authenticity, the de-emphasis and discouragement of internal differences, and the preempting of open debate by castigating internal critics as less authentic and disloyal.
Thus, identity politics curtails the individual’s ability to creatively interpret their identity as well as to determine its degree of relevance, or irrelevance, in their own lives. Because it reifies identity, then, identity politics constrains individual freedom. Call this the reification problem.
there is the problem identities pose for rational deliberation, especially over public ends. Rationality mandates that we must be able to subject the claims embedded in cultural traditions to rational reflection, and this requires achieving enough distance from our social identities such that we can objectify and thus evaluate them. Individuals need to be able to enter the arena of public debate and action as dispassionate reasoners, weighing evidence on the basis of its merit no matter its relationship or implications for the future of one’s own social group. Call this the reasoning problem.
These three problems involve (at least) three important corresponding assumptions, without which the above claims would not be convincing. I am classifying these as assumptions because they are deep-seated beliefs in the western philosophical and political traditions rarely given explicit articulation or defense. I will list them here and then examine them more carefully in the following, final section.
(1a) The separatism problem follows from the assumption that strongly felt identity is necessarily exclusivist. This is what is behind Roosevelt and Wilson’s arguments against the hyphenated citizen, but it is also behind more recent claims that identity politics exacerbates differences. Identities are thought to represent a set of interests and experiential knowledge or perspective that differentiates them from other identities, thus creating difficulties of communication as well as political unity.
Call this the assumption of exclusivity. This assumption is also operative in the reification problem, but the main assumption behind the reification problem is the following.
(2a)Whatever is imposed from the outside as an attribution of the self is necessarily a constraint on individual freedom. Social identities, by the very fact that they are social and thus imposed on the individual, inherently constrain individual freedom. Even if the individual is allowed to interpret the meaning of their identity, they are forced to do so, in so far as they are forced to engage with the identities imposed on them by the arbitrary circumstances of their birth. We are generally born into social identities, after all, we don’t choose them. Many thus believe that even those who are given identities involving privilege are made less free by this despite the fact that their privilege increases their options vis-a-vis others; privileged persons are forced to have privilege whether they want it or not and this constitutes a constraint. If one considers identities associated with oppression that carry the weight of discrimination, fear, and hatred, and that did not even exist prior to the conditions of oppression (like black identity), it can seem even more odd that anyone would wilfully choose to be constrained by such an identity.
On this view, then, identities are constraining, tout court, no matter whether privileged or oppressed. The problems of conformism et al that are associated with reification follow from identity per se, and not only some forms of it. Conformism is itself a kind of social imposition; one cannot be a conformist in a class of one. Given this, if a political organization or movement is based on and therefore emphasizes identity, those constraints will be emphasized and even maximized for the individuals involved in that organization or movement. Call this the assumption of the highest value being individual freedom.
(3a) The reasoning problem associated with identity follows from the assumption that identities involve a set of interests, values, beliefs and practices. Therefore, the sort of reasoning that one is called on to do as a political leader or simply as a citizen engaging with public issues of concern requires transcendence of one’s identity, or as much transcendence as possible, in order to be able to weigh the evidence rationally and without prejudice, interpret the relevant data, and give order to conflicting values. Reasoning, since the Enlightenment, is defined by just this sort of objectivizing, reflective operation, in which one detaches oneself from one’s assumptions, or “foreknowledge,” in order to put them to the test of rationality. To the extent that identities are like containers that group sets of beliefs and practices across categories of individuals, and to the extent that a strongly felt identity is defined by its commitment to these beliefs and practices, then it follows that the strength of identity will exist in inverse proportion to one’s capacity for rational thought. Call this the objectivizing assumption.
These assumptionsÑthat identities are exclusivist, imposed from outside and therefore constraining on individuals, and that their substantive content provides a counterweight to rationality—are hardwired into western Anglo traditions of thought; by that I mean that they are rarely argued for or even made explicit. In the remainder of this chapter, I will provide some reasons that should, at least prima facie, call these assumptions into question.
we enjoy our freedom as solicitous witnesses of reality rather than as its manipulators and masters.
freedom is not at all an indiviual or collective achievement of will power. it is a public event that escapes individual and collective control.
sovereignty is the capacity to control the outcome of action. like mastery it is commonly understood to be a condition of freedom.
Robert Heilbroner has spoken of the “inverted telescope through which humanity looks to the future.
In Gore’s words: “The future whispers while the present shouts.”.
We Do Not Inherit the Earth from Our Ancestors; We Borrow It from Our Children
hannah arendt between past and future
aristotle Nichomachean ethics
benjimin barber Strong democracy
isaiah berlin four essays on liberty
cm browra the greek experience
lester brown building a sustainable society
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john s dryzek rational economy
robyn eckersley environmentalism and political theory
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jurgen habermas toward a rational society
joel jay kassiola the death of industrial civilization
cb macpherson the political theory of possessive individualism
john stuart mill on liberty
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mark sagoff the economy of the earth
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max weber the protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism
hannah arendt the life of the mind
raymond aron the opium of the intellectuals
daniel bell the end of ideology
william e connolly the terms of political discourse
f.m. cornford from religon to philosophy
dante germino beyond ideology
david hume humes moral and political philosophy
aldous huxley brave new world
arthur koestler the yogi and the commissar
vi lenin what is to be done
karl mannheim ideology and utopia
goerge orwell nineteen eighty-four
plato apology, euthyphro, phaedrus, republic and symposium
richard rorty contingency, irony and solidarity
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carol gilligam in adifferent voice
nancy hartsock money sex and power
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john stuart mill the subjection of women
ralph millband marcism and politics
susan moller okin justice gender and the family
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carole pateman the sexual contract
john rawls a theory of justice
micheal ryan marxism and deconstruction
charles tayler multicultureism and the politics of recongnition
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micheal walzer spheres of justice
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william e connolly identity/difference
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michel foucault discipline and punish and power/knowledge
anthony giddens central problesm in social theory
harold lasswell politics who gets what, when and how
jean-francious lyotard the postmodern condition
fredrich nietzsche on the genealogy of morals and beyond good and evil
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thomas hobbes leviathan
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melvin konner the tangled wing
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thucydides the peloponnesion war
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hans-georg gadamer reason in the age of science
clifford geertz the interpretation of cultures
john gunnel political thoery
thomas kuhn the structure of scientific revolutions
karl popper the logic of scientific discovery
gearge sabine a history of political theory
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eric voegelin the new science of politics
max weber the methodology of the social sciences
sheldon wolin politics and vision
alienation and revolution
poverty at least in modern age, is itself a symptom of the deeper maliase of class society.
equality and difference
it has been sugested that Westerners who “proclaim the equality of all mankind” are often the “stuanchest upholders of the cultural superiority of the West.” upholding the principle of equality for these Westernetrs means conferring the “right and duty of all mankind… to acceptthe ways of thinking of the Western societies.”
identity and difference
as employed here, the term politics of identity is not meant to be equated with what is often called identity politics. the latter term generally refers to the formation of political movements that base their power on the assumed uniformity of interests and character of certian groups of individual. Identity politics suggest that social groups have essential characteristcis that extend equally and homogeneously to all their members, effectively determining their political interests. in contrast, the politics of identity is concerned with differences and how these differences are politically negotiated. moreover, it is occupied not solely or even primarily with features of individuals and social groups that define their political life. the primary focus is the manner in which political life itself defines the features of individuals. the politics of identity, then, is also the politics of difference.
limiting power and respecting difference
the affirmation of difference should not create unecessary division or become an apology for neglect, provincialism, or narrow partisanship
the affirmation of difference of difference should not turn into an apology for divisiveness. this divisiveness often results from a presumtion that the members of particular races, economic classes, religons, ethic or gender groups constitute a homogensneous body that is essentially different.
Persistent Conflicts, Collective Memory, and Reconciliation