As long as certain groups face marginalisation because of who they are, identity will be a political issueby Nesrine Malik / November 14, 2018 / Leave a comment
Delving into today’s identity politics debate inevitably begins with a protracted chicken-and-egg discussion. Which came first, white identity politics or the left-wing activist response to it? Is identity politics a natural response to the marginalisation of minorities, or a departure from universal goals that created tribal fractures where none existed before?
The first wave of books on identity politics came after the Trump and Brexit surprises of 2016, when (mostly) white men of liberal credentials announced that it was the left’s fault that we were in this mess. The US academic Mark Lilla wrote that “American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.”
David Goodhart, the founding editor of Prospect, chimed in with his own condemnation. For Goodhart, rooted “Somewheres” had been motivated to vote in unexpected ways because the rootless “Anywheres” had alienated them. Other writers of similar pedigree argued that identity politics provoked white people to vote along the lines of their own identity, something which had not occurred to them before liberalism’s coddling of minorities. What had previously been an academic discussion now filtered into the speeches of government ministers such as Michael Gove. The phrase “identity politics,” in certain circles, became shorthand for uppity groups who will not let the real business of politics proceed smoothly. Few in these circles paused to ask whether that real business, as they defined it, had always involved marginalising people based on their identity.
Two years on and a new wave of books has arrived on the same subject. Francis Fukuyama’s Identity starts by defending his most famous work. Fukuyama is rather annoyed, it turns out, by being subjected to a barrage of questions about whether our current predicament has invalidated his thesis in The End of History and The Last Man that liberal democracy would reign supreme. He would like to make clear that there was a question mark at the end of the essay that birthed his 1992 book and that, in fact, he did mention in the last chapters that “neither nationalism or religion were about to disappear as forces in world politics.”
Still, Fukuyama acknowledges that identity politics has grown…