notes: identity politics is not compatible with democracy

a few quick notes on something that has been troubling me for a while.

some basic premises of democracy:

  • a demos: group of people with enough shared culture, aims, sense of solidarity
  • enables both voting on issues of interest to whole group AND acceptance of majority rule when it goes against them
  • presumption of equality, rationality and common humanity

identity politics:

  • national groupings seen as arbitrary or harmful
  • replaces these with demographic ‘identity’ groupings – sex, age, race etc
  • plays down importance of class (lip service in theory, little in practice)
  • demographic ‘identity’ groupings associated with a predetermined hierarchy of victimhood
  • this hierarchy is presumed to warp or wholly supplant political priorities as stated by any given demos
  • objections to this represent either oppression (if coming from someone ‘higher’ up the HoV) or false consciousness if from someone with more oppressed characteristics
  • solidarity for common political cause is rendered difficult or impossible because
    • no-one can speak for someone with different victim characteristics
    • hence large coalitions fragment into fractious special pleading by competing splinter groups
  • common humanity – or even enough cohesive group identity – as basis for overall unity of a demos is problematised  to the point where majority voting is no longer tolerated

identity politics often uses a deadening form of ‘tolerance’ to obscure the fact that the interests of different groups may be fundamentally opposed – see for example the conflict between the rights claims of transgender activists and those of radical feminists

this is not a zero sum game necessarily but it is not enough simply to ignore it, or resolve it by using the victim hierarchy to render one side of the argument morally unmentionable

we are in danger of throwing the baby of rational debate on a (presumed) level playing field out with the bathwater of enlightenment universalism

and without a social convention of rational debate, in which all are presumed equal and in which all speech is permissible an all positions up for discussion, we have lost a fundamental premise of democracy for we cannot discuss the issues

and without a presumption of some cohesion and commonality, however contingent (accidents of birth, geography, culture) we cannot presume enough solidarity to vote on them

and without debate, and a vote which all can accept, we have no democracy.

is that really where we are going?

Author: The Sparrow

I’m UK-based. I’m interested in the political and cultural side-effects of globalisation, the replacement of class politics by identity politics, and the emerging backlash against the regressive left. I was a radical lefty once upon a time, though these days I'm just interested in following arguments wherever they go. I voted Leave, in the interests of positive, engaged globalisation within a democratic framework, though I'm a bit exasperated at how it's going so far. I’m a fan of liberty, free speech, home winemaking and practical feminism.

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