Apparently, I’m not the only one who cringes whenever someone on the right attacks a position taken by those damned lefty “liberals.” They’re progressives, not liberals.
It is nearly beyond dispute that the Civil Rights Movement, second-wave liberal feminism, and Gay Pride were liberal projects, both in the broad philosophical sense and in the narrower meaning that arises within contemporary politics. Nevertheless, it is common for those of us who consider ourselves liberal in either sense, or both, to be told we must disapprove of these great liberal successes. This occurs when we criticize identity politics.
Identity politics, social justice, whatever the least pejorative phrase is at the moment, is the antithesis of liberalism. Perhaps a test is in order.
I support the rights of
straight white mengay black women.
The difference is not in concept, but in preferred group. The woke inform me that it’s entirely different because their fight is on behalf of the marginalized. Does this change everything?
This is not a mere semantic quibble. It is vital to distinguish between universal liberalism and identity politics and recognize what they share in common alongside how they differ. Both see and oppose inequality and seek to remedy it, but they do so with very different conceptions of society and use different approaches. These differences matter. Universal liberalism focuses on individuality and shared humanity and seeks to achieve a society in which every individual is equally able to access every right, freedom, and opportunity that our shared societies provide. Identity politics focuses explicitly on group identity and seeks political empowerment by promoting that group as a monolithic, marginalized entity distinct from and polarized against another group depicted as a monolithic privileged entity.
The woke base their distinction on oppression, that women, minorities, and others have been historically oppressed. And there is merit to this view, even if it’s proffered in such shallow ways as to ignore all nuance. But that’s not sufficient to address the huge chasm between liberalism and identity politics.
To a liberal, ending oppression is a core value. No one should be oppressed based upon irrelevant characteristics. And we have long fought to end oppression, to achieve equality. To progressives, that’s inadequate. Or more to the point, that’s the problem they seek to destroy. It’s not about ending oppression and achieving equality, but about compensating for historic oppression by shifting the power from the majority to the favored so that the oppressed get to be the oppressors.
The Civil Rights Movement, second-wave liberal feminism, and Gay Pride functioned explicitly on these values of universal human rights and did so to forward the worth of the individual regardless of status of race, gender, sex, sexuality, or other markers of identity. They proceeded by appealing directly to universal human rights applying universally.
The notion that everyone, from old white men to young black women, should enjoy universal rights is anathema to social justice. After all, they see rights as a zero sum game, and if white men have rights, they get them at the expense of black women. Someone must be in control, have hegemony over all others, and white men have been in charge too long and really screwed it all up.
So the solution is to shift the power to the marginalized and let them be in charge. It’s time white men took a licking, learned what it’s like to be told to shut up and do as they’re told. It’s time for women, for minorities, to seize the whip and do some beating of their own. Are they not entitled to their tyranny?
This isn’t liberalism, even though it borrows some of the language and shares some of the goals. Liberals don’t want any group to be oppressed, or any group to be tyrants. The goal is universal equality, rights. Progressives are just a different flavor of their mirror image on the fringe right, a better rationale for their in-group but still seeking to put a boss in charge at the expense of others.