While many people are focused on the upcoming U.S. elections and which political party will have majority control in Congress, there is—and has been—a far more dangerous and deeper political struggle going on in the United States. It is called “identity politics,” and if its proponents are successful, it will threaten the very foundation of freedom in America.
However inconsistent and incomplete, the history of America is a story of a great experiment in human liberty. The founding fathers laid its foundation in the Declaration of Independence, granting every person the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
For all of recorded history, mankind had lived under various forms of governmental command and control, under which the ordinary person was a slave, serf, or coerced subject of those in political power. But the American Revolution challenged all those premises and presumptions. Government was to secure each person’s right to life, liberty, and honestly acquired property from the violence, fraud, or theft of others.
Government was to be the protector of personal freedom and not a facilitator for plunder by those in political power or those who live off government spending and favoritism.
Marxism and the Left’s Rejection of the Lessons of History
In the 20th century, this individualist ideal was challenged by various forms of collectivism, a dominant one being Marxian socialism. In the Marxist mindset, individuals are submerged within the arbitrarily drawn categories of “capitalists” and “workers,” inescapably engaged in “class conflict.”
Much of this worldview lost relevancy and legitimacy with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
However, many of those on the political left couldn’t reconcile themselves to a reality that demonstrated that free-market capitalist societies successfully give humanity greater degrees of freedom and prosperity than ever before experienced in human history. Also, that Soviet-style socialism-in-practice led to nothing but tyranny, terror, and stagnation.
Rather than accept these lessons of history, they sulked back into the ivy halls of higher education and devised a new collectivism, through which to try to remake society. It was hard to continue to chant “workers of the world unite” to overthrow the capitalist system, when so many of “the workers” had long since become prosperous members of the middle class and enjoyed the use and ownership of various types of private property.
Those still considered poor wanted nothing else but to become middle class themselves, and maybe, with some industry, talent, and a bit of luck, even become rich themselves: members of the infamous “1 percent.”
The Left’s Search for New Identities of ‘Oppression’ and Abuse
Where, then, was the “oppression” and “exploitation”? Who, then, were the privileged oppressors, and who were the victimized and abused? Enter identity politics.
Like the Marxists before them, the practitioners of this new collectivism and tribalism insisted that too many in society suffered from a “false consciousness” of thinking they are free when, in fact, they are oppressed and “marginalized.” The victims of “the establishment” didn’t know just how unfree and underprivileged they really were.
That’s because they were the victims of thinking of themselves as individuals in a land of liberty. However, individuals don’t really exist. There is a racist and sexist ruling class of male white men who use the capitalist system to exploit and abuse “people of color,” women, and those of non-traditional sexual orientations.
Your life, proponents of identity politics insisted, is inseparable from and has no real meaning outside of a consciousness-raised sense of who you are based on your racial and ethnic identity, your self-identifying gender selection, and your sexual sense of gay or straight, or a bit of both.
Individuals Define, Direct Themselves in Free Society
Now, common sensibly, we all are individuals who by accident of birth also have a biological background of race and sex. We all have grown up in families and communities reflecting cultures, customs, values, and beliefs that have surrounded and influenced our formative and later years. It would be foolish to ignore or deny this.
Through most of human history, these things were too frequently made into social brandings that marked us for much—if not all—of our lives. They ended up defining and limiting us through political power and legal restrictions or prohibitions.
The hallmark of the U.S. founding principles is that in spite of the inconsistencies, contradictions, and hypocrisies throughout the country’s history, the individual is considered and often treated and respected as being at liberty to define and identify himself in ways that give value and meaning to his sojourn on this earth. The political system was meant to—and often did—secure that individual liberty that would enable him to live his life as he chose.
Throughout American history, the political philosophy of individualism has served as an ideal and a benchmark against which to compare our actual words and actions. It’s served as a moral mirror reflecting back and reminding us where and by how much our reality has fallen short from our own standard of liberty and justice. It’s nudged us to mend our ways and more fully practice what we have preached. And it has done this over the many years and decades of the country’s history.
Identity Politics as Tribal Groupings for Political Control
Instead, the advocates of identity politics insist that the very degrees to which the principles of political individualism aren’t fully implemented and practiced demonstrates that it’s all a ruse, a lie, a false consciousness, to dupe those abused and disadvantaged to accept their oppression and victimization at the hands of the white, male, ruling-class elite.
The task isn’t to follow and implement the individualist ideal to a greater and more complete extent. No, the lesson, according to them, is to reject the very idea as false and corrupt. The new world that the identity politics practitioners want to create and force us to live within would confine us and make us conform to their categories of race, gender and sexual orientation.
In its fundamental essence, it’s a call for a return to a crude and constricting tribalism. Are you white, black, Hispanic, Asian, or Native American? Are you male or female, not on the basis of biology, but on subjective preference and collective identification; or are you both? Are you gay or straight, or neither, or both?
In a free society, an individual, while unable to fully escape from his or her biology and personal family and community history, has fairly wide latitude and liberty to determine who he or she is in terms of meaning, value, purpose, and a sense of self.
Others in that free society may or may not always accept or understand who and how you see yourself. However, the individual has the “space” to determine a good deal of this for himself. In a truly free society, you can try to be whoever you want to be, with little or no interference or prohibition by a limited government that is governed by that political philosophy of personal freedom.
The New Totalitarians Over Our Minds, Bodies, and Actions
This isn’t the type of “identity politics” that proponents have in mind. They wish to impose their notions of these categories and classifications on you and everyone else in society. Their labeling will, then, be used within the political process to determine your education and employment opportunities, the income and redistributive shares that the identity political classifiers deem to be the fair, and “social justice” rewards that you do or don’t deserve.
They also threaten to be the tyrants of your mind. The “political correctness” of identity politics insists upon imposing a thought police for watching, warning, and potentially punishing you for words you use, the phrasings and connotations expressed, and the ideas articulated and applied in discussing people, places, actions, and events.
The litmus test used is an evolving linguistic lexicon defining racist, sexist, homophobic words or ideas that are to be purged and purified away so that language conforms to the world considered by the identity-politics proponent to be prejudice- and “privilege-free.”
We see this in U.S. society, already, with people often speaking as if they were verbally “walking on eggshells,” afraid that a word or a phrase, a joke or a double entendre will be taken as racially or sexually abusive, oppressive or “marginalizing” of some designated minority group defined as among the “oppressed.”
If identity politics is triumphant in America, and if those espousing it are allowed to dominate and ultimately control the lives, the language, and the actions and human associations through which people go about in their social existence, the end result will be new tribal totalitarianism over our minds, our bodies, and our very beings. These will match in tyranny and terror to those experienced over the past 100 years under Soviet Communism and Nazism.
However significant and relevant the outcome of the next political election may be here in the United States, it is only one aspect and element in this larger battle for the minds, souls, and future freedom of everyone in our society.
Richard Ebeling is the BB&T distinguished professor of ethics and free enterprise leadership at the military college The Citadel, in Charleston, South Carolina.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.