A discussion of several major aspects of the identitarian left, sometimes known as the regressive left, the communitarian left or the postmodernist left.
Sommaire en français
Un exposé de plusieurs aspects importants de la gauche identitaire, connue aussi sous les noms de gauche régressive, communautariste ou postmoderniste.
In several previous blogs I have written about the so-called “regressive left”—or more accurately pseudo-left—which is ostensibly on the left end of the political spectrum but in fact betrays traditional left-wing values (i.e. Enlightenment values) in a number of ways, in particular by adopting cultural relativism (usually labelled “multiculturalism”), leading it to be dangerously tolerant of Islamism. I have also discussed my dissatisfaction with the label “regressive left” and suggested a few others in an attempt to arrive at a more accurate name.
After some reading and reflection, I have decided that the label “identitarian left” (or pseudo-left) is probably the best choice, although I consider “communitarian left” a reasonable alternative, i.e. the second-best choice. Whatever you may call it, this retrograde tendency, which has seriously corrupted the left and indirectly strengthened the right, is multifaceted—hence the difficulty in finding an appropriate name.
Below, are a number of aspects of this pseudo-left political tendency. These various aspects are not mutually distinct, as they tend to overlap and converge. (The following list is not necessarily exhaustive.)
The identitarian left is obsessed with identity politics.
National identities are generally considered an anathema. Thus neoliberalism, which seeks to weaken or eliminate national boundaries, is very comfortable with the identitarian left.
Identity politics orients political activism around personal identities, usually the individual’s membership in a group perceived to be either disadvantaged or privileged. These identities are normally based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc., while largely ignoring social class which is emphasized by traditional left-wing politics. In identity politics the emphasis is on the differences between the disadvantaged and the privileged; expressions such as “white privilege” and “male privilege” and admonishments such as “check your privilege” are commonly used to promote guilt. But traditional left-wing politics seeks to build alliances, thus transcending personal identities. Furthermore, the identitarian left tends to be rather arbitrary about which identities it considers legitimate and which is considers retrograde (or even fascist!). National identities are generally considered an anathema. Thus neoliberalism, which seeks to weaken or eliminate national boundaries, is very comfortable with the identitarian left. Quebec nationalism in particular is vilified and denounced as “far-right” or worse. On the other hand, I have never heard a identitarian leftist denounce “anglophone privilege.”
The identitarian left is intersectional.
Intersectionality is a theory of systems of social power, first introduced to feminist theory by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. It began as a current in feminism and has since spread. The basic idea is simple and superficially reasonable: if a person is a member of more than one discriminated group, then their degree of oppression increases with the number of those identities. For example, a black lesbian is triply oppressed because of her race, sexual orientation and gender whereas a white heterosexual woman is oppressed only as a woman. However, this view of oppression leads to a very divisive politics of guilt because in practise it reduces to a sort of point system where a merit point is gained by each oppressed group in which one can claim membership. The result is to see society as a sort of caste system with white heterosexual “cisgendered” men at the top. The goal of the intersectional activist is thus to topple that hierarchy by either leveling it or reversing it.
The identitarian left is communitarian.
Communitarianism means the habit of associating each individual with their community (ethno-religious, sexual, etc.) rather than emphasizing equality among citizens. It thus gives a great deal of authority to any leader who claims (often falsely) to speak for his or her community. This aspect is usually given the much more positive sounding name “multiculturalism” which used to mean cultural diversity but which has since become an ideology of cultural relativism.
The identitarian left is philosophically postmodernist.
Postmodernist philosophy rejects the values of the Enlightenment. In particular, it downplays or even denies the existence of one objective reality to which all have access and which transcends individual perspectives. For the postmodernist leftist, every oppressed or privileged group has their own reality, their own truth. The postmodernist left practices “cultural constructivism” or “blank-slatism” to borrow the words of Helen Pluckrose. Everything is about power dynamics, so the “truth” presented by a dominant group is just a narrative which allows them to preserve and enforce their dominance. It is up to the oppressed to impose their “truth” in return. When taken to an extreme, this approach makes objective knowledge impossible.
The identitarian left is racialist.
Thus, they first eliminate completely the concept of race, allowing them then to reinvent it wherever they want, for example by arbitrarily baptizing religious affiliation as a “race,” so that they can then make accusations of “racism” against anyone who criticizes that religion.
As the identitarian left attaches great importance to personal identities such as race, it generates its own form of racism. In particular, so-called antiracist activists of the identitarian left are often racially divisive, erecting barriers between groups based on old 19th century concepts of race such as “white,” “black,” etc., sometimes even promoting segregation. White-bashing has become very fashionable. However, this form of racism is somewhat different from more traditional racism which asserts actual biological differences. The racism of the identitarian left is more a question of in-group posturing, a form of virtue signalling or what I would call “cool signalling” and for this reason the term “racialism” has been suggested to label this phenomenon. In fact, identitarian leftists will often deny even the existence of race (and any discussion of scientific research into objective, measurable differences between ethnic groups is utterly taboo, an anathema in fact), while nevertheless talking ad nauseum about “racialized” groups. Thus, they first eliminate completely the concept of race, allowing them then to reinvent it wherever they want, for example by arbitrarily baptizing religious affiliation as a “race,” so that they can then make accusations of “racism” against anyone who criticizes that religion.
The identitarian left is Manichaean.
At its worst, the attitude of identitarian leftists is that anyone who disagrees with them is a racist, or mysognist, or fascist, or Nazi, etc. This is one of the most ethically repugnant aspects of identitarian leftism. Basically, if identitarian leftists do not like someone, they just slander the other, with little attempt to engage in any discussion about disagreements. Thus the world is divided absolutely into good and evil, us and them. Everybody is a fascist except for me and my buddies. You want to punch someone? Just label them a Nazi first, thus giving yourself permission to do so! This has led to many specious accusations. The psychologist and popular conservative speaker Jordan Peterson has been called a fascist (he is not). James Damore, fired by Google, has been called a misogynist (he is not). Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve, has been called a racist and a fascist (in my opinion, he is neither). Sam Harris has been called a “gateway to the alt-right” (nonsense) and is vilified by the identitarian left because he is such an effective critic of it.
Given that Muslims constitute a minority in western countries and may be subject to discrimination, and given the identitarian left’s obsession with identity, it has become fashionable to offer privileged status to Islam, treating that religion with kid gloves and accusing anyone who criticizes it of “Islamophobia” or racism or worse. The conflation of race with religion is a crucial element of this gambit.
The identitarian left is antisecular and proreligious.
The identitarian left’s antisecular and proreligious bias is a consequence of its love affair with Islam, its refusal to distinguish between race and religion, and its rejection of Enlightenment values. The results are disastrous. A major example of this is the identitarian left’s enormous propaganda campaign against the Quebec government’s proposed Charter of Secularism in 2013-2014.
The identitarian left is post-Marxist.
The identitarian left can be seen as a form of degenerate Marxism in which the working class, having failed to rally to the Marxist cause, has been abandoned and replaced by a collection of minorities. Thus the identitarian left is post-Marxist but not Marxist. Here are three critiques of identity politics from a Marxist perspective:
The identitarian left is Orwellian.
… within religious minorities [the identitarian left] favours the most pious and fundamentalist among them, thus excluding the moderately religious and the secular.
Here, I mean Orwellian in the sense of using language which is almost the opposite—and sometimes literally the opposite—of reality. For example, the identitarian left claims to be antiracist but in reality it is obsessed with race and promotes racialism, which is its variant of racism. The identitarian left often claims to support diversity, tolerance and inclusivity, but in reality it rejects diversity of opinion, is extremely intolerant of those who disagree with it, and tends to limit its inclusivity to an incomplete list of minority groups. Not only does it tend to ignore or even denigrate the concerns of the majority, but within religious minorities it favours the most pious and fundamentalist among them, thus excluding the moderately religious and the secular. Furthermore, so-called “Antifa” groups, which are like ad hoc paramilitary branches of the identitarian left, claim to fight fascism but consistently make two huge errors: (1) they misidentify as fascists many who are not; and (2) they employ tactics similar to those of fascist goons. Spokespersons of the identitarian left often accuse their adversaries (in particular those who criticize Islam) of promoting a “politics of fear.” However, they themselves promote an exaggerated fear of the far-right, much (but not all) of which exists only in their imaginations. Basically, the identitarian left opposes fascism everywhere except where fascism is currently strongest and most dangerous: within Islamist movements.
And last, but not least, the identitarian left strengthens the political right.
The identitarian left is disastrous because it discredits the political left in many ways—by abandoning Enlightenment values; by abandoning secularism which is a traditional goal of the left; by its divisive racialism, in particular its anti-white racism and its politics of guilt; etc. The result is that this degenerated pseudo-left constitutes an enormous gift to the political right. In Canada and the USA, popular disgust with the craziness of the left has helped right-wing incompetents like Ford and Trump get elected. Yes, endemic racism and bigotry also contributed significantly to the rise of Ford and Trump, but the intellectual bankruptcy of many on the political centre and left also contribued to their victory. In France, the fact that much of the left has abandoned secularism, an extremely important core value of French culture, has resulted in the political right partially taking over this issue and using it to garner widespread popular support. This is not because the population has moved to the right, but because the left has betrayed its own values. The fault is with the left.
Epilogue: The Identitarian Left in Canada
Although the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) which currently holds power in Canada, under the leadership of Justin Trudeau, is a centrist party, not a leftist one, it has traditionally taken some of its ideas—both good (such as universal health care) and bad—from the left. Furthermore, the centre-left New Democratic Party (NDP) has moved increasingly towards the right (particularly under the leadership of Thomas Mulcair, formerly of the Quebec Liberal Party) so that it is not much different from the LPC. Both parties are pathologically attached to communitarianism.
Trudeau displays many of the worst qualities of the identitarian left
Thus, in the category of bad ideas which the LPC has borrowed from the left, we observe that Trudeau displays many of the worst qualities of the identitarian left: communitarianism, Islamophilia, conflation of race and religion (e.g. motion M-103), Manichaeanism (i.e. if you don’t swallow his “diversity” rhetoric, then you are a racist!). Trudeau is notorious for visiting mosques and Sikh temples in order to garner votes. He has declared that Canada is “the first postnational state” and if you are a Quebec secularist then he vilifies you as a Trump sympathizer. All in all, a person of little or no intellectual integrity.
Next blog: The Greatest of All Vices