Talking past each other on identity politics

The debate about whether ‘identity politics’ is crucial or dangerous to liberalism is on. And it is frustrating.

Jacob Levy came out swinging yesterday in defence of the crucial role of identity politics in liberalism, against arguments about the role of identity politics in the rise of illiberalism (and Trumpism) in the U.S., such as those presented by Reason’s Robby Soave and in Mark Lilla’s recent NYT piece. Jason Kuznicki has responded to Levy. Elsewhere, Tom Palmer names identity politics as a danger to liberalism in his fabulous essay on the three fronts of growing anti-libertarianism.

The first order of business seems to be to decide what, exactly, we mean by ‘identity politics’. Jason Kuznicki agrees:

“An equivocation is occurring here, between good and bad, both claiming to be “identity politics.” In cases like that, it’s morally imperative to differentiate rather than to lump together.”

I am concerned about identity politics as it’s represented by Tom Palmer and Jason Kuznicki, so I’ll draw from them as I take a stab at nailing down a definition of the ‘identity politics’ that worries me.
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Time to rehabilitate a pejorative?

As folks struggle to deal with the populist, anti-market realignment on the right, Godwin’s law has been making itself more relevant. People who make the mistake of equating today’s right-populism with national socialism might be forgiven, even if they go too far, for a more appropriate term has been drained of meaning: fascism.

Anyone who says that politicians today are fascist sounds nuts. The word has been applied indiscriminately to dismiss people and policies so often that it’s devoid of meaning, though it’s broadly associated with an unhinged lust for power, disregard for constitutional law, and eugenic racism. But the original intent of fascism aimed at none of these things. I’ve written on how modest the tenets of fascism sound in today’s political climate. Steve Horwitz has been pressing the applicability of the technical term since last summer. The fact is that, fallen as the word might be, there’s simply not a good substitute.

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The right’s brittle support for trade

As the American right jettisons support for international trade, globalist conservatives despair – and rightly so. An insular world is less prosperous and less peaceful. Opposition to trade seems to fly in the face of the core beliefs of Republicans in the United States and worries Conservatives in Canada, where broadly conservative pundit Ezra Levant has renounced his support for trade and Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch romanticises Trump’s victory.

Is the shift really so surprising? Since the end of the Cold War, the left has accepted limited support for markets, but conservatives have backed off of their deeply rooted support for trade. Many are worried by things like the ‘elephant chart’, shared widely by conservatives and progressives alike on social media, and what it means for… well, what trade means. But trade long ago became more a talking point than a pillar of conservative policy beliefs.  Read more

Bridging gulfs

“Peace is not a result of agreement, but of toleration of disagreement.” – F.A. Hayek

A recent episode of This American Life, Will I Know Anyone at This Party?, is a compassionate piece on the struggle within the Republican Party as it moves toward more populist concerns, especially about immigration. It’s worth a listen for Canadians because the same battle is simmering here, and we need to find ways to engage with those who are fearful or feel left behind before it boils over.

The podcast points out that concerns about America’s changing demographics aren’t new, but they are reaching a boiling point among self-identified Republicans. Although these fears are made worse by bad information about immigrants that might be insulated by selective media consumption that rejects alternative viewpoints as part of a conspiracy (‘The Mainstream Media!’), it seems obvious that there is an element of an evolutionary holdover fear of the new and unknown at play. That, at least, is nothing new. Read more

What we mean by democracy

When election season is upon us, there’s a lot of talk about democracy, but more specifically, there’s a lot of talk about voting: Voting as the way that people direct the government’s actions. The elevation of a person or party to power as the way in which the goals and priorities of a society are set. Voting as the most basic and critical political participation.

But people who see voting as the most important way that society is directed, think of voting as the primary duty of a citizen, or think that it’s the best (maybe the only!) way to change the world are wrong. Voting is easy to understand and that makes it easy to prioritize and focus on. Voting is the shiny, round, red cherry on top of the democratic cupcake. But it’s not the cupcake.

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