The Politics of Identity

Austrian political thinker Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (1909-1999) discussed the problem of “identitarianism” or “political tribalism” in his famous work The Leftist Mind. As he paradoxically put it, modern society is not trending toward real or meaningful “diversity,” as understood in the past, but toward radical sameness and egalitarianism.

Identity and its drive tend to efface self, tend towards a “nostrism” (“usness”) in which the ego becomes submerged. Of course, “nostrism”… can be and usually is a clever manipulation of egoisms. Whoever praises a collective unit in which he participates (a nation, a race, a class, a party) also praises himself. And therefore all drives towards conformity not only take a stand for sameness and oppose otherness, but are also self-seeking.

In some ways modern tribal politics (of the class, ideological or ethnic variety) are even more insidious than old-fashioned barbarian clannishness. They make a sham appeal to universal morality in denouncing social evils. These claims contain a shred of truth, of course. But that is all. Identitarian pseudo-creeds offer a supposed remedy which is really a disguised expression of envy or hatred. It is ironic that “diversity” in today’s environment is really an ideology of conformist “identity.”

At the opposite end of the spectrum, pursuit of one’s ideals completely apart from a social or religious framework is another (very typical) form of egoism that is ultimately purposeless and hedonistic. In conclusion, says Kuehnelt-Leddihn, a well-adjusted individual has drives towards both identity and diversity which balance one another.

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