No, Liberal Lefties are Not Right-Wing

Left-wing liberals who are opposed to the identity politics developments on the left increasingly find ourselves accused of being right wing, referred to as “right wing” and scornfully urged to admit that we are right wing by identitarian lefties.

No. Because that is not true.

Of course, there are some individuals who insist they are left-wing while supporting economic and social policies fundamentally associated with conservatism and those individuals are either confused or dishonest, but far more often, this claim is made about typically left-wing liberals who support progressive taxes, a strong social security net, universal healthcare, gender, racial and LGBT equality and reproductive freedom.


To understand this, it is probably necessary to have a quick look at divisions on the left right now. While all lefties support economic policies which seek to redistribute wealth, reduce inequalities and support the most socially disadvantaged in society, the largest and longest split is between the socialists who advocate social ownership of the means of production—thereby putting control in the hands of the workers—and the social democrats who seek to redistribute wealth within a regulated capitalist system within a liberal democracy. These have loosely been understood as the “radical Left” and the “liberal Left” and this is also loosely connected to differing principles around social issues such as feminism (radical feminism vs liberal feminism).

There has been much animosity between these groups with the radicals accusing the liberals of being half-measure sell-outs and the liberals accusing the radicals of being delusional Utopians. Nevertheless, these have been straightforward disagreements on comprehensible issues and civil and reasonable conversation and compromise have also been possible because both groups believe that objective truth exists, that evidence and reason are the way to access it and that language is a tool for conveying these.

More recently, we have seen a rise of the identitarian lefties who hold very different ideas about objective truth, evidence, reason and language and who view society as structured by discourse (ways of talking about things) which perpetuates systems of power and privilege. As they often fit the definition of “radical” but have little in common with the older radical leftism and seldom address economics or class issues coherently, preferring to focus on identity groups like race, gender and sexuality, things have become much more messy, and communication and compromise much more difficult. These are the individuals who frequently insist that the liberal lefties are actually right-wing. As the liberal lefties make up the majority of lefties and as they are the most moderate and reasonable element of the left—and therefore the most likely to win the support of the political middle ground—this is an accusation we cannot allow to stand. We are the left and we cannot let the identitarians define us any longer.


Liberalism is a broad concept which holds to certain values of freedom (both of markets and individuals), humanitarianism in the sense of assistance for those unable to support themselves and equal opportunity in relation to removing any barriers that prevent certain groups in society from accessing all the opportunities it offers. Liberals believe in social progress and that it can be achieved by refining all of the above.

Some liberals, particularly classical liberals, can share some values with conservatives (and so also define themselves as conservatives), but their liberalism tends to emphasize the freedom of markets and individuals. As such, they often seek to minimize the state provision of such things as financial assistance for the unemployed, elderly and disabled and single-parent or poor families as well as being opposed to nationalized healthcare and initiatives intended to increase the representation of underrepresented groups within profitable areas of work. This is because they believe this to limit freedom, autonomy and individual responsibility and be ultimately unproductive of social progress. They may also oppose attempts to strengthen gun control (in the US) and support home-schooling for these reasons. They are likely to support a smaller government, less government regulation on businesses, and consequently lower taxes.

Left-wing liberals typically disagree with them about this because we are motivated by values which are left-wing. Being liberal rather than socialist, we largely support the freedom of markets but there is also a strong focus on supporting the most vulnerable in society. For this reason, we also want some regulation in there to prevent exploitation of the poorest people with the fewest options. This focus on supporting the most vulnerable in society is a primary one and has historically been for the benefit of the working class but also, when warranted, for women and for racial and sexual minorities.

Liberal lefties support the freedom of the individual but may believe this requires some extra support in the case of those who are hindered by social or cultural issues. This usually falls short of affirmative action or positive discrimination in the case of hiring which is widely held to be illiberal but may include extra initiatives to improve boys’ literacy, girls’ engagement with STEM, the provision of English-language courses for immigrants and positive role models and schemes to raise interest and education in underprivileged and single-ethnicity areas. It also includes monitoring hiring practices for (solid) evidence of racial or gender discrimination and faith schools (in the UK) for inadequate education which limits the prospects of children from minority religions.

Left-wing liberals support higher taxes for the highest earners in order to provide universal healthcare and welfare provision for the unemployed, elderly and disabled and single-parent or poor families. We point out to the socialist left who condemn our acceptance of a blended economy with a robust capitalist engine driving it that allowing people to get very rich enables us to fund such things much more successfully. We point out to the right who accuse us of encouraging dependence that we are not tolerant of abuses of such systems but would prefer to refine ways to make free-riding harder and detect offenders than making it harder for those who need help to obtain it in the first place. If forced on the choice, left-liberals would rather that some people cheated the system than that anyone fell through gaps in it. We are not very sympathetic to arguments for poor regulation of firearms or for parents’ rights’ to deny their children an adequate education or medical care because of the cost of this to human life and wellbeing. In short, we function on the care/harm moral foundation of the liberal and on the economic/social foundation of the left. We are left-wing. We are liberal lefties. And being liberal, we’ll be happy to discuss these points with you and consider other perspectives.

The Identitarian Lefties

The kind of leftist who keeps insisting that we are right-wing (apart from some on the radical left who have always said we might as well be if we’re not going to be socialists) are the relatively new identitarian lefties. They are not liberal. They are a product of an intellectual shift which occurred in the sixties when leftist intellectuals became disillusioned with Marxism and developed the concept of postmodernism. This mode of thought saw society as a system of hierarchical power structures and argued that knowledge was actually a construct of power perpetuated by speech (discourse) which served the interests of dominant groups in society. By the nineties, this had been incorporated into several fields of scholarship like feminism, postcolonialism, queer theory and critical race theory. It had also been made more explicitly political and actionable. Concepts like “intersectionality,” “toxic masculinity” and “white fragility” became a part of social justice activism.

Consequently, these left-wing academics and activists saw identity politics as politically empowering and were critical of liberal leftism which sought to make identity categories socially irrelevant. They tended to see liberalism as part of an outdated and inadequate modernist system which was created by straight, white, rich, western men and therefore can be understood to support the interests of straight, white, rich, western men. They still do.

They believe this despite the fact that the Civil Rights Movement, Second-Wave liberal feminism and Gay Pride were all part of that liberalism and public support of them was such that the 60s and 70s saw huge leaps forward in anti-discrimination legislation, the decriminalization of male homosexuality and the advent of effective and legal birth control and reproductive freedom. Despite such legal equality and much social progress in the reduction of prejudice, the dramatic increase of women and racial and sexual minorities into professions and positions of power and the promise of continuing progress, they see racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia and transphobia everywhere because of their intense focus on language which they read through an ideologically problematizing lens. Think of the focus on “microaggressions,” “mansplaining,” and “verbal violence.

These lefties share some core tenets of leftism in that they want to support the most vulnerable in society, but they tend to neglect the poorest people if they lack other identity characteristics associated with disadvantage—being female, of ethnic minority or LGBT. There is little support for white, working class men and they frequently deny that straight, white men can face any disadvantages at all or speak in ways which assume this. This has almost certainly assisted the present reactionary surge to the right.

Identitarian lefties also share the care/harm foundation of liberalism with this drive to end inequality and prioritize groups seen as marginalized, but this is accompanied by a rage at groups seen as privileged. The result is a highly illiberal practice of evaluating the worth of individuals by their gender, race or sexuality. Because of the belief that power in society is constructed by language, they are also prone to authoritarian censoriousness about what language can and cannot be used and which ideas may or may not be discussed.

This bent to control is in profound contrast to the traditionally liberal support of the “marketplace of ideas.” The concept of the marketplace also placed a high value on the power of language in the sense that ideas could be presented by all, discussed by all and, in this way, the best ones would be revealed and this has been remarkably successful. This cannot work in a postmodern worldview because the latter assumes a standpoint epistemology, which holds that different groups have different knowledge and all are equally valid but that the ideas of dominant groups are falsely given more credibility than those of marginalized groups, necessitating dominant groups to be quiet and listen (See feminist epistemology).

The New Conflict

We are now in a situation in which the three parts of the left—radical, liberal and identitarian—are locked in an unproductive deadlock. The radicals oppose the identitarians whom they see as bourgeois elitists rooted in the academy who have completely abandoned the working class and the meaning of leftism. They remain at odds with the liberals for their lack of support for socialism. The liberals oppose the identitarians whom they regard as profoundly illiberal and threatening to undo decades of progress towards individual freedom and equality of opportunity regardless of race, gender and sexuality. They find the radicals of little help in supporting liberalism. The identitarians largely ignore the radicals except in the form of radical feminist rejection of trans identity which they condemn as transmisogynistic hatred but pay some confused lip-service to anti-capitalism (which does not mollify the radicals). They reserve most of their ire for the liberals who are addressing the same social and ethical issues that they are.

Liberal lefties receive most of the identitarian rage because we cannot support the postmodern rejection of an objective truth nor their science-denying cultural constructivism. More than this, however, we cannot support the idea that it is virtuous to see people as members of collectives arranged within a hierarchy that determines who may speak about what in some kind of grotesque recreation of a caste system or medieval feudalism. We cannot accept that the liberalism which has produced so much social progress for previously marginalized groups in society is part of a white, western, patriarchal, cis/heteronormative system of oppression due to its principle that we don’t evaluate people by race, gender or sexuality. We tend to be rather skeptical that we live in a white-supremacist, homophobic patriarchy at all and this is understood (somehow) to be an endorsement of it, although we nearly always accept that racism, sexism and homophobia still exist and have the principles and the will to counter them. For this, we are seen as right wing.

Even more damning, liberal lefties might not regard liberal righties as inveterate enemies but ally themselves against illiberal extremism with those who support liberal principles of freedom and equal opportunity consistently wherever they fall on the political spectrum. We still want left-wing parties to win and left-wing policies to be implemented and right-wing ones not to, but this does not require regarding everyone on the right as immoral bad actors with nothing of worth to contribute. For this, we are seen as right wing.

We are not right wing.

The Solution

Some liberal lefties have denied that identitarian lefties are lefties at all, but an understanding of their origins and development reveals this to be wishful thinking. Although they share some views about gender and racial segregation and an authoritarian, censorious nature with those on the far-right, leading many to argue for horseshoe theory, these two groups come from very different places and work in very different ways. Identitarian lefties come from an intellectual development which took place on the left and the left must take responsibility for that and fix it.

The only way for the liberal left to fix this problem is to engage with it. For too long, too many of us have minimized the problem due to a perceived need to maintain solidarity against the rise of the populist right, alt-right and far right. Others have not addressed the problem, simply because they do not understand the counterintuitive ideological core of it and feel that anyone who seeks racial, gender and LGBT equality is an ally, even if some of them go too far in their zeal. Others are afraid of being called racist, sexist or homophobic and associated with the right which is, in fact, what is happening. Some have become so alienated from the left due to being called racist, sexist or homophobic that they have genuinely gone right, feeling that there, at least, they will be welcome. There has been much condemnation of this last group and some self-righteous crowing that they could never have been that committed to leftist principles in the first place. That could be true. Even if it is, we need to win them back if we want to win any elections and actually enact the policies which will help the most vulnerable people. This is far more important than gloating about one’s own supposed political purity.

There is also that problem inherent to liberalism: an excess of tolerance, a willingness to compromise and a desire not to impose on other people. Because the liberal left is the least radical, least authoritarian branch of the left, it is vulnerable to being shouted over by more radical voices who come to define the left for waverers. These louder voices undermine the left, however. Because the liberal left is the most open to other ideas, it is prone to appearing inconsistent. Because it is tolerant of ideas it does not agree with, provided they do not impose on others, it can be mistaken for a pushover. This is a mistake. The principles of liberalism, while diffuse, are strong enough and consistent enough to have become dominant throughout the whole of the western world. They are so widely held that the majority perceive them as sufficiently natural and self-evident that they neglect the need to defend them. (James Lindsay and I wrote about this here).

The liberal left has been hindered in its aims to oppose the identitarian left by misguided loyalty, by incomprehension, by denial, by fear, by despair, by complacency and by excessive tolerance. This gives the impression that there are few of us left and that the left is now defined by the identitarian, authoritarian ideologues. This gives strength to the right. We need to get more visible, more unified and braver. We need to accept that the problem exists, understand how it works and speak out against it calmly, civilly and reasonably at the risk of being called racist, sexist and homophobic—despite being the ones who reject the evaluation of individuals by their race, gender and sexuality. We need to remember how to argue our case and not assume it is obvious. The more of us who do this, the easier it will be for more to join. This is the way to win back the left, win back public confidence, win elections and bring about the policies we want to see made. We are not right wing. We are liberal lefties, we are the majority and we can fix this.

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  1. Perhaps it’s simply due to the political culture in my circles and geographic region, but I don’t see much at all distinction between the “liberal lefties” and the identitarians. While they may not align with the more extremist strains of identitarianism, the mainstream, mostly pro-market, “intellectual” left are well-engorged with identitarian language, principles, argument by force, appeals to identitarian dogma, censorship, and subtle, though denied, identitarian prejudice. You can’t throw a pink hat in left-leaning circles without hitting someone who will berate you into silence for not toeing identitarian dogma.

  2. “an intellectual shift which occurred in the sixties when leftist intellectuals became disillusioned with Marxism and developed the concept of postmodernism”

    That is a dumb sentence in every way. Can’t wait to see the forthcoming tome on “postmodernism and critical theory and their impact on epistemology and ethics.”

  3. I want to suggest a partial solution here – identity politics is clearly derived from the theories of “dead white men” like Foucault, nurtured in bastions of European “privilege”, and published in journals that charge $36 to view an article for a day and $260 to view an edition for a month – hardly including the “oppressed” as stakeholders.
    If it was originating in “minority” groups it would have a certain crude validity, but would be subject to political processes and amenable to negotiation. The language would certainly be clearer. The danger is if its influence dominates the discourse of these groups and removes them from processes of negotiated settlement and participation in the common dialogue.
    The answer is education; for example, people taught the basics of evolutionary theory in school will not so easily confuse the results of sexual selection with the results of social conditioning and be less vulnerable to the “patriarchy” conspiracy theory. People taught basic statistics will be suspicious of manipulated figures, etc.
    And this means it is necessary to spend tax money correcting educational imbalances at the elementary school level. This is basic Fabian socialist policy, but it makes sense to include it in any capitalist society. The most deprived need to be the best educated in the science that explains the context for the problems they need to solve alongside the least deprived.
    It is also necessary, for this to succeeed, to refuse to let the Creationists have any influence at all in education – maintaining the separation of church and state.

    1. i agree that education is the answer, specifically pre-K through 12th-grade public school education, but i’m much more general, and expansive, about what should be included in an ideal curriculum. in my view, the danger to a child’s mind lies in what i call *early-onset indoctrination* — the stress upon the importance of religious morality over critical thought that turns the potentially autonomous individual into an obedient, slavish, unquestioning zombie slave to theocratic manipulation.

      the ideal curriculum needs to place the most importance upon three general subjects: philosophy, critical thinking, and the art & science of proper question formation. these comprise the thinking man’s basic skill set and will serve to protect any child against both the gentle persuasion and the strident insistence that religion is THE answer to the question of moral behavior.

      schoolchildren are citizens, future voters and leaders; they will require independent critical thinking abilities and mastery of communication by means of formulating — and answering — questions that directly impact on society’s good v. bad manifestations in order to identify and solve the problems that beset civilization’s advancement. religion is nothing but an impediment to such an effort, since it presupposes a Final Answer and frowns upon further inquiry.

      i go so far as to say that religion is the enemy of science, which sees the answer as not an end but a beginning, an origination point for more questions to pop up that will themselves demand answers, ad infinitum. one need only look to the definition of “terminal” as a destination point — it represents both a beginning to a journey as well as its culmination; there are also many transfers in between both destination points, all leading to a myriad of potentialities. life is not a one-way journey; neither should a child’s education be merely a rote map for *how to get there* and no more. there’s no surer way to create a bored or hostile student imbued with great antipathy towards what they see as “education” — they are certain to dislike, even hate, school from an early age.

      philosophy, though? you may ask. why philosophy, and why and is it even possible for children? there is much to be said for the benefits of a philosophical education in a child’s earliest years. these are the years of the Why? questions with which every parent should be familiar. unfortunately, the typical adult reaction is one of frustration with the child, usually because the adults themselves have not been educated with the curriculum i suggest and are therefore unable to either properly appreciate their children’s questions or provide them satisfactory responses.

      let me introduce you to Dr. Jana Mohr Lone, Director of the University of Washington’s Center for Philosophy for Children since 1995. yes, it’s a *thing* these days. Dr. Mohr is a Diogenes bearing the light of awareness to as many children — and their parents — as she possibly can, but it takes a curriculum implemented nationwide to accomplish what we’re talking about here. the ultimate goal is for every future voter and potential leader to be able to think philosophically, to reflect critically upon various subject matter, to be adept at formulating astute inquiries into the best ways to accomplish goals and to examine and analyze what is and what isn’t working.

      her Amazon author’s page is at i highly recommend that everyone get hold of a copy of her book, The Philosophical Child; it will bring new vistas to light, as any self-respecting Diogenes ought. i myself am child-free, by choice. i knew, when i was five years old, that i was not the *mothering* type; i’m too selfish for that; i want too much to live my own life without having to be a caretaker for anyone else — managing my own is hard enough for an Aspie. yet, despite my child-free status, i own a copy of Dr. Lone’s The Philosophical Child; it is enlightening, indeed essential reading.

      here is a Philosophy Bakes Bread (@PhilosophyBB) podcast interview of Dr. Lone on the subject of Philosophy for Children, i urge all to take a listen. young children don’t get no respect when it comes to deep thinking, and Dr. Lone can help dispel some misconceptions that just might surprise you. she also points out, in her blog, WONDERING ALOUD: PHILOSOPHY WITH YOUNG PEOPLE, at, that not all children are willing, vocal participants. at least, not at first. but they are constantly exposed to freewheeling discussions that try to be as inclusive and impartial as possible, on a multiplicity of ideas or even just incomplete thoughts — wonderings, as it were. they are exposed to ACTIVELY THINKING comrades-in-arms, and that is, in most if not all cases, all the stimulus necessary to get their own juices flowing.

      active (or even passive) participation in philosophical discussion cannot help but inspire curiosity, and through curiosity, creativity. the rest of the curriculum can take it from there.

  4. In the U.K. the distinction between Left and far-right is becoming really difficult to identify.

    The Leader of The Labour Party, and potential Prime Minister Of Great Britain is Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour Party used to be recognised as a democratic socialist party.

    Corbyn though is changing our entire perception of the modern ‘Left’ single-handedly. His well-publicised antisemitic connections means he has attracted endorsements from the likes of David Dukes, former KKK Grand Wizard, Andrew Anglin, editor of the online neo-nazi web site ‘The Daily Stormer’ and from Nick Griffin, leader of the fascist BNP (British National Party). Plus of course, David Icke.

    It isn’t easy to compare the U.K. and US Left even; some of Corbyn’s Jew-killing associations would murder Bernie Sanders without a seconds thought if they had the chance.

    So we live in a mixed-up world these days. Not everyone who claims to be ‘progressive’, ‘leftist’ or even ‘liberal’ comes out well after a bit of scrutiny.

  5. Helen attempts to HIJACK the term liberalism. social democrats are NOT liberals. liberals fall into 3 categories. social liberals, modern liberals, and classical liberals. social democrats call themselves ‘progressives’

    Helen can not do this. The NDP party is canada is not ‘liberal left’. there is nothing liberal about them. the Liberal party of canada are ‘modern liberals’/social liberals’. they are NOT social democrats/labor movement/progressives.

    we also have a conservative party that is split between two factions (scheer vs bernier) and an irrelevent amount of support for the libertarians.

    1. I don’t know Canada, but to my understanding, the value hierarchy of values for social democrats in Norway, is as follows:

      1. Rule of the majority (Democrat)
      2. Duty of the majority to use their power to treat the minority fairly (Liberal)
      3. Social progressiveness

      For conservatives (in Norway, who are similar to america liberterians) this would be:

      1. Rule of the majority (Democrat)
      2. Duty of the majority to use their power to treat the minority fairly (Liberal)
      3. Traditional values (familiy, personal autonomy, etc)

      For American Republicans
      1. Duty of the majority to use their power to treat the minority fairly (As outlined in the constitution)
      2. Rule of the majority (Democrat)
      3. Traditional values (familiy, personal autonomy, religion)

      For American Democrats (traditionally)
      1. Rule of the majority (Democrat)
      2. Duty of the majority to use their power to treat the minority fairly (Liberal)
      3. Social safety net

      Note that all of these have democracy and liberty as the most important values, and the disagreements mostly start at the third one (although Republicans place the constituion above a simple majority, they still bend to a qualified majority). I call all the ideologies above liberal democracies.

      This should be compared to:
      Facists: Nation or race is #1
      Populist far right: Nation or race is #2
      Socialists : Place progressivism at least as #2, and usually as #1
      Royalists (Saudi): The king is #1
      Theocratists: Relgion is #1

      All of these alternatives are further removed from any liberal democrat than any liberal democrat is from any other liberal democrat. If any of these systems emerge, all liberal democrats, from republicans to social democrats must stand together to oppose them.

      1. Although, nowadays, american republicans seem to have completely forgot about the constitution, the rule of law and the fair treatment of the minority

  6. “… there could also be some usefulness in looking at the movement of identity (identifying) regardless of content … much conflict.”

    As not all conflict is bad “Identifying” isn’t only not all bad but based on First Principles can actually be good, as competition of ideas leads to better ones not only within the boundaries of First Principles — “electricity is better for Progress than belts and pulleys” — but between them: “Is the pollution of the Thames really ‘Progress’?” (We all agree the Thames should not be polluted with 19th-century industrial waste whatever magnitude we might imagine for CO2 forcing of GACT.)

    Here are some possible “First Principles” which are in conflict — whether as mutually exclusive binaries or on a continuum — and which might be argued from:

    Problem solving: Reason or Emotion?
    Human rights: Liberty or Equality?
    Environment: Utilization or Preservation?
    Survival: Conquest, Self-defense, or Pacifism?
    Origin of Laws: Religion, Nature, or Abstract Philosophy?
    Communication: Liberty, Security, or Control?

    And as I’ve presented a lot of “First Principles” which stylistically at least suggest rather stark either-or choices I’ll end with the Golden Mean:

    Polarization: Manichean or Aristotelian?

    What these “tribes” have in common is that we can all join or change them at will. These are tribes of ideas, not inborn immutable characteristics. To those of us in the “Aristotelian” tribe interactions with the tribes of other strata are good and proper. We become better versions of ourselves when we can move the continuum slider a little bit in the direction of another tribe — or better-articulate why we will not.

  7. Helen should study the Russian Revolution. Stalin purged the liberal intelligentsia with extreme prejudice Liberal lefties are useful idiots to communists until they are no longer needed.

    1. I’m pretty sure Helen knows the Russian Revolution. Stalin also purged the Radicals – the Trotskyites – with even more vigour.
      But these are only roughly equivalent categories and may be as useful as “Nazi” or “fascist” to today’s debates.

  8. RE: “Genuine question … Isn’t [a political identity] identity politics?”

    The “Identity” in “Identity Politics” refers to inborn characteristics or at the very least properties about oneself that cannot be changed. “Identity Politics” uses identity as the basis for social, moral, and political judgments and policies.

    It’s almost easier to recognize it from what it is not: Humanism, Universalism, Individualism.

    1. Interesting, thank you.

      Without arguing what seems to be an agreed on definition, it seems there could also be some usefulness in looking at the movement of identity (identifying) regardless of the content (what is identified with.) The movement of identifying seems also to be the source of much conflict.

      1. “… there could also be some usefulness in looking at the movement of identity (identifying) regardless of content … much conflict.”

        As not all conflict is bad “Identifying” isn’t only not all bad but based on First Principles can actually be good, as competition of ideas leads to better ones not only within the boundaries of First Principles — “electricity is better for Progress than belts and pulleys” — but between them: “Is the pollution of the Thames really ‘Progress’?” (We all agree the Thames should not be polluted with 19th-century industrial waste whatever magnitude we might imagine for CO2 forcing of GACT.)

        Here are some possible “First Principles” which might be argued from:

        Problem solving: Reason or Emotion?
        Human rights: Liberty or Equality?
        Environment: Utilization or Preservation?
        Survival: Conquest, Self-defense, or Pacifism?
        Origin of Laws: Religion, Nature, or Abstract Philosophy?
        Communication: Liberty, Honesty, Security, or Control?

        And as I’ve presented a lot of “First Principles” which stylistically at least suggest rather stark either-or choices I’ll end with the Golden Mean:

        Polarization: Manichean or Aristotelian?

        What these “tribes” have in common is that we can all join or change them at will. These are tribes of ideas, not inborn immutable characteristics. To those of us in the “Aristotelian” tribe interactions with the tribes of other strata are good and proper. We become better versions of ourselves when we can move the continuum slider a little bit in the direction of another tribe — or better-articulate why we will not.

        1. Hi Piltdown Ghost,

          Thanks for your reply. I think the crux of what you wrote is that it isn’t identity if “we we can all join or change them at will.” Please correct me if I’ve missed the key point.

          These two aspects seem like fairly transparent boundaries (not that we can’t solidify them.) Many folks are white but don’t identify with being white, some are born female but identify with being male, some have Jewish heritage but may not know about their genealogy. People pose as black, white, male, female and get away with it, especially on the internet. There is a post above that runs into confusion over male/female identity. All identity seems to in the realm of mutability (some properties harder to change than others.) We get caught in fixed ideas that seem as difficult to change as our skin color. For instance, we are beaten or abused as children and may find it extraordinarily difficult to change our minds about who we are.

          The move seems to be “identifying with…”, the thinking “we are black, we are white, we are left, we are right.” This movement of identifying seems primary, the particular object of identifying (idea, color, race, religion) seems secondary, especially in relationship to one another.

          When the author writes “We are the left and we cannot let the identitarians define us any longer.” this reads to me as someone making argument for retaining an identity as “the left.”

          The goal from each group’s point of view is positive. Not many seem hell bent on destructiveness. Yet, from the other’s point of view, what the other group is doing is destructive.

          There is kind of a plea here, a wish for identity politics of all kinds to soften at the edges and to explore ways to think together in new forms and structures.

          Thanks for the time you’ve taken to post and the space for these words.

          Many regards,


          1. You’re welcome. Before you pat me on the back for being a “moderate” you should understand I unironically endorse defensive violence against censorship and consider Based Stickman and Rufio One-Punch heroic if a bit nuts.

            But other than being a free speech extremist on Fight Night I think we’d get along pretty well, though I sense you’re a bit to the Left and I’m a bit to the Right. (And if you see Rufio’s Fist of Free Speech as a good thing welcome to the club; I certainly don’t mean to assume.)

            So many conversations take place between people who thrive on argument and conflict it’s a refreshing change of pace to speak to someone who does not but will choose to engage despite the din. Areo seems to cultivate a space for this conversation, and I’m both glad they did and glad to have had this conversation with you.

            Equal regards!
            Piltdown Ghost

            1. Hi Piltdown Ghost,

              “So many conversations take place between people who thrive on argument and conflict it’s a refreshing change of pace to speak to someone who does not but will choose to engage despite the din. Areo seems to cultivate a space for this conversation, and I’m both glad they did and glad to have had this conversation with you.”

              Yes, thanks, me, too.

              Trying to listen, and especially being able to listen is always a difficult challenge for me. I appreciate that effort also being of value to others. For those acting in good faith, and speaking genuinely, perhaps it is the way we can move forward together, regardless of our position at the time.

              Many regards,


  9. Genuine question here.

    How is it someone identifying as a liberal, left leaning, right leaning, conservative, libertarian or whatever is not engaged in identity politics? Isn’t identifying yourself or others as part of a group participating in identity politics?


    1. It depends on who you ask. In this article, it means politics based on identity traits that individuals did not choose to participate in, such as being black, white, Asian, male, female, hetero/homosexual, trans, handicapped etc. This is almost always what identity politics is in reference too. Using these categories to judge peoples character or to assign them sociopolitical blame is usually considered prejudiced.

      If someone standing in front of me declares themselves a Communist or a Libertarian or an NRA member or a Southern Baptist or a BLM supporter, I can begin to judge their character based on decisions that they have made to affiliate with those groups or ideologies. That is seen as politically and socially fair.

      If i begin to judge the person in front of me simply because he is black or homosexual or white or of Irish descent, I am PRE-judging their character (prejudice) based on traits that tell me nothing about their character before they have a chance to prove themselves one way or another. This is unfair to the individual, assigns them to a collective with implied sociopolitical baggage based on no fault of their own, and treats that collective as a unified entity instead of many individuals.

      Identity Politics is usually a criticism aimed at ideologies which conflate or intermix the first and the second. This is evident in things like, “Men need to step up and stop rape.” as though an individual man who has never raped and would never dream of it is partially responsible for the actions of other men simply because he happens to share this one (non-character defining) trait with them, or somehow holds more of the burden to address this than the woman standing next to him. Assigning this collective political blame then sets as a default that if a man is not doing enough to help the cause as defined by the Identitarian, or if he disagrees with the methods proposed to address the issue, he is helping to uphold the current “culture of rape” and, therefore, is part of the problem. One has to help carry the cause in order to purge this original sin, which the individual did nothing to obtain other than being born as he was. Suddenly, if you are not with us, you are against us.

      Those who hold these ideologies tend to muddy the waters by claiming that everyone has identities which inform their sociopolitical actions, and therefore everyone takes part in identity politics, but the issue isn’t what identities YOU hold (though these must certainly be considered to avoid as much personal bias as possible), the issue is what identities you see as salient in the person you are referring to.

      Lets take two statements made by different individuals. One says:

      “I am a Liberal Democrat. I want to make America better, and I believe Republicans are hurting this country. Therefore, I will fight against Republicans as best I can.”

      This is a (not so helpful) legitimate viewpoint to hold. This is POLITICS.


      “I am a Black Man. I want to make America better, and I believe White People are hurting this country. Therefore, I will fight against White People as best I can.”

      This is nonsensical. This is basing politics on non-character defining traits, or arguing that being White goes toward defining character. This is prejudicial. Now, it may often be said as “White Supremacy” rather than “White People” (though examples certainly exist), but when combined with the collective sociopolitical blame described earlier in the “Rape Culture” example, suddenly one must support the cause against White Supremacy (as defined by the Identitarian) or be considered an enabler. To argue with the definition put forward, no matter how stretched or bizarre, is to be part of the problem.

      This is IDENTITY POLITICS. Politics leveled against, or in favor of, a group of people based on non-character defining traits. This is collectivist, rather than individualist. Those who conflate this with everyday sociopolitical tug-o-war are either confused, or seeking to confuse.

      1. Thanks, Anonymous.

        Let me try and take up from what you’ve written, starting with a key point, then generalizing it a bit further…

        “I am a X man. I want to make America better, and I believe Y people are hurting this country. Therefore, I will fight against Y people as best I can.”

        If we expand time a bit, perhaps we could also add to the following “in the past, Y people asserted X people are inferior and should be enslaved, tortured and exploited.”

        “While this overt assertion has receded, Y continues this assertion in various ways, by necessity, more subtle than before.”

        “I am a X man. I want to make America better, and I believe Y people are hurting this country. Therefore, I will fight against Y people as best I can.”

        We see in the above, the destructive tendency of many actions based on identity. We can also see that Y people exploited the X people based on identity of X and of Y.

        How can X move forward after such a catastrophic event without invoking identity of X and Y? Can we agree at least that, while necessary to move forward, it isn’t easy to do?

        I posted this link earlier, but perhaps I could post again. Not in agreement or disagreement, but showing the scope, effort and energy required to explore identity and the possibility of working with that tendency by opening it up as wide as possible.



  10. “What is the Identitarian end game?”

    Social Justice claims White people are a morally-inferior unter-race who uniquely among all others are the only ones capable of the world’s most hideous and terrible moral failing. Previous versions of racial supremacy ideologies were obsessed with intellectual or athletic performance, but the modern racial supremacist movement, Social Justice, declares the inferiority of its favorite racial scapegoat in moral terms: only White people can be racist.

    But before you shrug and decide “sucks to be you” consider that the end game of Social Justice isn’t Zimbabwe but Rwanda. Social Justice will inevitably turn everyone against everyone else just as it presently turns “People of Color” against Caucasians. We are all except a select few going to be victims if we don’t come together to stop it. Whatever your position within the Intersectional caste Social Justice will come for you eventually.

    Asian-Americans are already the primary victims of Affirmative Action. There’s a special technique used to make Asians an acceptable target around hiring and admissions time: make them “Honorary Caucasians” who ‘benefit from structures of White Supremacy”. “Never mind the Internment; you’re Caucasian now.” The victims of Internment are treated is if they had owned slaves on admissions and hiring day and Social Justice marches on. Whom Social Justice destroys it first makes White.

    In the end Social Justice will come for you, first accusing you of being “White” or “participating in Whiteness” to strip away your humanity then stamping the boot on your face.

    That blindfold on the statue is there for a reason: there is only one kind of justice, the kind where people are judged socially on the content of their character and legally under the due process of law. All else is injustice.

  11. I’m on the right, but good luck, and I mean that. You may be stuck coming over to join us eventually (you may not have a choice) but it would be nice if you could manage to get rid of the identity politics virus. It’s an interesting piece to read because I can tell you the general perception the identity politics group is creating through their sheer volume is that everyone on the left is a frothing racist lunatic. Ultimately parties are coalitions of various interest groups and sometimes it’s best not to have people in your coalition if you want to win (for the right see David Duke, Richard Spencer, far-right religious wacko people in the 90’s, etc.). You will always get tarred by your crazies if you can’t find a way to tone them down.

    1. “ would be nice if you could get rid of the identity politics virus.” : well, I’m skeptical of the claim left liberals are the majority, they seem to me to be the endangered species. I hope not, and I enjoyed this article, but it’s not representative of liberal journalism as it stands today, I’m afraid.

      I really did enjoy reading this, though, young lady. It helped me realize why I went from a “nothing in particular” to a conservative sometime during Obama’s second term. Before then, it didn’t seem to be all that important who controlled the executive branch, for example. Both major parties had their warts. Now? I’ll probably never vote Dem again, whether I’m sympathetic to universal healthcare goals etc or not, because identity politics is totalitarian racism and if a party embraces it, they’ll tear the country apart. Everything else has to be secondary.

      As long as we can rationally discuss problems we can find solutions. I hope you aren’t the victim of a backlash for championing the principle though, Helen.

      1. Randall Turner has given us some food for thought here. Thank you. Personally, as a lifelong liberal, I have to say I actually found President Obama was pretty moderate. So, since Mr. Turner is quite cogent here, I’d be grateful if he might unwrap further just what President Obama did in his second term that came off as acutely identitarian, please? I very definitely find this woman’s article a breath of fresh air and am thrilled she wrote it!

  12. On the Right we are free to criticize the Alt-Right. On the Left you have the same freedom.

    (Apologies to Yakov Smirnov)

    I find very little objectionable about the modern Right. We condemn our extremists (the Alt-Right), the once-liberty-averse Religious Right has fallen back to a position of defensive libertarianism, and you can argue for anything you want over here and not get brained with a bike lock.

    Our President talks like an exhibition wrestler, but how many journalists has he prosecuted under the Espionage Act? I didn’t vote for him because he sounded like someone who would. It turns out the majestic oratory of his predecessor is what should’ve alerted me to danger.

    Why not give us a try before you decide you don’t like us? Maybe our love of liberty will surprise you …

  13. I’m a bit baffled by the attacks on postmodernism as “no objective truth.” For those interested take a look at David Michael Levin’s work on postmodernism. The Listening Self, The Opening of Vision, The Body’s Recollection of Being. All three books would undermine the politics of identity and take us toward of more subtle confidence in our innate intelligence.

  14. Great article and helped further my own understanding of the makeup of the left, but I think it may be missing another component of the left. The corporate left or neoliberal left that actually is in power. The fact that even when the left had control over government we didn’t get gun control, or single payer, etc.

    Or did I miss which group this faction of the left would belong to.

  15. Thank you for your insights. I appreciate your illuminating the spectrum of viewpoints. Fundamentally I am in Bernie’s camp, espousing regulated capitalism. But I don’t like the term “democratic socialist”. I align with his expressed viewpoints, and perhaps even with a technical definition. But Americans are bred to associate socialism and communism. A nuanced technical definition has no consequence in the noisy debate. And most of “the means of production” should anyway be independent, capitalistic and market driven — the antitheses of socialism. There are just a few critical undertakings that have proven to be untenable within free market capitalism: subsistence; protection (military, police, health care); education; and certain public infrastructures. Only the last of these has grey area for debate.

  16. As an ethnic Chinese, I find the parallels between the identitarians and Mao’s red guards are striking:
    1. They categorize people into groups and the group identity is the only thing matters. For red guards it was “the five reds and five blacks”. If you are a child of a poor peasant you are red. If you are a child of a rich landlord you are black. For identitarians, it is race/sex/gender. If you are LGBTQ you are more worthy than a straight person. If you are people of color you are more worthy than whites.
    2. They look at everything through a political lens. For red guards, the ancient history had to be re-written from Marxism viewpoints. Math textbooks had to be prefaced with Marxism quote. For the identitarians, everything is about group power struggle. Math is now proposed to be a tool of racial suppression.
    3. They both see themselves as self-appointed moral judges. If you are in a bad group then you inherently bad. Any people with differing viewpoints are inherently evil, and need to be silenced, or, in the language of red guards, “beaten down and stepped on”.
    This is not going to end well. It is past time for the liberal minded people to push back against these self-righteous illiberal actors.

  17. Great article.

    The big issue for me is just how the liberal left has been so easily and so thoroughly displaced by the identitarians in so many areas of society. As Sargon of Akkad said in one of his videos, Leftists have used Liberals as one of the most successful Trojan Horses in history.
    This has made me seriously doubt whether liberalism is ultimately a stable ideology. It’s entirely possible that it’s just so out-of-sync with human nature that it inevitably gets overthrown rather quickly. A lot of liberals just don’t seem to have the part of the brain which alerts you to potential threats (a thing that conservatives excel in).
    Only a very few “liberals” seem to be capable of this. Sam Harris for example.

    1. This gets to a meme that has been circulating around the internet over the past two years, frequently used by leftists and left-liberals, about Karl Popper’s paradox of tolerance and why it means we shouldn’t tolerate the alt-right or generally anything “intolerant.” Regardless of the usefulness of this idea (Popper was a philosopher of science who had decided to take on political philosophy, and he only briefly included the passage on the paradox in a two-volume book and never bothered to define “tolerance” or “intolerance”), Popper’s main target in The Open Society and Its Enemies was the left, especially those of a Marxist bent: he traced the convulsions of the past 40 years in Europe back to Marx, then Hegel, and finally Plato. With the Fascist Right and the Old European Right soundly defeated after WWII, the main contest in Western Europe in the post-War years, intellectually and politically, was between liberals and Communists/harder socialists, many of whom (including prominent philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty) still sided with Stalin and the Soviet Union and shared the Communist, Marxist, and Fascist contempt for parliamentary democracy and bourgeios individual rights, at least until the proletariat had won the class struggle.

      In the US, more to the right economically than the European countries, this meant that in the post-War years the Communist Party was banned and membership could land you in prison and you would certainly prohibited from public office and, due to social pressure, private or public employment. Since the end of the 60s and the victory of civil rights and an emphasis on individual rights, this formal and informal prohibition on the harder left ended instead with an emphasis on free speech and letting different voices be heard: for example, someone like Noam Chomsky would never have gotten a position at MIT and may have even been prosecuted for espionage or sedition had he espoused his views publicly in the 1950s, but he was free to do so on public speaking tours in the 1970s and 80s. If you’re a liberal, this is the correct position to take, but it does allow the extremes on the left and right both to grab a megaphone and begin recruiting people with the goal of overthrowing the center.

  18. Love a lot of your writing, but the “left” is overrun.

    What’s funny, is this assumption that the right doesn’t want equal rights for the groups you mentioned. I thought you were smarter than that. That is one of the incorrect assumptions that allowed the identitarian left to rise in the first place.

    Sure, the “right” has it’s extreme too, but it is FAR smaller than the left. Your extremes have gone mainstream. The “leader” of the new right, Trump, has said publicly he is for freedom of speech and against any form of censorship, even to folks like CNN whom he despises. The right is where American constitutional values are being defended. The left is where they are being eroded.

    If you think you can fight them on your own, I believe you are deluding yourself. They took power from you, they are more extreme than you, and they are willing to sacrifice everything to increase their power. They have zero problem silencing you when you are a threat, because they do not believe in freedom of speech.

    If you want to take back the left, you’re going to have to align with the right. That’s just the truth IMHO. You don’t have to believe everything they do, you just have to be against identity politics, a staunch free speech supporter, and a believer in the U.S. Constitution in general. That’s literally it. We want to be able to disagree, we will not censor you. We want the liberals back, not the violent totalitarian lunatics.

    Why can’t we align on that, and after it’s beaten back, continue our eternal debates?

    1. “The “leader” of the new right, Trump, has said publicly he is for freedom of speech and against any form of censorship, even to folks like CNN whom he despises”

      Eh, very arguable. Whatever he says, his action also speak loudly in the opposite direction. You have to consider that *any* figure that covers such a big role can never truly be an outright extremist. This identitarian left has developed a lot during the Obama years – yet Obama has never spoken in anything resembling these terms and is far more moderate. In fact, he is, proportionally, far more moderate than Trump is, given that Trump still said thing that could be well considered racist (aka the Mexican rapists line) and hired people like Bannon directly under him. And Bannon IS an extremist and a racist. What I do agree is that the right wing extremism being bolstered is a consequence of the left one – like Batman and the Joker, one creates their own enemy. It’s an extremism arms race. But it’s hard to say which side has the biggest basket of nutjobs. I think it’s a close competition at this point.

      1. You say his “actions” speak loudly in the opposite directions but give no back-up. He may be easily disliked but his actions are very pro freedom of speech. Here’s some actual facts for your supposition.

        In short Trump writes disparaging public tweets about journalist/whistleblowers while the Obama DOJ quietly put them in jail. If all you read about freedom of speech are Trumps tweets and you ignore actual Obama prosecutions then yes his action could be deemed in the opposite direction of free speech. Trump did arrest Reality Winner recently.

        Also as far as concrete “actions” Trump is appointing individualist/constitutionalist judges who like it or not will be pro 1st ammendment

        I’d like to hear your “actions” that are anti 1st amendment other than obnoxious tweets calling Chuck Todd a “sleepy-head” – whatever that means!

        I’m open to it I just see a lot of very pro freedom of speech actions against some public tweets that while aimed at journalists are in and of themselves vehicles of free speech. Is Trump or Obama more likely to shut down free speech on Twitter. Obama of course! Obama had limits on what is acceptable public discourse

        1. I don’t like speech suppression by law either, but it’s disingenuous to pretend that the President threatening and badmouthing the press openly on Twitter isn’t in itself a threat to freedom of speech. The press must be free in the exercise of its functions. If it’s put under political pressure by the most powerful man in the country, it’s not free. Simple as that. The fundamental thing is that right now neither party is truly pro freedom of speech. Both see the speech of the people who annoy or criticise them as a bother and try to make a case that it’s really harmful and ought to be suppressed. They just do so by different means.

  19. The “liberal left” is and always was merely camouflage for the radical left. They used to call you “useful idiots” behind closed doors. They don’t need the camouflage anymore – and lump you in with the rest of the nazis. Because you aren’t the left. And if you’re not the left, you must be…

  20. I dislike their equation of “identitarian leftism” with a “postmodern worldview” insofar as I don’t think many of these identified types of ‘leftists’ would actually subscribe fully to postmodernism epistemology (or even to cultural constructivism; the two are not identical either), but tend to do so only insofar as its taken on a more selective and sometimes arguably unjustifiable basis. I also think the characterisation of the “postmodern worldview” is largely incorrect, as the author suggests it “assumes a standpoint epistemology, which holds that different groups have different knowledge and all are equally valid but that the ideas of dominant groups are falsely given more credibility than those of marginalised groups, necessitating dominant groups to be quiet and listen (See feminist epistemology).” This really seems to me to be a misreading of philosophers such as Lyotard, who appears (in ‘The Postmodern Condition’ and ‘Just Gaming’) probably the closest to this position, and the thinker most associated with ‘postmodernism’ per se. Firstly, postmodernism’s whole point is that it is a position of scepticism and hence never “assumes a standpoint epistemology”, and secondly, it doesn’t propose “necessitating dominant groups to be quiet and listen”, but merely a sceptical resistance to “grand narratives” and the calling for other opinions to be raised in order to prevent dogmatism and stagnancy, as found in aggressively modernist traditions. To equate postmodernism with the so-called “feminist epistemology” he outlines is thus deeply unfair, the two are very different positions and the author makes analogous mistakes to thinkers like Peterson in addressing the two. I’d agree with the conclusion that such thinking doesn’t make them “right wing”… but I’d also draw criticism with some of the other points, which I’ll address a bit later if I have time.

    Most prominently, the issue for me is that by equating what they call “identitarian leftism” (which may well also be somewhat or a straw-man, but I’ll take their characterisation as genuine based on the fact that I agree that at least some of the Left can be characterised as they do) with “postmodernism” they exclude the valuable role that postmodernism could, when the tools are used correctly, have against dogmatic thought and the marketplace of ideas by arguing that the two “cannot work” together, which in my opinion is both wrong and dangerous. One need not have an uncritical belief in the established discourse of ‘Science’, ‘Enlightenment’, ‘Liberalism’ and so on which have developed over the past few hundred years in order to participate and approve of a ‘marketplace of ideas’ conceptually. Indeed, the very notion of doing so is in one sense anti-scientific, insofar as there have been numerous radical scientific revolutions even in very recent history which have radically changed the way we do things and these have only been possible by allowing a space for marginalised discourses which may even have been ridiculed as absurd (natural evolution against creationism is but one of innumerable examples), which is largely what the postmodernist critique actually questions… a critique of naive notions of progress typical of Liberalism and the opening up of challenging alternative discourses within Science itself against what contemporary Science often asks for, but for the cause of science itself in a more abstract sense. To equate this with so-called “feminist epistemology” (again possible a straw-man, but I’ll work with it) of silencing majority discourses seems to me to be in opposition to a genuine marketplace of ideas that the author seems to be promotion (rather we should remain strictly within an unquestioned humanist/ Liberal/ Science-as-established-regime tradition seems to be what they are proposing… and how precisely is this a marketplace of ideas at all?).

    1. Ah yes, the no true Scotsman angle. Like Islamic terrorism has nothing to do with Islam. On judgment day, Derrida will rise from the grave and reeducate SJWs, and SJWs will see their interpretive errors and do something more productive with their lives like…

      …put science in scare quotes.

    2. “To equate postmodernism with the so-called “feminist epistemology” he outlines is thus deeply unfair…” I find it both hilarious and ironically symbolic that you assume, as a leftist, that this is written by a man. All you needed to do was a) look at the author’s name (Helen) or b) look at her photo (a woman, clearly). But you are so caught up in the minutae of your argument, you cannot even bother to look at the ‘grand narrative’ of authorship even when it stares at you. Or perhaps you think it is irrelevant?

      Your response itself is riddled with logical fallacies. To use one example, you talk about ‘allowing a space for marginalised discourses which may have been ridiculed as absurd” and use as your example natural evolution. This utterly confuses scientific process with ideology of power. In short: natural selection worked empirically, creationism didn’t; this has zero to do with ‘marginalised’ anything in the way postmodernists mean it.

  21. As one digresses farther left, then everything behind one is to the right. That’s why you’re likely considered “right wing”. The battle of the “Left” and “Progressive Left” is one of competing orthodoxies. The Identarians are more orthodox than you, as vegans are more orthodox than pescatarians or vegetarians. I don’t think engagement is the solution or effective, especially when Identarians have both dominant mindshare and engage in “shut down” rhetoric. It’s either a fire that has to burn itself out, as did the Jacobins in the French Revolution, or it has to be radically shown the error of its ways.

    Identarians want to redefine the common American culture that previous generations forged and took for granted, aka “the Melting Pot.” The melting pot created a certain level of harmony, in the wider sense (of course, there were and always will be various social problems and issues, that’s just part of the human condition.)

  22. The dreaded Jordan Peterson has been making this argument publicly over the last year. “When does the Left go too far?” It’s a crucial question and one that has been ignored for too long, leading us to this present malaise. He makes the same case as this piece, essentially: the problem is identity politics. Until the mainstream Left can disassociate itself successfully from the identitarians the problems will continue. The thing is, it’s such an easy game to play, and it is being played by too many influential people – liberal stalwarts of the traditional media such as the Guardian, the Independent, the NYT, the Washington Post, not to mention nearly all the new media like Slate, Salon, Vox etc. It is also being played at the highest levels of government, charities, and any agency that seeks social justice. In the UK the heads of Shelter, Refuge, the Crown Prosecution Service, health and education services, all speak the language of “diversity, inclusion and equity”, the Holy Trinity of the identitarian Left. They are rewarded handsomely for following this ill-thought through script, so things are unlikely to change for a while, even if the arguments presented here are reasoned and necessary.

    1. I was amazed that you were the first to mention Jordan Peterson as he fits beautifully into the the categories above. JP characterizes himself as a “classical British liberal” … i.e. he is actually one of the Liberal Left who is busy calling out and attacking the Identitarian Left. That being said, JP has also studied enough history that he’s an enemy of both socialism and democratic socialism as both ideologies have been responsible for millions of deaths in the 20th Century. When you add to that is message that you should be responsible for yourself, suddenly many folks significantly to JP’s right are listening very closely to what he has to say. In a more rational culture and/or in an earlier time, when the Liberal Left was more ascendant, JP would not be a hero to the modern conservatives. In our current culture, while he may not be a true conservative (though I think JP would require you to identify a good reason for Chesterton’s fence to be there before you tore it down), he is at least a fellow traveler at this time who can lead parts of the Left back to where we can actually have an honest debate.

      Just my 2 cents.

  23. In “steel-manning” the Identitarian faction, I would insert a conversation about “frames.” It’s not merely that straight/white/males are evil oppressors who should be toppled, it’s a bit more sublte. As I understand it, the claim wouldn’t be that s/w/m’s are not always intentional oppressors; but because of the way those traits interact with the existing hierarchy and social structures, their frame of reality will necessarily be blind to a vast collection of issues with which they never come into contact and can therefore never discuss knowledgeably. To be sure, there are those within the s/w/m group who would deny the challenges that these minorities face and would prefer to keep their advantage, (this would qualify as a more “right” stance,) but the majority of true liberals are perfectly capable of understanding the issues and claims of the underprivileged and addressing them with empathy. They key is open, rational discussion. Unfortunately, the Identitarian movement has largely abandoned this tool and prefer rage and retaliation in efforts to flip the tables of oppression in their favor; convincing themselves that this is “right.” Whether they truly believe the ultimate destination to be a more harmonious, flourishing society seems doubtful to me – it generally appears as if they’re fine with oppression and inequality, but desire to be the top of the pyramid. The pursuit of vigilante/vengeful “justice” over a gradual evolution towards a fairer system is where the movement turns insidious. Bret Weinstein has offered the most insightful theory I’ve heard on the “why” of this situation and a more rational way forward for liberals:

  24. Reproductive freedom is a disingenuous term. When the goal of an abortion precisely NOT to reproduce, the term you’re using is a very deceptive euphemism.

  25. Great piece, Helen! My only addition/complication would be to add that US-based Lefties like Dr. Adolph Reed have argued that the identitarian portion of the Left is best seen as the “left wing of neo-liberalism” in how the identitarian bent is often more interested in reductive identity politics and “politics as performance” than it is in organizing and advocating for policies aimed at achieving social and economic justice. I think of it as a sort of conflict between the “Left wing of neo-liberalism” and an “egalitarian Left.” I don’t quite know where the “radicals” fit, but I do know that some within the identitarian Left self identify as “radicals.” And I also

    I probably sound like a fan boy, but Dr. Reed brilliantly argues, in a 2014 piece for Harper’s Magazine and in various pieces he has written for (links below), that the identitarian bent has proven itself more interested in seeing inequalities evenly distributed in the population (disparitarian discourse) rather than eliminating/reducing the inequalities across demographic categories. He also makes the case that the Labor movement in the United States has been in major decline since the 1970s and that the political center of gravity has moved to the right in the United States in such a way that the Nixon administration was more responsive to the Labor movement than either the Clinton or Obama administrations. It’s definitely some interesting food for thought.

    I’m really glad that you’re continuing to write about this particularly because of the propensity on the Left to critique excesses of the Far Right while ignoring the excesses of our own side. In the comments sections of articles like this, I often see commenters asking “Why aren’t you critiquing the Right more? Why are you implying that this only occurs on the Left?” I think Iona said it best in one of her recent interviews when she said that we must put our house (the Left) in order so that we have credibility when debating or speaking out against the excesses of the Right.

  26. What I want to know is, What’s the Identitarian end game? When will they reach the Millennium, and what will it look like when they do? Marx was very clear on this, as was Hitler. The Identitarians, however, say merely that all relationships are power relationships that allow the oppressors to oppress the oppressed, and that “oppressors” are defined by race, gender, and they way they like to have sex. What then? Are they looking to eliminate, flatten, the structure of power so that whites/males/straights have the same power as dark/females/gays? I fear not. Their race-bound rhetoric indicates that they look forward to a time when the power structure is inverted; they become the oppressors and whites become the oppressed. Maybe even whites become gone, with only leering, hate-filled smiles to indicate how that will be accomplished.

  27. My preferred model for politics isn’t the Left-Right spectrum, the two-dimensional graph with a liberal-authoritarian y-axis, or the horse-shoe: it’s the Klein bottle.

    Political topology is a matter of higher-dimensional maths. The more you contemplate it the more round the bend it drives you.

    The driving force behind the identitarians is financial as much as an intellectual debt to French fraudsters. It’s not a coincidence that spoilt brats at elite universities have discovered that class isn’t such an important axis of oppression after all; not is it a mystery why middle-class men suddenly support feminism now they just need to slap on some lippy and put their name on an all-woman shortlist.

  28. Excellent! Maybe the ideological map is neither a horizontal line nor a horseshoe, but rather a scatter graph with clustering up here and there. As a liberal leftie myself, that image seems to help me orient toward conservatives, identarians, libertarians, etc. Although it’s true that on core issues like wealth inequality, health care, and the environment, I share space with liberals generally, on matters of identity I am equidistant from today’s liberals and conservatives. Not to mention a 1960s-ish libertarian streak (remember streaking?) and an occasional idea that passes for conservatism today. Maybe it’s a curved-space scatter graph. Whatever it is, I am happy to be clustered up with Helen Pluckrose!

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