Imagine an ideology rigidly dictating who can say what and how to think. This is Identity politics and it stipulates that the legitimacy of ones views is determined by ones identity; defined by gender, ethnic or sexual orientation. This is inimical to universalist Enlightenment values.

Identity politics is, firstly, corrosive to liberty. Personal liberty emerged by smashing taboos. Therefore, ideologies which endorse speech taboos are-by definition, reactionary. Identity politics is reactionary because freedom of speech is circumscribed on the basis of who a person is. The rhetoric of privilege becomes a cudgel to batter liberty. More notably, though, it batters equality; prohibiting certain people from freely speaking-on the basis of their identity- is incommensurate with egalitarian principles. Identity politics entails this, by assuming a hierarchy of oppression should precondition how we assign human rights to individuals; Not impartially-as it should be, but contingent upon a persons identity. Although this affront to egalitarianism is objectionable, identity politics’ draconian impulse extends more prominently to debate.

It impairs debate in a simple way. Rather than maintaining a dispassionate focus on issues- discourse, shaped by identity politics, begin and end in ad hominem. Rather than constructing a sound argument, one can just emphatically declare “check your privilege”. This antipathy to argument, and to critical thinking more generally, is debilitative. Egalitarian principles has been dynamically allied with rational dialogue in ameliorating human society. Identity politics doesn’t allow for either.

It is, therefore, untenable on two counts: it weaponises the language of privilege against egalitarianism, and it circumscribes rational debate for dogma. Consequently, it should be resisted.

Tom Owolade
Twitter: @owolade14


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