The Reactionary Nature of Identity Politics

Those who want to view everything through the prisms of race, sex, gender and sexuality portray themselves as “progressives.” But they are reactionaries who seek to replace the liberal ideals that have brought so much progress in human affairs with rigid racial and sexual categories.



a group of people in uniform: Louisville, Kentucky police in late September


© Brandon Bell/Getty Images
Louisville, Kentucky police in late September

These “identitarians” see themselves as the heirs of the civil rights movement—as its logical culmination. But the civil rights movement’s aim was to abolish, not impose, the identity politics of judging individuals based solely on race or sex.

The identitarians respond that although the civil rights movement may have been effective against overt, conscious racism and sexism, it was ineffective against the more pernicious and insidious forms, which they label as structural (or systemic) racism, white privilege and patriarchy.

Structural racism is supposed to indicate the subordination of racial minorities despite the absence of intentional racial discrimination. And white privilege is its flip side. But curiously absent from this identitarian complaint is the identification of any particular “structure” that is implicated in the subordination/privilege condition. (Remember: Intentional racial discrimination, legally verboten since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and subsequently reduced overwhelmingly and marginalized, if not completely eradicated, is not the object of structural racism’s ire.)

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So what are the offending “structures?” Policing and punishing? But what race would benefit if murderers, rapists and robbers are not apprehended and punished? To seek such a Hobbesian state of affairs is lunacy.

The nuclear family? Black Lives Matter, the current darling of the identitarians, has called for “disrupt[ing]” (i.e., eliminating) it. But the dissolution of the nuclear family has led to poor educational outcomes, poverty and crime. Tearing it down further will not level the playing field; it will just sow societal destruction.

Private property? But we know what happens when private property is abolished, and it isn’t pretty. Capitalism? But capitalism—freedom to trade and acquire through trade—has raised standards of living for all races far more than its alternatives.

Awarding positions based on merit? But would any race be improved if one could not buy the products that are the most skillfully produced, hire the workers who perform their jobs the best or put in relief pitchers who can’t throw strikes? Merit is not “socially constructed,” unless you don’t care whether your surgeon knows basic anatomy.

Finally, if one looks at how racial groups fare economically, Asians do better than whites. Indian-Americans are the wealthiest ethnic group in the U.S., and East Asians are also doing well as a group. Yet one hears no complaints of “Asian privilege” or “Asian supremacy.” And blacks from Nigeria and the West Indies are disproportionately well-off. There are now many black, Hispanic and Asian millionaires, and any number of racial minority elected officials and police chiefs. And, of course, we had a two-term black president of the United States. At the same time, there are many poor and marginalized whites.

Turning to “patriarchy,” which is supposed to indicate the systemic subordination of women: Where’s the evidence? Women make up close to 60 percent of all college students and a majority of graduate students. About half of all doctors and lawyers produced in the last several decades are women, and women hold about half of all management positions. They are police chiefs, mayors, governors, members of Congress and even presidential and vice presidential candidates of major parties. Women control more than half the country’s wealth. They suffer many fewer injuries and deaths on the job than do men. And if women as a group don’t earn as much as men, that is not due to discrimination against individual women, but rather to women’s autonomous career and lifestyle choices—choices that can hardly be deemed the result of indoctrination or false consciousness. To claim otherwise is both patronizing and scientifically ignorant. If you want an example of patriarchy, go to Saudi Arabia. The U.S. is its opposite, in this respect.

The claims of structural racism, patriarchy and the like are complete fabrications, typically made to advance some person’s or persons’ agenda or power. They are Orwellian Newspeak, similar to “war is peace.” But these false claims of oppression, typically made by those who have as much freedom and opportunity as anyone on the planet, are an absurdity when one considers what real oppression looks like—think Kim’s North Korea, Mao’s China, Stalin’s Soviet Union or Hitler’s Germany. If one wants contemporary examples of racism, consider China’s treatment of the Uyghurs. For an example of patriarchy, consider, again, Saudi Arabia.

These false claims of oppression not only distract from and mask the reality of near boundless opportunity, at least for those with bourgeois values. They also distract, perhaps intentionally, from the self-destructive choices of those who denigrate those values. No race or sex suffers from structural subordination, and identitarian claims to the contrary are socially poisonous and psychologically debilitating.

Lawrence Alexander is Warren distinguished professor of law and executive co-director of the Institute for Law and Philosophy at the University of San Diego.

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.

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