Contemporary Conversations: CRT and Its Impact on Colleges, Students, and Society
November 1, 2023
In this episode of The American Idea, Professor Robert George discusses the concept of identitarianism, a term that may not be familiar to all but carries significant implications for American public life. Identitarianism, often closely related to tribalism, has become a growing concern in contemporary American society. This article explores the origins, impact, and dangers of identitarianism, shedding light on why it poses a severe threat to the American democratic experiment.
Identitarianism and Tribalism
Identitarianism, often referred to as tribalism, is a phenomenon where individuals define themselves primarily based on their religious, cultural, or ideological affiliations, leading to the categorization of people into various groups. In this context, Professor George draws parallels with the idea of tribalism, which has contributed to the polarization of American politics and culture. Instead of treating each other as civic friends, citizens increasingly view those with differing opinions as enemies. The essence of identitarianism lies in the rigid adherence to group identities, such as race, class, gender, or ideology, which overshadow the recognition of individuals as fellow citizens. This tribalistic mindset, according to Professor George, poses a severe threat to the foundations of a healthy republican democracy.
Identitarianism’s pernicious effects on American democracy can be traced back to James Madison’s Federalist No. 10, where he raised concerns about factionalism. Factions, according to Madison, arise naturally from human nature and can lead to divisive and destructive political dynamics. However, what distinguishes identitarianism from traditional factionalism is its focus on categorizing individuals into two broad categories: the oppressed and the oppressor. This division oversimplifies the complexities of human affairs, reducing individuals to their perceived characteristics and affiliations.
The intellectual roots of identitarianism can be found in various forms of critical theory. This theoretical framework gained prominence in the academic world in the 20th century and has had a profound influence on contemporary thought. Critical theory, stemming from the Frankfurt School and figures like Herbert Marcuse, offers a revisionist perspective on Marxist ideology. While Marx’s theory primarily revolved around class struggle and economic determinism, critical theory expanded this framework to include other social categories such as race, gender, and class.
The Impact on American Society
Identitarianism, closely linked with the concept of wokeness, divides society into distinct categories of oppressed and oppressor, often based on immutable characteristics. This oversimplified framework hinders rational discourse and understanding, leading to a divisive and polarized social landscape. It neglects the complexities of individual perspectives and fosters a climate where ideological affiliation takes precedence over genuine dialogue.
Identitarianism poses a significant threat to American democracy, as it undermines the fundamental principles of civic friendship and open discourse. To preserve the spirit of the American founding, it is crucial to recognize the dangers of identitarianism and work towards a more inclusive and intellectually diverse society. By transcending the confines of identity politics and embracing a more holistic view of individuals, we can foster a healthier, more robust democracy for generations to come.
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