last update: December 2015
Before globalization began, most people would grow up in homogenous societies and mostly meet people of their own kind. Meeting someone "different" could mean meeting a Protestant when oneself was Catholic, and the only people of other cultures the average Englishman ever met probably was an Irishman and a Frenchman (how exotic!).
Now, in a globalized world, we are being confronted with people of other identities all the time: through migrations, through international business and expat work, through travelling, through the Internet and other media. Globalization also means that people try to find an identity for themselves and to self-categorize themselves in a diverse world.
1. What are Identities?
I don't want to talk about any tumblr/sjw "identities" such as "I'm a demisexual able-bodied trans wolfkin" or other special snowflake tags. In the real world, there are five main sources of identity:
- Race or Ethnicity
- Culture or Civilization (Kulturkreis)
- Religion or Faith
- Political Ideology
(These are ordered from fixed to changeable.)
These five, together with a common history, also make up the essence of a nation in the classical sense of the word.
"Race" is a difficult topic nowadays. In some countries, such as the US and the UK, race is a normal part of the census and everyday speech. In other countries, such as France or Germany, race is said to be unscientific and non-existant - instead, one could at most speak of ethnicities. In fact, race is a social construct, in the sense that of course there are no clear "borders" between human populations that divide them into race, neither in terms of looks nor in terms of genetics. For example, even in the heyday of scientific racism, there was no consensus where to put the Indians: Caucasian? Australoid? Veddoid? Are only Dravidians Australoid and Indo-Aryans Caucasion? Is there any Mongoloid admixture? Are Indians a separate race? This shows the fundamental subjectivity when dividing mankind into races.
In that sense: yes, race is a social construct. But in the same way that human races are a social construct, dog races are also a social construct. That doesn't mean we should abolish the concept completely. Race is clearly a concept that is still relevant in our lives, both to categorize other people and ourselves. (On a side note: larger racial categories such as Caucasian, Black, and Mongoloid are still used in forensics, pharmacy, and medicine. Also, we should finally stop with the "race is only skin deep" meme, as it is much more than that.)
The importance of cultures was first formulated, as far as I know, in Samuel Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations" (1992/1996). He identified some basic civilizations/cultures such as Western civilization and its brothers, the Orthodox and Latin American ones, the Islamic culture, the Indian or Hindu one, and the East Asian or Chinese one. He also suggested that a Black African cultural (not racial) identity could emerge. These civilizations are difficult to define and separate. Often, they correspond with religious lines, but not always. For example, both the Latin American, Western, Black African, and Philippine civilizations follow Western branches of Christianity (i.e. Catholic, Anglican, or Protestant), but that does not mean that the Philippines and some Catholic African countries are culturally similar. On the other hand, the Chinese civilization includes many religions (Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Chinese folk religion, Christianity, and even Islam in case of the Hui Chinese).
Language has probably been the most obvious source of identity in the 19th and 20th century. Nationalism in Europe was not because of any "racial" lines (as in, fairer, more Germanic-looking Frenchmen from the North of France would feel unrelated to darker, more Mediterranean-looking Frenchmen from the South of France). Nationalism in Europe was because of linguistic lines. Suddenly, after centuries of German/Austrian rule, many Czech people began to promote speaking Czech again (it was reduced to a declining farmers' language before the age of nationalism), and when the Protestant North of Germany united with the Catholic South of Germany, it was because they spoke the same language - even though Catholic Belgium and Protestant Netherlands just split a few decades earlier (different churches, but same language). There were Pan-Slavic, Pan-Germanic, and Pan-Romanic movements, and the main reason Russia entered the First World War to support Serbia was Pan-Slavism. Today, language is still a source of identity, for example in the cases of Catalonian, Basque and Breton nationalism.
Religion is an obvious source of identity and many wars have been fought about it. If someone is a Jew, a Christian, or a Muslim might not matter so much to a convinced atheist, but it matters a lot to the faithful. Widespread anti-immigration sentiments in Europe today are not so much about ethnicity or race (this is only true for the far right), but about the justified fear that the formerly half-Christian-half-unreligious continent could become Muslim in a few decades.
The last source of identity is political ideology. A communist or a libertarian might not care much about any of the other identities, but may feel close to someone who shares his ideology. A working-class Marxist might feel closer to workers from the other side of the world that to the bourgeoisie of his own country. Of course, the political ideology someone has might change a few times in his life, and many people do not really subscribe to any fixed ideology. Nevertheless, and just as with religion, it matters both for the hardliners of any ideology, and for those who want to hear nothing about it.
2. Identities Lead to Conflicts
Identities lead to conflicts, as they make people form groups and identify outsiders. This is not necessarily the fault of any of these sources of identity, as we wouldn't have one united mankind if we all spoke the same language and had the same religion and so on. People always identify with a group, for example the family or tribe in more primitive societies. Conflicts can include war, civil war, terrorism, hate crimes, oppression, genocide, linguicide, ethnic or religious cleansing, discrimination, ghettoization, deportation, and so on - but also peaceful separations such as the independence of the Black and Christian South Sudan from the Arab and Muslim (North) Sudan.
Examples for racial conflicts would be South Africa during apartheid (oppression of Blacks) and Rhodesia (civil war leading to the expulsion and murder of the white population), or South Africa now (a genocide against the white Afrikaaners being in preparation by the ruling black supremacists according to GenocideWatch) and the US now (worsening race relations during the last Obama term according to surveys, probably because of the whole George Zimmerman/Travon Martin and BLM mumbo jumbo).
The prime example for cultural conflicts is the Yugoslavian war, where Western civilization (Croats), Orthodox civilization (Serbs), and Islamic civilization (Bosniaks) were fighting against each other.
Regarding language, we could interpret the language-based nationalism leading to the First World War as a relevant conflict, or the discussions about the Flemish/Walloon relations in Belgium today.
For religion, it is very easy to find examples: the Islamic expansion and following Reconquista and Crusades, the 30 Years War, the separation of Catholic Belgium from the (mostly) Protestant Netherlands, Hindu nationalists prosecuting Christians and Muslims in India, the Israel-Palestine conflict, and today's Sunni vs. Shia conflict in the Middle East as well as the Muslim vs. non-Muslim tensions in Europe today.
Ideology leads to small conflicts on a personal scale the whole time (I guess most people have had a heated discussion about politics at least once - you wouldn't do the same with languages, as in "my language is better than yours and here are the reasons"). On a large scale, there was the Second World War (Liberal democratic USA and UK as well as Communist Russia vs. Fascist Italy and Germany as well as Traditionalist Japan) and of course the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.
3. How to Solve Identity Conflicts
There are three main ideas how to solve these conflicts that may arise when people of different identities have to interact with each other.
1. Separation of the identitarian groups. An example would be the ethnopluralism concept of the New Right. People who like this approach tend to support Nationalism or at least the existence of homogeneous national states. Politically, this has now become limited to the right-wing (or actually, parties who favour nationalism are now called right-wing, even if they fight against capitalism or support a liberal society). According to them, diversity should be preserved on a global scale by separating different peoples, as mixing them would lead to a destruction of diversity in the long term.
2. Mixing of the identitarian groups and promotion of tolerance. An example would be the multiculturalist "melting pot" ideas of today that have become very popular since the 1960s in the West. Supporters of this approach tend to support internationalism. According to them, diversity should come to every country in the form of different ethnicities, religions, cultures, and languages living together in one place. The states are administrative units rather than the home of a certain people. This approach is usually categorized as left-wing.
3. Dissolution or destruction of the identitarian groups and the creation of a global "identity". This globalist idea includes the promotion of "one language, one religion, one mixed race worldwide" in opposition to the multikulti variant which wants "many languages, many religions, many races, but mixed together everywhere" and the nationalist idea of "one language, one religion, one race in each country, but the right to an own country for each of them". Supporters of the globalist approach tend to support transnationalism and the destruction of diversity (even if they would never word it like this). This approach can be categorized as (n)either left-wing or right-wing and may also be also criticized from both sides.
4. Implications for Politics
In European or Western politics, the left/right paradigm has actually become a anti-identitarian/identitarian paradigm. Identitarian parties are constantly categorized as "right-wing populist" or "far right", sometimes rightly so and sometimes not. Classical left/right dichotomies such as socialism vs. capitalism, moral relativism vs. religious piousness, personal freedom vs. obeying authority, democracy vs. monarchy, progress vs. reaction, or man as a fallen angel vs. man as a rising beast have been abolished for the new anti-identitarian vs. identitarian opposition.
A party that stands for the welfare state and for LGBT rights is left-wing, isn't it? No so fast: if it opposes immigration or is "islamophobic", it is suddenly a "right-wing populist" party (at least in the terminology of European journalists and politicians). In the same sense, other parties have moved to the left. The CDU, Germany's ruling party (headed by Angela Merkel) used to be the most right-wing party in the parliament. It opposes socialism and left-wing economical ideas, takes the lion's share of corporate political donations, and it is hesitant to accept gay marriage or legalize abortions. Now, a recent survey (12/2015) showed that the party is for the first time viewed as left of the political centre. The economic and social standpoints did not fundamentally change, but Merkel did invite millions of immigrants from the Middle East and Africa in 2015 - is that the reason the party is now suddenly deemed left-wing?. The rightmost party in the same survey is promoting a socialist welfare state and opposes American foreign policy. Why is it right-wing? Probably because it wants to halt all immigration and is staunchly nationalist (an ideology that was originally left-wing).
There are 9 resulting positions for parties to occupy: a party can have anti-identitarian, neutral (or post-identitarian), or pro-identitarian attitudes, and for each of these there are the 3 classical political categories which can be broadly described as socialist, conservative, and liberal.
1. Collectivistic & revolutionary (~ socialist):
Anti-Identitarian parties include the socialist or communist parties of most European countries, which are economically leftist/anti-capitalistic, and at the same time support mass immigration. Just think of the British Labour party importing their future electorate from 3rd world countries via mass immigration (this really happened and is no tinfoil hat theory).
A "neutral" socialist or collectivistic party would promote the welfare state or even communism and oppose nationalism. At the same time, they would not attack the traditions of their country (e.g. the church or the national symbols) and they would by critical of immigration (not such much because of a desire for racial purity or identitarian homogeneousness, but rather because this would lower wages of the working class). An example could be the social democratic parties of the first half of 20th century - since approximately the 1970s most of them have become anti-identitarian. It would also include some East European socialist and communist parties which support international solidarity, but also maintain some healthy patriotism. An example could be the Slovakian social democrats, who are a member of the Socialist International, but also oppose Muslim immigration to their country after seeing how it damages the identities of Western nations.
Identitarian parties of this type include fascist or national socialist parties that oppose any kind of immigration and multiculturalism and at the same time want a welfare state like classical left-wing parties do or even want to abolish capitalism. A moderate example could be the Front National of France, radical examples could be the National Democratic Party of Germany and the British National Party.
2. Value-oriented & preserving (~ conservative):
On the anti-identitarian side of the political axis, one could classify the Green parties of many Western European countries. They often have Maoist roots (e.g. the German Greens) and reject the traditional values of the Christian West, but they are conservative or even reactionary regarding their own values (e.g. they're against nuclear power, against GMOs, against cars, have a fear of modern technology, a preference for homemade, regional products and a nostalgic view of the past in the sense of a c. 1900 century Sweden directly out of the Astrid Lindgren's books, i.e. they are emotionally conservative). These parties were the first to come up with multiculturalism and the idea that immigration should not be limited and immigrants should not be forced to integrate into the host society but preserve their foreign cultures.
The "neutral" (in terms of identitarianism) parties are often former conservative parties: a good example could be the Christian Democratic Union of Germany, which used to be a conservative party before Merkel came into power and is now letting in millions of unqualified immigrants - probably not with the ultimate wish to dissolve the German nation, but rather with a harmless or naive attitude of "it might be good for the economy" and "we need to show we're good people".
Identitarian parties of the conservative kind have basically taken over the old positions of the now cuckservative parties. Examples include PiS ruling in Poland, Victor Orban's party in Hungary, the Sweden Democrats, or the young Alternative für Deutschland. They promote traditional values and oppose multiculturalism or mass immigration. One might also put Vladimir Putin into this category.
3. Individualistic & natural state oriented (~ liberal, not necessarily in the American sense):
Here, anti-identitarian parties also want to establish a multicultural utopia free of hate and are often similar to the Green parties, but more progressive in terms of technology and less restrictive in terms of economy. An example could be the Pirate parties, which have made a turn to the "left" and now want to abolish nationalism and borders as well as the dominance of Western culture within Western nations. At the same time, they fight against surveillance and the power of intellectual property right owners and sometimes argue for a small state. Furthermore, these parties are liberal in the social sense (e.g. for the equal treatment of LGBT people, men and women, citizens and non-citizens, ...).
The "neutral" position is again occupied by formerly right-wing liberal parties or libertarian parties. They are against restrictions in the economy, for low taxes, and for freedom in society (again, think of LGBT etc.). They argue for small states and free trade, and consequently also for free migration. These people believe in a global capitalistic system, in which personal freedom (the far right might sometimes call it degeneracy) is promoted and nations or identities are just an obstacle for people's natural right to the pursuit of happiness (e.g. Africans moving to the West) or firms' natural right of paying low wages in accordance to the resulting oversupply of workers. An example could be the Libertarian Party of the US or the billionaire George Soros who said about Hungarian president Orban: "His plan treats the protection of national borders as the objective and the refugees as an obstacle. Our plan treats the protection of refugees as the objective and national borders as the obstacle" (quoted from an e-mail statement of Soros to Bloomberg, 10/2015).
The identitarian liberal position is quite rare: the prime example would be the Dutch politician Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party (PVV). The Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) as well as the Russian Liberal Democrats are not actually liberal, but promote conservative (and according to some political scientists even fascist) ideas. Back to the PVV: they stand for personal freedom and a free society, and they fear that this society will cease to exist due to Muslim and other 3rd world immigration. Islam's values are very similar to that of Neo-Nazis and thus it is actually surprising that many anti-identitarians and leftists oppose the latter, but somehow support and defend the former. The identitarian liberals love the freedom in the West, both in society and economy, and want to defend it from the traditionalist and quasi-fascist values of Islam and other anti-liberal foreign cultures.