Sunday, August 26, 2018

Is the left really collectivist?

It's common for right-liberals to frame politics as a contest between supporters of individualism (themselves) and collectivism (the left).

There are at least two types of individualism. The first relates to individual responsibility, and here left-liberals do seem to be more collectivist. Whereas a right-liberal will stress the ideal of self-reliance and the aim of successful competition in the market, left-liberals are more likely to claim that "it takes a village to raise a child" or to stress the need for social security.

The second kind of individualism relates to identity. Right-liberals often strongly oppose the notion of collective identity (think Jordan Peterson), seeing it as an affront to the sovereignty of the individual. They see themselves as defenders of individualism against the collectivism of leftist identity politics.

But it's not as straightforward as this. Leftist identity politics has a lot of individualistic assumptions built into it. As an example, consider the following criticism of Jordan Peterson's politics by Anne Gallagher in The Spectator. Gallagher is criticising Peterson from the left. She gives this as one of the reasons she became disenchanted with Peterson:
The first relates to Peterson’s conviction (shared by many conservatives and some progressives) that the bulk of our current social and political ills are the fault of ‘identity politics’: of groups organising and advocating on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, gender orientation, etc. This idea is attractive because it helps us to make sense of the sharp divisions we see everywhere in public life. It also presents the alluring prospect of a quick fix: by eliminating identity politics we can somehow make whole what is so badly broken.

But the truth is likely much messier. As one African-American debate opponent pointed out to him, racial identity was not something that black Americans happily assumed for themselves. It was imposed by force in order to separate them from the dominant identity and, through that separation, to withhold basic rights and freedoms. The same goes for women and other disempowered groups that are now using their externally imposed ‘identity’ to seek more space, more opportunities and greater power. It is those who inflicted the identity in the first place – and who sense a threat to the disproportionate space, opportunities and power they have enjoyed as a result – who are made most uncomfortable by ‘identity politics’. Peterson is right that identity politics, taken to the extreme, represent a threat to valuable liberal ideas about the primacy and sovereignty of the individual. But his unwillingness (or inability) to explore contradictions and inconsistencies, and his simmering displeasure when they are noted, is telling.

This is an admirably clear statement of leftist identity politics. It assumes that group identity is wholly unnatural and that it is forced onto minority groups as an act of oppression and disempowerment. These groups then use this artificially imposed identity to fight back against the oppressor.

Canadian professor, Dr Ricardo Duchesne, draws out this point about the individualist assumptions underlying leftist identity politics in the following:
It is not that one side is into identity politics and another is not. Insomuch as leftists say that males and females are really equal, they are saying that males and females are just individuals. The difference is that for the left the playing field in the West still favours males, and for this reason leftists insist that we must play identity politics. While leftists are always finding new victims, in principle their identity politics is meant to be temporary. They want a future individualistic world in which social conditions allow for the development of the full potentialities of all individuals regardless of race and sex.

...The same logic applies to the way postmodernists use racial categories. They don't believe in races. They believe that in our current society minorities are "racialized" by dominant Whites, and that overcoming this racial hierarchy necessitates race identity politics. Their aim is to transcend altogether any form of racial identity for the sake of a society in which everyone is judged as an individual.

Leftist identity politics is extraordinary when you think about it. It requires us to believe, for instance, that women only have a distinct female identity because men "inflicted" it on them, imposing it "by force." It makes a female identity sound like a terrible thing to have, a punishment; it gives to men an almost god-like power of creating a female identity out of nothing; and it ignores the more obvious natural origins of women identifying as women.

So leftist identity politics does lead to "collective action" but the underlying philosophy is individualistic. The answer to it is not a right-liberal rejection of identity. This only leaves the targets of leftist identity politics weakly disorganised and unable to defend themselves.

And, more than this, humans are relational creatures. So you do not defend the individual by making him autonomous of others or by denying the sense of identity, belonging, connectedness, commitment and security that comes with membership of natural human communities (see here for a defence of identity).

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Anning speech

Something happened in Australian politics last week. Senator Fraser Anning made his maiden speech in parliament and boldly challenged the civic nationalist status quo.

I have no idea how skilled a politician Senator Anning will prove to be, and I do have a few criticisms of the speech, but it was a promising moment of resistance, which hopefully will lead on to other things.

The speech began with a reference to a founding father of Australia, Sir Henry Parkes, who saw kinship as vital to national identity:
The founding father of our Federation knew that it was not simply a bounteous land that makes a nation, but the common threads of inherited identity that unite its people.

The great thing about this comment is that it directly rejects the liberal idea that autonomous choice is the highest good and that only a self-determined identity is allowed to matter. Instead, Senator Anning defends "the common threads of inherited identity" that defined traditional nations and peoples.

Anning then goes on to blend two normally separate political strands, by combining economic nationalism with a belief in a small, non-intrusive state. He identifies pre-Whitlam Australia (prior to the 1970s) as having a better political consensus:
Fifty years ago Australia was a cohesive, predominantly Anglo-Celtic nation. Most people thought of themselves as Christian of some sort, although most of us didn't go to church all that often. Everyone, from the cleaners to the captains of industry, had a shared vision of who we were as a people and our place in the world.

Until the late 1960s, prior to the rise of Whitlam in the Labor Party, there was a broad consensus between the Liberal and Labor parties on the kind of society we were and what we should be in the future. In the 1960s, both Liberal and Labor parties reflected a common framework of Judeo-Christian values, supporting the family as the basic unit of society. They both supported the principle that marriage was a union between a man and woman, and both parties recognised the sanctity of the lives of the unborn. Both major parties agreed that people should be free to live their own lives and say what they thought without fear of state sanction. Both sides of politics recognised the importance of our manufacturing industries as well as our farming and mining. Both parties recognised the importance of our predominantly European identity.

I agree with most of this but I think he underestimates how far the political class had moved away from "Judeo-Christian values" in favour of explicitly liberal ones, and that the logic of these liberal principles was likely over time to undermine traditional marriage and a traditional national identity. Liberalism tends to move generationally. One generation pushes it so far and then believes it has gone far enough, but the next generation takes it further.

Anning blames Gramscian communism for the decline of traditional Australia:
A tectonic shift has occurred in which the previously agreed social and political order has been overthrown in an insidious silent revolution. To understand fully what has happened to our country, I believe that we must look to the work of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci's insight was to see revolution in cultural rather than economic terms, with 'cultural hegemony' as the key to supposed class dominance. The Marxist state, Gramsci argued, could be achieved by gradual cultural revolution—subverting society via a long march through the institutions.

Maybe this is part of it. But in Australia some of the most influential radicals of the 1960s were associated with the Sydney Push and they had a left-libertarian philosophy rather than a communist one. They were strongly influenced by John Anderson, who had been appointed a professor of philosophy at Sydney University way back in 1927.

And we can go back to the 1930s to find influential figures in Australian politics pressing for a more diverse society as a matter of "social justice":
In newspaper articles, speeches made as president of the Victorian Labor Party during the 1930s, and later after election as federal member for Melbourne in 1940, Calwell's deep concern for social justice was invariably linked with the creation in Australia of an ethnically mixed society through large-scale immigration. a confidential note addressed to Chifley in 1944 he wrote of his determination to develop a heterogeneous society

It's the same sort of thinking that we have today, except that it wasn't taken as far in 1944 as it is now - but the same logic is at play. And if you believe that social justice demands ethnic diversity, then it seems inevitable that this principle would eventually extend to diversity from all corners of the globe. Calwell only wanted to take the principle so far, but there was no reason for the next generation not to take it to the next logical stage. Cultural Marxism wasn't necessary for this to happen.

There is a lot more in Anning's speech. He wants nation building infrastructure projects; a return to affordable housing; a withdrawal from treaties which undermine Australian sovereignty; and support for independent farmers. I recommend reading the entire speech rather than relying on comments about it in the mainstream media.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

A Jeongian analysis

Most readers will know the story of Sarah Jeong. She was hired by the New York Times despite a string of social media posts attacking whites.

The episode prompted Reihan Salam, who is of Bangladeshi ancestry, to write a column in The Atlantic about the prevalence of anti-white sentiment in the social circles he moves in. He writes:
What I want to do, though, is look beyond the particulars of Jeong’s remarks to better understand why anti-white rhetoric is, in some communities, so commonplace as to be banal.

He believes that some of the white bashing is due to "intra-white status jockeying":
The people I’ve heard archly denounce whites have for the most part been upwardly-mobile people who’ve proven pretty adept at navigating elite, predominantly white spaces. A lot of them have been whites who pride themselves on their diverse social circles and their enlightened views, and who indulge in their own half-ironic white-bashing to underscore that it is their achieved identity as intelligent, worldly people that counts most, not their ascribed identity as being of recognizably European descent.

I think there is some truth to this observation that social status signalling is at play. I work alongside middle-class white women who get a little excited at times when there is an opportunity to denounce white men. These are women who marry or date white men, who have white sons and who are most comfortable in a middle-class white milieu. So, in their case at least, it is not driven by personal hatred, but by some sort of status signalling (which is obvious at times, as when they contrast their own views with that of some distant, and less "enlightened," white relative).

Note that Reihan Salam connects this attitude to an underlying liberal idea, namely that our identity is not supposed to be ascribed (given to us), but self-determined (individually achieved). In other words, the liberal elite is finding ways to signal their rejection of a given (white) identity, including a sense of pride or status derived from the achievements of whites as a group, in favour of what they believe they have achieved on their own.

(This brings to mind the emphasis placed by Jordan Peterson on the idea that there should be no pride or status found within a group identity and that only a pride in individual achievement is to be permitted. He shares this view with the liberal elite. I would urge him to consider the benefit to society if the elite derived a sense of pride and status from both their own achievements and that of the larger tradition they belong to. The elite would then have a more positive regard for their own tradition and a greater sense of sharing a common fate with their compatriots.)

Reihan Salam goes on to consider why upwardly-mobile Asians might be drawn to anti-white speech. This part of his column is, in my opinion, a tour de force. He begins by observing that anti-white rhetoric can help Asian Americans advance in their careers as it draws the support of liberal whites in the elite:
But many of the white-bashers of my acquaintance have been highly-educated and affluent Asian American professionals. So why do they do it? What work is this usually (though not always) gentle and irony-steeped white-bashing actually performing?

...In some instances, white-bashing can actually serve as a means of ascent, especially for Asian Americans. Embracing the culture of upper-white self-flagellation can spur avowedly enlightened whites to eagerly cheer on their Asian American comrades who show (abstract, faceless, numberless) lower-white people what for. 

He explains in some detail how an Asian American who aspires to become an elite insider needs to "crack the code" of liberal-think on "racial justice" issues. He also explains how anti-white rhetoric helps to ease the "burden of representativeness" for elite Asian Americans. What he means is that there is a tension in being part of a privileged elite whilst standing in for a supposedly disadvantaged minority group:
Because you are present in elite spaces, your authenticity will often be called into question. So white-bashing becomes a form of assuaging internal and external doubts, affirming that despite ascending into the elite, you are not entirely of it.

It's an intelligent attempt to analyse the purposes served by anti-white speech and it's worth carefully reading through the original article.

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.