Social commentators, both Right and Left, have drawn attention to the ways identity politics has seemingly by-passed class-based social visions of the future, especially in America where Trump has captured white working class voters, who are full of anxieties about ‘the browning of America’ and believe that they are in danger of becoming the victims of discrimination themselves. Jennifer Delton (2017), for instance, argues ‘the problem with the rising left is that it thinks working-class people in a highly diverse society will be able to put aside other allegiances such as race and gender to challenge a neoliberal economy that has, arguably, been pretty friendly to identity politics.’ Amy Chua (2018) describes ‘How America's identity politics went from inclusion to division’ explaining ‘When groups feel threatened, they retreat into tribalism’ and arguing ‘In America today, every group feels this way to some extent. Whites and blacks, Latinos and Asians, men and women, Christians, Jews, and Muslims, straight people and gay people, liberals and conservatives – all feel their groups are being attacked, bullied, persecuted, discriminated against.’ She suggests that identity politics occurs on both sides of the political spectrum – nobody supports ‘an America without identity politics, for an American identity that transcends and unites all the country’s many subgroups.’ In America, Chua and others argue we have passed the era of liberalism and civil rights, and now national unity and equal opportunity are no longer the values that transcend group difference. Mark Lilla (2016) writing of ‘The End of Identity Liberalism’ argues that the Left’s exaltation of diversity is ‘a splendid principle of moral pedagogy, but disastrous as a foundation for democratic politics in our ideological age.’ He suggests ‘In recent years American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.’ He goes on to say that the Left, if they want to return to political power, need to put a feel-good ‘Identitarianism’ behind them. Yet as Gregory Leffel (2017) points out, Lilla seems to have forgotten ‘that Trump won the election because of identity politics’ (my italics). America was founded on slavery and white supremacy, liberal identitarianism finally emerged in the 1960s after years of struggle, as a fully blown corrective and alternative legal system based on civil rights. Lilla was accused of ‘underwriting the whitening of American nationalism’ to make white supremacy respectable again (Franke, 2016). Whichever way you spin it ‘identity liberalism’ is an issue and white identity politics was in part responsible for Trump’s election victory. It is certainly no longer ‘business as usual’ as its ramifications for liberal internationalism with the beginning of trade wars are still working themselves out. Francis Fukuyama’s (1989) ‘The End of History’ that saw history in Hegelian terms as a clash of ideology, to proudly announce ‘Liberal democracy has won’ now seems utterly absurd. As John Ikenberry (2018) puts it the liberal international world order that dominated for seventy years is in crisis. Trump has proved himself recalcitrant on ‘Trade, alliances, international law, multilateralism, environment, torture and human rights’ (p. 7) and liberal democracy itself is in retreat as new authoritarianism, at once populist, nationalist and xenophobic, rapidly spreads around the world signalling ‘big man’ politics in countries as diverse as Hungary, Poland, Philippines and Turkey. For teachers and academics who spent the last forty years fighting neoliberalism and teaching the values of social democracy and human rights, this dramatic turnabout is disorienting, confusing and disheartening. What are the critical issues involved in this debacle? What and how should we teach against or about the alt-right? And what of liberal identity politics in the classroom?
Chua, Amy (2018) How America's identity politics went from inclusion to division, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/mar/01/how-americas-identity-politics-went-from-inclusion-to-division
Delton, Jennifer (2017) The left’s grand delusion, The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/made-by-history/wp/2017/07/28/the-lefts-diversity-problem/
Franke, Katherine (2016) Making White Supremacy Respectable. Again. BLARB,
Fukuyama, Francis (1989) The End of History, The National Interest, copy available, http://www.wesjones.com/eoh.htm, http://blog.lareviewofbooks.org/essays/making-white-supremacy-respectable/, https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/gregory-leffel/left-s-problem-isn-t-politics-it-s-metaphysics
Ikenberry, John. G. (2018) The end of the liberal International order? International Affairs 94: 1 (2018): 7–23.
Leffel, Gregory (2017) The left’s problem isn’t politics—it’s metaphysics, Open Democracy
Lilla, Mark (2016) The End of Identity Liberalism, The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/20/opinion/sunday/the-end-of-identity-liberalism.html
To indicate an expression of interest please send a 300-word abstract with title, name, affiliation and email address by November 30, 2018 to:
The Editors, Educational Philosophy & Theory:
Deputy Editor, Dr Marek Tesar, University of Auckland, firstname.lastname@example.org
Deputy Editor, Dr Liz Jackson, University of Hong Kong, email@example.com
Managing Editor, Susanne Brighouse, firstname.lastname@example.org