I have a bumper-sticker critique of the identity politics that produced a Democratic Party loss, with the entire political Establishment united in favor of the Democratic Party nominee, in the recent election earlier this month.
That is, Identity Politics Is Regressive Politics.
To support this, there is already the evidence of the stinging defeat of both Democratic Party hopes in the United States, as well as the split the last week within the ranks of progressives in Portland, Oregon, where so easy-going a spokesperson as Cameron Whitten is shouted down when he addresses a group through a purportedly open mike, at the request of a respected participant.
But, faithful to my temptation to see so many instructive political evidence in the history of Eastern Europe, let me haul in that world, so distant in time and space.
The Czechs did not hate the Germans, but they surely felt that they were disrespected, even with autonomy within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They agitated, and got, following World War One, a homeland of their own. A homeland that was rapaciously gobbled up, within twenty years, by Germany. When, after ten years of German domination and forty of Russian domination, the Czech lands finally regained the freedom of self-rule, the Slovaks pretty soon opted out of the 1919 union.
The Serbs wanted to play the part of the unifiers of all the South Slavs. In pursuit of that aim, there was a secret society within the Serbian government that conspired at the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of Austro-Hungary, and intentionally precipitated World War One, locally referred to in Sarajevo as “the Third Balkan War”.
Corresponding movements among Poles, Croats, Montenegrins, and Magyars helped to destroy the multi-ethnic, relatively liberal and if casually brutal then generally peaceful, Austro-Hungarian Empire. It wasn’t an oppressive association of a multitude of different ethnicities, so much as something that did not give each and every group its own stomping ground, its own, as we say nowadays, “space”.
The break-up promoted a period of radical instability, coups and counter-coups, and fascism, followed by the submersion of the entire area in the Communist tide of the Cold War.
The very same insistence upon national identities is plaguing the European Union today, and has already contributed to (arguably decisively caused) the recent British withdrawal, and perhaps to the break-up of the whole enterprise.