The Pathology of Identity Politics and the Force Behind the Pathology

This is not an endorsement of William Lind, but I was asked whether the video The History of Political Correctness is accurate. Honesty demands that I answer yes. Indeed, it’s an excellent summary of the history of critical theory and the Frankfurt School.

However, the video misses what ultimately lies behind critical theory. Because the analysis hails from the political right, it sees Marxist ambition behind critical theory. This is the great failing of rightwing politics, and occurs because it is unable to work outside the capitalist standpoint. The right operates primarily from a petty bourgeois standpoint and does not grasp that big capital operates from neither right nor left, but remains free to choose from whatever side of the political divide advances its interests in the moment. Presently that is the progressive leftwing sensibilities of the coasts of the United States.

Political correctness and identity politics do not represent a Marxist takeover of Western institutions. There is no widespread teaching of class consciousness and class struggle in the institutions of the West. There are business departments on college campuses across the nation teaching students how to better exploit labor, capture markets, and maximize profits. Departments preparing students to overthrow capitalism? Not so much. Hardly at all. But there are plenty of women’s studies, ethnic studies, gender studies, queer studies, and fat studies. The one notable thing none of them have in common is a concern for class struggle. Despite Jordan Peterson’s fevered dreams, postcolonialism, postmodernism, poststructuralism, and the like are not Marxism or really even like Marxism.

Like the conservative critique, the right libertarian critique also misses the actual force driving leftwing authoritarianism, namely transnationalism, which is a corporatist phenomenon. To hear an example, click on the Twitter link above. The left busybodies identified in that podcast have no power beyond that which is given to it by corporate power. The left—or what passes for the left these days—is a servant of capital. So far, the only person online talking about this who understands international political economy (besides me) is Steve Bannon, who warns conservatives about spreading the false notion that socialism is the problem. (The folks over at Spiked come pretty close to getting at the truth at times.)

Despite what you may have heard, there are very few Marxists in the academy. Most of those who identify as “on the left” work hand-in-hand with corporations to meet their needs for expanded exploitation of resources, workforce development, profit generation, and legitimizing corporate governance. The academy is part of what Antonio Gramsci calls the extended state. Today, that’s state monopoly capitalism. Instead of raising class consciousness, the academy indoctrinates youth in gender and race politics, etc., conditioning them to loathe Western civilization, which is portrayed as irredeemably racist and sexist.

Political correctness and identity politics comprise not a strategy to advance communism (conservatives sound silly when they make this claim), but a strategy used by corporate power to fragment the working class along lines constructed by abstract categories and disrupt the development of class consciousness by involving men and women in divisive identity politics, diverting them from class politics. More than this, because the corporatist project is has as its goal the establishment of a thoroughgoing transnational order, societal and cultural institutions condition the young to associate western civilization of racism and colonialism in order to enlist them in a denationalizing project to cancel democratic-republicanism, erase nation states, and integrate the working classes of the West fully into the global economy, where the state capitalist model of the Chinese Communist Party is inviable.

The New Left is largely a simulation running on corporate power. For example, if racism is functionally useful to elites, and society has overcome racism, then elites will reconstruct a new racism—a simulation—to restore that function. James Lindsay the author of Cynical Theories, usefully calls the effect of the simulation “pseudo-reality.” A jargon and slogans construct the simulacra of racist and sexist oppression that stand in place of the oppression lost to history and struggle—a history that proves the validity of the democratic-republican institutions of western civilization.

The left thus live in a fact-free universe. Search through and find and read my posts where I debunk the Black Lives Matter claim that cops shoot blacks are a disproportionately higher rate than they do whites. Or ask yourself, do those who claim that had a black mob breached the Capitol cops would have mowed them down base that counterfactual on the the nonfact that cops killed scores of black men during the summer riots? The reason one should find the counterfactual so ridiculous is because of widespread support from the so-called white establishment in these cities for the riots. Based on that fact, what we should instead imagine happening in the counterfactual is Democrats apologizing for a black mob beaching the White House. Pelosi would have put on her Kente cloth and took a knee.

However, as W.I. Thomas noted more almost a century ago in his “definition of a situation,” “if men define situations as real they are real in the consequences,” the manufacture of oppression nonetheless carries real effects. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Tell people they are victims of racism enough and they come to believe it. Tell them western civilization is the source of their oppression, and they will seek to overthrow it.

People who perceive falsehoods as foundational truths are nearly impossible to reason with. Arguing with a congregant of the Church of Woke is like arguing with a fundamentalist Muslim. You aren’t likely to get anywhere. I don’t even try much anymore, frankly. It’s why I almost never intervene on other people’s Facebook or Twitter pages. But when the woke are trying to force the rest of us to live in their simulation, their pseudo-reality, then we have to draw the line and resist.

Since the source of oppression is reproduced by the vocabulary that produces it, which is itself expresses a desire to oppress (“all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”), there is no way out of it on its own terms. So we have to reject the vocabulary and demand of those who would converse with us language that describes reality not constructs it.

Here’s another example. When people talk about “systemic racism” they remind me, as if I didn’t know, that racism can be systemic. I teach race and ethnic relations. I wrote a two-volume 800-plus dissertation on the subject. I know the literature. I know that actual examples of systemic racism—Jim Crow segregation in the United States or apartheid in South Africa—were abolished decades ago. What they are really doing by “reminding” me of this is changing the definition while pretending they aren’t. Systemic must mean something else in their usage. I’m not necessarily suggesting their deceit is intentional. But it doesn’t matter whether it is. It functions the same way—actually, even better if it is reflex.

One more example. On January 20, 2021, Counterpunch published an essay, “The Nazification of the Republican Party,” by Loretta J. Ross. After asserting that the Trump is a “white supremacist,” she writes, “The Republicans are a morally bankrupt political party that supported a deranged president who brought this fragile, evolving democracy to the brink of extinction simply because they can’t stand the glacially slow and righteous empowerment of people of color and any limits on their power to amass an immoral amount of wealth.” The essay is a terrific example of how woke ideology deranges thinking. The degree of delusion in the essay indicates a mentality not unlike that of a cult member or a religious zealot. Democracy was brought to the brink of extinction by a messy riot at the US Capitol? All the milling about of a menagerie if individuals across the political spectrum, some of who were clearly mentally ill, represented an organized plan to overthrow the American government? Ross doesn’t live in the real world. She lives in the simulation.

“I know this,” Ross writes about her expertise on Nazism, “because I teach a course on White Supremacy at Smith College.” Smith College is a private liberal arts women’s college in Northampton, Massachusetts. The college portrays itself as a paradigm of progressive education, operating without programmatic curriculum or course requirements. It’s to the left of Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Unlike Evergreen, it’s a very exclusive fair, its student body populating key roles in the culture industry (which their starting point in economic privilege would have place them anyway). This college is the place where, for using the word “nigger” in a discussion about the word, a campaign of cancellation against Wendy Kaminer was initiated. Students accused her of committing “an explicit act of racial violence.” She remarked to Susan Kruth from The New York Times (read a summary of the article at FIRE), “It’s amazing to me that [students] can’t distinguish between racist speech and speech about racist speech, between racism and discussions of racism.” I often express amazement, as well. But it’s not really amazing when you understand what’s going on. These are the sites where the simulation is downloaded and installed on the wetware of human brains.

It is a monumental task to correct the massive error that New Left ideology has wrought on the West. Because it is a corporate-powered simulation, it has been embedded across our institutions—the academy, the administrative apparatus (public and private), the culture industry, the government, the mass media, even churches. The liberal—autonomous, rational, secular, skeptical—is outgunned by the overgrowth of the corporatist establishment. A heretic, this character we should celebrate, the liberal even becomes a pariah. Cast as repressive tolerance, free speech is a rightwing idea. The liberal’s opposition to racism and authoritarianism, and his commitment to individual liberty, make him a racist and a fascist. A strange and powerful alchemy is at work. The situation is very much like the free thinker confronting the religious establishment before the emergence of the secular nation-state. But this history should inspire us. We put the Borg on its back foot before. We can do it again.

One of the things that makes this work difficult is the dependency of so many on the left on security of the Democratic Party. It is amazing to me that a party with such stupid rhetoric impresses so many intelligent people. When I hear progressives say they can once again safely fall asleep in the backseat of the car because their father is driving, I hear in that metaphor a deep and pathological need for a father. You probably saw CNN political director David Chalian gushing: “The contrast on display tonight was so stark, I mean those lights that are just shooting out of the Lincoln Memorial along the Reflecting Pool, it’s like almost extensions of Joe Biden’s arms embracing America.” In case you missed it, here it is in all its cringe-worthiness:

It is an authoritarian desire for an adult to wish to fall asleep in the father’s arms. Authoritarianism, one must remember, is not just manifest in those who take control of society and govern as a father, it is also manifest in adults who pine to be treated like children. This is an effect of the progressive technocratic order: learned helplessness. The coddling state. This conditioning has produced a generation of brats who see themselves as victims. This is not a psychologically healthy state of being. For their sake we must object.

I have a much longer essay coming out in the future on the problem of partisan ideology obscuring the force behind identity politics. It will truly be a deep dive. The problem that inspires this work is this: modern conservatives, who are natural allies of the working class, because the working class is conservative and classically liberal, wrongly believe that Marxists have taken over the institutions of US society. How could this be possible in a capitalist society? It’s not. Marxism’s choice of comrades–the working class–stand in opposition to the bourgeoisie, the capitalist class. However, simply pointing out that truism is not enough to convince people. So I have been providing in these essays analyses of the structure of progressive ideology and practice and linking it to the functional apparatus securing, advancing, and entrenching a particular fraction of the capitalist class, namely big capital in the form of the limited liability corporation.

Corporations, operating on the rationality of monopolization and profit maximization, are open to whatever ideology advances their material interests. Today corporations are woke and take up leftwing ideology. But that hardly means their communist or socialist. The petty bourgeoisie, the small capitalist, does not operate in the same way. My sympathy for the petty bourgeoisie is often misunderstood as support for rightwing ideology. This could not be more wrong. My vision of a proper democratic-republic society in one in which workers, in charge of their firms of scale, work alongside small businesses, craftsmen, etc., and together in a spirit of social improvement manage the affairs of their communities for the benefit of their families. That is the populist vision, and it is neither right nor left. Rather, it is humanist, individualist, democratic, and secular. My arguments are a call for a restoration of the Enlightenment and the nation-state.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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