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Family Breakdown and the Rise of Identity Politics

With months of race riots continuing in the United States, identity politics is a phrase all too familiar to us in 2020.

Often credited to French philosopher Michel Foucault, identity politics is a window on the world that sees all social relationships as a power struggle. Black versus white, male versus female, gay versus straight, and on the list goes. Each group, according to this worldview, is battling it out to advance their particular political agenda.

With humour and precision, Michael Bird, a lecturer at Ridley College, explains that in the new social pyramid:

Your authority derives not so much from achievement or ability, but from your minority status and experiences of victimisation. So, that means in an argument, a white woman trumps a white man; a black woman trumps a white woman, a disabled woman trumps a black woman, and a disabled black transgendered Muslim refugee trumps pretty much everybody.

Late last year, Australians watching Q&A encountered a rather confronting example of this new creed. One of the visiting guests was Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy, whose writings have appeared in The Washington Post, the New York Times and beyond.

To viewers’ surprise, Eltahawy labelled Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison a “white supremacist” and a “patriarchal authoritarian”. She went on to explain that, “for me, as a feminist, the most important thing is to destroy patriarchy.” At one point, Eltahawy bypassed the panel to address the audience directly:

How long must we wait for men and boys to stop murdering us, to stop beating us, and to stop raping us? How many rapists must we kill — not by the state, because I disagree with the death penalty… until men stop raping us?

Behind her biting words, of course, Eltahawy had some genuine grievances. Domestic violence, for instance, affects women especially, and it’s an issue dealt with by police every two minutes in Australia. Sexual abuse remains a serious problem in our societies, and one that predominantly affects women, too.

There are many social ills in the modern world, and they should concern us all. But Eltahawy’s biting tone was unnerving, and it is becoming more commonplace.

Westerners are finding it increasingly difficult to sift social concerns from heated ideas like identity politics. The pressure is on now, not just to provide care to the disadvantaged, but to prove your sincerity by embracing politicised viewpoints. Resentment, victimhood and grievance are the new currency.

In the interests of equality, we are learning to assume the best about some people and the worst about others, even if we haven’t met them. This hardly feels like progress. How did it all come to this?

Essayist and author Mary Eberstadt recently addressed this question in her book Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics. It’s a title worth the price of entry.

Until the 1960s, Western sexual ethics were more or less Christian sexual ethics: a man married a woman; sex was reserved for that covenant; children were a natural result; and the family unit was the safe place for children to be raised.

The Sexual Revolution changed all that. As faith waned and morals loosened after the wars, personal happiness was one pursuit we could all agree on. Sexual fulfilment played a crucial role in this. Consequently, rates of infidelity, divorce, teenage sex and unmarried pregnancy began to soar from the 60s, and they have stayed high ever since.

Other forces were at play. Abortion and the pill turned sex into a childless exchange. This made marriage optional. IVF therapies took this a step further by enabling children to be born in the absence of either a father or a mother. So what the family unit looks like now is limited only to the imagination.

Many consider all of these benign trends of the modern world, but Eberstadt disagrees. Having researched and published widely in this field, Eberstadt credits the Sexual Revolution and its impact on the family unit with a “sharp rise in psychiatric trouble among the young… the explosion of loneliness on a scale never before recorded [and] the rise in so-called ‘deaths of despair’ that are plainly related to loss of love.”

She explains how the weakening of family ties and identity has led to a ‘longing for belonging’ among many in the West. She quotes Arthur Schlesinger Jr, who reasoned that:

“the more people feel themselves adrift in a vast, impersonal, anonymous sea, the more desperately they swim toward any familiar, intelligible, protective life-raft; the more they crave a politics of identity.”

In other words, says Eberstadt, the breakdown of loving, stable homes in the West has prompted us to look for family and loyalty elsewhere.

Enter identity politics.

Mary Eberstadt’s thesis is a compelling one — that the erosion of the family unit has led us to find our identity in fragmented groups. Whether or not hers is the best explanation for the social splintering we now see in the West, it is a trend that shows no signs of slowing down.

Having taken individualism to an extreme and tasted the loneliness it can cause, we now face a new kind of tribal warfare — a postmodern caste system. We are losing the ability to see each other as individuals, and instead as mere symbols of rival groups.

This is not progress. We will need something greater than the sum of our parts to pull us back together. Perhaps we can begin with the wise words of C.S. Lewis, who said:

We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.

This content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license.

COLUMN BY

Kurt Mahlburg

Kurt Mahlburg is a teacher, freelance writer, and the Features Editor of the Canberra Declaration. He contributes regularly at the Spectator Australia, Caldron Pool and The Good Sauce. He hosts his own… .

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EDITORS NOTE: This MercatorNet column is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved.

The Politics of Heaven and Hell

Robert Royal: Heaven is in Heaven and the New Jerusalem cannot be brought to Earth by our efforts; only God will bring perfect justice at the Second Coming.


Shortly after I arrived in Washington years ago, I reviewed a book with the same title as this column. A friend warned about reviewing books by that particular author – our late lamented colleague James V. Schall, S.J. – because if you start, he said, you won’t have time for anything else. And that was before the supernova of titles that Schall the Great turned out in his seventies, eighties, and even nineties.

Ignatius Press is republishing The Politics of Heaven and Hell this fall with an introduction by another incisive and prolific writer, Robert Reilly. A good thing, too, because in our current chaos, when it seems almost impossible to get sure footing about anything, this relatively neglected volume not only uncovers sure foundations. It explains the ways by which we’ve mixed up eternal and temporal things – and put the times out of joint.

Schall’s central insight is that our central traditions of both faith and reason agree that politics is an important, but circumscribed realm. If we were the highest beings, politics would be the highest science, said Aristotle. That wise pagan – Dante calls him “the master of those who know” – knew that we are not the highest beings. There’s God, for starters, and His Creation, to which we owe deference. Ignore them, and the inevitable result is chaos, suffering, servitude, tyranny, and death.

The ancient Hebrews learned this well before Aristotle. Schall notes how little attention political theorists pay to the Old Testament, the history of a small and obscure nation – Israel – that survived, improbably, down to our own time, with incalculable influence on the history of the whole world. It did so not because of any special policies or virtues: Jewish history is a record of graces given and refused, of return and consequent flourishing, of many rounds of ignoring God, decline, and renewal through Him.

The overall lesson: nations are great not because they accumulate power or wealth. Power and wealth come and go. And aren’t all they seem anyway. Nations are made great, however insignificant they may be in earthly terms, because God makes them so and they conform themselves to God.

Christianity, of course, limited politics in a special way, beginning with Jesus’ famous distinction between the things that are Caesar’s – the arrangements necessary to human flourishing (even, sadly, taxes) – and the things that are God’s. Those few words had immense, cascading effects in the Christian tradition.

And not only in thinkers like Augustine, Aquinas, Suárez, Bellarmine, etc. Countries historically touched by Christianity still mostly protect beliefs about ultimate things from control by politics – indeed, believe that right can and should challenge might. That separation is absent from Muslim societies, ideological regimes like China, or traditional societies where the ruler is regarded as a kind of mortal god.

But it’s not only on high intellectual or social planes that these truths prove themselves. As we’ve seen only too clearly in modern times, when politics becomes the “highest science” men become not philosopher kings, but beasts. The totalizing political systems of Communism, Nazism, and Fascism were killing machines on an unprecedented scale.

And recent decades have given birth to what the Polish philosopher Ryszard Legutko calls the “demon in democracy,” a new totalitarian temptation wherein everything is defined by political ideology. We worry over “polarization,” but there’s a deep geological fault in our politics, far more radical than that. The absence of religion in the public square, with its moderating effects, is a large factor in this development, since once the true God departs the false god of the state arrives.

Even good public impulses then become poisonous – and unlimited. For example, we’ve just seen what can happen when a proper effort to right racism, a historic wrong, is made the measure of everything. Everything becomes “racist” that is not explicitly “anti-racist” – according to someone’s definition, which may differ from someone else’s. Not surprisingly, demands for absolute political justice then turn into “canceling” and anathematizing people who show the slightest deviation from an ideological line – i.e., injustice.

Historic racial inequities need to be fixed, but does injustice only involve race – with occasional bows to gender and class? Andrew Sullivan, a brilliant writer, recently resigned from New York magazine because it couldn’t bear his criticism of “cancel culture,” despite his being gay and liberal on some issues, conservative on others (and somehow also aspiring to be Catholic).

He pointed out that it’s places like the New York Times that really don’t understand a just “diversity.” The Times seems poised to cave in to employee demands that staff reflect the racial makeup of New York City: 24 percent black and more than half “people of color.” And there must be “sensitivity training” – i.e., ideological indoctrination – for everyone.

Sullivan notes that there are other underrepresented groups at the Times. Only 37 percent of New Yorkers, for example, are college graduates – who are overrepresented in the newsroom – as are Asians and Jews. Should some of them resign?  If you wanted fairer proportions of New Yorkers, 10 percent of staff would have to be Republicans, 6 percent Hasidic Jews, and 33 percent Catholic.

It may be a long wait for that because ideologues only care about certain “facts” and rarely have a sense of irony – or humor.

Which takes us back to the politics of Heaven and Hell. Heaven is in Heaven and the New Jerusalem cannot be brought to Earth by our efforts; only God will bring perfect justice at the Second Coming. The road to human hells, however, always lies wide open.

The larger perspective that religion affords us – including elements like human imperfection, sin, forgiveness, tolerance, the limits of earthly politics – does not mean that we need to be any less passionate in pursuing justice and fairness. But it does mean we have to be vigilant and measured about our own motives and the results of our actions. We have on good authority: “Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness.” (Lk. 11:3)

Robert Royal

Dr. Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century, published by Ignatius Press. The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, is now available in paperback from Encounter Books.

EDITORS NOTE: This The Catholic Thing column is republished with permission. © 2020 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: info@frinstitute.org. The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Why Capitalism is a fundamental Right of Man

Thomas Paine wrote a book titled Rights of Man. The Rights of Man posits that popular political revolution is permissible when a government does not safeguard the natural rights of its people. The Rights of Man begins thusly:

To

GEORGE WASHINGTON

PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

SIR,

I PRESENT you a small Treatise in defense of those Principles of Freedom which your exemplary Virtue hath so eminently contributed to establish.–That the Rights of Man may become as universal as your Benevolence can wish, and that you may enjoy the Happiness of seeing the New World regenerated the Old, is the Prayer of

SIR,

Your much obliged, and Obedient humble Servant,

THOMAS PAINE

Paine was addressing the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen written in France after their revolution. The basic principle of the Declaration was that all “men are born and remain free and equal in rights” (Article 1), which were specified as the rights of liberty, private property, the inviolability of the person, and resistance to oppression (Article 2).

Capitalism is defined as:

A social system based on the principle of individual rights. Politically, it is the system of laissez-faire (freedom). Legally it is a system of objective laws (rule of law as opposed to rule of man). Economically, when such freedom is applied to the sphere of production its result is the free-market.

Therefore capitalism is a basic right of man or in more modern terminology a human right.

To take away one’s property is to take away their ability to survive. Take away a farmer’s land and you take away a farmer’s ability to reap what he has sown. The farmer can no longer feed his family nor sell what he has reaped to feed others. If the state (government) controls the dirt (land) then it controls the people.

This is what the American Revolution was all about. Unchaining the people from serfdom to the King of England. 

As Friedrich A. Hayek, in his book The Road to Serfdom wrote:

It is true that the virtues which are less esteemed and practiced now–independence, self-reliance, and the willingness to bear risks, the readiness to back one’s own conviction against a majority, and the willingness to voluntary cooperation with one’s neighbors–are essentially those on which the of an individualist society rests.

Collectivism has nothing to put in their place, and in so far as it already has destroyed then it has left a void filled by nothing but the demand for obedience and the compulsion of the individual to what is collectively decided to be good.

Capitalism is the opposite of obedience and compulsion.

Capitalism can exist even in the most repressive societies, such as in Communist Cuba. In my column My Visit to Cuba — An American in Havana I wrote:

What I observed is that the Cuban people have great potential if they are unleashed and allowed to earn what they are truly worth. Socialismo (socialism) is slowly but surely killing their lives and doing them great harm. I noticed on the ride West of Havana through the rural areas of Cuba hundreds of people waiting along the road trying to get a ride. Some were nurses in their white uniforms thumbing rides to the hospital where they are needed. I saw horse drawn carriages along the major highway carrying people because the public transportation system cannot keep up with the demand. The horses and cattle we saw were emaciated. The roads were in poor shape including the national highway system.

As one Cuban man put it, “the people have no love for their work.” They have no love for their work because Cuba needs a change in direction.

A love for work comes from the rewards of one’s efforts. Take that away and you remove the soul of the individual. You remove his purpose in life. You remove the one of the fundamental rights of man.

There are those who believe the polar opposite. There are those who believe that central control trumps individual freedom. There are those who are being taught that capitalism is evil, until the time that they must earn enough to feed themselves.

There was a time in America when there were only two classes of citizens, the working class and the non-working class. The working class took care of the non-working class. Economic classification is identity politics (a.k.a. Cultural Marxism) writ large. It is designed to put the poor (those earning below a certain wage determined by government) against the rich (those earning above a certain wage determined by the government).

During his inaugural address President Trump stated:

Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning. Because today we are not merely transferring power from one Administration to another, or from one party to another – but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People.

For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.

[ … ]

The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country.

[ … ]

That all changes – starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you.

President Trump is an American. He believes in the rights of man. He is a capitalist. He is everything that Washington, D.C. hates.

RELATED ARTICLE: The Origins of the ‘Cult of Political Correctness’ [a.k.a. Cultural Marxism]

The GOP and Identity Politics in the Black Community

The Republican Party continues to miss the mark when it comes to engaging the Black community.

For those Republicans, who fastidiously claim they don’t believe in “identity politics (IP),” let me give you a piece of advice: Stop It!

Politically speaking, IP is a campaign that is based on the particular needs of a specific group of people that will give them the rationale or incentive to vote for your candidate.

For example, a Republican candidate would campaign in the Black community on issues like entrepreneurship, civil rights, voting rights, etc.; whereas the same candidate might campaign in the Hispanic community on issues like entrepreneurship, immigration, and cultural assimilation.

Far too many Republicans assert that “we are all Americans and all want the same things: jobs, education, safe neighborhoods, etc.” This is all true, but a ridiculously bland message when it comes to outreach in the Black community.

While core messaging should be a constant for all candidates, the way you communicate that message has to be crafted based on the audience you are addressing.

In business, we call this market segmentation. This is most often done with the S-T-P approach; which is segmentation, targeting, and positioning. Once you segment the voters, Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, etc., you then create a targeted campaign to speak directly to each individual group; finally, you position your messaging in a way that will resonate with that group.

McDonald’s is a classic example.

Their objective is to sell their Big Macs to the American people, so their TV commercials are all trying to convince the country to buy their product, but they also are smart enough to use IP or market segmentation to achieve their stated objective—selling more hamburgers.

So, it makes all the sense in the world for McDonald’s to use Black actors when advertising on BET and Hispanic actors when advertising on Univision. This is the commercial application of identity politics.
When have you ever seen men selling women undergarments in Victoria Secrets commercials? That’s right, you haven’t.

Republicans have become so data driven that they no longer have any vision.

It’s not enough for Republicans to reflexively spout out buzz words and phrases like: “We are the big tent party”; “the party of Abraham Lincoln”; “We believe in lower taxes, smaller government, more individual freedom,” yada, yada, yada.

Republicans must first and foremost persuade Blacks that conservatism is not incompatible with civil rights, voting rights, and equal opportunity, but rather these issues are a fundamental part of conservatism.

Republicans must, by their actions, demonstrate that Black businesses tend to flourish when Republicans control the levers of government compared to when Democrats are in power.

I wrote about this, in 2012, in a piece I did for Black Enterprise. Democrats and the Obama Administration have done very little for Black-owned businesses over the last eight years.

Republicans have a huge opportunity to engage directly with the Black community on the specific issue of entrepreneurship. Not only are these Black businessmen fervent supporters of abolishing the capital gains tax, accelerated depreciation (writing off all capital purchases in year one), and lowering the corporate tax rate, but they also want to be relieved of all the onerous regulations imposed on them by Obama’s reign of terror on small and minority businesses.

According to the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth, “Black buying power is $ 1.2 trillion; which would make Black America the 15th largest economy in the world in terms of gross domestic product (GDP).” That is equivalent to the size of Mexico.

Two years ago, the Aspen Institute and “The Atlantic” released a poll that was stunning. According to their poll, Blacks represent the largest group in the country that “believes that the American Dream is attainable with hard work.”

So, to those Republicans, who think that Blacks are just waiting for more government programs and more handouts, I say, you’re wrong.

The Black community is open for business and willing to engage with the Republican Party, but when will the party address the issues we are interested in, not the issues that they think we’re interested in?

We need access to capital, our fair share of government contracts, which is mandated by law, a seat at the decision-making table and input in to policies that affect the economy.

And what will the party get in return for doing business with the Black community? The party will see Blacks voting for Republicans in double digits. The party will see a growth in financial contributions from leading businessmen, who currently see absolutely no value in contributing to Republican campaigns or entities. The party will also get fresh perspectives and new ideas from the top thinkers in the Black community; who are also the “real” leaders within our community.

But most importantly, the party find that the Black community is already in sync with its business agenda; the GOP simply needs to extend a sincere invitation.

Come on Republicans. What in the hell do you have to lose?

Republicans must first and foremost persuade Blacks that conservatism is not incompatible with civil rights, voting rights, and equal opportunity.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in Black Press USA.