Group thinking: dangers of the quest for “social justice”

‘The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable’. So wrote the American journalist and cultural critic H. L. Mencken in 1922. These days, his words are still heeded – not only on the libertarian right, the political home of Mencken, but on the identitarian left. Identity politics is on the rise. And the acolytes are playing into a trend. Identity consciousness has rarely been more pronounced and the left is keen to take advantage. But they are shaking hands with the devil. In Charlottesville in August, left wing protesters came face-to-face with the traditional espousers of indetitarian politics, the white supremacy movement.

Identity politics it cultural totalitarianism. It removes from the individual the responsibility of independent thought. Tell me who you are and I will tell you what to think and who to vote for. And reversely, tell me how you vote and I will tell you what you are not: in 2016, Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel was denounced as ‘not a gay man’ after he came out in support of Donald Trump. According to Michelle Obama, ‘any woman who voted against Hillary Clinton voted against their own voice’.

In the UK, Labour is getting in on the game. In the 2017 general election, the party ran a campaign poster claiming that the Tory government held back minorities and only Labour could represent their interest. The patronising assumption is that traditional conservative values such as an aspirational society with low taxes, small government and free enterprise[1] cannot be the values of or in the interest of ethnic minorities, who are better off leaving the responsibility for their wellbeing in the hands of the (predominantly white) left-wing chattering classes.

Indeed, the effectiveness of the message relies on minorities refraining from evaluating individual policies, but buying wholesale into the idea that only Labour has their interest at heart.

The contradiction in the lefts embrace of identity politics is that it imparts on group constituents that their loyalty is first and foremost to the group. On the left, the traditional working class identity has long been in retreat, and identity politics is accelerating the process. The Brexit vote is one example where traditional working class voters renounced the official position of Labour and voted with UKIP in a vote which to a high degree was about identity (though one which is it politically incorrect to adhere to: that of the white, indigenous British).

That does not mean identity politics acolytes do not subscribe to a collectivist creed. Indeed, the blunt tool of the identitarian, whether right wing or left wing, is the heavy hand of the state.

What it means is that they view the world through a prism of their own perceived oppression. Groups can justify their narrow focus on the plight of their constituency with the belief that if they were to achieve equality, it would necessitate the destruction of all systems of oppression. Feminist Ellen Willis describes the perceived patriarchy as ‘not only the oldest and most universal form of domination but the primary form’. Black Lives Matter ‘work vigorously for freedom and justice for Black people and, by extension, all people’. There’s a battle being fought for first place in the subjective victimhood league table.

The danger for the left is of course that by relying on identity politics, they end up taking the vote of certain groups for granted. In Britain, opinion polls reveal some surprising trends. A majority of Sikhs came out in favour of Brexit. South Asians have less appetite for asylum seekers than whites. Immigration restrictions are popular amongst pre-1900 immigrants. The war in Afghanistan is more popular amongst Brits of Indian descent than amongst whites. In the 2016 US presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton relied on the female vote, and 54% of women duly cast their ballot for her. But digging into the numbers reveal that it was sub-demographic that drove that statistic: black women voted 95% to 3% for Clinton over Trump. White women turned out to be harder to predict. Identity politics can be a fickle mistress.

The identity politics merchants rely on misguided group loyalty, predictability and gullibility. The thinking, inquisitive, sceptical individual will never subscribe to the group thinking of identity politics. The battle in the cultural war is being fought between the unquestioning and the curious, between the credulous and the sceptical. The hope of those of us who favour small government and a free society is that the need for man to think for himself will prevail. In the words of Mencken: ‘The ideal government of all reflective men, from Aristotle to Herbert Spencer, is one which lets the individual alone – one which barely escapes being no government at all’.


[1] To be clear, we are not implying that the current Tory government is in any way proponents of small government and low taxes.

Add Comment

Required fields are marked *. Your email address will not be published.