Misconceptions Within Identity Politics


Collectivism, as opposed to individualism, is an ideology that prioritizes the group over the individual. Identitarians, who engage in identity politics, are a subset of this ideological group. Identitarians view the world as a competition between the interests of various groups.

On the surface, they’re not entirely wrong. Authoritarians compete for a society that places them in power (and against other authoritarians that want that power). Libertarians advocate for a society based on individual rights; a society that would work well for them but not too well for authoritarians. Conservatives fight for a society based on tradition, and so on.

What identitarians get wrong is the defining factors of identity and the competing groups. Some identitarians on the right include “whiteness” in their identity and fight for “white interests,” which they (falsely) believe to be in direct opposition to “Jewish interests,” “black interests,” and other identities based on race. Identitarians on the left advocate for things like the progressive stack, and advocate using race as a factor in decision-making to create “equal representation” within employment and positions of power. Thomas Sowell has devoted sections in many books to explaining the problems with these methods of thinking, namely Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality and The Quest for Cosmic Justice.

If advocating a certain government policy is supporting “black interests,” this means that naturally all black people should support this policy, and anyone opposing this policy has been indoctrinated and is therefore supporting “white interests,” often referred to as white supremacy. The same applies if the identities are reversed.

If national socialism is labeled a “white interest” by white identitarians, this means that any white libertarian must be a “race traitor” and must be self-hating. The accusation of self-hatred (a label tossed around by all kinds of identitarians) implies that belonging to a certain race means you have certain opinions that equal those of everyone else in your racial group.

By believing that “interests” of racial groups must be in conflict, identitarians create a self-fulfilling prophecy. As one group of identitarians sees themselves as defenders of their own racial group and other racial groups as opponents, resentment and hostility will grow until conflict ensues (either verbal or direct violence). Of course, aggression by one group will only encourage retaliation by the other group. If the attackers declare themselves committing violence in the name of a racial identity against a racial group as a whole, racial tension will grow, fueling identitarian movements.

There are a variety of different characteristics that can be part of your identity. Your identity tends to be what you are most proud of, or what impacts your life the most. An occupation can be an identity (this applies more to neurosurgeons than entry-level cashiers for obvious reasons). A religious or political ideology can be part of your identity. Organizations devoted to an important cause (such as charities) can be part of your identity. Citizens that value their culture or country may consider that part of their identity.

The identities based on individual accomplishment tend to take priority over more natural and collectivist accomplishments because they are more worthy of pride. Members of a group that share the same individual accomplishment will also have more in common. A white engineer will have more in common with the average engineer than the average white person. This person will also likely prefer the label “engineer” instead of “white.”

Racial identitarians do get one thing right: There is such thing as in-group preference. There is a subconscious bias for individuals that have similar innate characteristics. But this also applies to other characteristics that aren’t innate, like occupation or membership in an organization. And just because evolutionary pressures created a natural habit within human beings doesn’t mean the habit is just or worth basing an ideology on.

The cure for identitarianism is individualism and individualist philosophies like classical liberalism and libertarianism. Two individuals can have much more in common than a shared genetic ancestry. By protecting individual rights, the rights of every group are protected, regardless of race, gender, or any other biological factor.

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Nathan A. Kreider is author of the Misconceptions column for Being Libertarian, and has written for the Austrian Economics Center, the Foundation for Economic Education, and the Liberalists. He also occasionally publishes a blog and video content, including short book reviews, which can be found on his website, nkreider.com. He can be contacted by email via [email protected]