Identity focus ‘disastrous for democratic politics’?


identity-democracyWhat brings EU citizens together is more important than what separates them, say 71% of Europeans, while 53% believe that being an EU member is good for their country, according to Eurobarometer’s latest “Parlemeter” poll, commissioned by the European Parliament and published on Friday:

A majority of Europeans interviewed in the poll believes that being a member of the European Union is a good thing for their country (53%, -2 compared to 2015). The share of respondents who believe EU membership is a good thing for their country varies widely, from 74% in Ireland to only 31% in Greece. Among the elements of European identity, democracy and freedom remain key values for 50% of those interviewed.

The celebration of diversity is “a splendid principle of moral pedagogy — but disastrous as a foundation for democratic politics in our ideological age,” argues Mark Lilla, a professor of the humanities at Columbia University and the author, most recently, of “The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction.”

The liberalism that underpins liberal democracy is in need of revision, moving away from the elevation of identity-based micro-politics, he writes in a must-read essay for The New York Times:

Teachers committed to such a liberalism would refocus attention on their main political responsibility in a democracy: to form committed citizens aware of their system of government and the major forces and events in our history. A post-identity liberalism would also emphasize that democracy is not only about rights; it also confers duties on its citizens, such as the duties to keep informed and vote. A post-identity liberal press would begin educating itself about parts of the country that have been ignored, and about what matters there, especially religion. And it would take seriously its responsibility to educate Americans about the major forces shaping world politics, especially their historical dimension. RTWT

Do some identity groups undermine the greater democratic good and thus their own legitimacy in a democratic society? analyst Amy Gutmann has asked (above):

Identity-group politics is not aberrant but inescapable in democracies because identity groups represent who people are, not only what they want–and who people are shapes what they demand from democratic politics. Rather than trying to abolish identity politics, [we should] distinguish between those demands of identity groups that aid and those that impede justice.


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