Wednesday, March 15, 2023

TIL: Le Wokisme

Source: Ben Hickey.

What can America learn from the French about identity politics? Google defines identity politics as "a tendency for people of a particular religion, ethnic group, social background, etc., to form exclusive political alliances, moving away from traditional broad-based party politics." The Republican Party claims that describes the Left. The Democratic Party denies it, arguing that their party is not divided by identity but organized by an ideology of diversity, equity, and inclusion of persons of all religions, ethnic groups and social backgrounds. And Americans endlessly argue about it.

Sometimes stepping away from the fray and looking at how similar challenges are playing out elsewhere can shed light on our own problems. Thomas Chatterton Williams does just that in an article in "The Atlantic" ("The French are in a Panic over Le Wokisme").

The French have long prided themselves on having a system of government that doesn’t recognize racial or ethnic designations. The idea is to uphold a universal vision of what it means to be French, independent of race, ethnicity, and religion. Even keeping official statistics on race has, since the Holocaust, been impermissible. Recently, however, and to the alarm of many in the traditional French commentariat, American-style identity politics has piqued the interest of a new and more diverse generation.
Source: The Atlantic.

There's a lot in the article, a lot. I could read it a dozen times and, 1) find new details to mull over, and 2) still not fully understand it. Let me just focus on two thoughts: one, where I think France is different from America, and two, where the identity politics that both France and the American Right both fear just might consume America.

A lot about the French desire to avoid identity politics is revealed in that sentence, "Even keeping official statistics on race has, since the Holocaust, been impermissible." That period of history, where "race" was everything, was so horrible that French people rightfully have an aversion to ever letting it creep back into politics today. So France forged a universal vision of what it means to be French and suppressed any public differentiation by race, religion, or national origin. If not those things, what holds France together? Perhaps its language. Or rather, the need to stand strong against a common enemy, the English language.

What about America? Wasn't slavery also a horrible period in America? Yes, but. Thomas Chatterton Williams explains why America might have more trouble than France overcoming its divisions using Alexis de Toqueville, the French traveler who examined American democracy in the 19th century. Toqueville "remained skeptical that such powerful divisions could ever be transcended, because unlike in Europe, social rank was written into the physical features of the nation’s inhabitants." That might hold an insight why identity politics is arising in France now. France has a growing French African population, a growing Muslim population. Such groups are harder to fit into that "universal vision of what it means to be French," even if they all speak French.

That brings me to my second thought. What keeps the big tent Democratic Party together, what keeps identity politics from splitting the coalition? Could it be the common enemy: the white Christian nationalist Republican Party? If ever the GOP is defeated at the polls so badly that a comeback is impossible, would the Democratic Party break into squabbling factions? Would we perhaps even see the break-off of parties based on identity politics?

I'm getting way ahead of history here. In 2023, America still has a competitive GOP that is a strong enough threat to keep the Democrats together. Ironically, America may benefit from having the white Christian nationalist Republican Party in order for there to be a threat to the Democratic Party, ensuring one party that promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion of persons of all religion, ethnic groups and social backgrounds instead of a nation split by identity politics. So, thanks Trump???

1 comment:

rstrawntx said...

As long as Trump is around the Democrats will have an easier time.