One of the key reasons Australia voted 60/40 against the indigenous voice to parliament is because it was divisive. Instead of acknowledging and celebrating what unites Australians and binds us as a nation the Yes campaign divided citizens into indigenous and non-indigenous.
The American academic Christopher Lasch describes it as “a therapeutic politics of identity”. What Lasch refers to is the way secular activists, in turning their backs on religion, seek what he describes as “the spiritual consolation provided by the dogmatic assertion of their collective identity”.
Lasch goes on to argue “In effect, identity politics has come to serve as a substitute for religion – or at least for the feeling of self-righteousness that is so commonly confused with religion”.
Whereas Americans once displayed collective identity by saluting the flag, singing the Star Spangled Banner and feeling pride in their nation’s history and its democratic institutions and way of life Lasch argues society has become balkanised.
Citizens are divided by race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, geography, education, occupation and wealth. Individuals are either black or white, binary or non-binary, wealthy or poor, oppressed or privileged, male or female or cosmopolitan and urbane or what Hilary Clinton describes as deplorables.
Associated with the rise of identity politics is what Lasch describes as the cult of diversity (rebadged as diversity, equity and inclusion). While seemingly a worthwhile idea as it supposedly promotes tolerance and respect Lasch argues the opposite.
He writes “In practice, diversity turns out to legitimize a new dogmatism, in which rival minorities take shelter behind a set of beliefs impervious to rational discussion. The physical segregation of the population in self-enclosed, racially homogeneous enclaves has its counterpart in the balkanization of opinion”.
Lasch also makes the point the prevailing cultural-left orthodoxy is one where mind control and group think are enforced. He argues “Opinion thus becomes a function of racial or ethnic identity, of gender or sexual preference. Self-selected minority ‘spokespersons’ enforce this conformity by ostracizing those who stray from the party line – black people, for instance, who think white”.
Australia is following the same path as America in becoming a society characterised by identity politics where various ideological groups are intent on denying free speech and rational debate by forcing their collective will on mainstream society.
During the Voice campaign indigenous activists argued European settlement was an invasion leading to violence, oppression and death and the only remedy is for the non-indigenous to admit guilt, cede Aboriginal sovereignty and pay billions in limitless compensation.
Whether climate alarmism, radical gender and sexuality theory, the evils of Western civilisation or society being guilty of white supremacism and misogyny the battle lines are drawn and any who disagree are vilified, attacked and in extreme cases cancelled.
Even those normally associated with the cultural-left are not immune. Lesbian activists arguing transwomen should not be allowed at their conferences are condemned as TERFs and Aboriginal Australians like Senator Jacinta Price and Anthony Dillon condemned as coconuts (brown on the outside while white on the inside) for arguing no to the Voice.
Such is the parlous state of debate those on the centre-right are sometimes guilty of shutting down debate by concluding there is nothing of value in opposing arguments. Criticising climate activists should not mean safeguarding the environment can be ignored.
Arguing the benefits of Western civilisation doesn’t mean those committed to a grand narrative interpretation refuse to acknowledge the sins of the past arising out of imperialism and colonialism. As Geoffrey Blainey argues, neither a black armband nor a three cheers view of history is acceptable.
Lasch’s book was published in 1996 and in the intervening 28 years identity politics and the balkanisation of society has only increased across the Western world. At the same time, it’s possible to identify green shoots.
Given the decision to leave the European union, despite the power, wealth and influence of the elites, and the resounding no vote to the indigenous Voice, once again, despite the privileged, educated class and companies like Qantas arguing yes, it’s clear sanity, common sense and reason can prevail.
Significant when explaining such decisions is what Roger Scruton describes as “the political question of our time”. While concerns about the cost of living and geopolitical issues are important, more important is the question of identity.
Scruton writes the central issue is “the question of identity: who we are, where are we, and what holds us together in a shared political order”. Those voting in favour of Brexit and against the Voice instinctively feel the need for kinship and community provided by hearth and home and love of one’s country.
Proven by debates about whether Australia Day should be celebrated on the 26th of January and the flack received by Peter Dutton in calling for Woolworths to be boycotted it’s clear identity politics is an on-going issue.
Dr Kevin Donnelly is a Senior Fellow at the ACU’s PM Glynn Institute and author of The Dictionary Of Woke. He is one of Australia’s leading conservative public intellectuals, and has been actively engaged in the culture war since 1992. Kevin is committed to a liberal view of education, one based on truth and wisdom, and on Christian morals and beliefs. With years of experience researching, publishing and speaking on education, culture and religion, he is a sought after commentator in Australian media and conferences.
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