It Is Time to Debate—and End—Identity Politics

October 7, 2018 Topic: Politics Region: Americas Tags: IdentityPoliticsNationalismPopulismDemocracy

It Is Time to Debate—and End—Identity Politics

A democratic society based on civil liberties cannot survive being torn apart.

So that’s the debate. Do we risk continuing down factionalism in the name of eradicating “structural racism” and “unconscious bias,” or do we reorder American society along shared creedal, cultural and civic lines?

Strauss said that the example of reflective men in the state of nature is “highly civilized men after the breakdown of their society.” American society hasn’t broken down (yet), but it is time to reflect and debate what type of republic Americans want to be.

A debate without rancor might bleed over into the immigration question, since the two are related, and can—and perhaps should—involve the number of immigrants let in. Many liberals are now willing to say that assimilation into a common national identity—into a “civil society”—is harder to obtain when a society has a large number of foreign-born individuals.

Francis Fukuyama just wrote in Foreign Affairs that “in both the United States and Europe, a policy agenda focused on assimilation would have to tackle the issue of immigration levels.”

Fukuyama added: “Assimilation into a dominant culture becomes much harder as the numbers of immigrants rise relative to the native population. As immigrant communities reach a certain scale, they tend to become self-sufficient and no longer need connections to groups outside themselves.”

And in this Wall Street Journal article last March, William Galston recommended to his fellow liberals that they “make peace with national sovereignty,” adding this:

“Nations can put their interests first without threatening liberal democratic institutions and norms. Defenders of liberal democracy should acknowledge that controlling borders is a legitimate exercise of sovereignty, and that the appropriate number and type of immigrants is a legitimate subject for debate. Denouncing citizens concerned about immigration as bigots ameliorates neither the substance nor the politics of the problem. There’s nothing illiberal about the view that too many immigrants stress a country’s capacity to absorb them, so that a reduction or even a pause may be in order. No issue has done more than immigration to feed populism, and finding a sustainable compromise would drain much of the bile from today’s politics.”

Galston is right on his last point, too. A debate without rancor on the benefits of and concerns with immigration would not be possible if politicians from both sides make hyperbolic statements from opposite directions.

Mike Gonzalez is a senior fellow at the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at the Heritage Foundation. 

Image: Reuters