The identity synthesis has come to exert tremendous influence over public life in a remarkably short span of time. Its illiberal premises and principles are exacerbated by the sheer intolerance of its methods. It seeks not merely to narrow the circle of human sympathy by encouraging everyone to see the world through the ever-present prism of identity; it also forthrightly rejects Enlightenment values and neutral rules such as free speech. By treating innocent bystanders and other outsiders with extreme prejudice, it hopes to coerce humanity into adopting a radical vision of all that is right and good. Unsurprisingly, the growing acceptance of identitarian nostrums has been attended by an increasingly censorious culture that stifles individuals’ ability to engage in dialogue and debate about crucial social and cultural matters.
Mounk does not flinch from recognizing the past—and present—injustices that have blighted the lives of so many individuals and groups around the world, including in the most advanced Western societies. But he maintains that it’s possible to acknowledge the full force of these injustices, and earnestly attempt to remedy them, without succumbing to the identity synthesis. For our sake, it better be. The alternative would be to cede the moral high ground to a cynically regressive ideology whose view of the world denies progress and invites the conclusion that the universal values that liberal democracies revere are no more than a fig leaf for a system of rank oppression.
The fact that an ideology diametrically opposed to philosophical liberalism and the American experiment has been adopted almost overnight in the highest echelons of society is prima facie evidence that something has gone terribly wrong in the American elite.
I disagree with Mounk that this shift is sudden. It has been ignored, tolerated, and excused for decades. It is shameful that it took the overt antiSemitism displayed after October 7 for it to be recognized for what it is. Identity politics was destined to end poorly.