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Why Are Center-Right Identitarians Afraid of Imaginary Liberals?


Needless to say, it’s embarrassing that the Atlantic published Caitlin Flanagan’s interminable mashup of “anti-p.c.” buzzwords and random anecdotes. But at least it led to this excellent Eric Levitz piece on the brand of empty center-right identity politics Flanagan represents:

Identity politics will be the death of the center-right. There was a time when America’s Burkean contrarians felt compelled to engage with the substance of their critics’ arguments; to meet facts with facts, disputations with counter-disputations. Now, they’re content to merely assert their identity as tellers of uncomfortable truths (and don’t you dare ask them to validate that identity, empirically; if a center-right contrarian identifies as unfailingly rational and free of racial, gender, or class biases, then one must accept this as her personal truth). In fact, these “intellectual dark web” browsers have become so defensive of their identitarian ideology, they’ve grown blind to any and all realities that might complicate their worldview.


Not once in her (nearly 2,000-word) column does Flanagan define the “identity politics” she’s inveighing against, or so much as summarize Peterson’s argument against them. She does offer some examples of what she considers to be representative of the former: The Nation’s decision to apologize for publishing a poem written in African-American vernacular by a non-black poet; the alt-right’s pursuit of a white ethno-state; and former president Barack Obama — whom she dubs “the poet laureate of identity politics.”


If there is a reason that Flanagan associates Barack Obama with identity politics — beyond the fact that he is an African-American who participated in politics — she feels no need to spell it out. For an identitarian contrarian like Flanagan, assertion is sufficient; argument, unnecessary. People from her intellectual tribe recognize that Jordan Peterson is good, and identity politics (a phrase that ostensibly covers the political worldview of most everyone to her left or right) is bad. The fact that a person like her is making this claim is all the substantiation required; because people like her, her son, and Jordan Peterson are capable of perceiving objective reality, unmediated by ideology.

Peterson argues that human beings do not yet know whether it is possible for men and women to work together without the former sexually harassing the latter, to such an extent that segregated workplaces are preferable. He has stated, point blank, that women who do not want to be sexually harassed at work — but nevertheless wear makeup to the office — are hypocrites. In her essay, Flanagan accuses the left of mendaciously attaching “reputation-destroying ideas” to Peterson. But rest assured, Peterson has attached these ideas to himself…

Perhaps, Flanagan agrees with all of this. Perhaps, she thinks that, “Can men and women work together in the workplace?” is an open question, and that the only reason why women put on lipstick is to trigger thoughts of sex in men’s minds — and thus, if women who wear lipstick to the office get sexually harassed, they bear some responsibility for their own plight. But does Flanagan really believe that it would be incoherent for feminists to detest Peterson on the basis of these views?

Or did she simply ensconce herself in an ideological safe space that shielded these remarks from her awareness?

But read the whole thing. Especially because it’s not just Flanagan — the bare assertions, the failure to define terms, the wild generalizations are all endemic to the genre.

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