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The Promise of Liberal Identity Politics

Open societies educate or attract people with varied and valuable kinds of knowhow, and they prosper that way. It is high time that more leaders began highlighting that fact and taking electoral advantage of it.

SANTIAGO – Utter the words “identity politics” nowadays and you risk igniting a row. On the American left, almost all politics is identity politics. That drives the American right crazy. And not only the right: liberal intellectuals like Mark Lilla of Columbia University are making the increasingly persuasive case that identity politics is bad electoral politics. A weak Democratic Party that is little more than an amalgam of myriad identity-based groups, they argue, may well be to blame for the election of Donald Trump in 2016.

The problem is that some American critics of identity politics assume there is such a thing as identity-less politics. But a quick look around the world suggests exactly the opposite: what Brexiteers, Russian nationalists, and Islamic fundamentalists have in common is that their politics are all about identity. And what is the massive backlash against immigration if not the assertion of one identity over another? The more globalized the economy becomes, the more politics around the world is being driven by very local identities.

Why is this troubling? And what can be done about it?

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