Identity Politics Excommunicates Its Heretics

Published June 2, 2020

National Review Online

For the past four years, I have been articulating my pro-life beliefs here at National Review. The objections I receive from those who disagree with me take a few recurring forms, and the most common response from pro-abortion feminists is a rather striking claim: that my refusal to support unlimited legal abortion makes me less of a woman.

Male and female abortion supporters alike insist that I’m what they call a “gender traitor,” someone who, in opposing abortion, has betrayed her fellow women. They argue that I am either an enabler of the patriarchy, which systemically oppresses women, or a member of the patriarchy myself. In perhaps my favorite line, I once was accused of viewing myself as nothing more than “a walking breeder.” No matter how ridiculous these claims, they are made quite fervently and routinely in response to my arguments.

I’m sure most women publicly involved in the pro-life movement could cite similar examples. The abortion-rights movement insists that abortion must be legal because women need it to flourish, so its supporters must find a way to deal with the reality that plenty of women reject this philosophy as a form of violent oppression that harms everyone involved, including the woman. To do this, they either erase pro-life women — insisting that it’s only men who want to control women’s bodies who oppose abortion — or they attack pro-life women as not being women at all.

Many people have observed that identity politics largely functions like a creed for the godless, a religion that claims to offer a coherent worldview for a secular, materialist society. This tactic of denying a dissenter her identity resembles the religious practice of excommunication: withholding or removing one’s membership if she does not assent to dogma.

If I don’t accept the Left’s zealous support of abortion on demand, I am not only wrong, but I have lost the privilege being a woman.

But this tactic is not limited to abortion politics.

It surfaced just last month when Joe Biden told an African-American host in an interview, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” New York Times writer Nikole Hannah-Jones — known primarily for her historically challenged assertion that the American Revolution was fought to defend slavery — backed Biden obliquely on Twitter, insisting that there’s “a difference between being politically black and racially black.”

This view helps explain the consistent, racist attacks that Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas has suffered at the hands of progressives, who insist — some more openly than others — that his conservative legal philosophy makes him an “Uncle Tom,” a race traitor, no longer a black man at all. As he put it in a recent PBS documentary about his life, progressives opposed his nomination because he was “the wrong black guy.”

“If you criticize a black person who’s more liberal, you’re racist,” Thomas added. “But you can do whatever to me, or now to Ben Carson, and that’s fine. We’re not really black, because we’re not doing what they expect black people to do.”

Thomas might have added to that list South Carolina senator Tim Scott, another African-American conservative who likewise has been accused of treason for holding conservative views. When he supported the Jeff Sessions nomination to attorney general, he was called an “Uncle Tom” and a “house nigga.” When he stood for a group photo with President Trump at a bill signing, a left-wing blogger tweeted: “What a shocker . . . there’s ONE black person there and sure enough they have him standing right next to the mic like a manipulated prop. Way to go @SenatorTimScott.”

From this perspective, your stance on progressive social views defines your racial or gender identity more fundamentally than the natural fact of your race or your gender. In the language of sociology, blackness or womanhood becomes an achieved status rather than an ascribed one. But this phenomenon is also consistent with the religious nature of identity politics. I am a Catholic, for instance, first because I was baptized, but also and only to the extent that I continue to believe the Catholic creed and live by the sacraments and teachings of the Church.

In the church of identity politics, you are black, a woman, a gay or lesbian person only to the extent that you affirm their dogma and accept their sacraments. If you don’t, you are excommunicated from the fact of your own identity.

Thus does the Left provide an animating worldview to unite lost souls who are looking for meaning but who lack a coherent conception of what it means to be human and, consequently, of the aim of politics. Perhaps more important, the Left ensures that the only voices accepted in the public square are their own.

First, disciples of identity politics insist that you may speak about a particular political issue only if you belong to the identity group involved. Next, they proclaim that you do not belong to your own identity group if you fail to adopt the Left’s view of what group members must believe. It is, in the end, a way of silencing opponents. Far from being devoid of religious conviction, adherents of identity politics use their philosophy to silence heretics and aim to wield state power to coerce or punish dissent.

Alexandra DeSanctis is a staff writer for National Review and a visiting fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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