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Identity Politics Versus Enlightenment. A Misunderstanding

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Current critics of the so-called identity politics naturally see themselves on the side of the Enlightenment. However, the debates of recent years show that it is precisely the defenders of the Enlightenment who often turn out to be their real opponents who pursue racist, Islamophobia and misogynous politics under the phrases 'European values' and 'feminism'. Cynical in the process, but - as will be shown - logically in terms of conceptual history, right-wing forces also claim identity politics for themselves.

Defense against an alleged threat from the 'other', be it refugees, people of different skin colors or emancipated women, is always central to the identity argument from the NDP to AfD to Pegida. It should therefore make one prudish that a comprehensive threat is now also being constructed from the supposedly left-wing side, in which it is not by chance that predominantly the same groups of people recur.

Time to take a look at what Enlightenment was and can be.

Front lines between reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance

Kant's equation of enlightenment with understanding, which is in every textbook, does not by any means represent the entire epoch mentioned, but in 1787, when this literary history has long since come to an end, during the Weimar Classicism of Goethe and Schiller, a keystone that removes many of its supporting elements from view . Similarly, the French Revolution, which began two years later, as the nucleus of the European democracies, gives the impression that in it and the American Declaration of Independence of 1776 the ideas of the Enlightenment had become political reality. As historical screens, they block the view that the striving of many enlightenment designs was not aimed at a republican form, but a social order independent of the political system, which guarantees all people living in it a maximum of freedom. Conversely, developments in the 19th century should show that the idea of ​​a republic (not only in Germany) was largely based on the building blocks of misogyny, anti-Semitism, racism and the exploitation of the workers. The front lines between Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment are not just confusing these days and then as now, social and economic power played the main role.

Confusing mock conflicts

The currently much-invoked front position between so-called identity politics and universalistic democracy is an exemplary pseudo-conflict that is supposed to conceal these struggles for distribution. It initially results in the double use of the term 'identity' from the left and from the right, although they have little in common in terms of content. The confusion is caused by the fact that, for example, the (early) intercultural and transcultural theory of culture refers to Johann Gottfried Herder's spherical model, which understands cultures as homogeneous systems that arise in the context of a certain space (climate) and are stabilized by ethnic and linguistic affiliation. Even if Herder, unlike Kant and Hegel, opposed the division of humanity into races, his texts proved to be in the 19th

Reactionary-conservative and right-wing identity politics feeds on the counter-enlightenment that began in the mid-1770s and expanded its privileges with misogynous, religious-ideological and soon nationalist and ethnic-racist arguments against the idea of ​​universal human rights. Identity here - as can be observed in every Gauland speech - is always a collective connected with land, blood and soil and a patriarchal social order, an ethnically uniform nation and a German or European "culture" imputed with an encroaching gesture.

Identity Politics ≠ Identity Politics

The term Identity Politics was probably first used in 1977 by a group of black lesbian women in the USA. As feminist and anti-racist, he is diametrically opposed to any assumption of cultural or other homogeneity from the start. The identities gathered in it have always been fluid in the sense of Kwame Anthony Appiah (2019) and are fed by the experience of multiple discrimination, as defined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in the term intersectionality, since racism and misogyny are often associated with economic and educational disadvantage.

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The movements that are emerging in the sense of identity politics are seldom based on an identity in the original sense of the word of a unified collective, but rather on the individual experiences of marginalized people. As an act of humanistic emancipation, they are the opposite of identitarian politics. Instead, they realize the ideal of the Enlightenment, as it began in northern and central Europe in the 18th century: to enable the individual to enjoy the highest level of individual freedom, for which only the freedom of fellow human beings - today we add: and the well-being of animals and the environment - should set limits.

Is the education misogynous and racist?

Postcolonial Studies (for an example of the debate, see Dhawan 2016 ) rightly point out that the same brains who developed the idea of ​​universal human rights also invented a racism that served as a legitimation for the slave trade and colonialism. But this does not follow an inevitable dialectic, according to which a proverbial illuminating “enlightenment” testifies to night-side ghosts. Enlightenment thinkers - including Kant, Hegel, Voltaire, and Rousseau - were predominantly male, white, and bourgeois. They therefore realized that with universal rights for all people their relatively thin privileges would be gone. The solution was to exclude half of humanity.

No process in world history has cemented female oppression as quickly and sustainably as the French Revolution. As the revolution shook the class society, the woman had to take the position of the born servant of the man. Neither the participation of women in the struggles nor the declaration of the rights of women and citizens , which Olympe de Gouges presented in vain to the French National Assembly for adoption in 1791, or Mary Wollstonecraft's defense of the one year later, dedicated to the powerful despiser of women Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord Women's rights could change that. Misogyny, racism and anti-Semitism, however, are inextricably linked (Hartmann 2021). Therefore, the gigantic pseudoscientific effort of the 19th century to legitimize oppression, exploitation, slavery and colonialism proves one thing above all: the explosive power of the idea of ​​universal human rights. Starting with the Haitian Revolution , which was far too little noticed in Europe , emancipation movements still refer to it today.

Enlightenment through sensitivity

The sensitive literature of the Enlightenment emerged from the 1740s against the dominance of philosophical rationalism - Goethe's novel The Sorrows of Young Werther is the last born late in 1774. Sensitivity was considered a virtue that men learn from women. In a circle around their own and in balancing out mutual feelings, the holders of the privileges and those excluded from them (women, Jews, foreigners) are able to talk to each other on an equal footing and negotiate their dispositions, often with open results.

In contrast to Kant, who argues rationalist-imperative, misogynous and sometimes racist, writers of the Enlightenment define the latter as a utopia of an androgynous connection between understanding and sensitivity. In Christian Fürchtegott Gellert's life of the Swedish Countess von G *** , Sophie La Roche's story of Fräuleins von Sternheim and many texts by Christoph Martin Wieland - by the way, a critic of Kant's life - sexually experienced and comprehensively educated women meet sensitive men, form religiously and cross-ancestry families. In Nathan the Wise Lessing set a monument not only to his friend Moses Mendelssohn and his Judaism, but also to his maternal father. To this We have to build on the education of an egalitarian community encompassing genders, religions, skin colors and origins.

For a democratic culture of discussion

Emancipation movements are driven by individual concerns, injuries and complex, often cross-generational trauma. Accusing people with victim experience of being too sensitive - moreover from the position of the privileged, actual or potential causer of the discrimination - is democratically out of the question (cf. Hasters 2019 ). Critics also artificially exaggerate the explosive power of the debates. Emancipation movements do not aim at special rights, but - marriage for everyone is the most concise example - "rather, experience and identities are emphasized in order to achieve better enforcement of actually shared political principles" ( Müller 2021). It is not the former who are “murderous for a democratic culture of discussion” (according to Wolfgang Thierse), but those who postulate an ultimately patriarchal homogeneity and thus argue in an identitarian and reactionary manner regardless of their political self-positioning.


ChubbyBimal (author) from India on May 21, 2021:

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