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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 01-10-2022 07:00

Giorgia fails the identity test

Practitioners of identity politics want all members of a victim group to think the same way.

Should feminists feel encouraged by the spectacular rise of Giorgia Meloni, who now seems more than likely to become Italy’s first ever female prime minister? Apparently not; after her successful showing in last Sunday’s elections was confirmed, leftist luminaries – such as Gianfranco Pasquino, who was interviewed approvingly by La Nación’s Elisabetta Piqué – were quick to assure us that her achievement was merely personal and told us nothing at all about the changing status of women in a patriarchal country where high-level politics is assumed to be a male preserve.

As far as Pasquino and others like him are concerned, for her to be a true representative of Italian womanhood, Ms Meloni would have to share his own “progressive” views instead of going on, like the recycled fascist she allegedly is, about reactionary things like motherhood, traditional marriage, Christianity and, what is even more sinister, national sovereignty, which for left-leaning feminists is a typically masculine obsession that is well on the way to being discarded by civilised countries because it interferes with unregulated immigration.

In her day, Margaret Thatcher was treated in a similar fashion by enlightened folk who regarded her as no more than an obnoxiously opinionated man in drag. The progressive consensus then, as now, seemed to be that women ought to be more caring, less warlike, than the other lot, a stereotype which, needless to say, is much the same as the one favoured by right-wingers.

The urge to explain perceived differences between the sexes in ideological terms has its roots in what is known as “identity politics,” the belief that everybody belongs, or should belong, to a monolithic group that has plenty to complain about and is always ready to defend its interests, sometimes by joining forces with others opposed to the status quo. Feminists were once credited with playing a leading role in the purportedly left-wing alliance thus formed, but differences between many of them and the militant transsexuals they refused to accept as bona fide women have made some think again. Also disturbing from the point of view of the more sensitive among them is Islamist unwillingness to accept that women should enjoy the same rights as men: to avoid conflicts with their fellow victims of Western wickedness, most feminist organisations are reluctant to join protests against the criminal behaviour of Iran’s morality police.  

Advanced thinkers once took it for granted that socialism, whether democratic as in Western Europe or dictatorial as elsewhere in the continent, was the wave of the future, but that changed when it became plain that “the proletariat” had little interest in playing its allotted part by dutifully obeying orders coming from a professional revolutionary elite. Though this had already become plain over a hundred years ago when, as World War I got underway, nationalism showed itself to be far more powerful than whatever working-class solidarity might have existed, the old illusions persisted for several decades more until those dissatisfied with the prevailing social arrangements came to the conclusion that salvation would not come from incorrigibly reactionary flag-waving workers but from downtrodden “minorities,” which, strangely enough, included women even though they outnumbered men.

While there are still some old-style leftists around who are appalled by the contempt today’s progressives evidently feel for those near the bottom of the economic heap who do not belong to a recognised victim group, they have been unable to slow the rise of “identity politics” which is being vigorously promoted by academics and others who claim that they represent the modern left. Do they? Given the divisive nature of identity politics and the enviable position in the economic pecking-order of many of its most enthusiastic promoters, some of whom are billionaires, the movement has a distinctly right-wing look. Nonetheless, there are more than enough identity groups available to provide people who, a couple of generations ago, would in all probability been attracted by communism or fascism, with a comfortable spiritual home. 

In any event, like devout Marxists of former times who insisted that all true proletarians were on their side and described those who were not as despicable “lumpen,” practitioners of identity politics want all members of a victim group to think the same way. This is why Ms Meloni is, as they would say, so “problematic.” For similar reasons, those blacks who do not toe the official line favoured by Democrats “ain’t black,” to quote Joe Biden. In the same vein, Rupa Huq a British Labour MP, described the chancellor of the exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng as being only “superficially black” because, despite his African ethnicity he spoke unaccented English, had been educated at expensive schools and, worst of all, was a Tory.

For the identity-politics crowd in the United Kingdom, the ruling Conservative Party is an inexplicable anomaly; though they are determined to convince themselves that it stands for white supremacy, it keeps giving black and brown people top cabinet jobs and, according to opinion polls, most of its supposedly racist rank-and-file members would have much preferred to see Kemi Badenoch, a black lady who enjoys attacking “woke” pieties, made prime minister rather than Liz Truss. 

As Biden made clear when out campaigning, North American progressives are equally reluctant to accept that many who support Donald Trump have no interest at all in white supremacy and that, when it comes to abortion rights, women can be as divided as are men. Blacks who vote for Republicans are accused of betraying their race, as though they were all genetically programmed to be Democrats and low-income women who make the same mistake are also the target of abuse. When it comes to matters of opinion, identity politics, like many varieties of socialism, prefers uniformity to diversity, and successful female politicians who, like Giorgia Meloni or Margaret Thatcher, refuse to stick to the approved script, will be seen as deserters by the faithful who can be relied on to berate them for their unwomanly behaviour.

James Neilson

James Neilson

Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1979-1986).

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