An analysis of the sense of identity

Identity is about belonging, about what you have in common with some people and what differentiates you from others. At its most basic it gives you a sense of personal location, the stable nucleus to your individualism. But it is besides about your societal relationships, your complex engagement with others, and in the modern universe these have become of all time more complex and confounding. Each of us live with a assortment of potentially contradictory individualities, which conflict within us for commitment: as work forces or adult females, black or white, straight or homosexuals, able-bodied or handicapped, ‘British ‘ or ‘European ‘ … The list is potentially infinite, and so hence are our possible properties. Which of them we focus on, conveying to the bow, ‘identify ‘ with, depends on a host of factors. At the Centre, nevertheless, are the values we portion or wish to portion with others.

‘Identity political relations ‘ was ab initio defined by and for the new societal motions that came to public consciousness from the late sixtiess: the black motion, feminism, sapphic and cheery release and so on. The inquiry of incorporating these originative but diffuse and potentially dissentious forces into the political mainstream has been portion of the torment of the Left during the last decennary. Issues of individuality are now,

nevertheless, at the Centre of modern political relations. When Mrs Thatcher utters anathemas against Brussels and all its plants, or interfers in the inside informations of the history course of study, she is engaged in an exercising in defining a cultural and political individuality, in this instance of ‘Britishness ‘ , which she wants us to portion. When President Gorbachev discourses on ‘our common European place ‘ he is endeavoring to re-form our perceptual experience of the Soviet individuality, and to re-fashion our thought of Europe. When the Bradford Mullah organize at the same time confirming and forging an individuality – as Muslims, but besides as a black British community entitled to the protection of the blasphemy Torahs like Anglicans and Catholics and evangelicals. When we mourn with pupils in Beijing, or express solidarity with black South Africans, or run ( or sing, or gag ) ‘for the universe ‘ , we are endeavoring to gain our individualities as members of the planetary small town, as citizens of the universe.

Identities are non impersonal. Behind the quest for individuality are different, and frequently conflicting values. By stating who we are, we are besides endeavoring to show what we are, what we believe and what we desire. The job is that these beliefs, demands and desires are frequently obviously in struggle, non merely between different communities but within persons themselves. All this makes debates over values peculiarly fraught and delicate: they are non merely guesss about the universe and our topographic point in it ; they touch on cardinal, and profoundly felt, issues about who we are and what we want to be and go. They besides pose major political inquiries: how to accomplish a rapprochement between our corporate demands as human existences and our specific needs as persons and members of diverse communities, how to equilibrate

the universal and the peculiar. These are non new inquiries, but they are likely, however, to loom ever-larger as we engage with the certainty of uncertainness that characterises ‘new times ‘ .

The Return of Values

This is the background to a new concern with values in mainstream political relations. Most notoriously, Mrs Thatcher has invoked ‘Victorian values ‘ and has pronounced about everything from association football vandalism, to religion, to litter. Even the Labour Party, in an uncharacteristic explosion of philosophising, has produced a statement on Democratic Socialist Aims and Values. And these are but the tips ofan iceberg. Such bustles have non been wholly absent in the yesteryear from British political and cultural history. But on the whole, from the Second World War until late, the political category eschewed excessively seeking a treatment of values, preferring, in Harold Macmillan ‘s bored comment, to go forth that to the bishops. During the old ages of the social-democratic consensus, welfarism, with its committedness to selflessness and lovingness, provided a model for societal policy, but offered small counsel on the intents of the good society.

Similarly, in the domain of private life, the most consistent model of moral ordinance, that enshrined in the ‘permissive reforms ‘ in the 1960s of the Torahs associating to homosexualism, abortion, censoring etc, is based on a calculated suspension of any querying of what is ‘right ‘ or ‘wrong ‘ . It relies alternatively on elusive differentiations between what the jurisprudence may accept for public behavior in continuing ‘public decency ‘ , and what can be tolerated in private when the drapes are closed. Most of us are likely softly thankful for such little clemencies. As the postwar consensus has crumbled, nevertheless, the hunt for more or less consistent ethic has become instead more fevered. On a personal degree some people have moved

indiscriminately through drugs and alternate life styles to wellness crazes and faith ; a figure seek to be ‘born once more ‘ . Possibly most of us merely portion a obscure feeling that things are non rather right. On the degree of political relations, assorted fundamentalisms, on Left and Right, have burst Forth, each jointing their ain truth, whether it be about the hazards of erotica, the wrongs done to animate beings, the rights and wrongs of this or that faith, or the wonders of the market economic system. There is a new clime where values affair, and politicians, randomly, are being drawn into the argument. ‘Speaking of values ‘ , as the philosopher Paul Feyerabend has said, ‘is a circuitous manner of depicting the sort of life one wants to take or believe one wants to lead’.1 Mrs Thatcher has been clearer about the kind of life she wants us to take than any other recent political leader. She does non swear her bishops, so the values of the corner-shop and the cautious homemaker have expanded inexorably into the civilization of endeavor and the religious significance of capitalist economy. From her encomium to ‘Victorian values ‘ in the runup to the 1983 General Election to her reference to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in May 1988, Mrs Thatcher ‘s moral mentality has had, in Jonathan Raban ‘s phrase, a curious ‘integrity’.2 Questions of value have traditionally been more cardinal to socialist arguments than to conservatism but during the 1970s and early 1980s the nervous prostration of the Left allowed small room for such justnesss. Recently, there have been welcome marks of a resurgence of concern with basic values. The Labour Party ‘s 1988 statement, Democratic Socialist Aims and Values, intended to border the party ‘s policy reappraisal, may hold been excessively flat for many people ‘s gustatory sensation ( ‘The true intent of democratic socialism… is the creative activity of a genuinely free society ‘ ) but it was the first clip since 1917 that the Party had attempted to specify its intents, and in a recognizable philosophical tradition ( basically the rights based liberalism of the American philosopher, John Rawls ) . At the same clip the Party seems to be trying to raise the half-buried leftist traditions of the British population. The lyrical Kinnock election broadcast in 1987 subliminally told us of the importance of rootedness and belonging as the footing for political progress. The Labour Party ‘s posting run early in 1989 – ‘The Labour Party. Our party ‘ – likewise articulated a sense of shared values, of communal spirit, lying latent in the corporate unconscious. In portion, of class, these Labour Party inventions illustrate the

genius of ad-agency accomplishments, but it is non excessively notional to see them as a contemplation of broader inclinations towards confirming cosmopolitan humanistic values, which transcend conventional political divisions. In their different ways, President Gorbachev and green political relations have made an impact because of their look of a human solidarity underlying the divisions of the universe. Gorbachev ‘s reference to the United Nations in 1988 turned on a call to esteem ‘universal human values ‘ , and looked frontward to an stoping of the arbitrary divisions between peoples. Green doctrine calls on the same sense of our common fate and mutuality, as human existences and as fellow dwellers of starship Earth, and in making so claims to displace traditional divisions between Left and Right. It is impossible to undervalue the power of these assorted ( and possibly sometimes contradictory ) entreaties to human solidarity after a decennary dominated by an moral principle of human selfishness. We are reminded that what we have in common as human existences is more

of import than what divides us as persons or members of other collectivities.


However there are troubles for the Left in an across-the-board humanitarianism. As a philosophical place it may be a good starting point, but it does non readily state us how to cover with difference. As President Gorbachev could bitterly confirm, it is difference – economic, national, lingual, cultural, spiritual – and the conflicting individualities and demands that diverseness gives rise to, that poses a major menace to perestroika, and to human solidarity. If ever-growing societal complexness, cultural diverseness and a proliferation of individualities

are so a grade of the postmodern universe, so all the entreaties to our common involvement as worlds will be as naught unless we can at the same clip larn to populate with difference. This should be the Southern Cross of modern arguments over values. In facing the challenge of societal and moral diverseness, the responses of Left and Right are significantly different. The Right has a coherent, if in the long tally indefensible, position of the moral economic system. At its most utmost, expressed in Mrs Thatcher ‘s pronouncement that there is no such thing as society, merely persons and their households, difference becomes simply a affair of single oddities or pathologies. Social goods are merchandises of single volitions or desires, mediated by household duties. In the economic domain, this leads to a privileging of single pick, ‘the kernel ‘ – as Mrs Thatcher put it during the 1987 election run – of morality. Rut moral pick, in bend, peculiarly with respect to issues such as gender, is limited by the committedness to a traditional construct of domestic duty, in and through the household. The Left, on the other manus, is heir to a strong sense of corporate individualities, of powerful familial solidarities derived from category and work communities, and of different societal constituencies, nevertheless inadequately in the yesteryear it has been able to cover with them. Multi-culturalism, as it was articulated from the sixtiess in the statute law on racial equality, embodied a impression of different

communities germinating bit by bit into a harmonious society where difference was both acknowledged and irrelevant. In instead less hopeful times, the committedness to the co-existence of different ethics is implied in the statement on Democratic Socialist Aims and Valuess: ‘Socialists rejoice in human diversity’.3 Rut the Left has been less confident and surefooted when faced by the world of difference. When the Livingstone-led Greater London Council attempted to allow a 100 flowers bloom at County Hall in chase of a new bulk of minorities, the response of the Labour Party constitution varied from the doubting to the horrified. Nor should we be wholly surprised at that: despite its political dare, and applaudable committedness to those hitherto excluded from the political mainstream, it was hard to observe behind the GLC policy anything more coherent than the belief that grass-roots activity and difference in itself were premier goods. ‘Empowerment ‘ , yes ; but whom should the Left empower? The Salman Rushdie crisis has dramatised the absence of any distinct doctrine on the Left. The Rushdie matter is of import for socialists non merely because it concerns the destiny of an person ( and an person of the Left at that ) but because it underscores in the most painful manner the quandary of diverseness. At its simplest we have an evident struggle of absolutes: the right of an writer to freedom of address, to dispute whomsoever he wishes in a democratic society, set against the claims of a typical moral community non to hold its cardinal spiritual beliefs attacked and undermined. Rut of class the existent divisions are more complex and profound. The Left has non on the whole been willing to back an absolute right of free address. On the contrary it has supported runs against racialist and sexist literature, whilst a strong minority has supported the forbiddance of erotica. On the other side, the

Muslim communities at the Centre of the crisis are themselves non massive, bisected as they necessarily are by hostilities of category and gender, and by political struggles. At the same clip the issues raised do non be merely in a meta-realm of rule: they work their manner through the cloudy universe of political relations, in this instance the complexnesss of international political relations every bit good as the ward by ward, constituency by constituency jobs of Labour politicians. However, there is a cardinal inquiry at the bosom of the Rushdie matter, and it concerns the possibilities and bounds of pluralism in a complex society. Let ‘s take as an illustration the inquiry of spiritual instruction in schools: the authorities by take a firm standing under the 1988 Education Reform Act that there should be a day-to-day act of Christian worship in kept up schools is in consequence asseverating the centrality of the Christian tradition to, in Mrs Thatcher ‘s words, ‘our national heritage ‘ – ‘For centuries it has been our really life-blood ‘ . Peoples with other religions and civilizations are ever, of class, welcome in ‘our land ‘ , but their beliefs can merely, by deduction, of all time hope to hold a secondary place in relation to ‘ours’.4 Labour, nevertheless, accepts a less massive position of our spiritual yesteryear and nowadays. As a consequence it seems prepared to back up the rule of state-funding of separate ‘fundamentalist ‘ Muslim schools. There is a certain multi-cultural principle in this: if Anglican, Jewish and Roman Catholic schools are supported by the province, there seems no logic in non back uping the schools of other religions as good. But schools transmit cultural values, some of which in the instance of fundamentalists run counter to oft-declared values of the Left. In this instance, the schools will be based on a rule of

sex-segregation which elsewhere Labour opposes. As a missive to the Guardian from Southall Black Sisters put it, ‘the Labour Party is prepared to abandon the rule of equality where black adult females are concerned. Alternatively, they deliver us into the custodies of male, conservative and spiritual forces within our communities, who deny us our right to populate as we please’.5 This underlines the danger of seeing communities as incorporate wholes, instead than as the venue of argument and divisions. Not surprisingly, the ‘multi-culturalist ‘ values of the Labour Party seem every bit likely to do confusion, struggle and misgiving as the explicitly mono-culturalist positions of the Right. It is ironically appropriate that these quandaries should hold been brought to the surface by the publication of, and reaction to, Rushdie ‘s The Satanic Verses. Not merely was the book written by an ‘immigrant ‘ and about ‘immigrants ‘ , but the book itself, as Malise Ruthven argued on its publication, is about ‘changing individualities ‘ , about the transmutations of individualities that affect migrators who leave the familiar mention points of their fatherland and happen themselves in a topographic point where

the regulations are different, and all the markers have been changed.6 This is non merely the experience of the migrator: the sense of disruption and freak out, of the regulations of the game subtly altering, of the co-existence within us of conflicting demands, desires and individualities, is going a major cultural experience for us all.


The basic issue can be stated rather merely: by what standards can we take between the conflicting claims of different truenesss? To inquire the inquiry instantly underlines the poorness of our believing about this. Can the ‘rights ‘ of a group obliterate the ‘rights ‘ of an person? Should the morality of one sector of the population be allowed to restrict the freedom of other citizens. To what extent should one peculiar definition of the good and the merely prevail over others? These are ancient inquiries, but the alarming fact is that the Left lacks a common linguistic communication for turn toing them, allow entirely deciding them. There have been two characteristic attacks on the Left in facing these quandary. First, there is the ‘discourse of rights ‘ , likely still the most powerful call uping force in the universes of political relations and morality. In the United States the protection of single rights is enshrined in the fundamental law, and the claim to group rights has become the footing of many of the transforming currents of recent American political relations, from the civil rights and black power motions to the adult females ‘s motion and sapphic and cheery release. Elsewhere in the West, a rights-based political relations is likewise enshrined in written fundamental laws, measures of rights, constitutional

tribunals, and so on. In Britain, the tradition is enfeebled. Individual rights, though much bandied around in the political rough and tumble, are non entrenched in a constitutional colony, and the construct of group

rights hardly exists. Rights are, nevertheless, clearly back on the docket of the Left: the response to the launch of Charter 88, with its entreaty for a new constitutional colony, with authorities subsidiary to the jurisprudence and basic rights guaranteed, suggests there is a strongly felt demand for a codification and protection of cardinal rights. Unfortunately, the claim to right, nevertheless good established at a constitutional degree, does non assist when rights are seen to be in struggle. To take the issue of abortion ( yet once more the focal point of moral argument in America and Britain ) , here the struggle is between two violently conflicting claims to right: the rights of the ‘unborn kid ‘ against the rights of a adult female to command her ain organic structure. In these stark

footings the struggle is insolvable, because two value-systems jerk in rather different waies. The job is that rights do non jump to the full armed from nature. They can non happen a justification merely because they are claimed. Rights are merchandises of human association, societal administration, traditions of battle, and historical definitions of demands and duties: whatever their claims to catholicity, they are limited by the philosophical system to which they belong, and the societal and political context in which they are asserted. This is non to deny the importance of rights-based statements. But if we are to take rights earnestly we must get down to joint the kind of rights and the type of political civilization we want.7

This is the get downing point for the 2nd major attack to the quandary of pick, the political relations of emancipation. In his essay ‘On the Judaic Question ‘ in the 1840s Marx counterposed to the ‘morality of

Rights ‘ a ‘morality of emancipation ‘ , and even more strongly than the claim to rights this has proved a powerful mobilising force.8 It offers a vision of a wholly free society, where everyone ‘s potency is to the full

realised, and a powerful analysis of the restraints on the realization of human emancipation. At its bosom is a denial that want, division, selfishness and struggle are indispensable parts of human nature. True human nature, it claims, can boom in a genuinely liberated society. Most of us who are socialist must hold been inspired by this vision. As a political relations of release it shaped the rhetoric of the societal motions that emerged in the sixtiess. It is still latent in the hungerfor Utopia and for the transcendency of difference that shades our political relations. The trouble is that the pattern has seldom kept up with the vision, peculiarly in the history of Marxism. The Marxist tradition has been loath to specify the nature of the liberated society, and has been perceptibly blind to inquiries of patriotism, ethnicity, gender and gender. Nor do the experiences of the soi disant socialist states offer much assurance in the achievability of

emancipation in the footings offered by the tradition so far. We must non confound a baronial end with the seamy patterns of peculiar governments, but we need to chew over whether the really undertaking of human emancipation as conventionally set Forth is non itself the cardinal job. The glorious end has all excessively frequently justified doubtful agencies, whilst the absence of any elaborate expounding of the significance of emancipation has left us staggering when faced by the world of conflicting claims to right and justness.


1 Paul Feyerabend, Farewell to Reason, Verso 1987, p54.

2 Jonathan Raban, God, Man and Mrs Thatcher, Chatto 1989.

The Labour Partv, Democratic Socialist Aims and Values, London 1988, pV.

4 The citations are from Mrs Thatcher ‘s address to the General Assembly of the

Church of Scotland, quoted in Raban, God, Man and Mrs Thatcher, op.cit.

5 Guardian, 22 July 1989.

6 Malise Ruthven, ‘A Question of Identity ‘ , in Lisa Appignanesi and Sara Maitland

( explosive detection systems ) , The Rushdie File, Fourth Estate 1989, pp21-22.

7 Steven Lukes, Marxism and Morality, Oxford University Press 1985, pp64-65.

8 Ibid. pp27-28.

9 Independent, 29 July 1989.

10 Fay Weldon, Sacred Cows, Chatto 1989, pp31-32.

11 Feyerabend, op.cit. , p54.

12 David Held, Models of Democracy, Polity Press 1987.

13 See Chantal Mouffe, ‘The Civics Lesson ‘ , New Statesman and Society, 7 October



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