30 October 2018

Kenan Malik’s critique of identity politics – a critique


This article follows a long Twitter discussion initiated by Sandy Starr, relating Kenan Malik’s review of Eric Kaufmann’s fascinating new book Whiteshift to the debate we had on my book at the Battle of Ideas in London on 13th October.


In this thread, Kenan linked to another article of his, entitled ‘Not all Politics is Identity Politics’ a beautifully-written piece in which he presents his critique of identity politics and through which I could see some avenues to explore the differences with mine.

Firstly, it’s probably worth explaining where we agree.

Kenan is a critic of identity politics, and from the left. As he says, “Most of us who criticize identity politics do so from the perspective of having challenged oppression and injustice for most of our adult lives.” He also strongly criticises the ‘community’ or ‘group’ leader model as I do:

“In practice, contemporary identity politics does little to challenge the roots of oppression. What it does do is empower certain people within those putative identities to police the borders of ‘their’ communities or peoples by establishing themselves as gatekeepers.”

A lot of what he says I strongly agree with or at least sympathise with.

But there are some significant differences, so let’s get into those.

I think a good place to start would be in the title of Kenan’s article. I would certainly agree that ‘Not All Politics is Identity Politics’, but only in the sense that identity politics is normally understood nowadays, referring to certain identifiers or properties of people like their sex/gender, skin colour, religion or nationality. Obviously, there is a lot more to politics than those things.

But identity means a lot more than these things too.

Kenan himself recognises a broader meaning in saying, “Identities are, of course, of great significance. They give each of us a sense of ourselves, of our grounding in the world and of our relationships to others.”

However, he draws a distinction between identity and the politics of identity in saying that,

“politics is a means, or should be a means, of taking us beyond the narrow sense of identity . . .”

I start to draw apart here, with this idea that the purpose of politics is to transcend identity rather than to reflect it: that identity and politics should be separate from one other. From this, it would be logical to say that identity does not belong in this higher sphere of politics: that politics that gather around identity have no authority in this higher sphere, even that they are illegitimate.

But, for me, this misunderstands the nature of politics – and the nature of identity.

Like Kenan says in one of the passages above, identity gives us a sense of ourselves, of our grounding in the world and of our relationships to others. However, for me, these things – most obviously our relationships – are fundamentally political in character. Indeed, they are significant precisely because they are political. If they were isolated in the individual they would have no significance.

I can also see some contradictions in Kenan’s argument.

For, as he quite rightly points out,

“In the 1960s, identity politics provided a means of challenging oppression, and the blindness of much of the left to such oppression, and was linked to the wider project of social transformation. But as the old social movements and radical struggles lost influence, so the recognition of identity became an end in itself.”

I wholly agree with this, but I don’t see how you can recognise the necessary role of identity politics in fighting good causes like black emancipation or anti-colonialism while also maintaining that identity politics is fundamentally bad and wrong, full stop.

When a group is being oppressed, gathering together as a group to defend group members and their interests is often not just important, but necessary – and I don’t see any reason to believe we’ve reached an End of History at which such gathering can no longer be justified.

Clearly this is difficult terrain to navigate and make judgements on once you start admitting broader exceptions like I am prepared to though. Kenan seems to resist any more allowances, especially when it comes to the current reaction against progressive-led identity politics. He has no time for any forms of politics that seek to defend cultural forms related to what we might call ‘white’ or ethnic British, English or European interests from the pressures of globalisation, mass immigration and attacks from progressives. He dismisses seemingly anything and anyone that does so as ‘regressive’, racist, ‘anti-immigrant’ and ‘anti-Muslim’, so 1) as going against the forces of history and 2) being fundamentally aggressive in character rather than defensive, being grounded in old-style racism and negative judgements of what we might call ‘the Other’.

For me, this is much too sweeping a generalisation and fails to recognise the existential, pre-judgemental realm in which identities can be threatened and the quite natural reaction we all have when this happens to us. This comes back to the nature of identity as fundamentally relational (or social) in character. When the relations that make up our identities are replaced with other relations in the world of our concern – leaving us without possibilities that we previously had – we are necessarily unsettled in existential terms.

Also, I can see that the understandable imbalance with which Kenan addresses different forms of identity politics – admiring one for what it achieved in the past while using the harshest of language on the other – is itself a form of identity politics of the sort based around race and ethnicity etc. It makes some space for the one, quite rightly in my view, while condemning the other in absolute terms, treating it as immoral and illegitimate in all shapes and forms – and seeing it all as an outgrowth of counter-Enlightenment racism and nationalism.

In this way I see Kenan merging partly into the politics of what I call ‘the liberal-left’ or ‘progressive liberal-left’ – treating some of the same identity groups as unfavoured groups that should not be allowed to express themselves as groups in public life, while not using the same absolute language on favoured groups.

Nevertheless, I agree with Kenan that transcending the identities ascribed to us according to skin colour and gender and other things is a good thing for the most part. But I wouldn't condemn anyone for that alone. I don’t see why someone shouldn’t see their gender/sex, nationality, religion and sexuality – and even their ethnicity and skin colour – as significant to who they are and important to their politics.

In particular I think that not relating ourselves to these things is virtually impossible at this point in time, when they are being constantly politicised in public space. We may like it or not, but if people are being attacked for being white or black or English or Muslim it is understandable that they gather around those identities with a positive spin on them. I only have a real problem with it when these identities become aggressive and when they start telling untruths, which invariably puts up walls and stops others from seeing what's inside (where they might find something attractive to them).

In any case, by attempting to transcend such things, I think that we create new groups and new identities that need to be promoted and defended in their turn in order to survive. As I see it, people who want to transcend identity are merely creating another identity: of people who transcend what they consider to be identity.

This is how politics changes and reproduces over time. We can never wholly get away from groups, and therefore from group identity and the politics of identity in a wider sense. As I say in Chapter 1 of my book, inspired by Chantal Mouffe and beyond that Carl Schmitt, in a sense identity is politics – as the formation and maintenance of groups which relate to the world in particular ways, ways that necessarily conflict with those of other groups. This is how political life is constituted.

In that passage I quoted before in which he said that identities “give each of us a sense of ourselves, of our grounding in the world and of our relationships to others,” I think Kenan is close to that point. He can see that identities are fundamentally relational but he does not make the small leap to recognise that this means they are also fundamentally political.

I think this is their very nature.

And this brings me on to a deeper philosophical disagreement I have with Kenan. He has found his political-philosophical home in the Enlightenment tradition of universal human rights. He quotes Joseph de Maistre as an ‘arch-reactionary’ railing against the Rights of Man by saying, “There is no such thing as Man ... I have seen Frenchmen, Italians and Russians… As for Man, I have never come across him anywhere.” Kenan uses this example to contrast the noble Enlightenment universal rights tradition with a counter-Enlightenment reactionary particularism: “Where reactionaries adopted a particularist outlook, radicals challenging inequality and oppression did so in the name of universal rights.”

De Maistre’s point here, in the way it appears here, is nonsense. Denying the reality of Man or humanity is absurd. But that doesn’t mean that national groupings he upholds have no interest or meaning. I see no reason why we should uphold Man as a universal authority just as I see no reason to uphold any particular national grouping as one. Man is itself a particularity, contrasted with the rest of nature and the Universe. Universalism is a form of particularism.

But this is a characteristic of Enlightenment philosophy and of progressive politics in general to this day. There is a yearning there to transcend conflict and a faith that its techniques can do that, just as long as everyone does what we say and see things the way we do.

In practice, Enlightenment techniques and philosophies have been appropriated widely by totalitarian regimes and what Kenan would call ‘reactionaries’, perhaps the most egregious example being the Nazi appropriation of biological science to justify its racism and its employment of the medical profession to administer death in order to promote apparently superior forms of life. Marxist Communism is a clear outgrowth of progressive Enlightenment philosophies which used the authority of claimed knowledge (in its case primarily of history – and of the clash of different identity groups within it) to justify totalitarian politics.

The authority of historical knowledge plays a major part in Kenan’s account too. As he puts it, “To understand the characteristics of contemporary identity politics, we need first to go back to the origins of modern politics, at the end of the eighteenth-century.” His attempt to explain identity politics by claiming to understand the origins of it in intellectual discourse/history contrasts sharply to my approach in The Tribe, where I attempt to explain identity politics now by describing how it works now.

For me, there is nothing wrong with Kenan’s approach, just as long as you get it right – and getting something as complex as how our politics got from the 18th Century to the present day isn’t easy. For me, identity politics (in terms of different groups competing with each other) obviously goes back way further than this and is something innate that the animal and even plant worlds share with us.

I also don’t see human rights as a solution to the problem of identity politics in the way that Kenan does. I wouldn’t say rights are inherently bad or wrong. They help us to circumscribe the rules by which any society must function. But it depends on what they are, what they circumscribe and who controls them.

After all, every right confers a corresponding obligation. What is a right for me to not be interfered with or to have something good is an obligation for you not to interfere with me or to make sure I have that good thing.

Rights are therefore not just freedoms; they are also constraints on action – even necessities. Not interfering with something or someone means not acting in the world; not being present; not participating; not exercising agency; withdrawing from involvement – which inevitably lets other powers appear in the space let open.

In the world we now inhabit, human rights are wielded as political tools conferring absolute authority on those who wield them to stop others from acting. Any attempts to assign absolute authority to certain rights are attempts to put them beyond the sphere of political contest. They are instruments of power – and inherently authoritarian.

Anyway, I think that is more than enough to be going on with. Kenan and I have different perspectives. However he clearly makes a valuable and highly articulate contribution to debates on identity politics that are raging today and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

His core intention to transcend the narrow confines of what I call ‘fixed’ or ‘quasi-fixed’ identity is a noble one.

I just don’t see it as realistic in the short-to-medium term, especially within the context of a progressive politics that sees the past of this place and the people within it as inherently regressive. This standpoint has coalesced with progressive politics of identity (against ‘white-’ and ‘male-dominated’ history and culture) to produce a backlash that is now difficult to detach from racial and ethnic and other forms of identity. In trying to defeat the past you inevitably end up trying to defeat (and indeed eliminate, in existential terms) those who are still connected to it.

That’s a shame, but that’s where we are.

18 October 2018

Questioning Diversity – speech for session on my book at The Battle of Ideas

This is the text of the speech I gave at the session about my book, 'The Tribe: the liberal-left and the system of diversity' at the Barbican, London on Saturday 13th October 2018. It differed a little in delivery. Further details of the session and the participants are here.


Hello Everyone. Thank you all for coming.

Also a special thank you to Jon [Holbrook] and the Academy of Ideas for arranging this session.

And another special thank you to Christine [Louis-Dit-Sully], James [Panton] and Helen [Dale] for agreeing to participate and for wading through this book of mine.

I hope we can have an interesting and lively discussion about it and the issues it raises.





So, let’s get into it. What is this book all about?

I’ve been reflecting on this and I think I could give a lot of answers.

Of course, on the surface it’s about the politics of identity and the politics of diversity. I started off writing it in order to highlight some of the problems that are arising from them.

I also started off with what I call ‘the liberal-left’ or ‘progressive liberal-left’ at the forefront of my mind. I had become increasingly interested in its role in promoting these forms of politics based around such things as gender, skin colour and sexual orientation – and came to think that this is what defines it as a sort of identity group in its own right.

So there is another theme there about what has happened to liberal and left-wing politics as it has embraced these forms of identity politics while virtually abandoning that based around class.

But I could also say it’s about our modern world and the technocratic forms of power that are dominant in it. By this I mean those who govern us treating government as a technical exercise: to maximise things like GDP and diversity for the greater good: stuff that can easily be measured.

Another important theme is the relationship between the individual and the group – whether that’s a racial or gender group or a social/political group like the liberal-left.

For me, the nature of the self is as much ‘out there’ in the group as ‘in here’ in the individual, but we do have that special little window of freedom.

However, that little window is vulnerable – and so is our relationship to the truth.

Sometimes it’s convenient not to tell the truth – and our group commitments play a big role in leading us away from it. 

Not necessarily by lying.

But by sidestepping the truth. Avoiding it. Turning to other forms of truth that are more convenient – for ourselves and our groups.

To a large extent I see this as being just part of the human condition.

I say right at the beginning of the book,

‘Collective life has its own justification – to be together and through that to survive and prosper now and into the future.’ 

We can’t do without groups. And to exist they must have some sort of definition – i.e. some form of identity.

Joining a group or being part of a group is inherently political. Indeed I think it is the essence of politics. But what we normally call ‘identity politics’ is different to this.

It’s simultaneously a sub-category but also much bigger.

It’s a sub-category because it focuses on only certain kinds of identity relation – like skin colour, gender and religion. (By identity relation I mean something that we link to or that others do, thereby tying people to their skin colour and other such things.) 

These forms of identity politics are integrated into a totalising view of the world, which claims that certain identity groups – notably men and white-skinned people – are dominating society and oppressing other groups. 

This is a form of universal knowledge, and it justifies a politics which favours those victim groups like women, non-white-skinned people and Muslims while seeking to suppress the oppressing groups.

In theoretical terms, the simplicity of this account may be a weakness. But politically it’s a strength.

It’s so easy.

Some groups are victims and others oppressors. The righteous way to go is therefore to favour the victims and disfavour the oppressors.

That’s all you need to know. 

Simple. 

And so we arrive the identity politics we all know and love, in which the world appears as an antagonistic conflict between identity groups – and which we set up an antagonistic conflict between identity groups to counter.

Or something like that.

Thankfully, the reality isn’t quite as clear-cut. In practice, we know that a lot of the time people from these oppressor and victim categories get on pretty well.

Men and women sometimes quite like each other.

There are now many more than a million mixed-race Britons which shows how white-skinned and non-white skinned people sometimes get on OK too. 

Yet despite many of the activists’ claims falling down when scrutinised, they seem to go from strength to strength – picking up awards, receiving government grants and forcing big organisations to do what they say and give them money. 

Again, we can see a political strength.

And this is one reason why I talk about diversity as a ‘system’ in my book: because favouring people according to things like skin colour and gender has become a model for how our major institutions should go about their business – and this helps make it a model for the rest of us too.

We favour the favoured groups and the organisations which represent them, as long as they represent themselves and their groups as victims.

This model comes out of liberal and left-wing politics, especially the Labour Party in this country.

Labour now has an extensive infrastructure of identity group favouritism integrated into its rulebook and structure – including All-Women’s Shortlists for MP selection and the powerful role of Keith Vaz as BME representative on the party’s governing body. 

The party also, almost automatically, takes the side of favoured group representatives when they have a grievance – such as when Islamist organisations complain about the Prevent anti-terrorism strategy or feminist groups demand higher pay for top female journalists at the BBC.

This is a model of outsourcing authority to people who appear as representatives of these groups as victim groups.

And we can see it appearing all over our society now.

We can see it in organisations paying activists to come in and instruct their employees on how to talk about their identity groups. We can see it in the police throwing resources to combat hate speech while neglecting conventional crime like theft. We can also see it in big media organisations like the BBC and Channel 4 producing more content led by people who present themselves as representatives of favoured identity groups and who are often overtly political in asserting that role. 

We can now see there are possibilities available for playing these roles: for representing these favoured groups as victim groups and for outsourcing authority to them.

In other words, this system of diversity is working.

It’s a working system of how we can relate to each other.

And that is a very compressed version of what The Tribe is all about. 

It’s about how a certain way of relating to the world, favouring people based on their identities, has become integrated into our society. 

Anyway, now it’s time for me to shut up, so we can hear what Christine and Helen thought about it, then we can open out to you lot [the audience].


Jon Holbrook and Helen Dale have both reviewed The Tribe - for Spiked and Quillette respectively. Also at the time of writing there are 14 reviews up on the Amazon UK website with an average rating of 4.5 stars out of 5.

4 October 2018

Postmodernism isn't to blame for our identity wars


I have been seeing a lot of people lately blaming postmodernism and ‘post-modernists’ for our current malaise with identity politics. But I think this neglects the knowledge base of identity-based ideologies, without which they would fall apart.

These ideas and claims seem to have reached a crescendo with the 'Grievance Studies’ hoax exposing how some identity-focused academic journals are happy to publish weapon-grade nonsense if it aligns to their own political, ideological objectives. (Anyone who is familiar with these ‘disciplines’ and not indoctrinated into them knew that anyway, but big credit to James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose and Peter Boghossian for demonstrating it for the rest of the world in such an entertaining manner)


In this Quillette article, five academics respond to the hoax. One of them, Nathan Cofnas says, “Today, postmodernism isn’t a fashion—it’s our culture. . . It has taken over most of the humanities and some of the social sciences, and is even making inroads in STEM fields. It threatens to melt all of our intellectual traditions into the same oozing mush of political slogans and empty verbiage.”

Neema Parvini adds, “It has been the explicit goal of post-modernity to reject reason and evidence: they want a “new paradigm” of knowledge.”

Quillette has quickly become an invaluable source of alternative, intelligent opinion in the Anglosphere – and has been leading the charge against postmodernism in defence of the Enlightenment, science and objectivity. Following the hoax, its founder Claire Lehmann neatly called in evidence the Dutch professor – and incidentally specialist in ‘extremism and populism’ – Cas Mudde defending the disciplines targeted by hoaxers while also saying, “I deny “objectivity” and argue that the whole idea that science should be “neutral” and “objective” is in itself an ideological position.”

This is a nice dig and demonstrates how postmodernist and similar ideas are certainly used by academics who engage in current leftist identity politics. But this is my point, that they are used. It doesn’t mean they are the source or root cause of identity-based ideologies – which have probably been around in one form or another since man started using words; certainly well before anyone had heard of postmodernism. 

Marxism for example has a large identity-based element about the proletariat and bourgeoisie, but Marx and his historicist theory were both very much in the modernist tradition.

Post-modernist denials of objectivity and knowledge serve as a tool, just like other forms of argument serve as tools: to defend ourselves against opponents by undermining their authority, thereby helping to defend our own authority and power. The purpose is primarily political rather than philosophical. Just because someone uses a theoretical argument in a certain political context, it doesn’t mean their whole political standpoint is consistent with that standpoint nor aligns with the whole standpoint of those who came up with it.

For, far from discarding ideas of objectivity and universal knowledge, the left's current politics of identity are grounded in a specific, universalistic account of knowledge: that its favoured groups are victims of a society dominated by unfavoured groups. This is a simple view of the world that is easy to ‘roll out’ in different circumstances (which is a crucial part of its appeal and power).

As I see it, techniques like deconstruction can be used just as effectively against these ideas and the authority of those who propagate them as by them. Indeed, though I'm not familiar with Derrida's specific version of it, sometimes I think of my own book on identity politics (here reviewed on Quillette) as an exercise in deconstruction, in the sense that I was deconstructing or taking apart an edifice in order to analyse it and hopefully show it for what it is.

There are certainly plenty of problems with postmodernist theory, not least the way it has encouraged people to write incomprehensible nonsense rather than seek to understand and explain what’s going on (which is a pretty big objection to be fair). Also we can see clear evidence of identity activists and ideologues using postmodernist arguments to attack opponents and protect themselves from criticism.

But that doesn’t mean that postmodernism or deconstruction or post-structuralism or whatever is ‘the root cause’ for all our troubles in this area.

Rather, these techniques seem to serve as just more tools in the toolbox: as something available to take out when the need arises; as ways to project power into the world.

If you are looking to attack the theories of identity-based ideologues, I think you are better off starting with their claims to universal knowledge, not their denial of it.


My book 'The Tribe: the liberal-left and the system of diversity' is available at a discount via imprint.co.uk/tribe for £12 (RRP £14.95) with free postage to UK addresses. Use coupon TRIBE. It is also available via online retailers. For Amazon reviews, see here.




26 September 2018

Unherd article on economic rationalism, diversity and immigration

I have written a piece for the website Unherd about the way the alliance between  technocratic, free market liberalism and the politics of diversity over mass immigration - is a theme that crops up a few times in my book.

You can read the article here.

1 September 2018

Jonathan Haidt, Jordan Peterson and the 'social justice' institution

I just wanted to flag up this fascinating conversation between the public psychologists Jonathan Haidt and Jordan Peterson on 'the perilous state of the university' and draw out some parallels with my work on diversity and institutions in The Tribe.

Jordan Peterson interviewing Jonathan Haidt on 'the perilous state of the university'

The video, which I was drawn to by an effusive tweet from David Goodhart, is more than an hour and a half long. However, unusually for such a thing, I found it didn't drag at all. In fact at the end of it I was left wanting more. 

Goodhart picked up on the point the two discussed about how "any good society must be open AND closed", but there is a lot more to chew over. I was perhaps most interested in Haidt's idea of the 'social justice' university that is dedicated to the promotion of social justice and opposing the Right above other considerations - notably the pursuit of truth.

This has a lot in common with the notion of 'the institution of diversity' which I expound in The Tribe. As I have written it in the book, institutions of diversity have adopted norms and increasingly rules and laws (in the case of government) that favour some identity groups over others and outsource authority to representatives of those groups as victimised groups. Among others, I talk about Channel 4 and the BBC as institutions of diversity which do this to a greater or lesser degree, and whose purposes have therefore shifted from what they used to be. 

They have become more explicitly political institutions, dedicated in their being - in the way that they are organised - to political objectives: to the promotion of some people and the suppression of others. This expresses itself in all sorts of ways. Channel 4 has gone especially far in this direction, an example being its regular podcast Ways to Change the World, promoting and showcasting explicitly political viewpoints, the overwhelming majority of which gather around the social justice and diversity narratives and promoting people who expound them. 

The latest of these features the Channel 4 presenter and model Jameela Jamil talking about the Kardashian family as "agents for the patriarchy", how "people have made me look white" in modelling assignments and blaming society for eating disorders she had when younger - despite by any standards being a beneficiary of society's rules and norms. There are clearly some elements of truth to what Jamil says, but it's notable the way she frames them in the characteristic language of progressive liberal-left politics: of universal victimhood for certain favoured identity groups at the hands of society.

As I have written it in The Tribe, the 'system of diversity' that is spreading around our society offers possibilities to favoured group members who promote these narratives of victimhood for themselves, even if, or perhaps especially if, they are privileged with privileged access to channels for promotion like through Channel 4.

Channel 4 and other institutions that are embracing these norms and messages are therefore appearing as what Haidt might refer to as 'social justice' institutions, just like the universities that they talk about appear as 'social justice universities'. 

They are are dedicated to the same objectives, which are political objectives. The politics comes first, above such things as pursuit of the truth.


My book 'The Tribe: the liberal-left and the system of diversity' is available for £12 (RRP £14.95) with free postage to UK addresses. Use coupon TRIBE at imprint.co.uk/tribe. It is also available via online retailers.

Comments so far include the following

“a wonderfully lucid and convincing book”
           ~ Professor Robert Tombs, author of The English and Their History

 ‘searing’, ‘daring’ and ‘pioneering’ ~ Spiked

“a must read for anyone who is trying to make sense of the issues and fault lines in UK politics today.” ~ All in Britain

“superb, timely, well-written and excellently researched” ~ Amazon reviewer

one of the most important books of our time” ~ another Amazon reviewer

12 August 2018

On Boris, burkas and the quest for unity


One of my favourite lines is from the Russian writer Mikhail Bakhtin:

“My voice gives the illusion of unity to what I say.”

I reckon you could write a book on that sentence alone. There is so much in it and so much it can be applied to.

It immediately makes me think of someone talking confidently, perhaps on TV, maybe with a presenter deferring to them as an expert. They feel comfortable, at ease, and this is reflected in their voice, which is clear, calm and authoritative. In order to get on to the sofa in the first place, their voice probably had to sound this way. In order to enter into the situation of being deferred to, to be treated as an authority in front of millions of people, they had to look and sound the part of someone who knows what’s going on. They had to fit in with this sort of situation of people who go on TV and talk confidently about things.

There is a sort of unity in this situation: of the authoritative voice matching up with the deference of the presenter on a platform where they can speak freely, without contest, to more people than they could ever hope to meet in a lifetime.

In the line that I like so much, Bakhtin refers to an ‘illusion’ of unity, but of ‘what I say’. In this situation, the person speaking confidently and being treated as an expert appears authoritative pretty much whatever they say. As long as they appear confident and don’t mix up their words and at least attempt to refer to the subject matter, it all hangs together somehow.

In a sense this is an ‘illusion’. But in another there is a real form of unity here – an existential unity. There is an alignment between the person speaking and the environment around him or her. There may also be a unity between what they are saying and what they are talking about, i.e. a truthful relation, but this isn’t necessary to the existential sort of unity.

How does this relate to Boris Johnson and his comments about the burka, on how “Muslim head-gear that obscures the female face… looking like letterboxes… like a bank robber…is absolutely ridiculous”, you might ask?

My interest is more in the reaction to Boris’ comments. I substantially agree with Claire Fox, who calls his comments “crass” and says “I am no fan of BoJo-style private school wit”, but laments the hysterical reaction as highly damaging for the cause of free speech, not least in how it stops us from speaking about important things that concern us if that might involve criticising Muslims. As an example of that reaction, you only need to read the words of Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive of the government quango the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), who said, “Boris Johnson’s use of language in this instance, which risks dehumanising and vilifying Muslim women, is inflammatory and divisive.” (Notice the strong words there: ‘dehumanising’, ‘vilifying’, ‘inflammatory’, ‘divisive’, words that we might justifiably apply to the burka itself in the way it serves in public space.)

Much of the political liberal-left, representatives of Muslims and anti-Brexit Tories jumped in with similarly strong language. Accusations of ‘racism’ and ‘fascism’ were thrown around with abandon, and senior people including Theresa May have demanded he apologise for the offence caused.

All of this noise achieved a sort of unity which transcended the meaning of the words of the accusations themselves. The classic accusation that Boris was being ‘racist’ for example is absurd. Boris was talking about a specific garment worn under a particular – and particularly strict – strain of a religion. However his accusers said this didn’t matter and there was a higher truth, that he was blowing a ‘dog-whistle’ for racists and fascists, that he was a racist beforehand so that must mean his comments here were racist too.

And here we start that familiar and depressing descent from the actual truth to an ideological truth – a higher truth that may not match the actual truth but which gives a much more unified view of the world.

It all felt right: the politicians, the EHRC chief and Muslim ‘community leaders’ made their assertions and others took on their messages, passed them on to others as truthful, and so the whole thing built up into a crescendo of crashing rhetoric with virtually no interest in or relation to Boris’ own words.

This is a classic example of what I have called in my book, ‘the system of diversity’ in action. It aligns with a progressive story of history, of things improving over time as people who say things that do not fit into the system are removed from public life. Everything that gets in the way must be removed one way or another: by stopping people from speaking, by denying them employment and potentially in other ways too.

This is the path we are on. Hopefully my book The Tribe helps to explain it in more detail.


The Tribe: the liberal-left and the system of diversity is available for £12 (RRP £14.95) with free postage to UK addresses. Use coupon TRIBE at imprint.co.uk/tribe. It is also available via online retailers.

Comments so far include the following

“a wonderfully lucid and convincing book”
                         ~ Professor Robert Tombs, author of The English and Their History

 ‘searing’, ‘daring’ and ‘pioneering’ ~ Spiked

“a must read for anyone who is trying to make sense of the issues and fault lines in UK politics today.” ~ All in Britain

“superb, timely, well-written and excellently researched” ~ Amazon reviewer

one of the most important books of our time” ~ another Amazon reviewer

22 July 2018

The role of identity politics in the Remainer Revolt

There is a new piece of mine up on the Briefings for Brexit website: 'The role of identity politics in the Remainer Revolt'.

Click here to read.


UPDATE, 24th July 2018: The same article, edited slightly and with a different title, is also up on the Brexit Central website. See here.