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Two Cheers for Identity Politics

The priority of socioeconomic class over other forms of identity in the political thinking of both the left and the right can be justified only by insisting on the definition of human nature specific to the Marxist tradition and the Protestant Ethic, which posit labor as the “essence of Man.” What if that definition no longer holds?

NEW YORK – Critics of identity politics argue that close attention to matters of race, gender, and sexuality distracts from “real” politics, by which they typically mean the struggle between labor and capital over the distribution of material resources. But that view of politics assumes that class identity is an objective fact – a sociological datum or index to be read off a chart. In fact, class identity can be known only through its embodiment in words and deeds. It is just as subjective or “performative” as, say, gender has come to be understood in queer theory.