Anyone who has thought about identity politics—the great intellectual disorder of our age—must conclude that the term obfuscates more than it illuminates. Identity politics is first and foremost not a politics of identity, but an obsession with oppression and victimization. Only those who claim to be victimized get to have their identity recognized, affirmed and honored.
Where we once bestowed on monuments, civic buildings, and streets the names of great generals, statesmen, and authors, today we only honor members of victimized identity groups. They get museums, holidays, commemorative stamps, movies, and books sanctifying their suffering and celebrating their accomplishments, both real and fake (George Washington Carver did not invent peanut butter). Their purported oppressors—men, heterosexuals, and above all, white people—are denied this privilege. They must atone in perpetuity for the sins of their fathers.
In Congress, for example, one finds a Congressional Black Caucus, both a Hispanic Caucus and a Hispanic Conference, an LGBT Caucus, a Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, and nothing stands in the way of Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib starting a Muslim Congressional Caucus (for those not persuaded by identity politics, there is, of course, no need for such groups). It goes without saying that there is no Caucasian Conference, Heterosexual Cis-Caucus, or Congressional Caucus for Men’s Issues. To the identarians, white, male, and straight cannot form identity groups because they sit atop the structures of power.
In her thoughtful essay, Molly McGrath coins the term “Sacrificial Politics” to describe our current political dispensation. Sacrificial Politics, she correctly observes, is a “Christian-influenced” ideology driven by “the sacred and the desire for sanctity.”
Under this pseudo-religion, victims of collective oppression are endowed with sacred status and all must defer to them. Any one particular individual is not required to have personally suffered to be held sacred. He must only belong to a victimized group and, McGrath reminds us, follow the script assigned to his group. Hell hath no fury like the opposition visited on an African American who criticizes affirmative action (McGrath calls those who refuse to think of themselves as victims, Defectors. Given the ferocity with which they are denounced—Justice Clarence Thomas has repeatedly been compared to a member of the Ku Klux Klan—I think Heretics would be more fitting).
Most intellectuals, who are both thoroughly secular and religiously illiterate, are deaf to the Christian echoes in contemporary Leftist politics. McGrath is not. Her analysis reminds us of Nietzsche’s wry observation in The Genealogy of Morals: “It is the Church which repels us, not its poison—apart from the Church we like the poison.”
Sacrificial politics preserves the poison of slave morality and ressentiment, but it discards, dilutes, and distorts central elements of Christian theology. It retains, for instance, the idea of an original sin transmitted across the generations, but it imputes it only to the oppressor groups. Those with sacred identities are born innocent. They also can never be held responsible for their perceived collective behavior, even though oppressor groups are held responsible for their perceived collective behavior (one can still indict individual members of sacred groups who commit a crime but we sense a growing unease at doing so if the victim is white).
In this regard, Sacrificial Politics is closer to the theology of the Nation of Islam than to Christianity. White people, Malcolm X taught, “are born devils by nature.” They are a race of blue-eyed devils created through eugenics out of the original black inhabitants of the earth by an evil wizard named Yakub on the Greek island of Patmos. This, of course, is non-sense on stilts, which even the SPLC denounces. But it remains true that Sacrificial Politics single out the white race alone for opprobrium. Racial pride and solidarity is actively encouraged among the oppressed races—how else will they resist the white supremacist American regime?—but denied to the oppressor races. What they fail to recognize is that such a politics of racial demonization creates the conditions in which white identitarianism becomes thinkable to many Americans.
More distressingly, Sacrificial Politics, unlike Christianity, neither preaches forgiveness nor promises justice. There is no Promised Land of reconciliation between the oppressors and their victims, no hope that one day “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
Our foremost authority on race, Ta-Nehisi Coates, believes that racism is not merely “a tumor that could be isolated and removed from the body of America,” but “a pervasive system both native and essential to that body.” It is “a force so fundamental to America that it is difficult to imagine the country without it.” In Between the World and Me, Coates urges his son to struggle against injustice but to rid himself of any hope that he can bring about meaningful change (Coates is merely rehashing, in his turgid prose, the ideas that Derrick Bell had expressed more eloquently in Face at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism).
No wonder the high priests and priestesses of Sacrificial Politics are so angry and hate-filled. Feminists write books like Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger and Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. “Why Can’t We Hate Men?” asks Suzanna Danuta Walters, the director of the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Northeastern University, in the pages of The Washington Post. Christianity is a religion of love. Sacrificial Politics is a religion of hate.
Indeed, hatred of straight white males is the glue that binds together the rainbow coalition of groups that not only have nothing in common with one another, but are themselves artificial constructs. Christianity asks us to believe in a virgin birth, a resurrection, and an afterlife. Sacrificial Politics asks us to believe that white Cuban aristocrats, brown Guatemalan day laborers, and black Lusophone Brazilians are all Hispanic brethren; that homosexual men and lesbians, who tend to segregate themselves into different social settings and bars, are all members of an “LGBTQ community”; that native black Americans, Hutu and Tutsi Rwandese immigrants, and second-generation Caribbean-Americans are all African Americans; that all women—both married and single—form a sisterhood; and that all these disparate groups are harmoniously united!
Paradoxically, Sacrificial Politics remains strangely drawn to the evil demographic groups it so vehemently denounces. Whites are evil, but they are also necessary to ensure that neighborhoods, schools, and associations are not segregated (unless, of course, the sacred minorities want them to be segregated, like our Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Sacrificial politics wants minorities to live, study, and work among whites—but do so with the possibility of segregated safe spaces. The ideology wants segregated integration—or at least the possibility to escape the company of whites when they choose to. Hence the rise of what Peter Wood has called “neo-segregationism.”
Christianity is also incomparably more demanding than Sacrificial Politics. Abraham agreed to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. Jesus, the sacrificial lamb, died on the cross for our sins. Christianity demands that we trust in a loving God in the face of injustice, forgive our enemies, love our fellow man, restrain our baser urges, and walk humbly with God. Jesus’s followers gave up houses, brethren, sisters, fathers, mothers, wives, children, lands—all for his name’s sake.
Sacrificial Politics, by contrast, turns out not to require much sacrifice at all. “The sacrificial core of the movement comes out most clearly when a Blasphemer gets publicly excoriated,” McGrath writes. But it costs us nothing to demand the head of Brendon Eich, James Damore, Curt Schilling, Roseanne Barr, or the guy from Duck Dynasty. These Blasphemers, it is true, have “a lot to bear.” The hordes of Twitterers who applauded their defenestration do not.
Most wokeness in contemporary America is, in fact, merely performative. Our woke elites never actually give up any of their privilege. They live in white neighborhoods, send their kids to private school, cheat to get these kids into college and, of course, never give up their own jobs to make way for a sacred other. When the federal judge who had ordered that Richmond’s schools be integrated through busing was asked why he sent his own son to a private school, he replied: “when I’m on the bench, I’m a judge, and when I’m at home, I’m a father.” In other words, diversity and inclusion for thee, but not for me.
Ditto with our woke corporations. They boycott North Carolina because of its bathroom policies, fly the rainbow flag, and stand strong against Toxic Masculinity, but mum’s the word when it comes to China, the world’s largest organ harvester of political prisoners. Fortune 500 companies all salivate at the prospects of capturing the Chinese market and so collaborate with its totalitarian regime. Taking up the cause of the Uyghurs or the Tibetans would harm the bottom line. Standing up for transgenderism doesn’t.
The “sacred calls for a willingness to suffer on its behalf,” McGrath writes. But watching others suffer while insulating oneself from the sacred as much as possible evinces no such willingness. Quite the contrary. Even McGrath admits in passing that “the deference and sacrifices are all symbolic.” Perhaps, then, Sacrificial Politics is not the mot juste to describe the current mania with group oppression. McGrath’s essay, however, is of great help in understanding more clearly the psychology of the phenomenon.