Nationalist Right and Identitarian Left Feed Off Each Other

Neither side is in the majority, but the conflict between them should worry us all.

Germans demonstrate against Chancellor Angela Merkel's immigration policy in Kaiserslautern, January 30, 2016
Germans demonstrate against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policy in Kaiserslautern, January 30, 2016 (Franz Ferdinand Photography)

Dalibor Rohac of the American Enterprise Institute argues in The American Interest that two intolerant communities have emerged in Western democracies:

  1. A nationalist right, whose overarching ambition is to return ethnic homogeneity and reverse the decline of status enjoyed by whites.
  2. An identitarian left, whose goal is to rectify the injustices caused by the historic domination of white heterosexual men.

We don’t have to accept a moral equivalence between the two to see that they have things in common.

Nor does either side need to be in the majority (neither is) to pose a danger to our democracy.

The two communities feed off each other

[I]n the United States in particular, the alt-right, with its promise of law and order, thrives on the excesses of political correctness and the immaturity and violence of campus activists. And, vice versa, the identitarian left draws its strength from President [Donald] Trump’s divisive tweets and his subtle and not-so-subtle winks at America’s white nationalists.

Neither side is completely wrong

The right, argues Rohac, isn’t wrong to worry about the social and health crisis that has afflicted white working-class men.

The left is correct to argue that systemic injustices exist in Western societies, that ethnic and sexual minorities oftentimes have a very different experience with the criminal justice system compared to the rest of the population and that they face prejudice and discrimination.

Their dogmatism is a threat to democracy

What makes the two sides dangerous is not what they propose — “even though their practical policy prescription are oftentimes asinine” — but rather their uncompromising, absolutist style.

Right-wing radicals in Budapest, Warsaw and Washington tend to see legal constraints on political power, independent judiciary and free media as undesirable hurdles in advancing the interests of those who gave them their political mandate. Those on the identitarian left sometimes argue that Western-style liberal democracies are founded, as political systems, on white supremacy and patriarchy and that standard political institutions exist with the purpose of protecting the privileges of white, heterosexual males.

When democracy depends on a degree of likemindedness among its citizens, who might passionately debate policies but share a commitment to institutions, such polarization carries risks for us all.

Rohac suggests investing in the “mushy middle,” where policy ideas can be debated and compromises reached without the name-calling and anger such exchanges tend to generate in highly factionalized settings.