Culture Wars/Current Controversies

How Much Identity Can Society Stand?

By TELOS

Community membership used to be a matter of religion and, after that, ideology. Today this function has been taken over by the concept of identity. Religion and ideology in the past led repeatedly to serious and even bloody conflicts. Will this history repeat itself under the new principle? Themes of cultural membership seem to be rattling our Western societies increasingly, splitting them along the political lines of distributive justice. Questions of identity—ethnic, gender, sexual—dominate, as the debates over racism, postcolonialism, and gender grow violent and aggressive. These are probably unavoidable confrontations in an increasingly pluralistic society, just as they give expression to social conflicts, fought over the distribution of visibility and influence, attention and recognition.

As unavoidable as these conflicts may seem, they are also confusing, opaque, and ambivalent. The violence of some attacks against traditionalist positions, as well as the violence in the defense of tradition, in addition to the radicalness of identity demands lead to the question: How much identity politics strengthens the pluralism of a society, and at what point does it turn into fragmentation? The principle at stake is this: the ethnic, cultural, and religious-worldview pluralism that is growing in Germany as elsewhere is no idyll; on the contrary it is full of disputes and conflict potential. If this multifacetedness is to be lived out in a peaceful manner, then pluralism must be more than the mere coexistence of minorities and identities that not only differ from each other but also separate from each other. Fundamental commonalities are necessary, including of course a common language, and naturally also a shared recognition of justice and law.

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