Robert Hanna on the Distinction Between Identitarianism and Dignitarianism

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Robert Hanna:

"We’re in a position to discuss the distinction between identitariarism and dignitarianism.

Identitarianism is the following four-part view.

First, people are defined primarily in terms of their falling under a certain social group-type and/or their social group-allegiance (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, national origin or citizenship, language, economic class, social roles of all kinds, social institutions of all kinds especially including religions, etc., etc.).

Second, special moral virtues and special positive moral value, or goodness, are attributed to all members of that social group and to that social group itself, call it the We.

Third, special moral vices and special negative moral disvalue,or badness, are attributed to members of certain other social groups and to those groups themselves, who are then collectively intensely distrusted, or even excoriated-and-vilified, as the Other.

And fourth, the creation of this Other also leads to intense or evenobsessive fears that We will be corrupted, infiltrated, and miscegenated by the Other culture, members of which are then perceived to exist both covertly inside (as carriers of disease, or impurities) and also overtly outside (as invasive threats surrounding the We)Our culture.

Identitarianism is sharply opposed to dignitarianism, especially the broadly Kantian version of it that I’ve presented and defended (Hanna, 2018a, 2018b, 2021), which has three parts.

First, everyone, everywhere, has dignity, simply by virtue of their being human real persons.

Second, dignity is a fundamental, irreducible, and therefore primitively given feature of human real persons that cannot either be reduced or erased byany bad actions or bad habits of character, or increased or sanctified by any good actionsor good habits of character.

And third, everyone, everywhere ought to treat themselves and everyone else with sufficient respect for their dignity. It directly follows from thisthat, properly speaking, no one can either lose their own dignity, earn their own dignity, or regain their own dignity; but at the same time, it’s certainly true that anyone can either fail to treat themselves with sufficient respect for their own dignity or succeed in doing so.

Now, if identitarianism is true, then dignitarianism is false; and if dignitarianismis true, then identitarianism is false.

More specifically, from a dignitarian point of view, the basic problems with identitarianism are

(i) its cultural relativism,

(ii) its tribalism, and, correspondingly, its

(iii) anti-cosmopolitanism, which are diametrically opposed to the (i*) universalism, (ii*) global, non-sectarian outlook, and, correspondingly, the (iii*) cosmopolitanism of dignitarianism.

Moreover, while fully acknowledging the emotional attraction and psychological power of identitarian thinking — manifesting itself, for example, as intense pride or even passionate love directed at the We, and intense distrust or even visceral hatred directed at the Other — dignitarians also believe that the only morally and politically legitimate use of the concept of “identity” in the identitarian sense is that it tells us, blow-by-blow, how those who seek to oppress people, use group-identity specifically in order to create for themselves classes of Others, to whom they attribute special moral vices, moral badness, or even the outright denial of their real human personhood, aka, “dehumanization,” in order to rationalize their fear-driven morally bad and evil treatment of those Others, whether perceived to exist covertly inside or overtly outside the We-culture. So the only morally and politically legitimate use of the concept of “identity” in the identitarian sense is as a critical tool. But on the other hand, for members of that oppressed culture, now experienced from the inside as a We-culture of its own, the oppressed We, to attribute special moral virtues or moral value to themselves or their culture, just because of their being-oppressed, aka just because of their victimhood, is actually to “internalize the oppressor” (Freire, 1970) and mistakenly, even tragically, to define themselves in terms of the very features that their oppressors used for the attribution of morally negative characteristics in order to rationalize their morally bad and evil treatment of that oppressed group, perceived and treated as the Other. In short, from a moral and political point of view, we should always and only be fundamentally concerned with dignity, not identity."