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Yascha Mounk — Identity Politics and its Discontents

The Identity Trap: A Story of Ideas and Power in Our Time (book cover)

For much of history, societies have violently oppressed ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities. It is no surprise that many who passionately believe in social justice came to believe that members of marginalized groups need to take pride in their identity to resist injustice.

But over the past decades, a healthy appreciation for the culture and heritage of minority groups has transformed into a counterproductive obsession with group identity in all its forms. A new ideology aiming to place each person’s matrix of identities at the center of social, cultural, and political life has quickly become highly influential. It stifles discourse, vilifies mutual influence as cultural appropriation, denies that members of different groups can truly understand one another, and insists that the way governments treat their citizens should depend on the color of their skin.

This, Yascha Mounk argues, is the identity trap. Though those who battle for these ideas are full of good intentions, they will ultimately make it harder to achieve progress toward the genuine equality we desperately need. Mounk has built his acclaimed scholarly career on being one of the first to warn of the risks right-wing populists pose to American democracy. But, he shows, those on the left and center who are stuck in the identity trap are now inadvertent allies to the MAGA movement.

In The Identity Trap, Mounk provides the most ambitious and comprehensive account to date of the origins, consequences, and limitations of so-called “wokeness.” He is the first to show how postmodernism, postcolonialism, and critical race theory forged the “identity synthesis” that conquered many college campuses by 2010. He lays out how a relatively marginal set of ideas came to gain tremendous influence in business, media, and government by 2020. He makes a nuanced philosophical case for why the application of these ideas to areas from education to public policy is proving to be so deeply counterproductive—and why universal, humanist values can best serve the vital goal of true equality. In explaining the huge political and cultural transformations of the past decade, The Identity Trap provides truth and clarity where they are needed most.

Yascha Mounk is a writer and academic known for his work on the rise of populism and the crisis of liberal democracy. Born in Germany to Polish parents, Mounk received his BA in history from Trinity College Cambridge, and his PhD in government from Harvard University. He is a professor of the practice of international affairs at Johns Hopkins University, the founder of the digital magazine Persuasion, a contributing editor at The Atlantic, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and he has written for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, and Slate. He is the author of numerous books, including: The Great Experiment: Why Diverse Democracies Fall Apart and How They Can Endure (featured on President Barack Obama’s summer reading list), The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom is in Danger and How to Save It, Stranger in My Own Country: A Jewish Family in Modern Germany, The Age of Responsibility: Luck, Choice and the Welfare State and The Identity Trap: A Story of Ideas and Power in our Time. His podcast is called The Good Fight.

Shermer and Mounk discuss:

  • Israel, Hamas, Palestine
  • Why the Jews?
  • Progressive Left failure to denounce Hamas terrorists
  • Why students & student groups are pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel
  • The rise of anti-Semitism in recent years
  • Proximate causes of anti-Semitism
  • Ultimate causes of anti-Semitism
  • What is the identity synthesis and trap?
  • The rejection of the civil rights movement and the rise of critical race theory
  • Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
  • identity politics
  • Overt racism vs. systemic racism
  • Liberalism vs. illiberalism
  • What is progressive?
  • What is woke?
  • What are the true motives of woke progressive leftists?
  • How widespread is the problem of woke ideology?
  • Biden, Trump and the 2024 election
  • Could there be another Civil War?
  • What happened to conservatives and the Republican Party in the Trump era?
  • What should we do personally and politically about the Identity Trap?

This episode was released on November 11, 2023.

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