David French on L’Affaire Ilhan

Fenster writes:

David French has some useful comments on l’affaire Ilhan.

What is going on? Why are we seeing so many prominent voices rally to Omar’s side? This is how intersectionality works. Essentially, the pattern goes like this. Under intersectionality theories, your identity grants you credibility, your experience grants you authority, and the responsibility then of your progressive friends is to act as your allies.

Omar’s identity — as a woman of color, as a Muslim, as a refugee — means that she speaks with great experiential authority. She comes to the public square (as Tlaib and Clyburn indicate) from a position of personal pain and direct experience with marginalization and oppression. Allyship then means that it’s important to elevate her voice and to protect her credibility. To treat her as the GOP (finally) treated Steve King is unthinkable. Direct rebuke (much less direct action, such as stripping her of her committee assignments) is interpreted as an attack not on her ideas but on her very identity

My only quibble is that he describes a better world that is too prim and neat. He writes:
 . . . identity isn’t a substitute for credibility or authority or morality . . .
and that is certainly true. But I fear it is not always a matter of one’s experiential authority failing the morality test. That is a pretty ethnocentric view. I don’t doubt that many people in this sometimes inexplicable world are partisan for very good reasons by their lights. Conflicts inevitably give rise to shared passions that are perfectly sensible in their own terms.

Our default tendency toward universalism–something blazingly apparent on the left but present on the right as well–prompts us to try to make the inexplicable explicable, and  the incommensurable commensurable.  Thus French challenges the idea that Omar’s experiential authority can be moral in its own right.

The particularism of the colonial era bred its own kind of bias and ethnocentrism.  Our universalistic era breeds another, one in which political and cultural differences are discounted if they fail a test of morality that we devise and then blindly promote.

I don’t think there is an easy answer to this conundrum.  It might be enough to reflect on which class of error you seem to be making, and to make adjustments from there.

To me l’affaire Ilhan is a good example of overdoing the diversity thing.  Too many, too much cultural distance, too many collisions on fundamentals, too little assimilation glue.  That argument is, I suspect, not part of the progressive vocabulary.  All the more reason to suspect an imbalance on just that dimension.  When yin is dismissed out of hand, or not even brought to mind, that’s fairly good evidence that yang is on a rampage.

About Fenster

Gainfully employed for thirty years, including as one of those high paid college administrators faculty complain about. Earned Ph.D. late in life and converted to the faculty side. Those damn administrators are ruining everything.
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5 Responses to David French on L’Affaire Ilhan

  1. Wilbur Hassenfus says:

    No, it’s a practical matter of holding the coalition together until the common enemy — you and me and David French — is crushed. French’s job, as a “conservative”, is to squirt a few delicate spritzes of squid ink around the action. His role is to draw attention away from progressive actions and direct it to progressive sales pitches, lest the American white remember to watch what they do, rather than what they say.

    When the natives are safely defeated, the Jews and Muslims will have a go at each other. Each has a good track record in these matters. The Jews, however, only have a good track record after 1945, when American white people began to take an interest in protecting them.



  2. Dain says:

    How then to explain the far colder reaction to Ayaan Hirsi Ali? She checked off all the boxes too.

    Identity politics explanations don’t explain as much as we think. It’s still about disembodied political philosophy at the end of most proverbial days.


    • fenster says:

      Yes she checks off several boxes: female, black, Muslim. But as to the latter she is anti-Muslim, or at least anti-Muslim in a certain way. But since intersectionality rules stipulate that all member groups are victims one must subscribe to the correct line: pro-Muslim victim if Muslim, pro-black victim if black, etc. No room for Candace Owens either, and she checks off some boxes, too.

      Perhaps there is no real disagreement here. I think you are right that on the face of it, so to speak, philosophy trumps formal racial, gender, gender identity and religious categories. But that philosophy is still one based in the primacy of victim groups.


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