Document Type

Journal Article


The quest for an identity is turning into an imperative. Since the end of the Cold War, identity has become a new way to do politics, and something new to do politics for. Nations are said to be in search of one; individuals nurture theirs; collectives of all kinds are encouraged to seek rights for their identity and defend it from the imprecations of others. More than a selfhelp fad or fashionable neurosis, identity talk is the language of multiculturalism and seems poised to become the currency of the public sphere. Philosopher Charles Taylor writes of a new demand for "recognition" driving contemporary social movements, a demand based on the idea that because identity "is partly shaped by recognition or its absence . . . nonrecognition or misrecognition can inflict harm, can be a form of oppression."! But the demand for recognition of distinctive identities is sending liberal ideals of a disinterested citizenship into a tailspin. Does not a working democracy require that we respect people regardless of their differences, rather than because of them? And if identities are secured by cultural attitudes and practices, is this properly a political issue at all?