intertitle.gif (2406 bytes)
Volume 5.2 1997
ISSN 1048-3721
This page was last updated on 03/15/99



This essay is dedicated to the memory of Wilbur Knorr (1945–1997).

John D. Ely

The concept of identity is pervasive in contemporary discourse. Identity has become a general term replacing the terms personality or character since its popularization by the social psychologist Erik Erikson in the 1960s. The term is used today by scholars within all fields of the human sciences.

Three political perspectives, which at first do not self-evidently have much in common, have focused on identity: 1) cultural nationalism, 2) communitarianism, and 3) multiculturalism. This convergence over the term identity among three currents in theory and politics typically understood as offering opposed perspectives is suggestive of a general problem. All three positions assume an ascriptive concept of the human person, which increasingly bears the imprint of the nation-state. The genealogy of the term identity reveals its roots in English empirical and utilitarian philosophy. Such a genealogy suggests that identity, as used by such groups as those just mentioned, is beholden to central liberal concepts of state and individual, although the advocates of identity viewpoints such as communitarians and multiculturalists are often understood more typically as critics of liberalism.

However, if identity is a term linked with the nation-state, it is not a republican term. Hence, a civic republican perspective, which should not be confused with a communitarian one, provides an avenue for a critical assessment of the concept of identity.


My concern with the term identity begins with the ideal of national identity articulated by the German far right in the period of its ascendancy throughout the 1980s. National identity invokes for them an ideal of national cultural-ethnic unity that serves as rhetorical support for what many others perceive as a politics of xenophobia and exclusion. National identity is a crucial concept for figures on the extreme right such as Alain de Benoist (the founder of the French nouvelle droite), Günter Maschke (German salon-fascist publicist and editor of Carl Schmitt), Bernard Willms (the Hobbes scholar and conservative nationalist), and academic supporters and ideologues of the German far right such as the historian Helmut Diwald and political scientists Robert Hepp and Hans-Joachim Arndt, associated with the "Republicans."2 The German far right has recognized and amplified the nationalist, ethnocultural resonance inhering in the meanings of identity.

The role of the idea of identity for the far right implies problems for communitarians and for multiculturalists given the historic tendency of the far right to appropriate and parasitize ideas and images from liberalism and the left. Generally, multiculturalists (using methods taken from post-structuralism, semiotics, discourse, and cultural theory) and communitarians seek reforms in society at odds with either a neo-liberal economic or a cultural conservative approach to politics.3 The similarity of rhetorics centered around the idea of identity is surprising. Though most post-structuralist and communitarian thinkers probably support some kind of Social Democratic reform, their vocabulary and interests overlap with those of regionalists and nationalists offering other versions of identity politics. How can we distinguish the calls for a "politics of identity" or a community of "shared collective goods"—to use the terms of post-structuralism, African American nationalism, or communitarians such as Charles Taylor or William Gallston—from anti-democratic cultural nationalists? Neo-nationalism is a version of identity politics evident not only in existing nation-states but also in nationalist separatisms such as in Baskenland, Wales, French Canada, Belgium, Northern Italy, and the former Yugoslavia. As Taylor emphasizes, communitarianism resonates with regionalist, particularist, and rightist viewpoints.4 Given this convergence of terminology, how can communitarians avoid invoking the ideal of "shared collective goods," such as religion and language, that overlaps with the strong cultural nationalism of the far right? Rootedness is culture; it is found in the homeland or Heimat. Depending on differing registers of images and rhetoric, such community discourse can be shared by the far right. How can multicultural defenders of a "politics of identity" avoid invoking a political version of difference—one which, however cultural, overlaps with the rhetoric of difference used by the new right? Pierre-Andre Taguieff and Etienne Balibar develop of concept of neo-racism illustrating this problem. Neo-racism, to use their term, no longer depends on positive scientific or biological demonstration of difference. It depends rather on the cultural reality of difference itself, articulated within a global system of particular national states.5 Insofar as identity develops as a term integrating the psyche of the individual in the state system as a hierarchy of core and periphery, it will serve to reinforce this system. There is little doubt that the new-right invocation of national identity serves this project. The issue is the degree to which participation in the discourse of identity politics by multiculturalists and communitarians may also unwittingly serve this end.


Communitarians are today at the center of political theory debates in the United States (since the end of utilitarian/Kantian argument among liberals earlier).6 As critics of liberalism and its abstract individualism, communitarians invoke the idea of identity to strengthen the concrete, historical, embodied nature of any actual self. Writers such as Alisdair MacIntyre, Charles Taylor, Michael Sandel, Michael Walzer, Robert Bellah, and William Gallston developed their views in the service of a critique of liberalism.7 Liberalism’s view of self, they argue, is abstracted from the concrete social forms that communalize, socialize, or integrate such a self, that give it an ethos or, to use a monetarized and liberal term, a value-orientation. The character of the individual arises with the roles, activities, practices, and customs making humans social and political animals. Humans are embedded in a web of relations that cultivate and educate them, giving them narrative and teleological meanings. Freedom in this view is not freedom from government but a share in the practices of ruling, which means following specific roles and becoming competent in certain practices related existentially to those roles. As Alisdair MacIntyre writes, "[W]hat is good for me has to be good for the one who inhabits these roles."8

For communitarian writers like MacIntyre or Taylor, our identity is thus inseparable from our being-in-the-world in a system of intentions, from our being agents. This is the inescapable framework of teleology or goals that form the background picture, the narrative assumptions, of the self. Identity is irreducibly tied to humans as agents with practices. "My identity," writes Taylor, "is defined by the commitments and identifications which profile the frame or horizon which I can try to determine from case to case what is good or valuable...." Identity is tied with an individual’s orientation, frameworks of meaning, "webs of interlocution," historical rootedness, religion, and tradition.9 Or, as MacIntyre notes, we cast ourselves, in the story of our lives, in our approach to our own circumstances, always as "bearers of a particular social identity." "I am someone’s son or daughter, someone else’s cousin or uncle; I am a citizen of this or that city, a member of this or that guild or profession. I belong to this clan, that tribe, this nation."10 Communitarians deny the existence of a malleable and universal abstract human psyche, an unencumbered or transcendental self.11 Ethics are thus rooted in a lived world. They are composed of strong collective goals or shared cultural goods.

The term identity in its everyday use fits a communitarian sensibility. It suggests the psychological glue holding a community together. Those shared collective or cultural goods give us meaning and recognition, make us what we are, give us a feeling of home and community. Identity in this sense designates something like a person’s understanding of who he is, of his fundamental defining characteristics as a human being. Identity in this sense invokes rooted community, knowledge and confidence in friends, local parameters, sense of place, and close ties. As Jürgen Habermas has observed, the loss of orientation and the search for identity are brothers.


Cultural studies, following an earlier focus on race, class, and sex (later "gender") developed in the universities in the wake of the 1960s and 1970s. Coincident with the shift of new-left radicalism into the academy, we see the rise of identity politics. As Todd Gitlin argues, the central meaning of identity in this sense comes from the categories of the new social movements, above all, the issues of race, class, and gender.12 Multiculturalism, cultural studies, colonial discourse, queer theory, standpoint theory, the critique of conquest theory—such approaches draw largely on the radical critique of subject philosophy undertaken by Derrida, Foucault, and French post-structuralist philosophy.13 Such perspectives make their claims to insurgency based on exposing standards and traditions as a camouflage of interests.14 We are all formed by our identities, all constructed or invented collectively as subject positions. Multiculturalists share with communitarians a critique of the universal and abstract character of an Enlightenment politics of commonality or abstract, universal, law-based membership. Like communitarians and cultural nationalists, they invoke difference and share the view that every claim to universality is actually a strategy of exclusion.15

Taylor reveals the overlap between multiculturalists and communitarians in his comparison of Quebec’s cultural nationalism with the politics of multiculturalism in terms of the idea of identity. Taylor, for example, points to such overlapping areas of concern among multiculturalists, communitarians, and nationalists by comparing the politics of secessionist and cultural nationalism today in Italy, Spain, and Canada, on the one hand, and the politics of multiculturalism, race, class, and gender, on the other.16 Both are concerned with the identity or status of ascriptively generated subaltern or minority groups. Similarly, both feminism, especially in its cultural or separatist form, and the politics of multiculturalism (Hispanic, African American, Asian American, Algerian French politics) are concerned with the identity or status of ascriptively generated minority or subaltern groups. This is comparable to the search for identity and recognition on the part of separatist groups like French Canadians, Basques, South Tyroleans, and Croats.

Cultural nationalists, multiculturalists, and communitarians all distinguish themselves from liberals by using the term identity. Communitarians can offer individuals identity and liberals putatively cannot. A person with identity contrasts critically with the abstract universalism of liberal philosophy, having a sense of place and self, whether based on ethnicity, race, gender, language, or regional culture. What is significant about the discourse of identity is that its usage or meaning in social-psychological terms is shared by communitarians like Taylor with cultural nationalists and multiculturalists. They all use it to elaborate the particular and ascriptive aspects of our development or socialization. Identities are acquired or assigned from outside—as in birth or social status. A cursory list of the most important elements or features of identity underscores this ascriptive referent. Amelie Rorty, in her theory of identity, offers a characteristic set of the modes of identification: "race, class, age, gender, ethnicity and occupation."17

Identity is an ascriptive concept. The increasing frequency of its appearance in the human sciences in recent years reflects the growing power of modes of state ascription in the contemporary period. Talcott Parsons contrasted ascription to achievement or performance as a means of distinguishing placement in society.18 Ascription emphasizes the nonvoluntary mode of determining membership. Membership is based on a mere quality to determine status rather than some active or voluntary share in association. Ascription is a mode of determining membership characteristic of the "solidarities of kinship, community, ethnicity and class." Race, ethnicity, family, gender, nationality, religion, and sexuality refer to features of life determined by structural features or given to the individual rather than voluntarily chosen.19 A genealogical look at the development of this concept is, however, more revealing than the manner in which the term is shared by three seemingly disparate groups. Genealogy here refers to Nietzsche’s argument about finding the meanings in words via their origins and histories. Genealogy produces ironic results: the Latin word for good refers originally to duonus, denoting political superiority. It meant "the warrior."20 The term identity reveals a similar irony. It is not an Aristotelian and communitarian term. It is rather a positivist and liberal term. This derivation makes it all the more surprising that it has emerged as a slogan or code word for communitarians, cultural nationalists, and multiculturalists, typical critics of liberalism.

This genealogy suggests problems in invoking the term identity for communitarian or multicultural ends because the term means the opposite of what its communitarian or multicultural proponents might like it to mean. Notably, as liberals are quick to point out, those who attack the liberal democratic state while presupposing the basic structures of the nation-state may encourage illiberal and anti-democratic forces, of which modern history provides numerous examples. A genealogy of the term identity reveals that the two most important sources of the term’s meanings are perspectives that generally stand opposed to both communitarianism and multiculturalism. The term has less to do with a civic, humanist orientation, such as one ought to expect from communitarianism, than with the juridical subject philosophies most typically associated with liberalism.21 In this sense, the term is part of the state-building project of nationalism insofar as this utilizes ascriptive definitions of human beings strengthened and increasingly influential as the modern nation-state expands.


My historical argument about the term identity follows two key developments in the meaning of identity from its general mathematical-metaphysical sense in the history of philosophy. The major genealogy follows the development of identity as an epistemological, psychological, and, eventually, ethnonational term. This evolution follows the major path of seventeenth-century English empiricism, the eighteenth-century Scottish Enlightenment, and nineteenth-century utilitarianism. John Locke and David Hume develop its meaning as personal identity. This meaning is refined in the context of the Scottish Enlightenment by James Mill. John Stuart Mill introduces it as a concept of group psychology. He is, I believe, the first to use it in its central modern sense as national identity.

If the dominant meaning of identity follows the path of positive philosophy, critical usage arises with Hegel’s dialectic. This use retains the original metaphysical meanings but reduces the truth-claims lying in the mode of identity thinking. Where positivism tends to expand the term into psychology, identity for Hegel remains merely at the level of the understanding or reason, simple consciousness rather than experience at the historical level of the spirit; "self consciousness" in and for itself.22 In this argument, appearance of identity thinking reflects absence of dialectic. Identity is the primal form of idealist ideology, and Georg Lukacs and Theodor Adorno elaborate this claim as a critique characteristic of Western Marxism (following Hegel’s combined critique of empirical and rational, material and ideal modes in early modern philosophies). Identity thinking in either its rationalist or empiricist sense remains at the level of the understanding; and indeed, Adorno, befitting the pessimistic attitude of later Western Marxism, opens Negative Dialectics by associating identity thinking, as the primal form of ideology, with the logic of exchange.23

In dialectics, identity remains a category for understanding those living under false consciousness. Self-consciousness, the political orientation of a group or class in and for itself, which is aware of itself as subject and object, transcends its mere identity. In this regard, the increasing prevalence of the idea of identity as a social-psychological expression, even in the school of Critical Theory associated with Habermas,24 demonstrates how far our present theoretical context is from that of Horkheimer and Adorno. Habermas has retreated from the project of social theory to that of philosophy. He introduced the pessimistic Weberian term rationalization with a positive valence. So, too, he and his followers increasingly use the term identity in its positivist not its dialectical meaning.25 Critical Theory before Habermas always understood itself as a last-ditch protest against the overwhelming victory of positive science.

The contemporary history of the term identity in its positivist and social-psychological sense spreads from the Scottish Enlightenment. As the nation-state system is built, the term identity increasingly becomes associated with the idea of national identity. This association reflects the interest of the late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century state in identifying, cataloging, measuring, and regulating its subjects, its national members, with modes of identification.


The characteristic metaphysical meaning for identity, or any theoretical meanings of a philosophical, theological, or scientific sense, referred for centuries to the quality or state of sameness in contrast to difference. Identity referred to maintaining a specific "thing-ness" through time. The term appeared in a largely metaphysical context influenced by a mathematical-geometric understanding of the heavens as a model for understanding the first principles of thinking. This mixture of math, stars, and neo-Platonism stretches from Plato, extending by way of Plotinus and neo-Platonism through Augustine and Aquinas, Cusanus, Pico della Mirandola, and Descartes, up to Kant and the German idealists. It is characterized by the attempt to relate everything to one, the problem of the one and the many. "The one and the many, abstractly conceived as the relationship of identity and difference, is the fundamental relation that metaphysical thinking comprehends both as logical and as ontological: the one is both axiom and essential ground, principle and origin."26 This mathematical-astral sense, tied to the age-old problem of the one and the many, characterized the neo-Platonic meaning of identity, of course, as a primal, essentialist, and ideal concept separated from the duration of sameness found in those corruptible features of the world of appearances.

This mathematical-metaphysical sense has different registers of meaning. In particular, in an Aristotelian context, the concept of sameness and species unity has a biological, qualitative sense. Aristotle uses sameness with respect to species of things. Sameness is only reduced to terms of a mechanically conceived universe in Hume’s Treatise on Human Nature. This sense of qualitative distinction is even more strongly evident in his distinction between theoretical and practical science, between psychology and ethics.27 However, the term identity itself tends to remain much more purely metaphysical in its appearance, meaning, above all, something like one-to-one sameness or congruence in the Euclidian sense of tautotes, "same-ity." Identitas is not a classical word. It was coined by Boethius as a translation of Euclid’s tautotes, having of course an extremely rigid one-to-one sense of strict correspondence, congruence in the definition of proportions and ratios.28 In the history of metaphysics, while this strong sense never leaves a neo-Platonic, astral context, much of what gets translated as identity does not have this strong sense but is simply an elaboration or a doubling of the reflexive idem in Latin, identidem, "again and again," "over and over." This tendency is related to the reflexivity of grammar in many languages, though of course all reflexivity is not congruence any more than to auto is the same word as tautotes. Its central meaning appears in Boethius in the mathematical-metaphysical sense of congruence, or mathematically precise sameness, as identity. But the roots imply a less stringent sense, in the manner in which ho autos or homoios would be translated into the Latin idem as "the same" or "similar," in such cases in relation, i.e., "we should fare the same as you." In Aristotle, as in everyday language, this mode of comparison and similarity retains a fluid, qualitative sense found in the world of appearances and similarities. It remains specifically distinct from the potential of pure congruence or identity characteristic of the higher eternal world of the heavens; and in Aristotle the term tautotes occurs only rarely as a general term of comparison or similarity with respect to one thing.29

For centuries a relatively obscure post-classical term in math and metaphysics, the application of identity to the psychology and jurisprudence of the modern state begins with the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment in the British Isles by the first consistent school representing a mechanical paradigm of nature. Ironically, the neo-Platonist and Pythagorean version of metaphysical idealism reappears—"stars brought down to earth"—through the elaboration of star-based, astral mechanism, in the empirical philosophy of the British materialists via Newton and the scientific revolution. Liberalism, as a pure, rule-based juridical concept, inscribes its territorial and propertarian concept of land and office and is shared by both Whigs and Tories, and the dialectic between court and country eventually wipes out a specifically civic republican concept of character development present in earlier modern philosophical tendencies. It is within the precise, non-qualitative, Euclidian framework that Locke elaborates the term identity in a psychological sense, in the seventeenth century. Locke is writing during the period of the formation of the modern English state. He integrates his notion of personal identity into the model of the subject, which he conceives as subject, not as citizen, in the context of a juridically oriented, rule-based political philosophy and a mechanical and law-driven, determinate philosophy of nature coincident with the emergence of a new construction-oriented geometry.30 His concept of the self with its personal identity fits into a model of the modern state because it forms the basis of the modern idea of the subject, a malleable self fashioned by the sociopolitical engineering of a system of what will soon be called rewards and punishments.

Locke applies the old and continuing metaphysical meaning of "that which persists" to the individual human but with the formal-mathematical meanings it bore as a metaphysical category. "The identity," writes Locke in his Essay on Human Understanding, "of the same Man consists ... in nothing but a participation of the same continued Life, by constantly fleeting Particles of Matter, in succession vitally united to the same organized body."31 In developing his epistemic meaning, Locke took the old sense of "that which persists" and applied it inwardly to consciousness of retaining one’s sameness through time.

The mathematical meanings inhering in identity are significant to the adaptation of this epistemic or metaphysical term for psychology. Since Euclid and the translation of tautotes into identitas by Boethius as a new, post- classical Latin coinage, the term meant congruence, an image implying scientific exactness of ratio. In British empiricism, its increasing adaptation to the world of corruptible, phenomenal things suggests the positivism emerging from this tradition, in the sense of (precise, mathematical) modes of measurement and verification by empirical sciences. The mechanically oriented British empiricists used it in this sense. Locke, in a style evident since Hobbes, retains the strong mathematical sense of a one-to-one congruence, overlap, or identity when he adapts the term in a psychological fashion.

Personal identity at first remains an English term in this new psychological sense. Though the terms self and individual develop conceptually in parallel on the Continent, especially in Descartes’ psychological theory of the "I" or "Ego," Descartes does not actually use the term identity to describe the ego. As a bundle term assuming a group of things perceived through space or time, identity remains at first empiricist and English. Locke and Hume elaborate the self with its personal and unique identity as part of the discourse of empirical and utilitarian philosophy and its understanding of the state. Identity relates to a version of the individual fitting the new English mercantile state and this new mathematical-mechanical concept of the cosmos. The early mercantile state in England is a key source of the mechanical system of Enlightenment science, which abolished ends from natural motion or principles of development and saw only simple and local, mechanical motion of cause and effect. Locke’s self of personal identity fits this pattern. It is that sort of self ready to be habituated by a governing system of rewards and punishments. The self as personal identity is one as a subject under a new regime of state-building, defined and constructed not in republican terms of virtues and vices but juridical ones of rights and obligations. Its individual fits the legal categories of the newly emergent state: the person as object (or subject to the laws) of systems of rewards and punishments. A malleable self, a tabula rasa, fits the juridical outlook, and Locke’s introduction of the idea of personal identity represents this utilitarian self directed by pleasures and pains, rewards and punishments. This self can be socially engineered through a regime of behavioral conditioning. With the advent of liberal philosophy via Hume, Bentham, and Austin, this self, this tabula rasa space of personal identity, becomes the site of ascription by the state. The idea of the tabula rasa, the empty slate, marks the involution of this mechanical outlook to describe the human psyche itself. Ascription fits the character of the nation-state. It reflects the individual conceived increasingly as a member of an abstract or imagined community, mediated through a set of mechanical laws, rather than a face-to-face one. David Hume uses the term in precisely this sense, as a concept of the self directed by the principle of benevolence, or pleasures and displeasures, a self to be constructed or affected by various outside forces, the conditionable self.

It bears noting that the use of the term personal identity in the Essay on Human Understanding and the Treatise on Human Nature fits in the general psychological system elaborated by Locke and Hume. Neither writer, however, uses the term yet as a central, psychological, much less group-psychological, category at all. Personal identity is never synonymous with the self or applicable in place of terms like character or person. It remains an aspect or quality of the person. Indeed, both thinkers are traditional theorists of virtues and character; and when Hume discusses things that we would consider to be group identity, such as national identity, he speaks not surprisingly of national character instead.32 However, the term becomes a decisive epistemological one in empirical psychology, and it is within this tradition of thinking that we can trace its main development, which is the result of an interplay between the metaphysical-mathematical concept of identity, applied increasingly to the outer world, and the new psychological one; or the flowering of the social-psychological meaning of identity out of the development of the empirical- utilitarian concept of the self or individual developed by Locke, Hume, Jeremy Bentham, the Mills, and H.L.A. Hart.

Here it bears underscoring that Hume has a thoroughly nationalist consciousness in terms of his self-understanding of the problems in political life for which his philosophical perspective offers advice. Hume’s political orientation, directed at resolutions in English constitutional life between court and country, has an exclusively national orientation. Indeed, England, along with the Netherlands, was unique for Hume in being the first major country to base a large part of its wealth upon commerce, a national empire built on trade. England’s strategy for strength and security as a nation lay in reconciling contradictions to assure this future: establishment of big-power status based on a balance of commerce and agriculture.33 The parts of the identity formula used today are already present: application of congruence and constructivist mathematics to self, to building or construction of a national state, and the monarchical image of a center, head, or sovereign owner wielding legitimate violence over a specific and jurisdictionally discrete, bordered, inscribed portion of land, in which the inhabitants increasingly acquire the ascribed, legally defined characteristics, then character, and eventually identity, determined first and foremost by descent from those in this inscribed territory. The irony in the term identity lies in its paradoxical nature. The individual identity in Locke’s sense is always and everywhere utterly discrete. Yet the term develops in unmediated relation to the identity, the geographic and jurisdictional specificity, of a discrete national state. As a nation, and not as a constitutional form, this national unit remains as unique as the individual. The space between these two unmediated particularities will eventually be filled with emotions and feelings of national character, remaining thereafter remarkably impervious to rational comprehension.

However, this process takes as long as it does to build a nation-state and generate a world market on the terms envisioned by the early British economists. James Mill, for instance, still uses words such as individual or character as his basic psychological terms. Yet he is already introducing the legal concept of identity, in the sense of identity of interest, into the vocabulary of English positive jurisprudence. His manner of doing so illustrates the dynamic of using the term, on the one hand, to refer to the unique individual’s consciousness of himself, and, on the other hand, as a metaphysical term of congruence. For James Mill, identity of interest is that which the new, modern, corporate groups, the nation and the joint-stock company, have binding them together. The identity is only comprehensible in the positivist and unmediated sense shared by exchange-economies and positive jurisprudence of the sovereign, territorial state. Interest means those things shared by a given corporate group, by implication of the division of tasks discrete and different, not identical. The joint-stock company manages to transform this discrete qualitative aspect into exchange-value. Thomas Hobbes, not surprisingly, has already managed to suggest the same for positive law with his calculation of fear as the general, homogeneous, and undifferentiated stuff of any coherent identity of interest in a regular political system.34 Hobbes offers a solution to the problem of how a representative body can be made a "security for good government." The identity of interest proposed is that between the representative of a body and those he is representing. Representation in this regard is an old means of "identifying as nearly as possible the interests of those who rule with those who are ruled."35 In the course of the eighteenth century, the two corporate groups for whom this idea of identity of interest is increasingly important are, first and foremost, the nation as a whole and its national interest and, second, the joint-stock company and the organization of the individual’s hedonist private interest. Mill’s elaborated discussions of national political economy make evident that interest being identified through the legal means of representation has these two dominant meanings in mind. In this sense, identity is already moving from its second historical meaning as the unique individual to its other contradictory meaning of that shared with others in the group, or group identity, mediated by a concept of the economically interested bourgeois-hedonist of British psychology.

This contradiction between the uniqueness inhering in the meaning of Locke’s original explanation, and the sense of ascriptive homogenization that the term identity acquires in its meanings as group identity, is part of its ideological meaning as a bourgeois term, in the reading of Western Marxism, and accompanies its development. Only in John Stuart Mill does the term identity begin to appear completely as a term for group identity as national identity, not surprisingly in the chapter of his book On Representative Government, which deals with nationality as connected with representative government. Mill refers to those things that unite a portion of mankind as a nationality—"common sympathies" that can be caused by the "effects of identity of race and descent," by "community of language and community or religion, or by geographical limits." "But the strongest of all is identity of political antecedents: the possession of a national history, and consequent community of recollections; collective pride and humiliation, pleasure and regret, connected with the same incidents in the past."36 With a basic synecdoche of microcosm and macrocosm, Mill uses the sense of memory holding together personal identity with the manner in which collective or national memory holds together national identity. When Mill enumerates the various characters or qualities determining identity in this sense, we find the catalog of ascriptions that we have already seen in Amelie Rorty and the standard contemporary ascriptive accounts of the individual’s identity. Identity becomes the central, ascriptively determined mode of describing the modern individual’s psyche or personality, covering the various ways in which the legal-compulsive monopoly of the state and its various subsidiary compulsory institutions serve ascriptively to define individuals. The term simultaneously establishes itself as a unique characterization of the individual in British individualist philosophy. It expresses the specificity or uniqueness of that individual.

This particular character of the term evolves in the nineteenth century in those countries in which the nation-state and national feeling develop earliest: first in England, then in France. For Voltaire, it retains an old metaphysical meaning; Rousseau uses the verb identifier, occasionally, with regard to the confusion of special or partisan interest with communal.37 By the mid- nineteenth century, "old identity," in English, contrasts older residents of a colonial region to new arrivals. Through means of frontier control, identity papers, and even photo-identification that begin to appear in the context of the French Revolution, a true system of national identification makes a relatively late appearance. Identity plaques were introduced as a means of identifying soldiers in the French Army in 1882, following the early origins of photo-identification in the wake of the repression of the Paris Commune. Identity cards were issued to British soldiers at the turn of the century, and identity disks—early dog tags 38—in 1909. Identity cards appear even later, after the general introduction of passports following World War I, in the Larrouse Dictionary only in 1929. Such usages are first clearly military; it is only later, in the 1950s, that identification extends to general identification cards or what we now call IDs. Identitätausweis is the Austrian translation of carte d’identitie, just as the German verb identifizieren translates the French identifier. This meaning is crucial since the modern army, organized by a bureaucratically competent state into relatively homogeneous units, serves as the main means for developing identity as a corporate meaning already suggested by the homogeneous, monetary mode of the joint-stock company, united by exchange-values rather than shared activities. This version of identity links the idea of the nation at war with the formulation of a willingness to die, which, as military historians emphasize, always has its most decisive basis in unit solidarity or camaraderie.39

The development of a modern state, bureaucracy, political economy, and technical science during this period form the background for the decisive emergence of the term identity. As later writers, especially in French psychoanalytic discourse, argue, the development of identity in this sense centers on an entity called the subject that "draws its position, its isolation ... from the ... absorption of material discontinuity into affirmation and symbolism," that is, "from its abutment against the constraint of state control."40 Indeed, this use parallels the rise of what one might call structure sciences, that is, those sciences that illuminate the way forces and structures beyond our control rule our lives. Certainly, the term identification as it develops in psychoanalysis, for example, underscores the relationship of identification processes to complex formation and to the mode of individual vulnerability to the early history of primary process and its demands. Whether such constraint sciences are typically critical or not, we have elaborate explanations of the modes of constraint built into our social world. This striking quality is present in modern positivism, functionalist science, and political economy; Sausseurian ideas of the pre-rational level of the grammatical definition, its arbitrary quality, and the existential distinction between being and Dasein; and phenomenology’s idea of the horizon and the abstraction from life-world. Even post-structuralism in this regard tends to emphasize a structure of chaos; the nominalist sea of micro-struggles and fluctuating codes is something forced by the nature of language and its empowered playfulness. From a classical republican position of virtue, all these attitudes are involved in either the reduction or the destruction of agency. Historically, in this regard, as with the development and pluralization of words such as value and interest, we see the gradual development of a concept or term, one that then gradually penetrates more and more sectors of human experience and the sciences that investigate these sectors.41

If the major meaning of identity refers to this level of state formulation of the bureaucratically identified subject, the social psychological sense continues to develop as well: through the nineteenth century, the term identification begins appearing in the most intimately private group sense, e.g., of "identification of husband and wife in feeling ... and family"42 or as when "two lovers are spoken as being ‘one.’"43 It is, indeed, precisely this meaning that Freud will adapt, with his determinist instinct-hedonism of primary process, to his theory of psychological development via identification. Thus, through the twentieth century, these two meanings begin to converge: 1) the idea of a self modified by national character inscribed by the mobilization of the state’s subjects for purposes of military service, and 2) identification as the idea of becoming a oneness or unity through familial socialization. The two most important figures in this regard are the jurist Carl Schmitt, who develops the term as part of his anti-democratic and illiberal Constitutional Doctrine in 1928, and Erik Erikson, who develops the occasional use of identification in Freud’s theory of psychological development into a theory of psychological identity and identity crisis following World War II. The popularization of Erikson’s theories in the 1960s is the source of the term’s wide distribution as a social- psychological concept.44 In the wake of the British Enlightenment, it is these two figures—Schmitt and Erikson—who develop the terms as systematic, theoretical concepts. In their work, identity’s original meaning as a site of ascription by the state appears in its full development.


Carl Schmitt was a conservative German jurist whose writings became famous during the Weimar Republic, but who later joined the Nazi party, and whose influence is frequently underestimated in an Anglo-American context. Though largely unheralded outside of Germany, he developed such terms as the political and Eurocentrism, as well as coining the terms decisionist and, I believe, juridification. He is important in the elaboration of identity as a legal and constitutional concept. In his writing dating from the early 1920s, the term crystallizes as a juridical ideal defining the modern state in ascriptive identities.

Identity appears in his writings in several meanings. Above all, however, he uses it as part of his understanding of democracy as the image or representation [Vorstellung] of an homogeneous unity of "ruler and ruled, governor and governed, state and people."45 It is one of two competing forms of constitution, along with representation, of the modern state as a "closed political unit."46 The term identity appears here in a context of complete ascription. Schmitt imagines only a world of ascription by states or by political orders and the politizations of these. Politics, more precisely, the political, is for Schmitt the only non-ascriptive mode of orientation, since it is the means of adjusting those ascriptive orders to one another vis-à-vis the "friend/enemy relation." But politics is not thus a meritocratic, voluntary, or practical alternative to ascription. Schmitt’s concept of the political is as anti-republican as his characterization of democracy as identity of ruler and ruled. Schmitt’s use of the political, following the particularly German grammatical construction of an adjective used as a noun, erases the possibility of substantive public life or filled political space by dropping the noun that political modifies, while reducing the meaning to a means of regulating essentially ascriptive identities.

In Schmitt’s view, a polity is constituted as a democratic political unit via the democratic presence of the citizens as identity of ruler and ruled requiring a maximum of homogeneity.47 (He contrasts this term with representative forms, modes of the Ständestaat or "estate-state," which require less homogeneity, e.g., Imperial Austria-Hungary contrasted with Republican France.) Homogeneity here is the mode of ascription that characterizes the state and state system. Maximum homogeneity of pure identity democracy leads to an intensification of the political or "friend/enemy relation." When the political unity is composed not as pure but as mixed identities, in estate-state fashion, various groups of humans based on "national, confessional, and class difference" can exist together in less intensified form. The world of Schmitt’s politics, however, is that of his ascriptive identities in different historical modes: religious identity, national identity, class identity, and civilizational identity.48 What characterizes all these forms of identity is that they produce a unity of ascription. Schmitt himself preferred national homogeneity because it appeared to him as part of a system of national states that hedged war, where identity and intensification based on class or economic interest led to uncontained war inside and outside established political units, to global civil war. His sympathy with fascist, corporatist solutions in the early 1930s rested on the possibility of restabilizing such class issues in corporate national units with distinctive particularity, opposed to the universalist economistic attitudes of the liberals and left, which provoke global civil war. However unappealing this view is, many of his students and devotees continue to invoke ethnocultural homogeneity or identity in an ethnopluralist fashion, that is, national identity as the basis of a stable and secure state, while blaming abstract universalism and socialism for provoking fascistic responses.49 Politics in this view is not some other, practical mode of being, some mode of continuing and shared practice in collective judgment, but a means of calming or intensifying ascriptive modes of existence that are as present in an estate-state as a modern, homogeneous one, but which in any case form, as it were, an iron cage of ascription and ascriptively based conflicts. He adapts not a critical, mediated concept of identity from German dialectics, but a version of unmediated, mathematical identity from British utilitarianism and its homogeneous, unified, and territorial concept of sovereignty for this purpose.


Schmitt’s version of identity as ascribed versions of national homogeneity radicalizes and elaborates inhering concepts of ascribed identity appearing with the growth of the powers of the bureaucratic nation-state and its ability to register, mobilize, and regulate the specific identities of its nationals. This process was largely completed with the establishment of national identification for means of conscription in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Investigating the development of identity in Erik Erikson’s social-psychology illustrates this nation-state-based ethnoterritorial mode of ascription in an apparently more benign fashion. At the same time, Erikson is important in understanding the terms of the modern debate over identity politics. He is the great popularizer of the term and its development as a social-psychological category. He illustrates the means of adapting Freud’s concept of the ego and ego identification with the empiricist concept of the individual psyche as a personal identity; and he underscores the manner in which this additionally ascriptive Freudian impulse is tied to the twentieth-century development of the term identity to mean ethnic or national identity.

The term is developed by Erikson as a way to address perceived difficulties of immigrants assimilating in a majority culture and thus retains its central role in managing state-building via ascription. Identity as a social- psychological category emerged in the early 1960s as a means of explaining identity crises and problems of ethnic minorities in New York City in the humanist terms of psychology. Minority identity problems were contrasted to the identity of native U.S. citizens. Minorities, in contrast to the unified identity of the majority culture, will tend to both identify and counter-identify with the majority culture. The central meaning is thus in terms of culture or the structure of nations, if we look at the context in which Erikson introduces the term identity.50 He explicitly transforms the term national characters into national identities.51

Erikson’s focus on unconscious features of development by which our religious and ethnic sensibilities are formed emphasizes how the psychoanalytic function here is designed specifically to explain those parts of our character formation of which we are least aware or conscious, thus those most ascribed, most unconsciously constructed in our head, by the categories of social existence.52 Equally important are the ethnic and state-building premises of the term in his social psychology. The migrant, in terms of religious confession, language, ethnos, and increasing registration and control of populations by states via passports, is particularly important for Erikson, since the identity of an ethnic minority in the United States has already been defined or generated by the nation-state from which that individual or his parents originally stemmed. Given that ethnic and religious difference formed the core of his contrast between kinds of identities, Erikson draws a contrast between general identity (a kind of assumed national-cultural-ethnic normality) and the "super-identity" made up "out of all the identities imported by its constituent immigrants...."53

My claims regarding the development of the idea of identity as a metaphysical, epistemological, juridical, and social-scientific term underscore the role of mobilizing myths or ideas of the nation or ethnos in the formation of national states, a process of legal ascription occurring coincident with the development of the nation-state. That the primary meaning of identity is a psychological meaning, that is, a social meaning, is not coincidental. This meaning veils the role of the state in the construction of social identities, namely via the introduction of identity papers that establish Staatsangehörigkeit or nationality. The German term is illustrative here, since it emphasizes the linguistic element of obedience or following a command, meaning first "belonging-to-a-state" but literally "listening-to-the-state" and its commands.54 Erikson’s view of immigrant communities laden with an identity crisis illustrates this point. Their ethnic status or identity is, for example, Italian, the designations on their passports as they arrived in the United States, and not Neapolitan or Sicilian, which would be much more accurate if one refers to cultural traditions. The Italian of U.S. Italian restaurants is culturally Sicilian, as the U.S. image of Germany is largely Bavarian, due to the historical circumstances of occupying southern Germany. Such transformation of the forms of identity is the work of state ascription. Sicilians become Italians as a result of their ascriptions or definitions by the United States when they arrive for processing at Ellis Island. These apparently benign examples might be placed next another mode of identity ascription from a colonial example in Africa. The Europeans in Rwanda deliberately settled on selected minority groups to serve as collaborators, establishing a client community insuring loyalty. By superimposing a hierarchy atop an existing social system, colonialism "gave a new shape and tension to relationships between different ethnic groups.... In Rwanda, the Tutsi historically had been the feudal overlords, although their pre-colonial relations with the Hutu were marked by a great degree of flexibility." Under the Belgians, however, according to an African historian quoted by the New York Times, "The colonial system reinforced the status of the Tutsi, by emphasizing the differences between the groups." Among other things, The Times continues, "the Belgians … introduced identity cards that required that everyone be identified by their tribal origin."55


A genealogy of the term and concept identity illustrates the degree to which identity is a term biased towards a unified national psychic orientation, a national identity. It is first and foremost a characteristically ethnic concept, and this form of ethnicity is tied closely with the ascriptive actions of expanding national states. National identity, the central theme of the new right, emphasizes the cultural-linguistic unity of a people. It acknowledges the populist revolt against the excessive influx of foreigners, advocating instead an ethnopluralist model of distinct and dispersed cultural spheres as an alternative to multiculturalism, even as the new right justifies itself with arguments derived from post- structuralists on the "right to difference." Identity conceived culturally need not insist on biologistic doctrines. Though ethnically tending, identity is a mechanical rather than a vital term from the outset, and in the context of the mechanics of statecraft, the notion of identity remains privileged towards the idea of a national-cultural form of ascriptive unity. Left-wing advocates of an identity politics, such as Chantal Mouffe, propose a politics of plural or decentered identities. But it is the far right, having discovered Schmitt long before Mouffe, that recognizes much more clearly that the term identity is biased toward the sort of territorial-ethnic homogeneity buttressing rightist concepts of the state.56 Plural identity is in fact an oxymoron.

Mouffe and her reception in the United States illustrate this problem, and not only because she openly endorses Schmitt’s political theory as a post-structuralist of the left. The "new world order" of unchecked capital flow, intensified through semiconductor technology, fits together with the intensification of nationalism. The end of the cold war has led to an extended period of politicizing ethnic resentments, while political movements and demands for substantive freedom and equality recede. Culture and identity, as two key terms for multiculturalism, feed the requirements of ascriptive-ethnic re-anchoring of the world system of nation-states insofar as they become calls for a world rejecting universalism. Here the historic position of the "end" of history as democratic capitalism represents a new period of global capital dominance with regard to both socialism and nation-states. This leads to a multinational fluidity with respect to markets, combined with reemphasis of nationality. Post-structuralism serves as a discursive field for identity politics of left and right. This phenomenon is part of a general era of nominalism that appears, so to speak, as a kind of fog over the floating sea of monetary transaction. If this linguistic revolution begins with Nietzsche’s philological revaluation of the economic term value, the post-modern version of Nietzsche’s theory of language and concepts, as a theory of endless codes, becomes the new juridically biased skepticism for an age of market expansion. Both left and right thus work on the terms of the economy: presupposing a nominalist relationship of identities to differences.

Balibar and Wallerstein have developed a theory of the relationship of the gradient in the world system between core and periphery to biological and cultural theories of racial difference.57 The very presence of the national as a vertical barrier in this system of horizontal class and race differences allows it to give an order to the series of national steps in the gradient from rich to poor, core to periphery. This bordered gradient between core and periphery maintains the geographic divisions between rich and poor. Liberalism, notable for its historic absence of a concept of citizenship, has, as this article argues, always rested on the basic concept of the "sovereign national authority."58 National sovereignty is a preeminently juridical rather than civic term, and one of its premier concepts in this regard is identity. Politicization of culture (the matrix for ascription) and identity (the ascribed psyche) represents the further advance of this tendency. In this regard, multiculturalists become unwitting assistants in the project.

Judith Butler’s post-structural feminism and the new standpoint theory advanced by Sandra Harding, Nancy Hartsock, and others serve as examples. Butler introduces identity in an ahistorical and undefined fashion. More precisely, she presupposes it as her central psychological category. She avoids any reference to universal goals or politics, terms such as freedom, equality, civic participation, or characterizations of citizens, or even persons and individuals. This anti-Enlightenment discourse seeks to deconstruct identity but has no alternative term for human or civic personality that can pick up the pieces of her deconstructed psyche. She develops the problematic of identity from the Hegelian-Marxian discourse of liberation and its model of self- recognition, though she fails to note the transition to a language of interiority or psychic existence largely foreign to Hegel’s dialectic. Butler’s work represents a curious irony of post-structuralist critique. On the one hand, it renounces the attempt to consider a standpoint outside constructed identities. Yet it is curiously ahistorical and universalizing with regard to the term identity itself, that which is constructed. While thus not noting the historically specific context of identity as a term, she avoids other terms such as consciousness, character, or personality that do not have the rigid statist and ascriptive senses. Not surprisingly, her proposal for a transition "from parody to politics" resembles Schmitt’s original formulation of the relationships between the political and identity.59

The skeptical and nominalist play of post-structuralism serves the interests of global capitalism by taking up its central discourse while canvassing no alternative modes of human organization that could contain it. Before such residual identity categories of Western Marxism and the new left disappear completely in this new world order of nominalism and plural discourse, it is worth looking at not from the direction of identity politics, whether multicultural, nationalist, or communitarian, but in relation to a republican concept of citizen that rejects the concept of identity as part of our political life. Without for a moment forgetting the historically misogynist components in the civic republican or civic humanist outlook—one tied in my view to a (fortunately transforming or obsolete) concept of the citizen-soldier—the historic presence of such thinkers as Olympe de Gouges, Mary Wollstonecraft, Simone Weil, and Hannah Arendt suggests that republicanism and misogyny need not be constitutionally related. More importantly, civic republicans offer a psychological orientation that rejects identity politics and the concept of identity, while upholding universal principles of freedom and equality understood as principles of citizens exercising a constitutional share in power, in "ruling and being ruled in turn." As Arendt’s writings suggest, terms such as political identity or civic identity are equally problem-laden, since they conflate the sub-political uniqueness of each individual human with the practice of coming to shared agreements in the irreducibly plural world of public affairs, where the individuals as citizens can never be identical with their polity.60

This genealogy exposes identity as a term for constructing subjects for states, not citizens for republics, and in this sense the thrust of the term’s meaning—however communitarian—is anti-republican. Identity is not salvageable as a republican term for the human being, the political or rational animal. It may indeed be a term, in Leon Wieseltier’s expression, "whose time has gone."61 The ascriptive moment in the term’s development is biased toward the project of state-building, precisely the nonpolitical mode that in contemporary terms serves the right. Such nonpolitical modes, using racial, cultural, religious, and linguistic difference, unite a politics of recognition or meaning for authoritarian populists precisely where these things displace issues of justice, good work, and participation in the political process. This suggests at least a heuristic, if not a theoretical, difference of principle: that we distinguish between pagan/secular communitarians, or civic republicans, and religious communitarians. Particularly the latter interest themselves in a politics of identity. These are the true or religious communitarians. They tend to privilege ascriptive religious traditions as parts of communal membership or identity, thinkers such as Sandel (who advocates more autonomy in general for various particular communities, "be they ethnic, linguistic, or religious"62), Taylor (with Catholic loyalties and tacit support of Quebecois anti-Semitism), Bellah (Protestantism), or Walzer (Zionism). This perspective can be contrasted to a non-monotheist republican viewpoint that avoids the ascriptive identities of race, ethnicity, nation, or religion, and focuses instead on the non-ascriptive, practical issues of politics and politically just distribution of good work and its products. If one invokes Arendt in contrast to communitarians in this regard, it is because her interest in modern revolutions and their characteristic council form is, to be provocative, closer to Marx’s concept of communism than any contemporary communitarian approach, in so far as both she and Marx use the commune as their preeminent model. For both, the 1871 Paris Commune regenerates a kind of vibrant public life found in the ancient and early modern Mediterranean city republics, however much Marx systematically and disastrously confused an imperial-metropolitan capital of a national state (Paris) with any notion of confederated communes. These latter approaches avoid understanding civic personhood or character in the ascriptive mode as identity formation. Ascriptive modes of group membership can in this regard be contrasted to voluntary or practical criteria, that which comes not primarily from birth or geographic definition. They come from development and continued exercise of practical competence, which, as Arendt stressed, not only requires the "destruction of all organized units resting on kinship"63 but is also opposed to the tradition of philosophical thought that turns away from the "common world of human affairs," but is, one can add, the academic fount generating ascribing schools of priests, professors, and lawyers.64 Citizenship in this sense is largely a result of activity, an activity encouraging and supported by self-definition, not passivity or ascriptive definition by a externalized legal order. The real citizen of Athens, Aristotle teaches, is not the passive, ascriptively present individual defined by descent and location (a "popular and hasty" definition), but the active citizen practiced in the tasks and responsibilities of government, of legislation and adjudication.65 Similarly, the polity is not primarily defined by its geographical-territorial boundaries or frontiers, such as those defining households or empires.66

A republican approach focuses on practices that are in principle universal—good work and a share in the governance of public life. Both are, like an Anabaptist concept of faith, non-ascriptive, voluntary potentials that humans have. These offer better grounds for a normative attitude towards politics such as that which communitarians oppose to liberal, rights-based, and rule-oriented approaches. Neither the analytical distinction between ascriptive and practical terms for membership, nor criteria of scale, face-to-faceness based on commitment to models of citizenship that give the communitarian vision shape in this civic version, had a part in the recent scholarly discussion about communitarianism.

wpe19.gif (3812 bytes)


1 I should like to thank Miriam Feldblum, whose help on this essay was invaluable.

2 See Helmut Diwald, "Das Lindenblatt ist unerläßlich: Bemerkungen zur deutschen Identität," Criticon 10.60-61 (1980); Henning Eichberg, "Balkanisierung für jedermann? Nationale Frage, Identität und Entfremdung in der Industriegesellschaft," Befreiung 19/20 (1980); Robert Hepp, "Das Neue Deutschland: Deutsche Identität im Wechsel der Generationen und Eliten," in Armin Mohler and Anton Piesl, eds., Die deutsche Neurose (Berlin: Ullstein, 1980); Caspar Schrenck-Notzing and Armin Mohler, eds., Deutsche Identität (Krefeld: Sinus, 1982); Hans-Joachim Arndt, "Identitätstörungen bei Jugendlichen und Geschichtsbewußtsein: Neuere Entwicklungen bei der Pflege eines deutschen Geschichtsbildes in der Bundesrepublik," Hamburger Jahrbuch für Wirtschafts- und Gesellschaftspolitik (1982); Bernard Willms, "Politische Identität der Deutschen," Der Staat 21.1 (1982); and "Die sieben Totsünden gegen die deutsche Identiät," Criticon 78 (1983); Armin Mohler/Dieter Stein, Im Gespräch mit Alain de Benoist (Freiburg i. Br.: Junge Freiheit, 1993).

3 In a U.S. context, one might refer respectively to neo-conservative and Christian fundamentalist views in comparison. Though sometimes, and not without reason, regarded as conservative, communitarians active in political debates characteristically support views ranging from social democracy (Michael Walzer, Charles Taylor) to the somewhat left-liberal center (Amatei Etzioni, William Gallston).

4 Charles Taylor, Multiculturalism and the "Politics of Recognition" (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1992) 31-36; Taylor, Reconciling the Solitudes: Essays on Canadian Federalism and Nationalism (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s UP, 1993) 10ff, 121ff.

5 Etienne Balibar, chapters 1 and 3, in Balibar and Wallerstein, Race, Class, Nation: Ambiguous Identities (London: Verso, 1992); Pierre-Andre Taguieff, "Le Neo-Racisme differentialiste," Langage et societe 34 (Dec. 1985); and "The New Cultural Racism in France," Telos 83 (Spring 1990).

6 Michael Sandel, Liberalism and its Critics (New York: New York UP, 1984) 2.

7 Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1989); Sandel, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1982); Alisdair MacIntyre, After Virtue; Michael Walzer, Spheres of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1983); Robert Bellah, et al., Habits of the Heart (New York: Harper, 1985); William Gallston, Justice and the Good (1982). Note that among these well-known communitarian writers, the term identity increasingly replaces self as the communitarian texts become more recent.

8 MacIntyre, After Virtue 220; cited by Sandel, "Introduction," in Liberalism and its Critics 6. See also Taylor, Multiculturalism 33.

9 Taylor, Sources 27, 28, 39, 42.

10 MacIntyre, After Virtue 220-221. See also 32-36.

11 Michael Sandel, "The Procedural Republic and the Unencumbered Self," Political Theory 12 (1984).

12 Todd Gitlin, "The Rise of ‘Identity Politics,’" Dissent (Spring 1993): 172.

13 Though it bears noting that multiculturalism is used here to indicate the U.S. context in which identity politics developed as a topic of political science, identity as a social-psychological term is largely an American one, occurring less frequently in French literature.

14 For some samples of contemporary post-structuralist, feminist, and multiculturalist approaches for whom the concept is central, see William Connolly, Identity/Difference (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1991) 9, 172ff; Ann Norton, Reflections on Political Identity (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1988); Chantal Mouffe, The Return of the Political (London: Verso, 1993); Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (Boston: Routledge, 1990); Sandra Harding, "Who Knows? Identities and Feminist Epistemology," Whose Science? Whose Knowledge? (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1991); Donna Haraway, "A Manifesto For Cyborgs," Socialist Review 80 (1985); and Hilge Landweer, Das Märtyrinenmodell: Zur diskursiven Erzeugung weiblicher Identität (Pfeffnweler: Centaurus, 1990).

15 Connolly, Identity/Difference 10-13. This argument was made with a much different political orientation in detailed geopolitical terms during the Weimar era by Carl Schmitt in his struggle against the Weimar, Geneva, and Versailles treaties. See Carl Schmitt, Positionen und Begriffe im Kampf gegen Weimar - Genf - Versailles (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1940, 1988).

16 Taylor, Multiculturalism 31-36.

17 Amelie Rorty, "Aspects of Identity and Agency," in Amelie Rorty and Owen Flanagan, eds., Identity, Character and Morality (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991) 23; though note that Rorty is critical of Charles Taylor’s lack of discrimination between fixed, shifting, and partially voluntary features of identity (Amelie Oksenberg Rorty, "The Hidden Politics of Cultural Identity," Political Theory 22. 1 [Feb. 1994]: 154-55). See also Butler, Gender Trouble 7-8, 15-16, 34, 210; Haraway, "A Manifesto for Cyborgs," 170-72; and Kristie McClure, "On the Subject of Rights: Pluralism, Plurality and Political Identity," in Mouffe, ed., Dimensions of Radical Democracy (London: Verso, 1992).

18 Note the hierarchic-bureaucratic bias in Parsons’s choice of the behaviorist word performance over practice, virtue, or skill.

19 Talcott Parsons, The Social System (New York: Free Press, 1951) 172 and following.

20 Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals (New York: Random House, 1969) 25-26, 31.

21 On this general contrast, see J.G.A. Pocock, Virtue, Commerce and History (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1985) 37-50 for the role of this non-republican, juridical tradition in Locke and in the process of English state-building.

22 G.W.F. Hegel, Phänomenologie des Geistes (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1981), chapter IV on self-consciousness, 137-55. Hegel, in contrast to modern identity thinkers, did not use the term identity to refer to dialectical mediation between part and whole, much less living, increasingly public parts and wholes, but rather to the abstract concept of this relationship shown by the realm of the understanding in his critique of rationalism and empiricism, or in terms of the abstract concepts of revealed religion (51, 566-60). One can hear Hegel’s cadences regarding "mere" identity, abstract or pure, unmediated being. Stoicism is, in other words, reduced to Sichselbstgleichheit, which Miller translates as self-identity. But Hegel bans the word per se from the point at which the metaphysical flow of identity and difference becomes enspirited. See Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A.V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1977) 122. In the tradition of German Idealism, Kant uses the term identity only within traditional metaphysical bounds. Schelling, in his Identitätsphilosophie [identity philosophy], used the term universally, rhetorically including the human words of individual and community, but in such an explicitly theological and undifferentiated manner that he provoked Hegel’s famous remark that such an identity philosophy was "the night in which ... all cows are black" (ibid. 9).

23 T. W. Adorno, "Dialectics is not a Standpoint," Negative Dialectics (London: RKP, 1973) 4-7. This same logic is that which generated the dialectics of Enlightenment; the separation of the sign from the thing, the principle of comparison and exchange, is already present in the cunning of the primitive, proto-bourgeois Odysseus. See Horkheimer and Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (New York: Seabury, 1972), chapter 2. For a contemporary commentary in this spirit, see Detlev Claussen, "Jargon der Einigkeit: über die Möglichkeit, den Mißbrauch des Wortes ‘Identität’ scharf einzuschranken," Freibeuter 59 (Apr. 1994).

24 I refer here for example to writers such as Axel Honneth, Helmut Dubiel, Martin Jay, Ulrich Rödel, Jean Cohen, Andrew Arato, and Seyla Benhabib. The increasing importance of the term identity in this latter-day Critical Theory points to a discursive overlap with communitarians and post-structuralism that was clearly absent from the first generation. See most recently, Jürgen Habermas, "Die Last der doppelten Vergangenheit," Die Zeit (20 May 1994) part IV; and Faktizität und Geltung (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1992) 385-88; Jean Cohen and Andrew Arato, Civil Society and Political Theory (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992) 100, 385, 368-69, 372-73, 377-78, 383-86; Ulrich Rödel, Helmut Dubiel, and Günter Frankenberg, Die demokratische Frage (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1989) 117-28. American post-structuralist, multicultural and standpoint thinkers influenced somewhat by Western Marxism also introduce the term with little reflection on Hegel’s critical use. Michel Foucault mistakenly refers to Hegel’s philosophy as one concerned with the "salvation of identities." See Foucault, "Theatrum Philosophicum," Language, Counter-Memory, Practice (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1980) 185.

25 Jürgen Habermas, Legitimation Crisis 3-4, 67; Theory of Communicative Action 1.xxi; "Staatsbürgerschaft und Nationale Identität," in Faktizität und Geltung; and Post-Metaphysical Thinking 159ff. Habermas’s usage here is largely derived from Hans Joas’s German translation of George Herbert Mead’s word self with Ich-Identität.

26 Jürgen Habermas, "Themes in Post-Metaphysical Thinking," Post-Metaphysical Thinking 30. Habermas, however, does not emphasize the role of mathematics in the tradition of identity thinking.

27 Note that Habermas neglects Aristotle in his sketch of metaphysics (Post-Metaphysical Thinking 29). Aristotle was by no means an identity thinker any more than Hegel, though the term metaphysics obviously includes his philosophy and his followers. Identity does not appear in his writing as any more precise a term than simple the same, to auto, translated traditionally into Latin idem. Identity begins appearing in the English Aristotle translations via Ernest Barker in the late 1930s. See Ernest Barker, The Political Thought of Plato and Aristotle (New York: Dover, 1959) 291, 301 as part of his discussion of the Greek organic theory of the state.

28 The key text is Euclid, Elements, book V, def. A: "Proportion is the identity (tautotes) of the ratios." The other manuscript tradition from Euclid appears as "Proportion is the similarity (homoiotes) of the ratios." In general, see Wilbur R. Knorr, "On the term Ratio in Early Mathematics," in M. Fattori and M. L. Bianchi, eds., Ratio (Rome: L.S.O., 1994) 2-6, 29.

29 Aristotle, Metaphysics, 995b21, 1018a7; Ethics, 1161b31. Unless otherwise noted, references to Aristotle are from The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. Jonathan Barnes (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1984).

30 See David Rapport Lachterman, The Ethics of Geometry (Boston: Routledge, 1989).

31 John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (New York: Prometheus, 1995) 244 .

32 David Hume, "Of National Characters," in Knud Haakonsseen, ed., Political Essays (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994) 78-82. Character is also a strongly legal-ascriptive term, deriving from the Greek charakter, meaning mark or distinctive quality and having as its first meaning "a conventionalized graphic device place on an object as an indication of ownership, origin, or relationship." Its second set of meanings deal with genetic and inherited differences as well as those mental and ethical traits marking a person, group, or nation. Only its final meaning becomes that of moral excellence. See Oxford English Dictionary, "character," 1, 2. However, character never achieves the geometric image of congruence between the border of the individual human body and that of the bordered jurisdiction of the sovereign nation-state.

33 See Haakonsseen’s introductory remarks in David Hume, Political Essays xviii-xix.

34 The term identity is not found in this sense in Hobbes. He regards the "publique" interest to be most advanced when it is "most closely united" with the "private interest" (Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. C.B. MacPherson [London: Penguin, 1981] 241). He understands systems to be "any numbers of men joyned in one Interest, or in one Businesse," with the most "Regular" being those ruled by one man (274). The promise of total congruence between sovereign power, territorial jurisdiction, and self-interest is evident, especially if one keeps in mind the new constructive use he makes of mathematical analogy in his arguments about bodily motion. Yet the coherence of the old words still constrains him. "Private interest" never becomes the same as oxymoronic "self-interest" or "personal interest"; and Hobbes never uses these latter terms. The human body as a system is not composed of "men joyned." Hobbes’s own care with precise language prevents him from making such oxymoronic constructions. The only possible identity of interest in this respect, though he doesn’t use the term in this sense, would be in the king’s two bodies.

35 James Mill, Political Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992) 23-24.

36 John Stuart Mill, Considerations on Representative Government (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1958) 228-29, 235-36.

37 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, book II, chapter 4, paragraph 7: "...what makes the will general is not so much the number of votes as the common interest that unites them, for in this institution [i.e., that of the general will] each person necessarily submits himself to the conditions he imposes on others, an admirable accord between interest and justice which bestows on common deliberations a quality of equity that disappears when any particular matter is discussed, for lack of a common interest uniting and identifying the role of the judge with that of the party." (The Basic Political Writings, trans. Donald Cress [New York: Hackett, 1987] 158).

38 See the entries on identitas, identity, and Identität in, respectively, Walter Wartburg, ed., Französisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch (Basel: Helbing & Lichtenhahn, 1952); the Oxford English Dictionary; and Günter Droskowski, ed., Duden-Herkunftswörterbuch 7 (Mannheim: Dudenverlag, 1989).

39 Claude-Levi Strauss, who uses the terms identity and identification only rarely, provides, however, an illuminating example in this regard. In explaining totemism, he compares tribal-totemic divisions to the development of names for divisional units among U.S. divisions in World War I. These units, e.g., the "Rainbow Division," include "segmentation into groups conscious of their identity," as well as names of animals or natural phenomena; self-identification with unit; emblems; and a belief in the protective role of the emblem as augury. See Totemism (Boston: Beacon, 1963) 7.

40 Julia Kristeva, "The Semiotic and the Symbolic" in Revolution in Poetic Language (New York: Columbia UP, 1984) 94.

41 A sense of this moment of progression is evident in the role of vitalism in association, guild, or commune theory that is at the basis of medieval society. The guild or consociational vision of a confederation of quasi-independent associations with their own legal life is gradually displaced by the expansion of sovereignty on the part of the state and capitalist enterprise outside the guild network. These two prominent mechanist tendencies in earlier modernity take up the mechanist discourse of force and motion from the evolving mechanical paradigm in natural science. Political economy and statecraft are the first two system-sciences in this sense (Hobbes, Bodin), and interestingly, it is only later that the idea of a non-mechanist life in the system is expelled from the areas of association between state and civil society. While vitalism has been expelled from political economy by the early nineteenth century, it is only later, in the transition between the jurisprudence of Otto Gierke and his theory of the association to Durkheim’s theory of association and integration that a goalless functionalism erodes the concept of life in these other areas of association.

42 Oxford English Dictionary, "identification," quoting Holland, Titcomb’s Letters (1858) 2.

43 Sigmund Freud, Interpretation of Dreams (1900) (New York: Avon, 1965) 184. Freud refers here to what he calls a common linguistic usage, though he utilizes the term identification in the sense of the Oedipal conflict between son and father. This is "by means of identification" that the son takes the "unalterable authority" of the father "into himself" (Civilization and Its Discontents [New York: Norton, 1961] 76).

44 Psychology and social psychology use the term surprisingly little until Erikson. Harold Lasswell and the Chicago School do not use the term, nor does George Herbert Mead. Parsons uses the term identification following Freud, as does Lacan.

45 Carl Schmitt, "Begriff der modernen Demokratie in seinem Verhältnis zum Staatsbegriff" (1924) in Positionen und Begriffe 24-25. See also Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, ed., Ellen Kennedy (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985) 14-15; and Political Theology (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985) 49-51. Schmitt has managed to have this notion of the identity of ruler and ruled ascribed to Rousseau. The reader of Political Theory will note, however, that his main referent here is Descartes. The reader of The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy will note that Schmitt regards Rousseau’s theory of the state as an incoherent mixture of parts. Rousseau was, one might respond, a theorist of republics, of cities, of democracy perhaps, but hardly a theorist of the state. However, ascribing the idea of identity of ruler and ruled to Rousseau certainly marks the point at which Schmitt begins to develop his theories of identity, democracy, and constitutional forms. Interestingly, cloaking the largely liberal genealogy of the term would seem to be crucial to his radical polarization of liberalism and democracy. Schmitt developed the term explicitly for the first time in his 1925 essay The Concept of Modern Democracy in its Relation to the Concept of State, the same year that he reviewed Vaughn’s new edition of Rousseau. See Kennedy’s note in The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, 91n33.

46 Carl Schmitt, Verfassungslehre (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1928) 173. The use of unit, Einheit, can be translated equally in German as unity, though unit here emphasizes the inhering military imagery that lies behind this terms as well as a multitude of others in Schmitt’s largely strategic theory of the political.

47 His model here is not a city-republic of the sort of Geneva, it must be emphasized, but twentieth-century corporate populisms that attracted him at this period, such as Mussolini’s. See Schmitt, "Wesen und Werden des faschistischen Staates," in Positionen und Begriffe 109-15.

48 Schmitt, "Wesen" 376 and 276-80; see also Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, where he uses similar lists of ascriptive categories, and equates national modes of homogeneity with either the cultural or ethnic (38).

49 See note 2 above.

50 Erik Erikson, Childhood and Society (New York: Norton, 1950, 1963) 283.

51 Erik Erikson, Childhood and Society 285.

52 Erikson, Identity: Youth and Crisis (New York: Norton, 1968) 87-90.

53 Erikson, Childhood and Society 283.

54 Max Weber makes this clear in the relationship of calling to hearing and obeying in the image of a Gehäuse der Hörigkeit [cage of obedience]. See Weber, Gesammelte Politische Schriften (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1980) 332; and Volker Heins, Max Weber (Hamburg: Junius, 1991) 88-89. Schmitt makes this relation of hearing to obedience part of his Tribune-style concept of democracy as a direct, "at hand," "in attendance" version of the identity of ruler and ruled (Verfassungslehre 205).

55 William Schmidt, "Once Chosen, Tribal Elites Now Suffer Consequences," New York Times 17 Apr. 1994: E3.

56 See note 2 above.

57 Balibar and Wallerstein, Race, Class, Nation 23-66.

58 Reinhard Bendix, Nation-Building and Citizenship (New York: Anchor, 1969) 109. It bears noting in terms of the idea of citizenship and liberalism, for example, that Locke has no theory of the citizen, indeed, does not even use this word. See also Riesenberg, Citizenship in the Western Tradition (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1992).

59 Butler 219.

60 Arendt is careful to use the term identity only in Locke’s sense, emphasizing a pre-political condition of irreducible human particularity. She only uses the term to discuss the conditions of public life, the mere physical conditions for the unity of a people, and not as an aspect of commonness articulated through shared practices of assembling and formulating agreements. See e.g., The Human Condition 120, 170. It is laboring and not public life that tends towards identity since it "brings us together as though we were one," as a gigantic functioning machine (191). This tendency of thought, when carried out completely, has "murderous consequences" (205). The recent tendency among followers of Arendt to adapt the term identity to public notions, with their irreducible plurality, in terms such as civic identity, political identity, and collective identity is problematic in this regard, stemming from originally antagonistic Marxist and Critical Theory readings of Arendt. For such recent usages, see especially Maurizio Passerin d’Entreves, The Political Philosophy of Hannah Arendt (Boston: Routledge, 1994) 15, 16, 19, 139, 155-61. See also note 22 above.

61 Leon Wieseltier, "Against Identity," New Republic 28 Nov. 1994: 24-32. But Wieseltier’s evident commitments to the intellectual traditions from whence the term stems suggest that this involves more than convincing others of his good idea.

62 Michael Sandel, "Post-National Democracy vs. Electronic Bonapartism," New Perspective Quarterly 9.4 (Fall 1992): 8.

63 Arendt, The Human Condition 25.

64 Arendt, The Human Condition 197-200; and Hannah Arendt, "Tradition and the Modern Age," in Between Past and Future (Cleveland: Meridan, 1963) 25. Interestingly, Habermas and Taylor both use a concept of identity that retains the older Hegelian meaning of self-consciousness or the Western Marxist meaning of class consciousness in and for itself insofar as their concept of identity—adapted as a central psychological term—means most distinctively the self-reflexive self (in the sense Habermas adapts this meaning from G.H. Mead) or the human individual as agent (Taylor). Habermas also shares with Taylor, given Habermas’s adaptation of the idea of "life world" from Edmund Husserl, the idea that community is rooted in experience, namely in the community horizon, the hermeneutic limitations created by specificity of language and tradition on the "life world," which characterizes any given or particular mode of life. In this sense, he agrees with a concept of agency such as that developed by Taylor, which in essence makes no distinction between compulsory and voluntary modes of association, civic and subject concepts of the individual. From the position of "radical" democracy, both might be considered bureaucratic social democrats.

65 Aristotle, Politics, book III, chapter 2, 1275b25. Citizenship, work, and religion, in contrast to the more pure identity categories of ethnicity, kin-relation, family, and gender, can be more or less ascriptive depending on the presence and degree of the practices of the first category, that of citizens and civic action. It is the market in labor that induces the compelling, ascribing quality to work, or direct compulsion in a system of dependence. Similarly, one can contrast sectarian and voluntary modes of religious organization with church-based and compulsory modes.

66 "When are men, living in the same place, to be regarded as a single city—what is the limit? Certainly not the wall of the city, or you might surround all Peloponnesus with a wall. Babylon, we may say, is like this, and every city that has the compass of a nation (ethnos) rather than a city...." (Aristotle, Politics, book III, chapter 3). Babylon is not polity worth considering because of its size. It is so big that the inhabitants have been said not to hear of conquest by new dynasties until three days afterwards. Aristotle similarly takes of dim view of the apparent Spartan xenophobic interest in fencing in the Peloponnesus, even though this would hardly be enough to constitute an ethnic polis.

wpe19.gif (3812 bytes)