Identity politics is a political approach and analysis based on people prioritizing the concerns most relevant to their particular racial, religious, ethnic, sexual, social, cultural or another identity, and forming exclusive political alliances with others of this group, instead of engaging in more traditional, broad-based party politics. In the contemporary period, identity politics is a result of a wide range of political activities and theoretical analysis of experiences of injustice within different social groups, which aim self-determination and impose superior character over each other.
Identity is a “tool” for the promotion of political ideologies, stimulation, and orientation of social actions in a broader context of inequality or injustice.
In the early XX century, when liberalistic ideas were on the agenda, most liberals emphasized the importance of international institutions by stating the increase of mutual interdependence (including economic and cultural exchanges) can reduce the conflicts among nations and states. However, in the contemporary world failing missions of liberal institutions (such as UN, EU, and others) resulted in three main points:
- Some governments in the West no longer sacrificing the interests of their people to pursue idealistic fantasies; instead, governments in the West defend the strength and sovereignty of their state by approaching them as a superior nation;
- National security concerns are legitimate factors in the relations among states.
At the end of the XIX century and early XX century, the ideological divisions of Western societies were about nationalism, racism, and, later on, between capitalism and socialism. It was manageable during the XX century as a result of policies and programs adopted by the liberal institutions. However, the difference between then and now is the existence of economic dimensions among social groups, who left behind in globalization or facing insecure elements of the middle class.
The world is experiencing a very toxic version of identity politics; populist leaders and politicians are anti-institutional and anti-liberal. Liberal democracy is not about only elections, but it limits the power of autocracy by creating institutions, making them interdependent, and defining check- and-balance to prevent an executive from centralizing power. Liberals and progressives generally work from a conventional political sensibility, but they always split into factions over competing strategies and utopias. This fact led many populist leaders to use the “populism” tool in their campaigns by blaming liberal institutions not having precise solutions or stating that liberal values are the most significant threat to national security.
Several questions arise in this sense; how identity term changed from its traditional meaning to new identity concept, especially after 2016? Why does this phenomenon appear? How new identity and “identitarian” right sprawls across borders and happens quite a number of countries? How new identity issues migrate from fringe groups to the political center? How identity politics diminish liberal institutions’ influence on the contemporary period?
This article is going to analyse the issue of identity politics, lack of influence of liberal institutions in international relations, and the range of identity politics as a crisis.
WHAT IS IDENTITY
Identity is defined as the totality of signs, qualities, and characteristics that show how a person is a social being. On the other hand, national identity is a unique identity formed for each nation. Before mentioning the relationship between history and national identity, it is important to note that history plays a significant role in the formation of national identity. Throughout history, people from all walks of life have always been in search of identity. In recent years, the identity issue was the main subject that social sciences and humanities dealt with. Scholarly contributions to this area have increased since the last two decades; as a result, more diverse views on identity have emerged. In contemporary political science, the concept of “identity” locates at the center of vivacious debates almost in every major subfield. “Identity” stands at the core nationalism and ethnic conflict in comparative politics. In international relations, the concept of “state identity” has been occurred as a result of criticism of constructivist ideas on realism and analyses of state sovereignty. On the other hand, in political theory, the issue of “identity” came into the agenda with various arguments on gender, sexuality, nationality, and culture in relevancy liberalism and its alternatives.
Although the “identity” is clearly formed in academic literature, it is widely recognized among the ideas expressed in popular rhetoric. In popular rhetoric, identity is frequently described as an issue, which is sacrosanct and ineffable. However, in the academy, identity is explained as a complex and indescribable process of formulation.
Moreover, in modern literature, the term identity can be found in various places with different explanations. Identity defines the quality, beliefs, personalities, expressions of a person, which forms self-identity or a particular group that can be categorized as positive or destructive. The identity shows how a person has perceived himself in the past, present, and future, and the continuity of the process between these stages. That is, a person’s ethnic identity can be understood by its past roots and applied to its future identity and its integrity.
An identity can be divided into two dimensions; a social category, which is elucidated by community rules, behaviors, and characteristic attributes or socially identifying characteristics that an individual has unique views, but socially can make significant contributions. In order words, identity is a distinctive element between individuals and collectives, which affects their social relations and status-quo in a global society. Thus, it creates role-specific comprehensions andexpectations about self. Social identity forms group distinction based on historically particular debates on structure and characters of politics as well as the economy. When it comes to national identity, it describes a group of people that share common identification with specific internalized national symbols.
Identity occurs as an unsettled or a dissonant issue between emerged debates since the XIX century. Although various definitions and meanings have been brought to the academy until recent years, no definitive explanation of identity has been made. Since identity is not fully understood in the national consciousness, several populist leaders, as well as governmental bodies, use identity politics as an influential mechanism.
HOW LIBERAL INSTITUTIONALISM EMERGED: IN THE CASE OF THE EU
Liberal internationalism and institutionalism emerged as an alternative to realism in International Relations theory and after the dramatic consequences of World War II. According to the views of liberal institutionalism, global governance and international organizations is the only way to explain the current international system by common goals and ability to cooperate. Therefore, liberal institutionalism criticizes the realist assumptions about the struggle for power, which is put as a prior aim. That is, other actors other than states such as international organizations, NGO’s can orientate world politics with a clear hierarchy.
On the other hand, international society can shape world affairs only when a group of states has common interests and values connected with bounds by a common set of rules in their relations. The main argument of liberal institutionalism refers to peace between states in international affairs by creating “integrated communities” to achieve economic growth and ensure global security in effect yield of some of the sovereignty.
The idea of complex interdependence puts emphasis on multiple channels designed to make interaction among national borders and aims to create a link between actors and non-state actors. Therefore, liberal institutions try to give equal attention to all issues without any distinction. International organizations such as the UN and the EU give concentration on common interests and values to achieve mutual integration among actors through the forms of international law and the ability of diplomacy. It is evident that international regimes are on the spotlight by international organizations on the basis of general rules, principles, and norms. These norms are set to strengthen the collaboration between state and non-state actors on human rights, democratization, decentralization, and modernist projects that can be brought into world affairs. Furthermore, liberal institutionalism claims that multiculturalism, a single entity, united, and common value are the main elements of gaining interests for states.
One of the most effective models of liberal institutionalization is the European Union. After World War II, the US had emerged as a guarantor of European security and prosperity. Thus the first phase of European integration happened as a result of declining extreme nationalism, which devastated significant parts of the European continent. Formulating European security in the face of the Soviet Union was particularly difficult, because firstly the World War II destroyed all European continent both militarily and economically, secondly concentration on military power again was almost impossible. Therefore, in order to save nation-states, regional cooperation with its nod toward economics and political liberalism was essential to build a single European identity. When analyzing the integration process of the European integration, it obviously seems that like all liberal institutions, the EU was formed under four principles and needs:
- National self-determination – which aimed to depose colonialism and give nations the right to be modern and independent;
- Democracy – which laid on foundations of government openness;
- League of nations – which was essential to settle conflicts between states and nations, building collective labor market and pursuing idealistic ideas to keep the peace for a long-term to achieve prosperity;
- Economic progress – which promoted free trade and commerce to bring wealth and global harmony to the European continent.
The 1948 Hague Congress was a major step of the creation of European unity that aimed to bring all future European leaders to live and work together. The European leaders and prosperity supporters understood that without solving the conflict between France and Germany, the integration of European nations could not be possible. As a result, six European countries (Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, West Germany) initiated European Coal and Steel Community to collaborate as well as regulate production under a centralized authority in 1951 by the Treaty of Paris. The ECSC was an international organization that brought the principles of supranationalism and proposed by French foreign minister Robert Schuman to end the further war between France and Germany.
Europe was mainly an arena of conflicts and competition, where anarchy hindered cooperation among states. In this regard, collective unity is significant due to shaping the mutual relations among European countries and creating a sturdy supranational umbrella. European leaders believed that laissez-faire economics would be a catalysator of peaceful and prosperous consistency. As institutional theory argued, international harmony could be possible only by seeking mutual goals through institutional cooperation.
HOW IDENTITY POLITICS OCCURRED AS A CRISIS
In the past two decades, identity politics and multiculturalism became contested issues from different aspects. In the 1980s, the start of identity crisis and politics emerged as a result of the explosion of “race, class and gender”, which changed the world affairs accordingly. In the contemporary period, according to IR scholars, power is not the only way that defines state behavior, but also “distribution of identities” makes a high impact on shaping the international system. In this sense, cooperation and conflict depend on state identity in the international system rather than on institutional structure.
The main aim of international institutions was to establish a peaceful environment and cooperation by building a single liberal identity. However, this view was against the neorealist approach. Neorealism argued that cooperation among states is almost impossible because common interests are extremely complex to achieve and keep it stable due to the nature of international relations. Relative gains and cheating among states due to state interests are the essential problems that inhibit cooperation. In contrast, some liberal leaders and policymakers tried to promote cooperation by sharing information with all parties involved. However, the main problem was the concerns of states about each other with their gains, benefits, and distribution of power. Because the characteristics of international relations are anarchy, each state is sensitive to ensure the balance of power and to protect its nation-state. In this respect, states do not seek interest only to get more gains from cooperation, but also make their rivals not to get better and powerful.
When the European leaders proposed European Communities, the original idea was to restore its previous reputation, power, and national identity. Until both World Wars, Nation-State in the European continent was the main actor. However, European liberals believed that the full abolishment of Nation-State could generate further steps towards a single European identity. As a result, it would return the high times of European States, prevent wars and conflicts that existed based on national perceptions. For instance, according to some scholars, World War II would not occur if there were no aggressive and expansionist intentions of Hitler for German people, or French-German conflicts over territories as well as identical characteristics, or separation between the European Nation States. Therefore, Coundenhove-Kalergi initiated the Pan-European movement as a first step of European unity to compete with global powers such as the United States and the Soviet Union. Altiero Spinelli continued this idea with the Resistance movement to save the Nation-States in the European continent.
The foundation of European Communities was the start of the integration process. Initially, almost all post-war European leaders were pro-European. There were three main reasons behind the integration process:
- Devastating consequences of World War II – The war happened in the space of Europe; it destroyed economies, prosperity, nationalist ideas as a result of extremism among the Nation States. In the post-war period, European States did not ready for a new war. On the other hand, the Soviet Union was the main threat to the borders of Europe due to its resources and human capital.
- Severely weakened economies – World War II was the deadliest military conflict in history. Over 40 million people were killed during the war, which half of them were civilians. The war caused a reduction in consumption, which resulted in fewer jobs and more unemployment rates. As a result, the governments had dug an enormous public debt from the war. In the end, the European economy reverted to the same growth trend from 1933-1937. Lack of government spending prevented economic growth and decline.
- Political extremism – After the war, civil wars and unstable governance in European countries triggered political extremism. For instance, the Italian civil war moved into battlefront and remained stuck for several months near the so-called Gothic line. During the civil war, the government was appointed by the King, which did not have any legitimacy. But the incompetence of the regimes in power prevented the establishment of unity. It could lead Europe back to its extreme period of nationalism that occurred in Italy and Germany. In this case, political extremism could bring an end to the Nation States.
Besides, despite the end of the war, the military threat from the Soviet Union and the economic hegemony of the United States made it necessary for European leaders to act in protection and strengthen the Nation States. In order to do it, firstly demilitarization of Germany was essential to prevent its rise; secondly, French civil servant proposed the “Monnet Plan” as a reconstruction plan for France to control Saarland and Ruhr areas of Germany to decrease its economic capacity. However, European leaders understood that this could only prevent Germany for a short time as it happened before WWII. Therefore, France agreed to retreat from Saarland and Ruhr, and then British and American investments flowed into Western Germany to revive European identity. In this regard, Jean Monnet founded European Steel and Coal Community, which Schuman Declaration was aiming to prevent war between France and Germany as stating “war between France and Germany becomes not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible”. Similar nationalist pragmatism was also part of other European state policies; as Germany’s Adenauer sought German rehabilitation and preventing Soviet/Communist threat, Italy’s De Gasperi wanted to secure Italy from possible Yugoslavian attack, etc. Therefore, the process of integration and steps taken in an effort to create united Europe in first place benefited the Nation States.
History consists of repetition. The European countries created the European Union, not for the common good, but the protection of the Nation-States in the face of countries such as the Soviet Union, the United States, China, and Iran. Nationalist pragmatism lay at the foundation of the European Union if date backs the process of creation of the Union. This was manifested by the veto of French President Charles de Gaulle in 1963 and 1967 when Britain sought to join the European Union. The French president’s motive for the veto was also nationalistic pragmatism: “A number of aspects of Britain’s economy, from working practices to agriculture had made Britain incompatible with Europe and that Britain harbored a deep-seated hostility to any pan-European project”.
Today identity describes one’s understanding of oneself concerning others. It creates several attitudes, which can be said in different identities according to their interests. Thus, states pursue different positions depending on their interlocutors. For instance, France’s approach towards the United States is different than Germany or Francophone Africa. After the dissolution of the USSR, the world started to balance against the United States, even though it was remaining the only global power with its economy and greatest military power.
Since the establishment of liberal institutions, they have failed to be effective in many issues. For example, UN resolutions on conflicts around the world do not lead to the resolution of these conflicts. Also, attempts to create a common policy in the European Union are not possible due to the different views of member countries. The liberalistic idea of the European Union was full disappearance of Nation-States; however, due to the nature of international relations, the integration process never went smoothly and clearly. After several years, the European States achieved economic, political, and cultural independence together with their values, but national identities persisted and survived in all periods of European integration. Especially after 2015, national identities began to manifest itself. The BREXIT and migration crises were the beginning of this process. Since then, identity politics, along with populism, has led to division among member states within the European Union.
The BREXIT is the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. The process advocated by Eurosceptics and opposed by pro-Europeanists, both of whom span the political spectrum. The BREXIT could be characterized by identity politics. It is quite apparent that from the beginning, identity politics became a dominant power in negotiations, especially when it comes to the Irish border. The motif of identity politics can be seen in the election of David Cameron as a Prime Minister, which can be proven by taking a brief glance into 2012. In 2012, David Cameron initially rejected the ideas of BREXIT as stopping EU membership; however, he left an “open door” for future negotiations in relation to the EU. On the other hand, all over Europe, as well as in the UK, the rise of the right-wing parties began and played a significant role in changing domestic/foreign policy. On 23 January 2013, the rise of UKIP and pressure of its MPs made Cameron announce an in-or-out referendum on EU membership by decision of the Conservative government. This was also included in the Conservative election manifesto, which is proposed to be an essential point of the campaign for 2015 general elections. As a result, the populist and pragmatist views were accepted by the British people, and the Conservative party won the elections. This victory enabled Cameron to pass their European Union Referendum Act 2015 into Parliament to hold a referendum. Cameron laid out four fundamental principles: protection of the single market for non-eurozone countries, reduction of “red tape”, exempting Britain from “ever- closer union”, and restricting immigration from the rest of the EU. Apparently, Britain lacked confidence in the European Union. BREXIT was in conflict with the principles of the European Union. Liberal institutionalization, in theory, glorified co-operation between states by shifting national identity to the background. However, the European Union has not been able to transfer national identity to the background since its inception, and throughout history, governments have pursued their identity policies in different ways. The Syrian crisis in 2015 and the influx of migrants into Europe have led to the emergence of identity politics. The protests were fueled by populist speeches by far-right parties, not just in Britain, but also in other European countries. Hungary and Italy took the hardest steps in the migration crisis. The Hungarian authorities almost refused to accept migrants. In contrast, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany would accept migrants, but later on, they stopped taking them.The current immigration debate founds itself in the distinction between self and others. This distinction creates proposals such as visa regulations, protectionist measures for border defense by making them either secure or insecure, allowed, or disallowed. The increased flow of migration into European states and its results, such as illegal residence status, living in a space without legal citizenship or residence rights, became an essential threat to the Nation States and their sovereignty. After the crisis, the leaders of these states raised a question whether the EU should deal with it or leave it because of a complex combination of national identities as supranational institutions could not manage crisis properly by adopting their own study tools. On the other hand, those parties, who are actively showing nationalist pragmatism, put forward their own analyses by taking into account national identities in regional context by adopting populist statements to build political, social, and cultural boundaries. As liberal institutionalism promotes globalization, the elements of the migration crisis were against the characteristics of cooperation in all spheres without any restriction. Migrant flows cause political repercussions in the European Nation States, particularly in societies that have no immunity against populist nationalism, xenophobia, and radicalism.
The principles put forward by the liberalist theory were no longer working. The migration crisis and BREXIT put the European Union on the brink of disintegration. Different national interests and views among the states began to aggravate due to the lack of liberal institutionalization. National, cultural, religious, and ethnic differences are essential tools for the creation of identity politics. They produce an easily zero-sum game that one side winning and the other losing. For instance, despite the UK’s willing to leave the EU, the Irish border issue still remains unclear, and it is the obvious example of identity politics. Irish people even reject the withdrawal from the EU; however, the right-wing supporters and populist politicians make the situation worse for both sides. The BREXIT proposal promised keeping borders open between Northern Ireland and Republic in every deal that the EU and Britain achieve; however, in practice, identity issues are in play because of different views on the Irish border and conflicting identities.
Furthermore, the inability of the EU to address issues such as BREXIT, Irish border crisis, migration crisis, identity politics, nationalism, and extremism conclusively shows that liberal institutionalism is failing. According to liberal institutionalism, states seek to maximize their ability of cooperation and absolute gains within this frame; therefore, they are less concerned about the advantages that other states gain during collaboration. However, the main obstacle to the cooperation in the international arena is non-compliance with “game rules” by states. The migration crisis revealed that the national interests of the countries differed and that the overall cooperation offered by the European Union was impossible. BREXIT has shown that liberalization is, in fact, merely a theory, that it lacks the missing components and that it is shaped within the interests of states when it comes to institutionalization.
The identity politics, which has been the subject of discussion in different periods in the past, still holds its importance today. Initially, the idea of creating the European identity over identity politics has remained in the discourse stage in the past and has not been transferred to the practice in the desired way. Various ideas have been put forward regarding Europe and what European is, but these have not turned into practice. Today, in addition to the discourses in the academic and political fields, it is seen that various studies have been carried out in order to implement them within the institutional structure of the EU. Second, it seems that the rhetoric expressed in the past about common identity has often been limited to its owners. The European Union itself, which has a dynamic structure, the issue of political identity will take shape depending on the developments that will occur over time. It is difficult to predict what this will result from today. However, there are a lot of questions about the EU common identity of the process of identity creation, which has been used in the nation-state model and accepted to be successful so far. It is seen that a common identity is being established on top of them without touching national identities. However, identity politics becoming increasingly dominant politics of Europe. Other identities that have been isolated from universal values that are vested rights, becoming unfitting human dignity in the Union. As a result of recent European Parliament (EP) elections, the far-right continued to rise while the center parties lost. The Greens and liberals were the other emerging parties of the election. Moving around a racist ideology of identity, the rise of far-right parties can be said to mobilize their supporters as well as their opponents. The rise of marginal parties such as the Greens and racists as the center parties dissolve shows that European politics will be more defined by issues such as ideology, identity politics, environment, and energy.
Identity politics is the biggest enemy of democracy and sovereign states. The reason why identity politics undermines states’ structures is that fundamental rights and freedoms are only required for specific identities. The most complained mistakes of the States are usually dividing the public, dividing and antagonizing one nation to another. The main motive behind this mistake is identity politics itself. Because of the populist political distinction, European people have a pragmatic approach to non-European citizens as dividing them “outsiders” and “Europeans”. The refugee crisis created complex real political controversies in the context of identity politics.
Identity politics involves fundamental rights and freedoms only for certain religious-sectarian or ethnic groups. Herein, Identity political approach is also against development, because it fills the cadres according to identity, not according to merit, ability, knowledge, skill. Thus, using the human factor, brainpower, irrational according to identity, not according to merit in terms of employment, prevents both development and development. The goals of” Economic Development, Social Development ” are ultimately become unattainable. Moreover, if recent development continues on the above-mentioned lines, the European Union dissolution cored by identity politics.
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 Peter Weinrich. “The operationalization of identity theory in racial and ethnic relations”. Theories of Race and Ethnic Relations, Comparative Ethnic and Race Relations. (edited by John Rex and David Mason), 1986, p. 308
 Alexander Wendt. “Anarchy is what States Make of it: The Social Construction of Power Politics”. International Organization, Vol. 49, No. 2, Spring 1992, p. 397
 Gary Herrigel. “Identity and institutions: the social construction of trade unions in the United States and Germany in the 19th century”. Studies in American Political Development, Vol. 7, No. 2, 1993, p. 371
 William Bloom. Personal Identity, National Identity, and International Relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990, p. 52
 Hedley Bull. The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics. New York: Palgrave, 2002, p. 13
 Steven L. Lamy. Contemporary Mainstream Approaches: Neo-realism and Neo-liberalism. Baylis John, Steve Smith, and Patricia Owen ed. The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 213
 Robert O. Keohane & Joseph S. Nye. Power and Interdependence Revisited. International Organization. Vol. 41, No. 4, Autumn 1987, p. 731
 Hedley Bull. The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics. New York: Palgrave, 2002, p. 13
 Charles Krupnick. “Between neorealism and liberal institutionalism: The CSP and European security cooperation”. Journal of European Integration. Vol. 19, No. 2-3, 2007, p. 143
 Richard H. Williams. “The European Communities”. Planning in Europe. 1984, pp. 144–158
 Dana D. Nelson. “Guest Introduction: Identity? Politics”. Modern Language Studies. Vol. 32, No. 1, p. 6
 Ted Hopf & Bentley B. Allan. Making Identity Count: Building a National Identity Database. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016, 264 p.
 Joseph M. Grieco. “Anarchy and the Limits of Cooperation: A Realist Critique of the Newest Liberal Institutionalism”. International Organization. Vol. 42, No. 3, pp. 485-407
 Stuart Woolf. “Europe and Its Historians”. Contemporary European History. Vol. 12, No. 3, August 2003, p. 327
 Nicola Fontana, Tomasso Nannicini, Guido Tabellini. Historical Roots of Political Extremism:
The Effects of Nazi Occupation of Italy. IZA – Institute of Labor Economics, 2017, p. 11
 The Schuman Declaration – 9 May 1950, https://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/symbols/europe- day/schuman-declaration_en
 1967: De Gaulle says ‘non’ to Britain – again, http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/november/27/newsid_4187000/4187714.stm
 Ted Hopf & Bentley B. Allan. Making Identity Count: Building a National Identity Database. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016, 264 p.
 Andrew Sparrow. PM accused of weak stance on Europe referendum. 1 July 2012, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2012/jul/01/david-cameron-europe-referendum-noncommittal
 David Cameron promises in/out referendum on the EU. 23 January 2013, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics- 21148282
 Frances Perraudin. Conservatives election manifesto 2015 – the key points. 14 April 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/apr/14/conservatives-election-manifesto-2015-the-key-points
 Gabriela Lazaridis and Khursheed Wadia. The Securitisation of Migration in the EU: Debates Since 9/11. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, 247 p.
 Andrey Makarychev. “Bordering and Identity-Making in Europe After the 2015 Refugee Crisis”. Geopolitics. Vol. 23, No. 4, 2018, p. 749
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