'Tribalism’ doesn’t explain our political conflictsRoundup
tags: politics, Tribalism
“Tribalism” is a hot concept right now — one many people believe is at the root of America’s deep divisions. During the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) complained that “Tribalism is ruining us.” Many of our pundits, in particular, are obsessed with tribalism. New York magazine’s Andrew Sullivan warns tribalism is “corrupting and even threatening our system of government.”
Academics such as Jonathan Haidt and Amy Chua have also taken the pulse of the country and found tribal instincts thrumming in our veins. Alarmed by the conflicts in U.S. society and politics today, the tribunes of tribalism yearn for a mythic past when Americans set their differences aside and largely got along with each other. For Sullivan, this is “roughly the century after the Civil War,” when racial and political conflict was “diluted by myriad ethnic loyalties” and two World Wars unified and integrated the citizenry.
This is not history but nostalgia. Despite our abiding national myths regarding individualism, Americans have always bought into group identities such as race, ethnicity and religion. These identities have often been exclusive and hostile to people on the outside, and, what is more, they used to be enacted with far greater violence than today. The savage history of lynching in the United States is sufficient proof. There is no reason to think our intergroup differences are more dangerous than they have been at most other times in U.S. history. Yet at the same time, that past offers plentiful guidance for how to live with, and harness, our differences for good.
In short, we need to pay attention to history, not prehistory, to understand complex modern politics and society.
Complaints about tribalism typically fall into two distinct, if overlapping, categories. On one hand are the well-worn laments about identity politics. This is the idea that Americans have divided into hard-shell groups (or “tribes”) based on racial, religious and sexual identities; people who possess those identities, the argument goes, then organize their politics around the belief that they are victims. Critics often focus their ire about this kind of tribalism on college campuses, where a particularly intolerant form of identity politics is said to have taken root. ...
comments powered by Disqus
- From Reconstruction To WWII, How The U.S. Census Has Been Used For Both Good And Bad
- For Sri Lanka, a Long History of Violence
- Ancestry.com's racist ad tumbles into a cultural minefield
- Vermont passes bill abolishing Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day
- ‘The President himself may be guilty’: Why pardons were hotly debated by the Founding Fathers
- Newly released recordings of Citizens’ Council Radio Forum show white supremacy’s evolution through the civil rights era in real time
- Author Sarah Rose Writes the Women’s History of World War II With ‘D-Day Girls’
- What Was the Biggest Political Scandal in American History? 7 Historians Make Their Picks
- New Website aims to preserve Detroit’s civil rights history
- 3 More Colleges Go Test Optional; Doctoral Program Drops GRE