Identity, from the Latin idem, "the same", refers to aspects of a person (or a phenomenon) which is assumed to be resistant or unchanging over time. Identity defines the unique human being and can be self-defined or defined by others. It is also possible to speak of collective identities, as ethnic, cultural and so forth.
Etymologically: ‘That which makes singular’. A people’s identity is what makes it incomparable and irreplaceable.
Characteristic of humanity is the diversity and singularity of its many peoples and cultures. Every form of its homogenisation is synonymous with death, as well as with sclerosis and entropy. Universalism always seeks to marginalise identity in the name of a single, unique anthropological model. But ethnic and cultural identities form a bloc: maintaining and developing the cultural heritage presupposes a people’s ethnic commonality.
Humanity will not survive the challenges it’s generating if it remains a pluriversum, that is, if it remains a fractious aggravation of profoundly different ethnocentric peoples.
Look: identity’s basis is biological; without it, the realms of culture and civilisation are unsustainable. Said differently: a people’s identity, memory, and projects come from a specific hereditary disposition.
The Jacobin and universalist republicans — who allegedly defend the ‘identity of France’ and her ‘cultural exceptionalism’, believing they can integrate ethnically alien masses — are in the grips of a total contradiction.
The notion of identity obviously refers to ethnocentrism and remains incompatible with ‘ethnopluralist’ cohabitation. In this respect, Pierre Vial writes (in Une Terre, un Peuple) that: ‘Identity, for an individual or a people, stems from three basic elements: race, culture, and will’. The implication here is that no one of these elements suffices to form an identity: without a relatively homogeneous biological base, no culture prospers; but biology alone will not ensure a culture’s longevity, if the will of the people and its elites are lacking. A culture neither survives nor prospers with decapitated elites.
The idea of identity is a thorn in the side of the dominant universal and egalitarian ideology. On the one hand, it finds it terribly shocking, suspecting (rightly) that identity always has an ethnic scent. On the other hand, one can’t — or rather can no longer for political reasons — openly counter a ‘Corsican identity’ or a ‘Breton identity’. Not to mention a ‘Jewish identity’, which no one would think of contesting, though in the Nineteenth century secular and universalist Jews, beginning with Marx, advocated eradicating Jewish identity — eradicating Jewish customs, religion, and endogamous prescriptions. How are such flagrant contradictions overcome? Only through ideological contortions:
1. The identity of the peoples constituent of Europe is not openly denied, but neutralised, emptied of substance, and relegated to academic study or folklore (in the worse sense of the term), stripped in this way of every ethnic reference. Only linguistic identity is paid lip service and then only with a good deal of reticence. As the Left-wing leaders of the Breton independence movement insist, a non-European settled in Brittany is automatically a Breton. (Here the term ‘Breton’ assumes the universalist sense that ‘American’ has.)
2. It’s understood, of course, that identity is acceptable for alien populations, but abhorrent whenever demanded by Europeans — because it’s ‘racist’. African, West Indian, and Arab-Muslim identities are encouraged, while any profession of ethnic identity by native Europeans is automatically subjected to a hermeneutic of suspicion. In this spirit Europeans are urged to shed all trace of identity (or else relegate it to the museum). It’s simply too dangerous.
The notion of identity is not at all endangered by the world that is coming, for despite — or because of — globalisation and Westernisation, we’re going to see identity massively enhanced by the formation of great ethnic blocs in the Global South. The only threatened identity is that of the dangerous peoples (analogous to the ‘dangerous classes’ of Nineteenth-century Paris): the ‘dangerous peoples’ being native Europeans, who are now prohibited from having an identity, at least an identity that is anything other than a museum piece.
Finally, the idea of identity has to be linked to the notion of continuity (in Robert Steuckers’ formulation). Identity is never fixed or frozen. It remains itself in changing, reconciling being and becoming. Identity is dynamic, never static or purely conservative. Identity should be seen as the foundation of a movement that endures through history — the generational continuity of a people. Dialectical notions associating identity and continuity permits a people to be the producer of its own history.
- The ‘dangerous classes’ was a term applied by the Parisian bourgeoisie during the early part of the Nineteenth century to the poor classes.