Tibor R. Machan
If it isn’t the Croats versus the Serbs, the Irish versus the British, the
Hungarians versus the Russians, the Indians versus the Pakistanis, and so
on and so forth endlessly, ethnic, national or other groups carping about
each other based on ancient misconduct, ill feelings, and awful memories
that have virtually nothing to do with people alive today, then it is
their diplomatic allies that are being urged to keep the flames of the
acrimony burning. Why? Because there are many political theorists who
insist that "people belong to their communities"–their nations, ethnic
groups, or tribes instead of each individual’s life belonging to him or
her, independently of the ghosts of their ancestors.
I have brought this up before–the Hungarians, of which I used to be one
and may still be so regarded by some zealots, had their truly gruesome
conflicts with the Turks many, many moons ago. And for reasons that have
made absolutely no sense to me some of them still hold a grudge, as if
they had been victims or aggressors despite not being alive anywhere near
the time of these conflicts. No matter. For some these feelings of
hostility–or friendship–must be kept alive.
Why? Well, I can only guess that it has to do with the ancient idea of
tribal loyalty, as if those Hungarians and Turks–or substitute some other
warring collectives many moons ago–imposed obligations on today’s members
to keep up the anger at each other.
I blame for all of this the widespread anti-individualism that has been
promoted not only by politicians and others who feed off such warped
loyalties but by numerous prominent political theorist–usually called
communitarians in our day–who insist that everyone primarily amounts to
some kind of eternal team member. That one’s identity consists of being a
member of some such collective. And, of course, the membership is
completely accidental–I certainly didn’t volunteer to be born in Hungary
and might well have been born in Turkey instead! Or again, substitute some
other relentlessly hostile groups.
This is why I consider identity politics such a curse. Who one is has very
little to do with the group into which one was born. Sure, it has some
meaning for most of us where we got our start in life, who were those near
and dear to us back in those formative years. But it should amount to
nothing of great significance, given that none of us had a choice in the
Once this group membership is not just accepted as merely a trivial
feature of our lives but made a great deal of by leaders and political
thinkers, consider how impossible is to get rid of it. It isn’t even like
one’s religion, which if one were to learn that it’s insidious, one can
abandon. No one can change the fact that he or she was born in Israel
rather than in Palestine, in Ireland rather than in Britain, in Mexico
rather than in California. These are incontrovertible facts and if one
attaches to them obligations of loyalty and fealty, one is eternally
stuck. No argument, no enlightenment can make a dent in these alignments.
We are simply members of the groups and must bear the burden of their
histories, be they nice or naughty or some combination.
President Obama swore during the recent presidential campaign that he
would not let the Turks forget about what their ancestors did to Armenians
and when he failed to bring up the issue during his recent visit to
Turkey, a number of commentators, such as the erudite wordsmith
Christopher Hitchens of Vanity Fair magazine, called him out on his breach
of his campaign promise.
Well, I say that Obama should never have entered into this messy
controversy about a widely contested genocide back in the early 1900s,
never mind the emotions of unfortunately too many Turkish and Armenian
Americans. Whatever bad deeds were committed were done by people long
dead, so I say drop all this already. What matters, especially in America,
is the kind of human individual you are, what you have chosen to believe
and do in your life, not what your parents and grandparents, et al.,
believed and did. That is what justice requires!