Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 710, March 3, 2013

"The bottom line is that Western Individualism
is under attack from all sides philosophically,
and that this is likely a precursor to an
effort to defeat it by force."

Previous Previous Table of Contents Contents Next Next

Identity Politics Über Alles
by Wendy McElroy

Bookmark and Share

Special to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) is backing a bill to reinstate the draft, but he wants to include women this time. Gender and liberal feminists are responding in various ways, but they seem to have arrived at the same conclusion: an endorsement of drafting women.

The why of it

Many gender and liberal feminists view female conscription as a Left vs. Right issue. Conservatives tend to argue that women are the weaker sex, unable to handle dangerous or physically demanding jobs. The feminists push back against those arguments. Katha Pollitt's enthusiastic response to drafting women falls into this category. In an article entitled "ERA: Once More Unto the Breach?" Pollitt launches quickly into a discussion of women in the military. She declares that "In the unlikely event that the draft is reinstated tomorrow, it's not hard to imagine women being included.... [O]nly dinosaurs ... still argue that women are too weak and incompetent to kill their fair share of Muslims."

In reality, conscription is not Left vs. Right; it is the state vs. the individual, authority vs. liberty.

Other gender and liberal feminists see the drafting of women as a statement of equality—if not equality in terms of fundamental rights then equality in terms of treatment by government. Rachel Westrate, a student at Washington University in St. Louis, expresses this view,

If women want to be equal and to serve in the same positions as men, then I believe they must be equal on all levels. Although being drafted and serving on the front lines of war can be an intimidating notion ... I support gender equality.

Egalitarianism falsely views an inequality of results to be proof of injustice. If women are not serving equally in Afghanistan, then a gender balance should correct "the problem." But, perhaps, the problem is that any American is in Afghanistan. The addition of women would only result in a gender-balanced injustice.

Still other gender and liberal feminists admit the injustice of a draft but consider equal treatment to be more important than the injustice being imposed. The National Organization for Women (NOW) exemplifies this approach. Its board policy states,

BE IT RESOLVED, that NOW opposes the reinstatement of registration and draft for both men and women. NOW's primary focus on this issue is on opposition to registration and draft. However, if we cannot stop the return to registration and draft, we also cannot choose between sisters and brothers. We oppose any registration or draft that excludes women as an unconstitutional denial of rights to both young men and women. And we continue to oppose all sex discrimination by the volunteer armed services.

Would NOW object to a situation in which 10 randomly chosen males were being executed by Nazis? Would they interrupt the proceedings to demand the "right" of women to become equal-opportunity victims? At best, equality under injustice reshuffles the identity of victims. Usually, it expands the scope of the injustice itself.

These positions are identity politics in action. A fairly standard definition of identity politics is

the politics of group-based movements claiming to represent the interests and identity of a particular group, rather than policy issues relating to all members of the community. The group identity may be based on ethnicity, class, religion, sex, sexuality or other criteria.

Identity politics divides society into distinct political classes that have antagonistic interests: blacks against whites, women against men, gays against heterosexuals. It focuses, not on the individual rights of the group members, but on the interests that all members allegedly share. Receiving the same treatment from government as other groups "enjoy" is high on the hierarchy of shared interests.

The endorsement of drafting women represents the triumph of identity politics over the respect for individual rights.

Identity politics denies a shared humanity

Only those unwilling to go to war need to be conscripted. Conscription is a statement of absolute ownership of the individual by the state. The state owns not merely the individual's body, which it can ship at will to any corner of the world, but also the individual's conscience, which it can command without explanation to kill strangers. Plantations in the antebellum South can be seen as expressions of economic slavery, because the primary purpose of enslavement was to produce wealth. A conscripted military represents political slavery, because the primary purpose is to produce political ends. No one—no man, no woman—should be enslaved for any reason.

Gender and liberal feminists want to force unwilling women into state slavery. Why? Because men become slaves during times of conscription.

Rather than oppose the clear injustice of enslaving anyone—male or female—they want the slave master (the state) to be an equal-opportunity oppressor. Gender and liberal feminists are willing to trash the freedom and lives of individual women in the name of the idealized group, "woman." But the category "woman" is an abstraction that does not exist in reality. All that tangibly exists are individual women—counted one by one.

It can be valuable to divide people into abstract categories or classes. A class can be defined by almost any factor: income level, hair color, age, nationality, ice cream preference. The factor chosen depends on the purpose of the definer. Doctors screen women for menopause and men for prostate problems. But doctors do not deny that both men and women have the same fundamental biology and biological needs as human beings.

Equally, the political realities of men and women differ on a few specific issues; abortion is an example. But men and women have the same fundamental political interests: individual rights and dignity. People are not defined primarily by their genitalia but by their shared humanity. As human beings, each one is entitled to the basic freedoms that all people hold in common, such as the peaceful use of their own bodies and the freedom of conscience.

Identity politics is a sharp departure from this conception of rights as being universal to all human beings. As important as such secondary characteristics as gender or race may be, they are precisely that—secondary. The shared humanity is primary. We are, first and finally, all human beings.


Conscription is not a man vs. woman or a Left vs. Right issue. It is the state vs. the individual in a life-or-death contest over who owns the individual's body and conscience. In this contest, gender and liberal feminists side solidly with the state.

An unjust inequality is not properly answered by an egalitarianism that offers the "right" to be equally enslaved; the answer resides in an equality under just law that protects the ability of every person to say "no."

The justice of actions does not hinge on whether the perpetrator or victim is male or female; it lives in the content of the acts themselves.

The bankruptcy of gender and liberal feminism has never been more bare than in the endorsement of the crushing of individual women under the wheels of the state in order to further a hollow abstraction.

Don't enslave women. Free men.

Reprinted from the Future of Freedom Foundation website

Was that worth reading?
Then why not:

payment type


Big Head Press