Alright, folks – this week is the start of what we’re dubbing “Jonah Goldberg Week” featuring several ideas from the mind of Jonah Goldberg. For those unfamiliar, Jonah is a conservative columnist and author (though he was vocally anti-Trump in the 2016 election), most recently, of “Suicide of the West.” The somber title aside, Jonah is one of the top political thinkers out there today. Whether you place yourself on the left or right, it’s worth hearing his perspectives as they often offer novel and well-communicated viewpoints. Hopefully this week will show you why that’s the case.
So with that – one point Jonah brought up on a recent episode of his podcast, The Remnant, was the value of having many non-dominant identities vs. a primary dominant identity. He put it this way: if all one is trying to do is to be a great writer, or a great husband, or a great father, he wouldn’t be very good at it. Wrapping yourself up into one single identity – no matter what it is – creates a lack of balance. The singular-minded writer would have no experiences to draw from. The one-track husband or father would smother. And so it would go for any other single identity.
Of course we all have several identities within this framework: everyone is a child of someone, many are parents, each of us is a friend, co-worker, significant other, neighbor, and community member of many different types of communities: churches, professional groups, interest groups, and more. Naturally, this should be viewed as a good thing. As Goldberg states in his brief monologue, “life is worth living [when you have] abundant diversity of sources of meaning and belonging.”
By itself, this statement may not be all that profound. But it is a good framing of life and reminder to always assess more than one avenue in your life and not to let any single identity become too powerful.
And this line of thinking has other notable implications as well, which Goldberg points to – one explicitly and one implicitly by way of the context, both of which are worth a brief overview here with the potential to revisit in a later piece.
One is the tie-in to the modern fervor in identity politics. Goldberg notably excludes ethnicity and gender from his list of defining identities. Unspoken is the fact that each of those types of identities that he did mentioned should be more important than any ethnicity-gender combination.
All this falls short of proving that ethnicity and gender are overvalued in the definition of identity today. But I’ll leave it to you to put it up against any & all of the other ways to define identity that we listed and see where you feel it should, generally, be placed.
The second point is how economic liberty ties into this view of multiple identities. By increasing economic freedoms, you create more opportunities for people to define their own path. This, in turn, leads to more nooks and crannies being created that provide these sources of meaning and belonging. This is valuable, and a notable contrast from authoritarian economic models: fascism, socialism, and communism.