Ideal: Identity

click here for German version

I recently read an article in the German Newspaper “Die ZEIT”¹, which mentioned that nationalistic and authoritarian thinking belong together, because their common ideal is identity. How is identity to be understood here?

While understanding nationalistic thoughts as an intentional delimitation of one nation against others regarding all aspects of life, authoritarian thoughts are related to a system, in which retention of power is enforced. Therefore, no other opinions, neither public nor private are allowed. I will now try to outline how identity is their common ideal; however, this is what they are lacking of. In fact, they are driven by angst and the fear of being lost.

Nationalistic and authoritarian thinking define themselves through the fact that there is always an “us” and the “others”. “We” know what is truly right, the others only think to know better or even want to hinder “us”. In all nationalistic and authoritarian thinking differentiation from “others” plays an essential role, because without differentiation the “us” couldn’t be identified as well. The more differentiaton can be established from the rest of society, the more precicely the group can identify itself. That is, at least what those who think in a nationalistic and authoritarian way, believe in.

As Hannah Arendt explained; to do something in community entails a kind of power, which can be much more effective than the strength and force of single individuals. Populist and authoritarian groups are eager to increase their power. However, they are not focusing on qualitative characteristics as i.e. athletes are concerned with their sport or musicians with their music, but rather do they nourish themselves from arbitrary, contingent and barely definable characteristics. Doing so, they define themselves through a country, which boarders were drawn arbitrarily and which population is mixed through migration, so they all brought different traditions, origins and histories with them. Authoritarian and nationalistic thinking do not actually sustain themselves through convictions and ideologies that aim rational and reasonable goals but rather do they only nourish themselves through differentiation from “the other one”. Those groups in question consist due to their supporters and the imagined identity, which they provide each other, because that image of identity is all they have. What they do have, however, is the desperate attempt to get an identity while articulating their frustration, anger, rejection and non-recognition.

People with nationalistic and authoritarian thoughts do not see any opportunities to achieve a higher standard of living or to enable their children a better future. The most fundamental deficit they suffer from though is the one of opportunities to constitute their identity. Those people are driven by angst; angst of losing their current standard of living, angst of their future, angst to lose something (whatever this might be).

As the newspaper quotation mentioned above is pointing out quite well; people with nationalistic and authoritarian thoughts ideal is identity. Their pursued goal, overshadowed by alleged ideologies and theories, is plain identity. Those people know their own personality so little that they wander around in this world, feeling lost and looking for the substance of humanity; which is one’s own individual identity. Nationalistic and authoritarian thoughts can offer a rescue, a kind of anchor to hold on to. It is a way of thinking that provides identity by distancing oneself from the “others”, a way of thinking that gives life a meaning very easily and quickly and at the same time offers an answer to why someone is unsatisfied with their whole life in general. This disappointment with life can have various reasons and might arise from either individual or class-specific grounds. However, most times people are not even fully aware of those reasons, which is the source for them continuing their search for fulfilment. So the answer to the lack of opportunities offers to blame others, those who are not part of “us”, those who put “us” in that unsatisfying situation. If someone does not see possibilities anymore, a feeling of hopelessness arises which in turn causes frustration and weakness. In order to compensate the weakness and frustration, people get together and form a group in which they can feel powerful by maligning others.

The lack of personal identity entails a behaviour, which is looking for identity somewhere else and finds it in irrational but emotionally satisfying answers. A person that defines themselves fundamentally through their very own being does not need an ostracizing group, they do not need an “us” and “them” to identify himself, to define and differentiate themselves.

Authoritarian and nationalistic organizations and thoughts emerge because people look (mostly unconsciously though) for identity, because they feel lost in the world.

¹”die ZEIT”, July 14th 2016. p. 14

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