Richard Ned Lebow


On his book The Politics and Ethics of Identity: In Search of Ourselves

Cover Interview of February 14, 2013

The wide angle

Encouraged by therapists, people search for their inner selves.  Groups and corporations develop “identities,” to which their members are “invited” to internalize.  Political leaders encourage us to distinguish ourselves from others, to who we are superior.  All these practices are not only totalizing and harmful to our individuality and well being, they rest on the false premise that there is such a thing as an identity.

In practice, we are a jumble of self-identifications, which in turn rest on our affiliations, roles and relationship to our bodies.  Stripped of these self-identifications, we are nothing underneath but raw appetites.

Multiple affiliations and roles control and channel these appetites in ways that can be beneficial, but also constraining.  Attempts by groups and politicians to emphasize single identifications do injustice to our multiplicity and encourage us to deny what we share with members of the “out groups” they create.