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Political Consequences of the Protestant Reformation, Part II

Martin Luther and the origins of identity politics.

Published on: November 2, 2017
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  • Anthony

    “State modernity is built around the distinction between public and private, and the idea that governments are instituted to serve public rather than private purposes…Without a normative belief in something like public interest and moral individual behavior on the part of rulers, it is impossible to truly modernize a state.” (Francis Fukuyama)

    The Western World has not known quite what to do with the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Well, Francis Fukuyama gives insight: understand its (pivotal) historical foundation and Lutheran and Calvinist influences on the idea of the modern state – the development of new institutions that provided incentives for other types of human behavior (Political Consequences of the Protestant Reformation).

  • Tom

    Fukuyama goes a bit too far when he attributes the concept of “identity” to the Protestant Reformation. He might be correct in the sense that the concept of individual identity came about as a result of the Reformation, but the fact is that collective identities were around long beforehand–people would identify as members of their cities, villages, or other organizations, and would often regard said identities as crucial.

  • Jim__L

    “The idea of identity begins with a perceived disjunction between one’s
    inside and outside. That is, one comes to believe that one has a true or
    authentic identity hiding within oneself that is somehow at odds with
    the role one is assigned by one’s surrounding society.”

    Then why is it that embracing an “Identity” today is in effect embracing a huge baggage of stereotypes? If you’re white you have to like Stuff White People Like. If you’re [fill in the minority] you couldn’t possibly support Trump.

    I don’t think that the academic definitions of Identity here match very well with Identity in practice.

    “Luther was one of the first Western thinkers to articulate and valorize the inner self over the external social being.”

    Sort of. Luther believed that whether he was right with God mattered more than whether he was right with the pope — and that if the pope were following the Word of God, the pope would be doing everything he could to serve his flock instead of selling claims of forgiveness.

    What Luther was doing, if anything, was embracing Constitutionalism — the idea that looking to a founding document, a Scripture, over and above the spirit of the times, is what a human being must do to remain a good person.

    • Jim__L

      “Hence the concept of identity would not even arise in most traditional
      human societies. For much of the last 10,000 years of human history, the
      vast majority of human beings lived in settled agrarian communities. In
      such societies, social roles are both limited and fixed: there is a
      strict hierarchy based on age and gender; everyone had the same
      occupation (farming or raising children and minding a household); one’s
      entire life was lived in the same small village with a limited circle of
      friends and neighbors; one’s religion and beliefs were shared by all;
      and there was virtually no possibility of social mobility—moving away
      from the village, choosing a different occupation, or marrying someone
      not chosen by one’s parents. In such societies, there is neither
      pluralism, diversity, nor choice. Given this lack of choice, it did not
      make sense for an individual to sit around and brood over the question
      “Who am I, really?””

      This is a vast oversimplification of human life in the last several thousand years. Academics bent on picking apart received wisdom would do well to start with this highly questionable set of assumptions.

    • Gold Eagle

      Very good insights there.

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