Home cancel culture politics The Personalization of the Political
Home cancel culture politics The Personalization of the Political

The Personalization of the Political

Much has been said about the politicization of the personal. Politics is no longer about Washington D.C. It's about the movies you watch, the brands you buy, who your friends are and where you live. Everything from your choice of shoes to the car you drive is political. And if it isn't political to you, it is very political to the college student next door or the political activist running for city council.

But the politicization of the personal is the flip side of the personalization of the political. The intrusion of politics into the pettiest and most personal aspects of human life is a manifestation of the same trend that has personalized politics so thoroughly that even the biggest issues are reduced to the pettiest common denominators of personal animosity.

The personal is political because the political is personal. Millennials and their younger siblings lead the trend. Their politics is so personal that it doesn't exist apart from their emotions. When campus leftists shout about their pain as an argument, it's because there is no distance between their emotions, their sense of entitlement and their politics. They literally can't even... because there is no ability to reason abstractly. Objectivity is a construct of dead white men. Feelings matter. Facts don't.

But that is a generation that grew up on the internet. Existing in social media spaces is a very different assertion of identity than the one that humanity was used to for thousands of years. The Darwinian struggle to form an identity in a space of total free speech produced the most illiberal generation in over a century. The only way to win an argument online was through humiliation, victimhood or censorship. The SJW/Alt-Right paradigm of millennial political margins rests on that.

Social media quickly soured cyber-narcissism into cyber-bullying. Politics became cyber-bullying by another means. And the politics never ran very deep. Beneath the passion were layers of irony or deconstructionism which recognized that everything except the crybully's needs were unreal. Nothing was real, but the anger and the pain. Politics was an illusion. Personal entitlement was all that's real.

As the internet dominated politics, millennial politics became our politics. The medium had become the message. And the message was emotional. In the abstractions of the internet, abstract ideas don't do nearly as well as raw emotion wrapped around lowest common denominator talking points.

Abstract ideas made way for emotional keening. "Hands up, don't shoot" and "I can't breathe" were louder and more resonant than any number of statistics about rising crime rates and police shootings. No amount of pro-Israel hasbara has ever matched a photo of a Muslim child splattered with red paint. From Puerto Rico to Muslim migrants to transgender bathrooms, each leftist argument is reducible to "people will die" or its precondition, "vulnerable groups are being made to feel unsafe."

Panic, fear, outrage and anger dominate the national discourse. Each president is the latest incarnation of Hitler. Opposition is resistance. The politicization of the personal injects these national panics into the individual while the personalization of the political projects individual fears into national politics.

Think about the Hillary supporters screaming at Trump's inauguration. Is that the politicization of the personal or the personalization of the political? When upper middle class white people claim that they fear for their lives under Trump, is it one or the other? Or is it a toxic cocktail of both, with personal emotions bleeding into national politics, and then national politics stirring personal anxieties in a feedback loop?

Either way the erosion of the distinction between ideas and emotions, between feelings and politics is the dominant trend of the day. And when there is no wall between politics and emotions, it's impossible to discuss ideas. The only thing left to do is express anger., Politics favors negative emotions, not positive ones. And when there is also no wall between the personal and the political, political disagreement becomes a threat to personal identity. And violence swiftly follows.

Classical liberalism is based on ideas. The American system requires that we discuss and debate. When a society can no longer discuss ideas, it becomes illiberal and totalitarian. When discussion becomes impossible, then politics becomes based around stratagems of compulsion. And compulsion eventually meets its match. Meanwhile the system is discredited. And there is no exit strategy.

The Founders welcomed the people to participate in politics even as they sought to limit the politicization of personal life. The abstractions that they set up, such as the Electoral College, were meant to build walls between the personal and the political. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were documents of ideas. And the Founders hoped to disprove the European monarchists who sneered at republican government as anarchy and mob rule.

But when politics is purely personal, then the individual loses his freedom and the society loses its organizational principles. The layers of abstraction between our views and our emotions vanish. Politics becomes all Id. All political discourse becomes reducible to anger and pain. Pain justifies anger. And frustrated anger is experienced as pain. Political victimhood and anger have made campuses hellish places. Workplaces are next, as Google's firing of James Damore revealed.

The tantrums masquerade as civil rights causes, but unlike actual civil rights, no concession or accomplishment is enough. Instead acceding to a tantrum worsens it because its cause is internal, not external, and surrendering to it only increases the scope for the personalization of the political. That same phenomenon has destroyed campuses. And if it isn't stopped, it can destroy a civilization.

Civilizations exist because their members control their impulses. When their impulses control them, civilizations fall.

Daniel Greenfield is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. This article previously appeared at the Center's Front Page Magazine.

Thank you for reading.


  1. Anonymous31/10/17

    Heather MacDonald has it right too

    The free-speech model of education tends toward a focus on the present. The issues about which students are going to have the strongest opinions concern current political and policy matters: Is Donald Trump a fascist? Is immigration enforcement racist? Does the criminal-justice system discriminate against blacks? Which bathrooms should “trans” individuals use? The fact that only one answer to these questions is acceptable on college campuses is indisputably a problem. But they are not the questions that undergraduate education should focus on; there will be time enough after students graduate to debate current affairs. While defenders of the open university rightly fight for free speech, they should not lose sight of the knowledge that is the university’s core mission to transmit. If students had been more deeply immersed in acquiring that knowledge and less taken with challenging “false narratives about the marginalized,” we might not have seen the narcissistic campus meltdowns after the last presidential election.


  2. D.D.Mao31/10/17

    "Millennials" and "Hillary supporters screaming at Trumps inauguration lead the trend"? REALLY?

    Donald Trump with his rhetoric and demagoguery ran one of the most divisive campaigns both during the primaries and the general election and has helped contribute to the vitriol and division the country is now experiencing. It was filled with ridiculing women, POW's, Muslims, Latinos, the Pope, people with disabilities, Gold Star families and an unhealthy dose of adolescent name calling. When the polls suggested he would lose the general election both him and his supporters threatened to violently challenge the results in the streets. During the campaign his followers willfully ignored, dismissed and excused any flip flops, hypocrisy, or moral crudeness in order to get the "WIN". They consider themselves revolutionaries and the first act of a revolutionary is to purge anyone who disagrees with you in the slightest. But it wasn't ideas or principles they didn't want any disagreement with but a cult of personality and when your motive is solely revenge on the party and the campaign is based on fears and frustrations your candidate can be simply a hood ornament for an outlet to these emotions. His followers exhibit their "tantrums" on web sites, blogs, chat rooms, and message boards to shout down or humiliate any opposition ironically much like the left does on college campuses. The same people who are quick to call someone "snowflake" are the first ones to be offended by someone pointing out Trumps faults. Because they don't want a dialogue, they want a monologue. Rather than pickup seats in Congress by running against vulnerable Red State Democrats their purge consist of challenging Republican incumbents. Which is again ironic when they accuse us #NeverTrumpers of being a purist and then they pursue this same tact.

    Lets not pirouette around the truth here attempting to bandage bloodied psyches while stoking more anger at the left. The coarseness, debasement and incivility of American society has been going on for decades and it has substantially contributed to the decline of the countries moral standards. It's this binary tribal attitude that if you don't agree with what they say or do you are the enemy that has been evolving over the past 3 decades. This lack of civility is one of the reasons I gave up my Facebook page and don't contribute on any web sites any longer. We may now have the internet but we have slipped in to an age of unenlightenment when ideas, principles and opinions are mocked and come in a distant second to blindly following the herd.

  3. Excellent observations, Daniel. "Feelings matter. Facts don't." To the millennials, emotions count for "knowledge." Facts, after all, they "think," are a white privilege thing, a white "construct." Ergo, invalid. Facts are racist. Tear them down! Get Antifa to attack them! Facts are triggering! Ho, ho, ho! Facts have got to go!

  4. Infidel31/10/17

    Right to the point. I've seen a lot of this first hand, and thought a lot about these issues, but couldn't think so clearly about them, or articulate them so well.

  5. Anonymous31/10/17

    Why of course everything becomes personal & subjective!
    This is part the broad plan of guided history & the Official Narrative of the establishment elite,this part of their Social Engineering project.Their biased version of what reality is all about!This is so according to David Rockefeller himself who stated as much more then once.
    There was an old phrase the media shills used in the past but no longer use today for obvious reasons.
    They would proudly claim that they were there to "Shape Public Opinion".
    How good of them to help us poor peasants understand the complexities of the world,according to them!
    How does the establishment do this? They do this by controlling the dispensation of wealth to those that they favor!
    They buy up all centers of public power & influence with offers that can't be refused,the few that do refuse...they ruin!
    What has happened to the kids in the major universities is that their minds have been filled with misinformation by the professors who are just well paid minions of the left!
    As an old saying went "The Golden Rule is he who has the gold rules"

  6. "Millennials and their younger siblings lead the trend. Their politics is so personal that it doesn't exist apart from their emotions."

    Sebastian Haffner, who grew up in Germany between the wars, noted that some people seemed unable to exist outside an environment of political hysteria. During the Stresemann chancellorship, when the economy and the political environment began to stabilize..."The last ten years were forgotten like a bad dream. The Day of Judgment was remote again, and there was no demand for saviors or revolutionaries…There was an ample measure of freedom, peace, and order, everywhere the most well-meaning liberal-mindedness, good wages, good food and a little political boredom. everyone was cordially invited to concentrate on their personal lives, to arrange their affairs according to their own taste and to find their own paths to happiness."

    But…and I think this is a particuarly important point…a return to private life was not to everyone’s taste:

    "A generation of young Germans had become accustomed to having the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions…Now that these deliveries suddently ceased, people were left helpless, impoverished, robbed, and disappointed. They had never learned how to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful and worth while, how to enjoy it and make it interesting. So they regarded the end of political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk...To be precise (the occasion demands precision, because in my opinion it provides the key to the contemporary period of history): it was not the entire generation of young Germans. Not every single individual reacted in this fashion. There were some who learned during this period, belatedly and a little clumsily, as it were, how to live. they began to enjoy their own lives, weaned themselves from the cheap intoxication of the sports of war and revolution, and started to develop their own personalities. It was at this time that, invisibly and unnoticed, the Germans divided into those who later became Nazis and those who would remain non-Nazis."

  7. Daniel, this is one of your best articles.

    The left have come up with the most successful form of suppression of free speech: You offend me. It does not matter that what one party says to the other is not really offensive in any way. It is enough that the second party does not want to hear it, either because it's an inconvenient truth, or simply because the second party does not agree with it.

    Notice, if you will, that this right to be offended at the drop of a hat is the privilege of only one side: the left. The right, white people, Christians are (genuinely) abused every day in every way. But if we protest it's only because we are racist, hateful, and - irony of ironies - we don't want to acknowledge facts.

    It's the tired and tiresome, whatever the left, in all it's varieties, do is fine. Whatever the right do is wrong, racist, hateful, discrimination (fill in the space).

    Me, I've started to fight back. I don't cower into silence when someone calls me a (your favorite leftist slander here). I turn the tables on my interlocutor and watch him/her splutter wordlessly in frustration. You should try it sometime. With the left, it's really easy. And fun.

  8. You need to put this into a book already, your ideas are groundbreaking.

  9. As usual, spectacular.


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