Identity politics is hardly a new development. In one form or another, it has been around for millennia. But beginning in the 1960s in the United States of America, identity politics began to take on greater importance in the marshaling of support for political candidates and policies. The civil rights movement represented a revolt by blacks as such (along with their nonblack supporters) against the denial of political equality that had been their lot for centuries. The politics of black identity, however, quickly spilled over onto other groups, giving rise to a revitalized women’s movement, a Chicano movement, a homosexuals’ movement, and a variety of others based on an ascribed or avowed personal identity. In each case, the supporters of an identity movement made the identity as such the principal if not the only basis for the expression of their political interests and engagement. This narrow focus put them at odds with previous political interest groups such as the Democratic and Republican parties, each of which attempted to gather a variety of self-identified persons under a “big tent” that would seek political power and split the loot among all those in the tent.

As identity politics developed after the 1960s a parallel but related development gave rise to what would become known, especially among opponents, as political correctness, an attempt to control speech and conduct that would (or so it was alleged) demean or disadvantage the members of one or more identity-political groups. This development became most conspicuous on college campuses, where zealous leftist faculty members and weak-kneed administrators imposed increasingly stringent control of speech and action by students and faculty members. Kangaroo courts were created where those charged with violations of political correctness could be punished and before which they were generally presumed guilty and often denied the opportunity to confront or cross-examine those who had charged them with violations of the college code. In the wider society, political correctness became increasingly entrenched in workplaces, news media, government offices, and other public and private areas.

By the end of the twentieth century, white heterosexual men had become almost the only group not assigned a protected status, and indeed the one generally presumed to be guilty of the oppression of all the others, often by assumption rather than according to ordinary standards of proof. Needless to say, straight white men and traditional women did not appreciate having been turned into the presumptive guilty parties in a panoply of condemned speech…