Right-wing intersectionality

The right has its own theory of intersectionality - they just don't want to admit it.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past year talking about how the right is trying to introduce education as defining feature of class. The effect, of course, has been to completely scramble the categories most people have in mind when we hear that word: thus we have people like JD Vance arguing that poor people are “affluent” if they have a degree and people like Scott Alexander arguing that billionaire Donald Trump is actually a part of the working class.

Some readers might be tempted to conclude that only the right would play this kind of game. But conceptually, it’s identical to something you have probably seen liberals do as well:

This is a standard intersectionality diagram of the way that various forces of privilege and oppression combine to affect each one of us. Note the presence of both income and education in this chart. Like Vance and Alexander, liberals also believe that education and income are fundamental constituents of power that intersect to determine socioeconomic position; Vance and Alexander may refer to both of them as “class”, but this is just a rhetorical different, not an analytical difference.

The right, in other words, has its own theory of intersectionality. They do not refer to it as such, and they have generally avoided formalizing their theory of power in the way that liberal academics have; but it’s there, and it isn’t hard to see if you pay any kind of attention to their politics and their arguments. Off the top of my head, here are a few basic vectors of right-wing intersectionality I see floating around on a regular basis:

EDUCATION: One of the most important sources of power and oppression in modern society. Even poor people are doing well if they happen to have a college degree, whereas you can be filthy rich and still a victim of oppression if you do not.

PARTY: Republicans are the constant target of bigotry and prejudice and they are systematically excluded from positions of power and influence, particularly in the media. Democrats, meanwhile, control every major institution; they are the oppressors.

INCOME: Income plays a pretty secondary role in right-wing intersectionality (as you can see by the way it intersects with education), but it does play a role. If you are on welfare and have very little income, you are a source of exploitation and oppression of the working class. Sometimes the rich are too, mostly depending on if we are talking about Soros or “one of the good ones” like Mercer. Generally the real underclass is the middle class, and perhaps some of the blue collar workers who don’t have degrees.

CITIZENSHIP: US Citizens are the oppressed class, who jobs and taxpayer dollars are being ruthlessly looted by undocumented immigrants (the oppressors).

RELIGION: In general, the victims of religious oppression in our society are the Christian and Jewish right. The oppressors are generally godless liberals, though we can also include among them relatively liberal religious figures like Pope Francis.

PSYCHOLOGY: The right, particularly its pundits, have fleshed out a whole implicit theory of psychological power and oppression that emerges in their rhetoric on a regular basis. So for example, there is this evidently this distinct political force called “narcisissm” that explains all kinds of things about our society, and if you have it you are an oppressor. Same with “sadists,” “perverts,” and so on.

GEOGRAPHY: In general, people who live in cities are oppressors and everyone else are victims. During last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, for example, right wing pundits often simply took it for granted that the urban protesters they saw had to be well-off, or grad students, or something along those lines; there was no real evidence of this, but we could simply take it for granted that these people had some kind of power. Meanwhile during the January 6 riots, right pundits often took it for granted that the participants were salt-of-the-earth hayseeds who had come in from out of town, even as it became clear that a disproportionate number of them were at a minimum middle class.

PARENTHOOD: As noted recently, the right has developed a very clear theory of identity politics revolving around parenthood: parents have a unique lived experience that needs to be deferred to, but instead they are systematically underrepresented in our democracy.

This could be fleshed out much, much more; for example, a lot of right-wing intersectionality simply reverses liberal ideas, so that instead of a white oppressor class you instead of white people who are brutally oppressed by political correctness and such. In both cases, however, the analytical structure is the same: both liberals and the right constantly talks about power as a system of discrete forms of identity and oppression that are all connected and that all combine in various ways. I think that there’s a lot that you can criticize intersectionality for, but if the right wants to continue ridiculing it, they should probably stop relying on it.