The Identity Trap: Unraveling the Power and Pitfalls of Identity-Focused Progressivism

Yascha Mounk’s new book explores the rise of a radical progressive ideology and its implications for society

In his latest book, “The Identity Trap: A Story of Ideas and Power in Our Time,” political scientist Yascha Mounk delves into the emergence of a new worldview that is reshaping our society. This identity-focused progressivism, as Mounk describes it, has gained significant traction, influencing everything from political discourse to educational policies. However, Mounk argues that this ideology is not a natural extension of social justice movements but rather a departure from them, urging those committed to social justice to resist its allure.

The Intellectual Origins of Identity Synthesis

Mounk begins by tracing the intellectual roots of this new ideology, which he labels “identity synthesis.” Drawing from postmodernism, postcolonialism, and critical race theory, this worldview places a heavy emphasis on ascriptive categories such as race, gender, and sexual orientation. However, Mounk questions why certain marginalised identities are prioritized over others, particularly the lack of focus on class and economic inequalities.

Naming the Unnamed

One intriguing aspect of this ideology, as Mounk highlights, is its reluctance to be named and defined. While terms like “woke” have emerged, they often carry a pejorative connotation. Mounk suggests that this may be due to the hesitancy of those who view this ideology as the truth to label it as a specific position or “ism.”

Core Themes of Identity Synthesis

Mounk distills the identity synthesis into seven core themes, including skepticism about objective truth, discourse analysis for political ends, doubling down on identity, proud pessimism, identity-sensitive legislation, the imperative of intersectionality, and standpoint theory. He provides a detailed analysis of each theme, highlighting their prevalence and potential consequences.

The Spread of Identity-Focused Practices

Mounk explores how the identity synthesis has permeated various institutions, from universities to corporations. He shares anecdotes that illustrate the impact of this ideology, such as the separation of children based on their skin color in schools and the prioritization of racial identity over universalism. He also examines the decision-making process within public health organizations, revealing how identity-focused considerations can lead to ethically questionable outcomes.

Genuine Insights and Distorted Applications

While Mounk critiques the identity synthesis, he acknowledges the genuine insights that underpin it. Scholars like Derrick Bell and Kimberlé Crenshaw have shed light on structural racism and intersectionality, respectively. However, Mounk argues that these insights have been taken in troubling directions, leading to an exclusive focus on oppressive structures and the justification of questionable claims.


In “The Identity Trap,” Yascha Mounk presents a compelling case against the identity-focused progressivism that is gaining momentum in our society. He warns of the dangers of prioritizing difference and unequal treatment, which can further exacerbate divisions. While acknowledging the genuine insights of this ideology, Mounk cautions against its extreme and implausible applications, urging readers to reconsider their support for identity-based practices that undermine universal values and democratic principles. As society grapples with the complexities of identity and social justice, Mounk’s book offers a thought-provoking analysis that challenges prevailing narratives and encourages critical reflection.






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