This is an attempt to start a conversation, not only regarding Radix Journal’s essay competition but what we are trying to accomplish and how we should understand ourselves.

Over the past decade, the term “Identitarian” has gained currency, mainly in reference to activists and intellectuals in Western and Central Europe.

Interestingly, the term was first used by French sociologists in describing a “repli identitaire” (“identitarian withdrawal” or lack of assimilation) among immigrants, due to “discrimination,” and also among the lower-classes of the indigenous population, due to their “racism.”

“Identitarian” became a rallying point (and a noun—“Les Identitaires”) when it was taken up by the pan-European elements within the French Right, who were in opposition to the Front National, whose nationalism was then merely ethnic and now is merely civic. Identity, in this sense, was the root idea behind the founding of Bloc Identitaire in 2003 and Génération Identitaire in 2012.

“Identitarian” runs into the usually problems of neologisms: it might seem arcane, confusing, or euphemistic, or to be just another “-ism” that is destined to fall out of fashion.

Despite it all, we find Identitarianism to be powerful, evocative, and useful on a number of fronts.

First, it posits Identity as the center—and the central question—of a spiritual, intellectual, and (meta-)political movement. In other words, Identitarianism is not just another agenda on economics, human rights, public and foreign policies, etc. It’s a statement that all of these questions—and many more—can only be addressed after asking much bigger ones: Who are we? Who were we? Whom will we become? And Identity is not just the call of blood, though it is that.

Secondly, Identitarianism avoids the standard Left/Right divide of the 20th-century (even if most Identitariains come from the Right). Identitarianism is open to different and new perspectives, and to the integration of energies that are often pigeonholed as “Left” or “Right.” What is a “free market,” “social justice,” or “world peace” to us, until we’ve sounded out such terms, and determined what they mean for our future?

Thirdly, Identiatrianism avoids the term “nationalism,” and its history and connotations. Indeed, one of Identitarians’ central motives is the overcoming of the nationalism of recent historical memory, which was predicated on hatred of the European “Other.”

As a political expression, Identity brings the concept of the nation-state itself into question, both in its “big” (e.g., American) forms and its “little,” more ethnically defined variations (e.g., the Czech Republic and aspirational entities surrounding Scottish, Ukrainian, or Quebecois nationalisms).

Both “big” and “little” states have important differences, but they are, nevertheless, based on the same principles of democracy, equality, popular sovereignty, and the rest of the Enlightenment project. Moreover, “big” and “little” states are, in their ways, too big and too little. The idealized concept of “France” denies local identities within its borders, as well as regional cultures that overlap nation-states. In turn, “France” ignores the mythological, biological, and cultural commonalities that unite all Europeans, from Ireland to Vladivostok.

In this way, Identitarianism exists in a global context. To be certain, it eschews nationalist chauvinism, as well as the meaningless, petty nationalism that is tolerated, even encouraged, by the current world system. That said, Identitarianism is itself not a universal value system, like Leftism, monotheism, and most contemporary versions of “conservatism.” To the contrary, Identarianism is fundamentally about difference, about culture as an expression of a certain people at a certain time. In this way, Identitarians rejects the impulse towards “conversion,” a tendency that is both ancient and modern. From the standpoint of an engaged Communist, liberal, or American “conservative”—or Christian or Muslim—every human being and every people is a potential Communist, liberal, conservative, or follower of the faith—or else an enemy of freedom, justice, and all that is holy. Identitarianism acknowledges the incommensurable nature of different peoples and cultures—and thus looks forward to a world of true diversity and multiculturalism.

How Identitarianism will manifest itself politically—and how European Identitarians can cooperate with traditionalists of other cultures and races—remain open, tantalizing questions.