Saving Liberalism

Why Tolerance and Equality Are Not Enough

The White House is illuminated in rainbow colors after a historic Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage in Washington, June 26, 2015. Gary Cameron / Reuters

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a time for reflecting on the problems of racism, xenophobia, and the social distinctions that divide us. But the politics of 2016—from nativism in the United States to anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe, which facilitated the rise of President-elect Donald Trump and Brexit, respectively—suggest that in 2017, we might do well to adopt a different lens for viewing such issues.

One way to understand last year’s events is through a theory in social psychology known as “othering.” It explains how identity formation, as well as group cohesion, is facilitated in part by distinguishing oneself from those viewed as different. The distinction can be based on traits that are inherent, such as skin or eye color, or socially constructed, such as the distinction between Hutus and Tutsis. Identifying the “other” is part of what binds a group together, by creating mental rules for identifying who

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