The supposedly eternal categories people use to group themselves into antagonistic collectives are misleading memes of recent vintage, according to this probing critique of identity politics. New York University philosophy professor Appiah (Cosmopolitanisms) argues that, although people have an innate “clannishness”—an instinct to identify with groups—the common essential properties that bind those groups are arbitrary, inconsistent, and mainly imaginary. The idea of fixed biological races, he contends, developed in the 18th century to justify the transatlantic slave trade; the notion of homogeneous national identities sprouted from a 19th-century romantic philosophy that forced them onto multiethnic, multilingual communities; modern religious divisions are based on contradictory, often unintelligible scriptures; and, contrary to the dicta of both white nationalists and Afrocentrists, Western culture isn’t the creation of Europeans, Egyptians, or any other single people. Writing in erudite but engaging prose, Appiah spotlights figures who created identitarian doctrines or challenged them, including a West African boy who traveled to Germany in 1707 and became a philosophy professor, and ponders his own complicated identity as a gay, biracial man descended from English knights on his mother’s side and Ghanaian royalty on his father’s. With deep learning and incisive reasoning, Appiah makes a forceful argument for building identity from individual aspirations rather than exclusionary dogmas. (Aug.)
The Lies that Bind is a small volume of mighty power. In his lucid prose, Appiah elegantly dismantles the humbug, dogma, pseudo-science and propaganda that have long dogged our attempts to discuss 'identity,' and offers in their place a practical and philosophical tool-kit, as subtly radical in its aims as it is humane in application. From the illusions of 19th century ideas of biological destiny, to the late-capitalist logic of our contemporary 'cultural appropriation' debates, this book will help a lot of people think with far more clarity about some of the thorniest issues of our times. An inspiring and essential read.”
Through this meditative journey, Appiah calls on us to buckle down to the difficult task of living with complexitythat is, the task of being modern. Erudite, personal, timely and deeply humane, this is a book for our time.
Not only does that elegant writer and transcendent thinker, Anthony Appiah, clarify the historical gaslighting around color and racial stereotype, he also forges radical new theories of identity as they apply to almost every conceivable aspect of self. The Lies That Bind forces you to rethink what tribe you actually belong to with regard to race and religion, geography and gender, class and sexuality. Sheer genius and a joy to read.”
Appiah makes the controversial and difficult subject of identity lucid, edifying, and even fun. When it comes to the humane values that allow us to live with one another, he may be our most penetratingand entertainingmajor philosopher.
This wonderful book unravels a tapestry of suppositions about identity. Understanding what draws us together and what tears us apart lies at the core of democracy. This is a vital book, an antidote to violent nativism, and a key to success in the human experiment.
The terrible power of bad ideas is best resisted, as The Lies That Bind shows, by subjecting them to serious critical scrutiny. Identities central to contemporary cultures can be both historically grounded and utterly misconceived. There is so much to learn from Anthony Appiah's splendid book.”
A provocative and brilliant intervention into the current discussion of the role identity plays in our society. We’re doing it all wrong, as Appiah demonstrates with characteristic erudition, clear thinking, and elegant prose.
Anthony Appiah again demonstrates that he is one of our foremost writers on identity, culture, and difference. With his trademark clarity, elegance, and rigor, he is a most useful guide to thinking through some of the complicated problems of who we are and what we can be.
Whether based on nationality, class, culture, race, and/or religion, identity is seen today as a main source of various conflicts worldwide. But NYU philosophy and law professor Appiah, author of the prize-winning Cosmopolitanism and the "Ethicist" column for the New York Times, begs to differ. Pointing to discarded or ineffectual concepts of race, nation, and the West, he argues that identity isn't the cause but the result of these conflicts. Appiah expands on his 2016 BBC Reith Lectures to deliver something timely; look for a five-city tour to New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, and Washington, DC.
In an exploration of the ways we label and confine ourselves, a celebrated philosopher advocates for a theory of human identity that recognizes but transcends race, religion, nation, culture, and class.Repudiating today's misguided surge of nationalism and nativist "purity," Appiah (Philosophy and Law/New York Univ.; As If: Idealization and Ideals, 2017, etc.) provides an impeccably argued challenge to all manner of calcified identities, including the illusory notion of "Western" civilization. "The East" is no less a chimera. Broadly, the author insists that we are bound by ways of apprehending identities that took modern shape in the 19th century, and they demand re-evaluation. Appiah makes irrefutable points about the incoherence of narrowly defined identities and our collective delusions. However, he dithers a bit in his opening essays, splitting hairs and taking a chapter to express what could have been managed in 300 words. Indeed, the book often relates the obvious in exhaustive terms, and the author sometimes ends up preaching to the choir. While eviscerating much pseudo-science, he also parrots some of the more questionable contentions of academic ideologues, succumbing to their oversimplifications. Still, the author has a penetrating grasp of the complexities of identity, and he wields history like a scalpel, extracting the cancerous myths, poisonous prejudices, and foolish antagonisms that divide us. Though Appiah savors his entwined Asante and English heritage, he is, like Diogenes, a citizen of the world, and his intent is to build bridges. "My aim is to start conversations, not to end them," he concludes, fully acknowledging that there is much more to be said on each of the topics he investigates. Appiah knows we are clannish creatures and that the most intractable of all "isms" is tribalism. He asks only that we rethink false assumptions and find our way out of the thickets.A well-informed philosophical investigation into methods for breaking through "walls that will not let in fresh and enlivening air."