Who do you think you are? Autonomy, authenticity and the emergence of identity politics

September 1, 2017

A lecture by Dr Tim Black at the Institute of Ideas event The Academy 2017.

Authenticity has become one of the defining ideals of the modern world. It is the quality we are meant to demand in that which we consume; a value to be opposed to all that is ‘fake’, or ‘phoney’, or ‘artificial’. Above all, it is what an individual is meant to aspire to be - true to one’s self, self-actualising, self-expressing. Authenticity today has an almost ethical force. It underpins identity politics, legitimises transgenderism, and informs the ubiquitous demand for often legal recognition and informal respect. But what does its elevation say about the condition of modernity? What is its historical and conceptual relationship to ideas of freedom and autonomy? And to what extent is it really possible or even desirable, as Shakespeare’s Polonius insisted it was, to be true to thine own self?

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