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Walter Benn Michaels has been trying awfully hard for some years now to drive a wedge between, well, mostly between everyone and himself, since I'm not sure who's actually lining up behind him, but I suppose what he thinks he's been doing is convincing people that liberal attention paid to (mostly racial) diversity has been at the expense of any consideration of economic inequality. I haven't read his book The Trouble with Diversity, but I did follow along closely when n+1 ran his piece "The Neoliberal Imagination" (not available online) and then Bruce Robbins wrote in with a harsh critique and Michaels responded and Robbins responded back (the latter two are found here—I can't find the first Robbins critique).

Michaels accuses liberals of stooping to a politics of respect or recognition where we should be practicing a politics of redistribution. "[T]he politics of the neoliberal imagination involve respecting the poor, not getting rid of poverty—eliminating inequality without redistributing wealth." Liberals, he argues, like to treat classism as homologous to racism or sexism—as being primarily about the destructive force of prejudice, rather than the destructive force of not having enough money to pay for basic needs. "So, just as being opposed to racism is by no means to be opposed to racial difference… to be opposed to classism is by no means to oppose class difference."

There are two crucial jumps for Michaels here: the first is to turn this homology into history, which he tries to do by arguing that the increased commitment to racial/gender diversity both in the academy and the private sector has coincided with the exponential growth of economic inequality during the same period. (This is a fairly truncated view of a rather long struggle against prejudice and racial and gendered forms of injustice, struggles which have remained active in greater or lesser measure through periods of widening and decreasing inequality, and which have often worked as not against a struggle for economic equality.) The second jump is to turn the history into action: because fighting for diversity has coincided with greater economic inequality, give up diversity as an agenda-setting value for the left. Michaels openly acknowledges that he sees diversity vs. equality not only as an historically adversarial relation but a zero-sum game. So, presto-changeo, ignoring diversity will lead every good leftist (and, it seems, also all the faint-hearted liberals who warm to diversity because it's so much easier than fighting inequality) to re-commit themselves to the struggle for redistributive national economic policies. Hmm. I'm probably missing something here, but even if I'm missing a lot, I can't imagine that in all of this, Michaels isn't missing more than a little.