The notion of oppression was once understood in terms which were at root economic. In Britain, the trade union movement grew out of a desire to see more economic parity between classes. In America, nineteenth-century abolitionism and the civil rights movement of the mid-twentieth-century were driven by the desire to see African Americans enjoy the same opportunities for flourishing as others, a flourishing for which political freedom and equality before the law were basic foundations.
Now, however, we live in an era where the worst oppression is considered to be psychological, that which hinders people from being who they really are—or at least who they think they really are.
The fusing of psychological identity and politics is long and interesting. In part, it has roots in the eighteenth-century emphasis upon sentiment as the basis for ethics, something found in thinkers as diverse as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Adam Smith. The role of Freud in sexualizing psychology is significant and helps explain why we now routinely talk in terms of sexual identity in a way which would have been incomprehensible in earlier times. And the refocusing of the political left on oppression as a psychological rather than an economic category, and of the political right on a libertarian view of human flourishing served to put expressive individualism and its most potent contemporary form, sexual identity, at the center of political discourse.
Carl Trueman, “Hate Has No Home Here,” New Horizons (March 2018), 8–9.