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The Big Answer


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The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics

a book by Mark Lilla

(our site's book review)

A Passionate Plea to Liberals to Reject the Divisive Politics of Identity

The Amazon blurb says that From one of the most internationally admired political thinkers, a controversial polemic on the failures of identity politics and what comes next for the left — in America and beyond.

Following the shocking results of the US election of 2016, public intellectuals across the globe offered theories and explanations, but few were met with such vitriol, panic, and debate as Mark Lilla’s. The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics is a passionate plea to liberals to turn from the divisive politics of identity and develop a vision of the future that can persuade all citizens that they share a common destiny.

Following the shocking results of the US election of 2016, public intellectuals across the globe offered theories and explanations, but few were met with such vitriol, panic, and debate as Mark Lilla’s since he (wisely) disparaged the liberal narrative
Following the shocking results of the US election of 2016, public intellectuals across the globe offered theories and explanations, but few were met with such vitriol, panic, and debate as Mark Lilla’s since he (wisely) disparaged the liberal narrative

Driven by a sincere desire to protect society’s most vulnerable, the left has unwittingly balkanized the electorate, encouraged self-absorption rather than solidarity, and invested its energies in social movements rather than party politics. Identity-focused individualism has insidiously conspired with amoral economic individualism to shape an electorate with little sense of a shared future and near-contempt for the idea of the common good.

Now is the time to re-build a sense of common feeling and purpose, and a sense of duty to one another. A fiercely argued, important book, enlivened by acerbic wit and erudition, The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics is essential reading for our times.


Kudos from Reviewers of Lilla's Book

"Brief but brilliant book."--Fareed Zakaria

"After the disaster of November 2016, a wreckage analysis is desperately needed. Mark Lilla offers a deep and provocative brief on what went wrong, and what liberals, moderates, and progressives might do about it."-- Steven Pinker, New York Times bestselling author

"Mark Lilla will make many people mad, but to excellent purpose. He calls for a revived politics of liberty and justice for truly all and a real debate over how to achieve the common good. The job now is to find and include a genuinely diverse set of voices to create the new American 'we the people' that Lilla envisions."-- Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of Unfinished Business

"In the age of Trump, Mark Lilla's engaging and provocative book is a must-read. The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics is full of insights on the failure of the identity politics movement, and on what progressives have to do to capture America's imagination and secure the common good."-- William Julius Wilson, author of More Than Just Race

"Though it's a book written by a liberal Democrat for liberal Democrats, every conservative who cares about the future of American politics should read it...The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics is a punchy, no-BS guide to how the Democrats can make the future their own...a must-read."-- American Conservative

Mark Lilla is Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University and a prizewinning essayist for the New York Review of Books and other publications worldwide. His books include The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction; The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West; and The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Lilla is a frustrated liberal.


Liberals' Heads Are in the Sand

Reagan pictured a more individualistic America where families and small communities and businesses would flourish once freed from the shackles of the state
Reagan pictured a more individualistic America where families and small communities and businesses would flourish once freed from the shackles of the state

As Lilla says, "And now we face far right populist websites mixing half-truths, lies, conspiracy theories, and fabrications into a toxic brew eagerly swallowed by the credulous, the angry, and the menacing. Liberals have become America’s ideological third party, lagging behind self-declared independents and conservatives, even among young voters and certain minority groups. . . . , the Roosevelt Dispensation, stretched from the era of the New Deal to the era of the civil rights movement and the Great Society in the 1960s, and then exhausted itself in the 1970s. The second, the Reagan Dispensation, began in 1980 and is now being brought to a close by an opportunistic, unprincipled populist."

He continues, "Each dispensation brought with it an inspiring image of America’s destiny and a distinctive catechism of doctrines that set the terms of political debate. The Roosevelt Dispensation pictured an America where citizens were involved in a collective enterprise to guard one another against risk, hardship, and the denial of fundamental rights. Its watchwords were solidarity, opportunity, and public duty. The Reagan Dispensation pictured a more individualistic America where families and small communities and businesses would flourish once freed from the shackles of the state. Its watchwords were self-reliance and minimal government. The first dispensation was political, the second anti-political."

FDR pictured an America where citizens were involved in a collective enterprise to guard one another against risk, hardship, and the denial of fundamental rights. Its watchwords were solidarity, opportunity, and public duty
FDR pictured an America where citizens were involved in a collective enterprise to guard one another against risk, hardship, and the denial of fundamental rights. Its watchwords were solidarity, opportunity, and public duty

Lilla, in this book, works hard not to see the more obvious explanation for a failed Democratic party: a corrupt party leadership that decided to enrich themselves by serving the industries responsible for creating our nations biggest problems.

Public sentiment is everything. With it, nothing can fail; against it, nothing can succeed. Whoever molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes, or pronounces judicial decisions. . . . Liberals have for 50 years refused to accept this—their heads are in the sand
Public sentiment is everything. With it, nothing can fail; against it, nothing can succeed. Whoever molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes, or pronounces judicial decisions. . . . Liberals have for 50 years refused to accept this—their heads are in the sand; PC is disliked by most Americans, inluding liberals, but the Democrats and mainstream media and Hollywood act as though the society is embracing PC

Liberals' Idea of Attracting Support from Victim-Based Identity Groups and the Elites Was a Bad Idea from the Start

Victim-based identity groups are so desperate for meaning and purpose that they destroy monuments and statues that remind them that the white male Founders weren't as PC as they are, so that makes them evil
Victim-based identity groups are so desperate for meaning and purpose that they destroy monuments and statues that remind them that the white male Founders weren't as PC as they are, so that makes them evil

Enthusiam in the left's diverse bases is no substitute for a broadly shared sense of community and citizenship. Too few elections can be won (or the USA successfully governed) by attracting support from victim-based identity groups and the elites (mostly highly educated, privileged people living mostly on the coasts and in a few urban areas). At this point, the main reason to win an election is to stop Trump's demagogic reign. The reason should be about improving an ailing nation, not supporting political correctness' obsession with divisive identiity politics, which is ugly and unhealthy for everyone. Many formerly loyal Democrats are withholding their votes from the Party, in large part due to its surrender to identity poltics.

Resisting Trump's demagogic reign is a valid and important quest, but not as critical as preventing the election of a pathetic virtue signalling social justice warrior who'll use funds we don't have to pursue a reign of politically correct identity politics terror
Resisting Trump's demagogic reign is a valid and important quest, but not as critical as preventing the election of a pathetic virtue signalling social justice warrior who'll use funds we don't have to pursue a reign of politically correct identity politics terror

Virtue Signalling Social Justice Warriors Cannot Seem to Manage to Rise Above Insulting, Anti-White Racism

Most of the social justice warriors are looking for meaning in vacant lives so they cited whites are evil victimizers and blacks are victims as the ideology du jour. Of course, with colleges indoctrinating our young with such misguided perversity, it is no wonder said warriors cannot manage to rise above such insulting anti-white racism and find a life purpose with real meaning rather than hollow virtue signalling. If liberals cannot manage to stumble their way out of their self-induced hypnotic identity stupor, it will be worth voting Republican to avoid electing a pathetic virtue signalling social justice warrior who could do our culture irremediable harm.

What liberals fail to bring to electoral contests is an image of what our shared way of life might be (but WE see it clearly: see The Forest Through The Trees)
What liberals fail to bring to electoral contests is an image of what our shared way of life might be (but WE see it clearly: see The Forest Through The Trees)

As Lilla says, "the retreating New Left turned the university into a pseudo-political theater for the staging of operas and melodramas," although we see it more clearly: when hippies and leftists and activists converged upon the universities full of idealistic fervor for righting all wrongs, they decided that they were SO right that they should not even be questioned—they would avoid "educate," to be replaced with the fascists' favorite word: "indoctrinate." This showed clearly that all the civics classes they ever had taken had fallen on deaf ears. They had little concept of democracy, of teaching and then encouraging students to THINK and CHOOSE what to believe. No, that was too passive for our social justice dispensing activist-professors. There was a chance the student would make a politically incorrect choice. So they decided what politically correct beliefs students MUST have, and used indoctrination rather than education to FORCE society to be saved by their inestimable wisdom.

Slavery20
Punishment during the time of slavery—there was no excuse for this horrid behavior

What Idiotic Social Justice Warrior Decided It Was Clever to Replace Education with Indoctrination?

And yet, wisdom it was not. It is true that the Democrats were frantic with the guilt of past sins toward blacks, since they were the people behind Jim Crow, lynchings, slavery, and preventing blacks to have full rights. They couldn't look at themselves in the mirror anymore, so they overreacted and dispensed social justice from the lectern. The fact that it was mostly their ancestors that did the sinning and they took such past sins as their own personal cross to bear was seldom focused on. They only knew that such unforgiveable racism was evil and their quest was to cleanse their souls as well as the souls of students and the society of the memory of such evils as well as the propensity for ever indulging in such actions again. There's little more dangerous than a professor or teacher on a mission who KNOWS he is right. There can be no other opinions—no alternative viewpoints. ALL other ideas are wrong and evil. The best way to be harrassed out or thrown out of a liberal university is to think for oneself and express alternative viewpoints. Critical thinking is out. Dogma absorption is in. This isn't education, folks. It's propagandizing.

Lynching of Laura Nelson, May 1911
Lynching a Black Person—there was no excuse for this horrid behavior

The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics is a book that needs to be read by the Democratic Party Leadership, which still clings to the failed identity politics of the past. The book seriously examines how our nation has arrived at the current precarious political situation and how it should proceed to unify this nation. The nation has a preponderence of black citizens who are racists against whites, believe the "Hands up, don't shoot" lie about the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, even though it was shown to be false. This bias is supported by race baiters like Al Sharpton, Obama, and the hate group Black Lives Matter, and, unfortunately, by some of the media. The media is predisposed to believe bad things about whites and good things about blacks, as part of the liberal narrative is the racist dogma that blacks are victims and whites are victimizers. The facts do not seem to matter—believe only the narrative. This outrage is what the university indoctrinations and the race baiters and the Black Lives Matter dogma is causing. As Lilla says, "Black Lives Matter is a textbook example of how not to build solidarity . . . [a movement which uses] Mau Mau tactics to put down dissent."

The 'hands up, don't shoot' narrative is a complete fraud, yet the media, activists and many politicians continue to traffic in demonstrable untruths about police shootings, race and crime—we're in the post-truth era
The 'hands up, don't shoot' narrative is a complete fraud, yet the media, activists and many politicians continue to traffic in demonstrable untruths about police shootings, race and crime—we're in the post-truth era

"Yet the Black Lives Matter movement is based on a lie, and not just the lie that a pacific Michael Brown was gunned down in cold blood by Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson in August 2014. The idea that the U.S. is experiencing an epidemic of racially driven police shootings is also false, and dangerously so. Several studies released this year show that police officers are less likely to shoot blacks than whites. But just as Michael Brown continues to be venerated as a martyr to police brutality despite the Justice Department's evisceration of the "hands up, don't shoot" narrative, the media, activists and many politicians continue to traffic in demonstrable untruths about police shootings, race and crime. . . . Blacks constituted 62 percent of all robbery defendants in America's 75 largest counties in 2009, 57 percent of all murder defendants and 45 percent of all assault defendants, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, even though blacks comprise only 15 percent of the population in those counties. . . . Why, then, the widespread perception that there is a law enforcement war on blacks? Because the mainstream media relentlessly focuses on a handful of police shootings of blacks and ignores police shootings of whites, as well as the crime that brings officers into disproportionate contact with black suspects. . . . an officer is 18.5 times more likely to be killed by a black male than an unarmed black male is to be killed by a police officer." (Source: The Lies Told by the Black Lives Matter Movement, Heather Mac Donald, Manhattan Institute, Washington Examiner)

Cspan hands up don't shoot
Just as Michael Brown continues to be venerated as a martyr to police brutality despite the Justice Department's evisceration of the fraudulent 'hands up, don't shoot' narrative, the media, activists and many politicians continue to traffic in demonstrable untruths about police shootings, race and crime

As you can see, "blacks are victimizers and whites are victims" is the truth. And "blacks are victims and whites are victimizers" is a lie. But even Obama—who should know better—is/was racist and biased and supporting all the lies of Black Lives Matter. So is/was Hillary Clinton—who also should know better. As Heather Mac Donald says, "For the past two decades, the country has been talking about phantom police racism in order to avoid talking about a more uncomfortable truth: black crime." The liberal narrative includes the lying racist dogma that blacks are victims and whites are victimizers. This distracts everyone from the actual reality of the black crime epidemic. Truth is irrelevant and the liberal narrative is the only truth there is and it must never be questioned. THAT is what our young are learning in liberal universities. No wonder critical thinking and having a mind of your own and seeking the truth are nonos in college. They expose the liberal narrative's lies. Lilla claims that identity politics immediately cuts off reasoned debate and is the single biggest impediment to a Progressive America.

For the past two decades, the country has been talking about phantom police racism in order to avoid talking about a more uncomfortable truth: black crime
For the past two decades, the country has been talking about phantom police racism in order to avoid talking about a more uncomfortable truth: black crime

The Liberal NY Times Predictably Marched in Lock Step with the Racist Liberal Narrative, Insulting Lilla and Lambasting His Book, but Better Reviewers Praised It

Lilla wants liberals to "unify today’s fractured liberals around an agenda 'emphasizing what we all share and owe one another as citizens, not what differentiates us.' Unfortunately, he does this in a way guaranteed to alienate vast swaths of his audience, and to deepen left-of-center divisions. Rather than engage in good faith with movements like Black Lives Matter, Lilla chooses to mock them, reserving a particularly meanspirited sneer for today’s campus left. 'Elections are not prayer meetings, and no one is interested in your personal testimony,' he instructs 'identity' activists, urging them to shut up, stop marching and 'get real.' . . . [Lilla] finds such movements [as civil rights and feminism] to be counterproductive, sucking energy away from the simple and urgent task of getting more Democrats into office. . . . As it turns out, Lilla himself could have used more rather than less introspection, a healthy dose of examining his own contradictions and biases. He laments that 'American liberals have a reputation, as the saying goes, of never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.' If so, he has proved his bona fides as a member of the tribe. The Once and Future Liberal is a missed opportunity of the highest order, trolling disguised as erudition." (Source: An Intellectual Historian Argues His Case Against Identity Politics, Beverly Gage, NY Times)

Black Lives Matter is an extreme liability to the Democrats, almost as though it was created by an undercover Republican saboteur
Black Lives Matter is an extreme liability to the Democrats, almost as though it was created by an undercover Republican saboteur

The above NY Times review of Lilla's book was an almost entirely predictable response from a liberal magazine eager to retain readers as well as to defend the core of the liberal narrative's agenda: identity politics and political correctness. Lilla is 100% correct in his assessments of identity politics and political correctness as well as the hate group in disguise known as Black Lives Matter. Calling Lilla's insightful book "a missed opportunity of the highest order, trolling disguised as erudition" is a snarky putdown of the lowest order, yellow journalism disguised as thoughtful analysis. Beverly Gage doesn't seem to understand that many mainly liberal voters were so turned off with the left's embrace of identity politics and political correctness that they voted for Trump or stayed home. These same voters are likely to purposely vote for Trump in 2020 to do their part to help the country avoid the curse of identity politics and political correctness. They hate PC nonsense more than they dislike the un-PC lying demagogue in the White House. (Amen.) See Political correctness is becoming wildly unpopular on all fronts.

We feel the victimology taught in universities is wrong-headed and unhealthy for students; Francis Fukuyama says the left had become so politically correct that you can't talk about issues honestly—which hamstrings democracy
We feel the victimology taught in universities is wrong-headed and unhealthy for students; Francis Fukuyama says the left had become so politically correct that you can't talk about issues honestly—which hamstrings democracy

"Identity liberalism is no longer a political project: it is currently reduced to an evangelical one. Why is that so? Evangelism speaks truth to power while politics is about capturing power to speak the truth. The way forward for Lilla is to articulate a civic liberalism that resonates among citizens and that conceives of the state as something shared by all Americans, irrespective of their background. Every citizen should be treated as a citizen, and this requires that identity politics be left behind. . . . The solution he offers has four components – the priority of institutional politics over movements, the priority of democratic persuasion over aimless self-expression, priority of citizenship over group and individual identity and civic education to overcome individualistic and atomised nation. Finally, he pleads for an education which moves beyond identity-based concerns so that future citizens can think with, relate and have a sense of compassion for people outside their worlds. The key for the survival of liberalism and production of liberal citizens is the imagination of a different future. . . . In the absence of a shared common ground, not only liberalism but also democracy will have difficulty moving forward. This is this book’s provocative invitation to reflection." (Source: The once and future liberal: After identity politics, Rakesh M. Krishnan, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., part of Springer Nature)


With No Shared Citizenship Values, Democracy Is Waning and Authoritarianism Is Growing Dangerously

In the absence of a shared common ground, not only liberalism but also democracy will have difficulty moving forward—as you can see, democracy is waning and authoritarianism is growing dangerously
In the absence of a shared common ground, not only liberalism but also democracy will have difficulty moving forward—as you can see, democracy is waning and authoritarianism is growing dangerously

The above review of Lilla's book by Rakesh M. Krishnan was a thoughtful, balanced, wise, and insightful response to Lilla's plea to embrace citizenship, democracy, and revamped civic education to transcend such things as political correctness and identity politics in favor of the common good and the future, since if liberals keep losing elections, it means not just that they are out of touch with the pulse of the nation, but also have forgotten what it takes to win elections. The current crop of presidential candidates who are moving farther to the left than liberals have ever gone before are a case in point. They expect to prevail because of how RIGHT they are, with a far-left platform of impossible-to-afford ideas but very little attention paid to how to trump the Trump in the 2020 election. Hillary's inability to grasp the criticality of swing state electoral votes in 2016 reflected her self assurance that she and her liberal party comrades were RIGHT, but surely failed to inspire anyone that she understood politics. If you do not strategize how to WIN (which, we assure you, Trump's team has been doing—it is mid-2019), why enter a political race at all?

But the real problem, Lilla argues, is what American universities neglect to teach: a notion of citizenship
But the real problem, Lilla argues, is what American universities neglect to teach: a notion of citizenship

"But the real problem, Lilla argues, is what American universities neglect to teach: a notion of citizenship . . . Lilla is a true-blue liberal, but a classical one who continues to see Roosevelt as the beacon not only of Democrats but of all the nation's citizens. It is a vision of America "where citizens were involved in a collective enterprise to guard one another against risk, hardship, and the denial of fundamental rights. Its watchwords were solidarity, opportunity, and public duty. . . . Near the opening of the book, Lilla pays a visit to the respective websites of both the Republican and Democratic parties. On the Republican site, he finds a manifesto called 'Principles of American Renewal.' In the age of Trump, that renewal stands as much a chance as California becoming a satellite state of France. Still, it's better than what he finds on the Democrats' page: 'seventeen separate messages' for 17 separate groups. There's a word for this, and though Lilla won't use it, I will: pandering." (Source: 'The Once And Future Liberal' is a blistering critique of identity politics and a fractured left, Alexander Nazaryan, LA Times)

Liberals are like small children at a party all wanting ice cream and cake now and none willing to wait their turn or even to share
Liberals are like small children at a party all wanting ice cream and cake now and none willing to wait their turn or even to share

Liberals all need a come-to-Jesus moment, wherein they confront the political ramifications of being seventeen separate advocacy groups all pulling in different directions that pretend to be a diversity rainbow, but are actually too atomized and separate to be anything but a cacophonous, hideous fog, with no sense of community or solidarity or citizenship, but instead are more like small children at a party all wanting ice cream and cake now and none willing to wait their turn or even to share. This context is inappropriate for politics, and clearly a far cry from the type of party composition needed for political success. How can we tell? Donald Trump is President of the U.S.A.!

Lilla finds a unifying message that all of us can and should rally around: citizenship. And without community, citizenship is a delusion. See:

Don Eberly hits the nail on the head as he says: “Men and women of principle must move to restore lost integrity in our nation’s political and governmental institutions while also candidly admitting to the limitations of politics to renew American life. Public cynicism is rooted in the fact that while government has underperformed, politics has been oversold. Political agendas from both the Left and Right have been dramatically exaggerated as sources of national renewal. Creating the good society is neither easy nor simple: it requires improving our public life—strengthening both personal and civic virtue—not just cleaning up our political institutions. The wisest use of public platforms would be to summon forth from the people a new resolve to strengthen civil society, particularly the institutions of family and community upon which it rests. . . . we, the people, must do it. Politicians cannot create lost community, only citizens can . . . Whatever government does or does not do, the job of restoration and renewal will fall heavily to citizens. . . . responsibility must be made the cornerstone of America’s basic social contract. There is scant hope for change based upon top-down strategies, impersonal theories, or simply a new round of programmatic reforms. Citizens must take responsibility for nourishing institutions, imparting character, and rediscovering timeless wisdom for daily life.”