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From one of the country’s most admired political thinkers, an urgent wake-up call to American liberals to turn from the divisive politics of identity and develop a vision of our future that can persuade all citizens that they share a common destiny. In The Once and Future Liberal, Mark Lilla offers an impassioned, tough-minded, and stinging look at the failure of Americ From one of the country’s most admired political thinkers, an urgent wake-up call to American liberals to turn from the divisive politics of identity and develop a vision of our future that can persuade all citizens that they share a common destiny. In The Once and Future Liberal, Mark Lilla offers an impassioned, tough-minded, and stinging look at the failure of American liberalism over the past two generations. Although there have been Democrats in the White House, and some notable policy achievements, for nearly 40 years the vision that Ronald Reagan offered—small government, lower taxes, and self-reliant individualism—has remained the country’s dominant political ideology. And the Democratic Party has offered no convincing competing vision in response. Instead, as Lilla argues, American liberalism fell under the spell of identity politics, with disastrous consequences. Driven originally by a sincere desire to protect the most vulnerable Americans, the left has now unwittingly balkanized the electorate, encouraged self-absorption rather than solidarity, and invested its energies in social movements rather than in party politics.  With dire consequences. Lilla goes on to show how the left’s identity-focused individualism insidiously conspired with the amoral economic individualism of the Reaganite right to shape an electorate with little sense of a shared future and near-contempt for the idea of the common good. In the contest for the American imagination, liberals have abdicated. Now they have an opportunity to reset. The left is motivated, and the Republican Party, led by an unpredictable demagogue, is in ideological disarray. To seize this opportunity, Lilla insists, liberals must concentrate their efforts on recapturing our institutions by winning elections. The time for hectoring is over. It is time to reach out and start persuading people from every walk of life and in every region of the country that liberals will stand up for them. We must appeal to – but also help to rebuild –  a sense of common feeling among Americans, and a sense of duty to each other. A fiercely-argued, no-nonsense book, enlivened by Lilla’s acerbic wit and erudition, The Once and Future Liberal is essential reading for our momentous times.


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From one of the country’s most admired political thinkers, an urgent wake-up call to American liberals to turn from the divisive politics of identity and develop a vision of our future that can persuade all citizens that they share a common destiny. In The Once and Future Liberal, Mark Lilla offers an impassioned, tough-minded, and stinging look at the failure of Americ From one of the country’s most admired political thinkers, an urgent wake-up call to American liberals to turn from the divisive politics of identity and develop a vision of our future that can persuade all citizens that they share a common destiny. In The Once and Future Liberal, Mark Lilla offers an impassioned, tough-minded, and stinging look at the failure of American liberalism over the past two generations. Although there have been Democrats in the White House, and some notable policy achievements, for nearly 40 years the vision that Ronald Reagan offered—small government, lower taxes, and self-reliant individualism—has remained the country’s dominant political ideology. And the Democratic Party has offered no convincing competing vision in response. Instead, as Lilla argues, American liberalism fell under the spell of identity politics, with disastrous consequences. Driven originally by a sincere desire to protect the most vulnerable Americans, the left has now unwittingly balkanized the electorate, encouraged self-absorption rather than solidarity, and invested its energies in social movements rather than in party politics.  With dire consequences. Lilla goes on to show how the left’s identity-focused individualism insidiously conspired with the amoral economic individualism of the Reaganite right to shape an electorate with little sense of a shared future and near-contempt for the idea of the common good. In the contest for the American imagination, liberals have abdicated. Now they have an opportunity to reset. The left is motivated, and the Republican Party, led by an unpredictable demagogue, is in ideological disarray. To seize this opportunity, Lilla insists, liberals must concentrate their efforts on recapturing our institutions by winning elections. The time for hectoring is over. It is time to reach out and start persuading people from every walk of life and in every region of the country that liberals will stand up for them. We must appeal to – but also help to rebuild –  a sense of common feeling among Americans, and a sense of duty to each other. A fiercely-argued, no-nonsense book, enlivened by Lilla’s acerbic wit and erudition, The Once and Future Liberal is essential reading for our momentous times.

30 review for The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics

  1. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    A slim incendiary volume that expands upon Lilla's infamous November 2016 NYTimes op-ed, "The End of Identity Liberalism." It may be impossible to read this book neutrally -- and, as a liberal historian deeply disenchanted with the American Left, Lilla certainly writes with the all fervor of a Calvinist preacher trying to save the damned. And it is easy to critique Lilla's glibly summarized history of the past 80 years of American politics. Still, this book is a fascinating read with some critic A slim incendiary volume that expands upon Lilla's infamous November 2016 NYTimes op-ed, "The End of Identity Liberalism." It may be impossible to read this book neutrally -- and, as a liberal historian deeply disenchanted with the American Left, Lilla certainly writes with the all fervor of a Calvinist preacher trying to save the damned. And it is easy to critique Lilla's glibly summarized history of the past 80 years of American politics. Still, this book is a fascinating read with some critical content to engage with, particularly for those with a liberal bent. --Lilla posits two great American "dispensations": one liberal "Roosevelt Dispensation" covering the New Deal up until the late 60s and declining into the 70s, and one conservative "Reagan Dispensation" that continues to mark the American moment. The former has the hallmarks of engaged citizenship -- Lilla harkens often back to the "we" of FDR and JFK -- while the latter pronounced a new orthodoxy focused on hyperindividualism, capitalism, and a dismantling of the state. While critics (notably Beverly Gage at NYT, who likely took a hatchet to this book) can easily point out the missed nuances in summarizing these two movements, Lilla effectively draws the contrast in a way that can be discussed over the dinner table. --The book deftly contrasts 60s era protest with today's "Facebook slactivism." Essentially, Lilla argues that the 60s era was focused outside the self ("Young people who were incensed by the denial of voting rights out there, the Vietnam War out there, nuclear proliferation out there, capitalism out there, colonialism out there"), while today's generation is far more focused on self-discovery of the inner self, and trying to make the outside world reflect a self-referential orthodoxy of identity. Lilla also traces some of this shift in part due to the political education of liberal America moving from factory shop floors to America's (elite) universities. Lilla goes for style over substance here at times -- claiming liberals need more mayors and fewer marchers, for instance. I would have preferred a much more in-depth treatment of the topic of activism of past and present, but the topic hangs together with Lilla's overall theme: that liberals today have become too focused on narrow identity politics to be effective as a national party (to say nothing of state and local elections.) [An interesting aside: Lilla actually opens an interesting line of argument about Marxism, which he admires (at least narrowly) for lifting laborers, farmers, and the like out of their narrow concerns and into the "we" of class consciousness. He later posits that it may be progressives such as Bernie Sanders who are more likely to move liberals beyond the narrow concerns of identity groups. I wish he had developed this more, given there are fascinating implications for a new strong-left-of-center politics.] --Lilla is at his best when critiquing political romanticism, purity testing and "atonement", fractional in-fighting, and "evangelism" of the Left and reminding the reader of the only true goal: getting officials elected at all levels of government. The most forceful line of the entire book can be summarized thus: "Identity liberalism has ceased being a political project and has morphed into an evangelical one. The difference is this: evangelism is about speaking truth to power. Politics is about seizing power to defend the truth." He goes further, even suggesting that in being in thrall to identity politics is merely the Left's version of Reaganism (I can surely imagine many liberal-leaning heads exploding at the thought.) It's a persuasive line of argument, albeit one that leaves Lilla open to criticism for not engaging the Right's own identity politics whatsoever. I'll take it that was not his aim for the book. --Lilla makes some pithy claims that, by nature of his position, needed more support than he granted in "The Once and Future Liberal." Most seriously, he outright dismisses BLM as a productive social movement. I would think that a liberal scholar would at least critically analyze BLM, if not outright sympathize with its aims. While supportive of 60s era progressive causes (Civil Rights Movement, first/second wave feminism), he finds no identity-based causes useful today. Why? Is that really the case? I expected more here. --Lilla continues to seek the answer to identity based politics (and its failures) in common purposes, citizenship, and institutions (and perhaps more "big tent" politics.) This argument is persuasive and evocative, but Lilla is long on style and short on tactical solutions. How should Democratic candidates respond to identity-based social movements like BLM? How do liberals balance the needs of the vulnerable minority groups (e.g. transgender people) against the common "we" -- particularly when the conservative Right is actively legislating against those minority groups? How far should liberals go to not alienate white moderates when research is demonstrating more white Americans are seeing racial equality politics as a "zero sum game?" Again, Lilla is silent. If you are seeking a book that parenthetically explains how we got to the current political moment of Trump and fractional identity politics, particularly on the Left -- and are willing to objectively seek content amid writing that often comes off as a jeremiad against the Left -- this book accomplishes that. If you're a young liberal looking to get motivated to a bigger purpose, this book may either incense you or inspire you (or both). If you're a conservative worried about what Trump's America presages for America -- this book is also an interesting (if unintentional) orthogonal read about the Right. All in all, I came away from this book deep in thought and ready to seek political action outside myself -- which I think was Lilla's goal.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Brad Lyerla

    THE ONCE AND FUTURE LIBERAL is a short polemic written for a politically liberal audience with the goal of reinvigorating the electoral prospects of the Democratic Party in the United States. ONCE AND FUTURE was written in response to Hillary Clinton's surprising loss last November. It is most decidedly not a book directed to a conservative audience. Yet, many of the reviews that one finds in GoodReads are from conservatives. Perhaps, even most of the reviews come from conservatives. This caused THE ONCE AND FUTURE LIBERAL is a short polemic written for a politically liberal audience with the goal of reinvigorating the electoral prospects of the Democratic Party in the United States. ONCE AND FUTURE was written in response to Hillary Clinton's surprising loss last November. It is most decidedly not a book directed to a conservative audience. Yet, many of the reviews that one finds in GoodReads are from conservatives. Perhaps, even most of the reviews come from conservatives. This caused me to wonder that Lilla might be on to something to have stirred them up so. Now, after reading THE ONCE AND FUTURE LIBERAL, I conclude that, yes, he is on to something. ONCE AND FUTURE is very short. It is less of a book and more of a pamphlet, truth be told. I read it on an e-reader and it is less than 70 pages formatted for that medium. There is a limit to how much can be accomplished in such a short document, of course. Don’t expect the erudition of Lilla’s scholarly works. Don’t expect exhaustive research or comprehensive treatment of what ails liberalism in America currently. Instead, Lilla offers an argument sketched so broadly that there is little point in examining it closely. His thoughts on what went wrong with the Democratic Party in the last 50 years are not the interesting part anyway. Plus, if you have read the dust cover of the book, you already know that Lilla blames identity politics for the current fortunes of the Democrats. He compares the Democrats’ identity politics to the Republicans’ anti-government politics and concludes that they both have proven to be self-destructively individualistic leaving voters angry and grasping. In the last 15 pages of his book, Lilla gets down to business. He calls this a time for Democrats to “Reset”. He exhorts Democrats to revive and re-commit to the concept of citizenship as a way of re-invigorating Democratic politics. He wants to persuade us that a re-examination of what citizenship means offers great potential for a new vision of what our future as a nation can be. Lilla offers four lessons for the resetting of the Democratic Party. First, he urges Democrats to give priority to institutional politics over movement politics. That is, work inside government to achieve liberal goals. The obvious corollary to this is to do what it takes to win more elections at every level of government. Second, he wants Democrats to give priority to democratic persuasion over self-expression. This seems a swipe at the lattè elitism that infects liberal thinking from time to time. In Chicago, where I live, we refer to this as the “lake front liberal” problem. The ancient Greeks referred to it as demophobia. It’s a concern that must be refined further. Third, Lilla urges that Democrats give priority to citizenship over group or personal identity. Lilla demonstrates that identity politics has done much to undermine the Democratic Party with swing voters and centrists. I am not qualified to speak for Democrats, but Lilla has persuaded me that identity politics (group or personal) must be softened for the Democrats to reverse their fortunes. (Lilla also notes that minority identity politics can be argued to legitimize majority identity politics, a very dangerous thing. While the argument for pro-white legitimacy relies on a false equivalency, it has been persuasive in the past to those with fascist tendencies.) However, Lilla understands that some liberals correctly will see the abandonment of identity politics as a challenge to their pet projects. So, he warns us to expect some howling. Finally, Lilla urges that we emphasize civic education. First create citizens, then convince them to be Democrats, he reasons. It is this final thought that appeals most strongly to someone like me. ‘Let’s make citizens’ goes off in my head like the proverbial light bulb. Of course! Let's take Lilla at his word. Making citizens is not empty sloganeering. Lilla has me convinced that citizenship is the place to start. Let’s have a national conversation about citizenship. Extremists and disruptors on both sides, with their automatic negativity for our “goddam” government and simpletons' rhetorical “who needs it?”, will be at a disadvantage in that conversation. They might try to squash it. But that is all the more reason to make it happen. And we should thank Mark Lilla for pushing us in this direction.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jim Coughenour

    My tepid rating has as much to do with my own weariness as with anything Lilla writes. At the most general level – and there's not much specific in this short book – I agree with Lilla's argument.What's extraordinary – and appalling – about the past four decades of our history is that our politics have been dominated by two ideologies that encourage and even celebrate the unmaking of citizens. On the right, an ideology that questions the existence of a common good and denies our obligation to he My tepid rating has as much to do with my own weariness as with anything Lilla writes. At the most general level – and there's not much specific in this short book – I agree with Lilla's argument.What's extraordinary – and appalling – about the past four decades of our history is that our politics have been dominated by two ideologies that encourage and even celebrate the unmaking of citizens. On the right, an ideology that questions the existence of a common good and denies our obligation to help fellow citizens, through government action if necessary. On the left, an ideology institutionalized in colleges and universities that fetishizes our individual and group attachments, applauds self-absorption, and casts a shadow of suspicion over any invocation of a universal democratic we.In short: greedy bigots vs. sanctimonious idiots. I don’t think either the right or the left has a monopoly on intolerance or self-absorption. I grew up in the conservative evangelical Midwest; I’ve lived in San Francisco for the past 25 years. Lilla is a liberal, and as Christians used to say, “let judgment begin in the house of God.” His harshest words are for his own kind, although his criticism will only the wound the intentionally thin-skinned. Given the spirit of the moment, his focus is identity politics. Here’s another capsule summary, with an echo of René Girard:What replaces argument, then, is taboo. At times our more privileged campuses can seem stuck in the world of archaic religion. Only those with an approved identity status are, like shamans, allowed to speak on certain matters. Particular groups – today the transgendered – are given temporary totemic significance. Scapegoats – today conservative political speakers – are duly designated and run off campus in a purging ritual. Propositions become pure or impure, not true or false.Shamans made me laugh out loud. I came out a few years before AIDS hit the gay community. Identity politics were more celebration than protest, and even protestors (often drag queens etc.) were alive to the sense of comedy inherent to all identities. I remember an ancient argument with my father, who was ranting about the Gay Agenda. You're right, I said, there is one – and it can be summed up in two words: "equal rights." In the right contexts identity politics opens the door to everyone, celebrates diversity and inclusion. But it's not enough: the practical politics that guarantee protection for everyone require hard work, organizing at local and state levels, which admittedly isn't as much fun as cavorting around statues or pronouns. As Oscar observed, the problem with socialism is that it takes up too many evenings. As I write, a merry band of anti-white-supremacists are making their way down Market Street with all the carnival capers and mockery the supremacists deserve. But already these right vs left symbolic battles have exhausted their potency. Like Lilla, I'm still "liberal" enough to believe that everyone, on the coasts and in the heartland, religious and atheist, of all racial and gender blends, have more in common than not – and that we have a common enemy in the plutocracy that is dispossessing us all.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Charles J

    Mark Lilla has been a bad, bad boy. He has dared to point out the feet of clay upon which stand King Liberal, and he, like Cassandra, will not be thanked. Still, this short book is an excellent political analysis, and it points the way, if only loosely, to a wholly new order of things, thus starting to answer my perennial question, “What is next?” Lilla’s project is to rescue modern liberalism from the dead-end sewer of identity politics. His purpose in doing so is, in part, simple intellectual c Mark Lilla has been a bad, bad boy. He has dared to point out the feet of clay upon which stand King Liberal, and he, like Cassandra, will not be thanked. Still, this short book is an excellent political analysis, and it points the way, if only loosely, to a wholly new order of things, thus starting to answer my perennial question, “What is next?” Lilla’s project is to rescue modern liberalism from the dead-end sewer of identity politics. His purpose in doing so is, in part, simple intellectual coherency, but mostly it is an exercise in demanding that liberals focus on regaining actual power. The book’s main flaw is that it is half a loaf—it shows what is wrong with the Left’s current program, but other than vague, aspirational calls for focusing on an undefined “citizenship,” it does not explain what the new liberal program leading to real power should be, only what it shouldn’t be. This is not nothing, but the argument needs its other half. Lilla begins by arguing that liberalism has lost America. He doesn’t sugarcoat this conclusion. In fact, it’s more like he shoves it down the throat of his readers, yelling “Take your medicine!” His analysis of where liberalism is today revolves around Lincoln’s well-known mantra, “Public sentiment is everything.” American public sentiment has moved rightward for decades, and thus “[L]iberals have become America’s ideological third party, lagging behind self-declared independents and conservatives, even among young voters and certain minority groups. We have been repudiated in no uncertain terms.” Why this is, why the response of liberals so far has been exactly wrong, and what that response should instead be, are the subjects of “The Once and Future Liberal.” Nowhere does Lilla explain the derivation of his title. This would have been an informative exercise, because very few members of his target audience probably realize where it comes from. The title deliberately echoes T.H. White’s 1958 novel, once famous, and now forgotten except by superannuated liberals, “The Once and Future King,” which reimagined the King Arthur legend as political didacticism. To liberals of a certain age, I think (not being of that age, or liberal, I cannot be sure), White’s book is wrapped up with the mendacious Camelot legend spun around John Kennedy after his assassination. It conjures up, for them, a golden time when the future was brilliant, they were young, and liberals were in control—as it happens, also the time when their political redoubt, the “Roosevelt Dispensation” identified by Lilla, began crumbling. The end point of the Arthurian legend, of course, is that Arthur sleeps, in Avalon, whence he shall return. Lilla presumably means to evoke that liberalism will, or can, similarly return, having reclaimed Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake. (Given that Arthur’s purpose in returning is to save Britain from the ravages of foreign conquerors, we can hope that across the water the actual Arthur will return any day now to kick the savages out of Londinium, and Rotherham.) Lilla’s historical frame is that of two past dispensations, the liberal Roosevelt Dispensation (from the 1930s to the 1970s), and the conservative Reagan Dispensation, from 1980 until today, which is “being brought to a close by an opportunistic, unprincipled populist” (i.e., Trump). “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 was focused on collective action with a positive gloss on government; the Reagan Dispensation on individualism, with a negative gloss on government. Each reflected the public sentiment of the time. And at the dawning of the Reagan Dispensation, instead of regrouping “to develop a fresh political vision of the country’s shared destiny,” liberals lost themselves in the swamp of “the politics of identity, losing a sense of what we share a citizens and what binds us a nation.” Why, on an intellectual level, is focusing on individual identities a “swamp”? Because it feeds atomistic individualism, which is corrosive of community, which undercuts political power. Although Lilla seems to think that conservatives are all, and are all necessarily, cut-rate versions of Robert Nozick’s pristine libertarianism, this is not true, and in many ways Lilla’s core intellectual points are identical to those made in recent years by many conservatives. While he doesn’t use precisely the same concepts or vocabulary, in this analysis Lilla sounds much the same notes as Robert Nisbet did in 1953’s “The Quest for Community,” or Ryszard Legutko did in last year’s “The Demon in Democracy.” Those books attack excessive individualism and its necessary result, the substitution of the state for community (and consequent state coercion to suppress any private denial of those rights). Lilla, very similarly, complains that liberals focus far too much on individual rights. “Almost all the ideas or beliefs or feelings that once muted the perennial American demand for individual autonomy have evaporated. Personal choice. Individual rights. Self-definition. We speak these words as if a wedding vow.” In part, Lilla blames Reagan, but mostly he blames society and liberals for a turning away from communitarianism. But philosophically, this is a much deeper strand in Western thought than Lilla thinks. It did not begin in 1980; it is plausible that the spiral into atomistic individuality is the necessary, inevitable consequence of the Enlightenment itself. However, Lilla is not wrong about where liberalism is today. Whatever the intellectual origins of excessive individualism, which he also attributes to romanticism and New Left community organizers, Lilla is unsparing in his acidic treatment of modern Democrat idols and their focus. “Hope . . . in what? Yes we can! . . . do what?” “[Liberals] began to speak instead [of citizenship] of their personal identities in terms of the inner homunculus, a unique little thing composed of parts tinted by race, sex, and gender.” Lilla attacks elevation of supposedly oppressed groups as treating them “like shamans . . . . Particular groups—today the transgendered—are given temporary totemic significance.” Excoriating argumentation that begins “Speaking as an X . . .”, Lilla notes, “One never says, ‘Speaking as a gay Asian, I feel incompetent to judge this matter.’” He viciously attacks Black Lives Matters as a group that only know how to “use Mau-Mau tactics to put down dissent” (again, referring to the Mau-Mau dates him, but more importantly, in most circles this metaphor would be viewed as overtly racist, since the Mau-Mau were black Kenyan terrorists who killed mostly other black Kenyans). This is fun stuff for a conservative to read while imagining the reaction among liberals reading all this (pass the popcorn!). The reader (with pleasure, in my case) pictures Lilla grinding his teeth in rage and frustration, knowing that most of his audience is going to recoil, point an accusing finger at him, and shriek “Unclean! Unclean!,” just before the stones start to fly through the air—but he still grimly forges on with his exposition, a secular Man of Sorrows. The author is spot on in his analysis of specifically how liberals got to the political box canyon they now find themselves in. Beginning in the 1970s, as the country turned away from the Roosevelt Dispensation, liberalism started to rely on a form of social individualism (different from Reaganite economic individualism), in part because it seemed politically powerful, and in part because of ideology—because it was a form of religion, or what Lilla calls “evangelicalism.” This religious impulse, not practicality, is what Lilla defines as a key American characteristic. When they lacked the political power to accomplish these goals of liberation, instead of building that power, liberals instead turned to the courts to “circumvent the legislative process.” Consensus was ignored in favor of judicial fiat, which reinforced (or more accurately, proved) “the right’s claim that the judiciary was an imperial preserve of [liberal] educated elites.” As a result, “Even the slogans changed, from ‘We shall overcome’ – a call to action – to ‘I’m here, I’m queer’ – a call to nothing in particular.” Liberals captured the universities—but Lilla claims that avenue has been a dead end for liberals, since universities have become a massive navel-gazing enterprise alienated from public sentiment—“a pseudo-political theater for the staging of operas and melodramas.” Of course, a necessary part of this basket of premises is that liberals don’t have power, that they lost it in their descent to idiotarian identity politics. But that’s at least partially false. Lilla says that the electorate has moved rightward, which is true, but he never acknowledges that during the Reagan Dispensation, on social and cultural matters, liberals have had an unbroken record of success in achieving their goals (except for gun control). Mostly, this has been done by controlling the courts (which Lilla bizarrely implies are controlled by conservatives), and which he elsewhere criticizes as inadequate to build real power. Maybe it is inadequate, but there certainly appears to be no chance of a rollback of liberal cultural victories, so democratic politics or not, nothing succeeds like success. Yes, electorally liberalism has “been repudiated in no uncertain terms.” Yes, public sentiment has moved rightward. But in terms of power, at least social and cultural power, liberalism has seized total control, imposing its will upon the electorate and an opposed public, and continues to hold its citadel against all comers. None of this undercuts Lilla’s intellectual point—that identity politics is a “me too” political philosophy, “mesmerized by symbols,” with both nothing to offer and a shattering effect on creating the political coalitions mostly necessary to actually gain power and achieve political ends. The result is a mass of individuals who are too hung up on the momentous importance of their own (mostly stupid and false) identitarian thoughts to even consider lasting coalitions with others to achieve broader political goals. Such a person “can hardly be expected to have an enduring political attachment to others, and certainly cannot be expected to hear the call of duty toward them.” At some point, whether that point has arrived or not, this must erode liberal political power. One problem for Lilla’s recommendations, though, with their pivot around recapturing “public sentiment” for liberalism, is that in Lincoln’s time public sentiment was educated. Men and women stood all day in the blazing sun to wait for, and then to listen for hours to, the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Their “sentiment” was well-informed and closely reasoned; anyone purporting to advocate public policy based on his feelings or his identity, or without being able to defend his position would have been laughed at and ignored. Yes, identity politics is irrational and the antithesis of reasoning, but it’s only one example of the wholesale degradation of political thought in the modern world, and the our inability to demand coherent, precise thought from our leaders. And, as well, to recognize that there are leaders, and there are followers, and distinguishing the two is important. No doubt Lilla would be an excellent leader, and his thought is closely reasoned and coherent. But on the Left, he is very close to a minority of one, and the Right is not exactly outstripping the Left by much on this score. Thus, while “recapturing public sentiment” sounds noble and fine, the simple phrase elides that recapturing it requires the remaking of our entire system of political thought, a much less easy task. Some “factual” portions of the book are just delusional. For example, Lilla claims the right dominates the approval of judicial nominations. That may be true during Republican presidencies; the opposite was true under Obama. And no matter who dominates judicial nominations, it’s only Democrats who get the results they want from the judges they appoint—as Lilla himself notes, in the context of pointing out liberal over-reliance on this as a method of achieving political goals. (Lilla also bizarrely implies that Republicans are to blame for making judicial nominations a partisan process; the name “Bork” appears nowhere.) Other claims are less central but equally delusional. For example, Lilla relies heavily as an object lesson on the legend that Republicans, starting in the 1980s, developed a massive infrastructure to train conservative young people, “a vast library of popular books and academic policy studies. They set up summer camps where college students could read Alexander Hamilton and Friedrich von Hayek, and learn to connect them.” And so on, positing a massively funded enormous campaign with its tentacles everywhere. This is nearly totally mythical. I was myself heavily involved in this world in the mid- to late-1980s, and it was tiny (especially compared to the unbelievable resources and programs the Left had (and has), supported and buttressed by the universities, the press, and innumerable “public interest” groups). Such conservative activities (i.e., those not focused on retail politics) involved maybe a few hundred young people, nationwide, at a time, most of whom I knew personally. Yes, the Heritage Foundation was a useful source for conservative policy ideas, before it became a hack group, and yes, the Federalist Society has been extremely successful. But beyond those, I hate to break it to Lilla, this conservative ecosystem of the Reagan Dispensation that he holds up to liberals as an ideal is a chimera. In the end, though, the biggest flaw in the book is that the reader is never told what, exactly, is the political program of the “future liberal”? We are told that America needs to work to elect more liberals, with a new (liberal) political vision—but then that we cannot “shop for” one, because, “Political vision emerges of its own accord out of the timely encounter of a new social reality, ideas that capture this reality, and leaders capable of linking idea and reality in the public mind so that people feel the connection. . . . The advent of leaders blessed with that gift, like Roosevelt and JFK and Reagan, is as impossible to predict as the return of the Messiah. All we can do is prepare.” Leaving aside the poker-game tell of the aging liberal, the ludicrous yet reflexive assertion that JFK was a visionary leader in the mold of Roosevelt or Reagan, I agree with this, and I have been pushing the need to prepare until the Man of Destiny arrives for some time now—although the program I hope he pushes is pretty much the direct opposite of what Lilla hopes for. But regardless, this vague, aspirational, waiting-focused prescription isn’t likely to tear away today’s American liberals, caught in the pleasurable virtual reality of their own supreme self-importance, from their golden opium dream of Emancipatory Xanadu, into the cold light of compromise and building political bridges and power. This is a short book, so maybe Lilla is merely trying to stay focused, but the reader suspects the lack of specifics is because Lilla, like Wile E. Coyote, has taken his idea, sped off with it, and when he looked down, realized that he had nowhere to go, or nowhere good to go. My guess is that Lilla suffers from much the same problem as Joan Williams in “White Working Class”—he doesn’t actually believe in political compromise, but rather in projecting the appearance of it in order to gain power from rubes. Thus, the sole example he gives of actual political compromise, or says he gives, is abortion. He admits, apparently without shame, “I am an absolutist on abortion. It is the social issue I most care about, and I believe it should be safe and legal virtually without condition on every square inch of American soil.” But he recognizes that “I should find a civil way to agree to disagree and make a few compromises in order to keep the liberal [voters] in my own party and voting with me on other issues.” What compromises does he identify? Perhaps making partial-birth abortion illegal? Limiting abortions in the second trimester? Parental notification? Waiting periods? No. Rather, merely that Robert Casey should have been allowed to speak at the 1992 Democratic National Convention (a quarter century ago), to “present a pro-life plank to the platform, even though he knew it would be defeated.” The plank’s certain defeat is something not to be challenged, of course—rather, Lilla’s only wish is that the lapdog should be allowed to jump up and down a few times, or even whimper a little, before being stuck in the corner. And pro-life women who were excluded from the 2017 anti-Trump march in Washington should have been allowed to march—not, of course, to push being pro-life, but to be anti-Trump. These are not real compromises. It is obvious that Lilla would deny both Casey and pro-life women any platform if there was any chance their views would actually be listened to and implemented. What is more, Lilla never identifies any area, any area at all, where the radical individualism that stokes identity politics should be cut back—either by government mandate, or by the choice of individuals to be more communitarian. Elsewhere, Lilla has said “Politics . . . is not about getting recognition for certain groups who have problems; it is about acquiring power to help them.” But help them how? Modern liberals, as is the core of Lilla’s complaint, universally describe that help as emancipating them from all limits, which implies that recognition of those groups as groups is the necessary precondition, and power’s end is to remove any limits that exist for that group. Nowhere in any of this program is any reduction in individualism. Similarly, “Democratic citizenship implies reciprocal rights and duties. We have duties because we have rights; we enjoy rights because we do our duty.” (This, of course, is a core belief of conservatives from Aristotle to Reagan, totally rejected for decades by the Left, so hearing it here is a bit jarring.) But what are those rights and duties? Again, Lilla never says. His only talk of duty conflates “doing something for your country” with “doing something for your government,” thus making the basic error of conflating country and government. For all Lilla’s fine words about the need for creating a new political coalition, this is all politically worthless. Such a program of lying co-option and refusal to actually place limits on any person’s actions will never produce a new Dispensation. He take a few more stabs at it. He wants “an ambitious vision of America and its future that would inspire citizens of every walk of life and in every region of the country.” “This does not mean a return to the New Deal.” But what does it mean? It apparently means mostly more abortion, the only specific political issue repeatedly mentioned. He says “Nostalgia is suicidal” (meaning he has much in common with Yuval Levin in “The Fractured Republic”.) “We [liberals] have to work hard”. “We must never forget that moving hearts and minds for more than one election cycle is not easy.” Roosevelt’s vision of four universal freedoms “filled three generations of liberals with confidence, hope, price, and a spirit of self-sacrifice.” Probably all true. But what does it mean for today? Sonorous words do not create new political movements by parthogenesis. [Final paragraph as first comment.]

  5. 4 out of 5

    Oleksandr Zholud

    This is a non-fic critique of the current obsession of democrats with identity politics. It should be said that the author is a liberal and his points a bit Marxist, so it is not a denier or a right-winger, who tries to ‘protect’ a straight white man. His idea is that up until the 1960s, those active in liberal and progressive politics were drawn largely from the working class or farm communities. Now activists and leaders are formed almost exclusively in colleges and universities, as are members This is a non-fic critique of the current obsession of democrats with identity politics. It should be said that the author is a liberal and his points a bit Marxist, so it is not a denier or a right-winger, who tries to ‘protect’ a straight white man. His idea is that up until the 1960s, those active in liberal and progressive politics were drawn largely from the working class or farm communities. Now activists and leaders are formed almost exclusively in colleges and universities, as are members of the mainly liberal professions of law, journalism, and education. Liberal political education now takes place, if it takes place at all, on campuses that are largely detached socially and geographically from the rest of the country. The openness and attempts at collective actions, “we the citizens” are largely replaced by “me and my identity”, so that JFK’s challenge, What can I do for my country?—which had inspired the early sixties generation—became unintelligible. The only meaningful question became a deeply personal one: what does my country owe me by virtue of my identity? Classroom conversations that once might have begun, I think A, and here is my argument, now often take the form, Speaking as an X…. What replaces argument is taboo. Only those with an approved identity status are, like shamans, allowed to speak on certain matters. Particular groups are given temporary totemic significance. Scapegoats—today conservative political speakers—are duly designated and run off campus in a purging ritual. He doesn’t deny that identity is important, but that it narrows the view. As he (I guess correctly) notes, Trump defeated both of America’s major political parties, starting with the one he nominally belonged to. Hew was saying that free labor markets and trade agreements were destroying more wealth than they created unemployed workers, he didn’t adhered to Republicans “free trade, free movement of capital and labor”. His solution is to return to the fact that politics is compromise, that one has to interest other parties to join hem in developing a common good as citizens, as a group, to work in power, not just on marches. Identity liberalism banished the word we to the outer reaches of respectable political discourse. ‘As a good liberal you have learned not to do that with peasants in far-off lands; apply the lesson to Southern Pentecostals and gun owners in the mountain states. Just as you wouldn’t think of dismissing another culture’s beliefs as mere ignorance, don’t automatically attribute what you are hearing to the right-wing media machine (as loathsome and corrupting as it is).’ Democratic politics is about persuasion, not self-expression. Accept that you will never agree with people on everything—that’s to be expected in a democracy. And one piece to quote in full: Electoral politics is a little like fishing. When you fish you get up early in the morning and go to where the fish are—not to where you might wish them to be. You then drop bait into the water (bait being defined as something they want to eat, not as “healthy choices”). Once the fish realize they are hooked they may resist. Let them; loosen your line. Eventually they will calm down and you can slowly reel them in, careful not to provoke them unnecessarily. The identity liberals’ approach to fishing is to remain on shore, yelling at the fish about the historical wrongs visited on them by the sea, and the need for aquatic life to renounce its privilege. All in the hope that the fish will collectively confess their sins and swim to shore to be netted. If that is your approach to fishing, you had better become a vegan.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jay

    This is the worst response to the post-Trump crisis of the Democratic Party I have seen so far. The core issue with Lilla’s book is that he has a muddled and inconsistent understanding of relationship between individualism and Liberalism. This, for an author who is an intellectual historian and is a self-proclaimed Liberal, is extremely embarrassing. Lilla critiques at length the individualism of Reagan’s politics, claiming that it destroyed the concept of ‘citizenship’, which entailed both right This is the worst response to the post-Trump crisis of the Democratic Party I have seen so far. The core issue with Lilla’s book is that he has a muddled and inconsistent understanding of relationship between individualism and Liberalism. This, for an author who is an intellectual historian and is a self-proclaimed Liberal, is extremely embarrassing. Lilla critiques at length the individualism of Reagan’s politics, claiming that it destroyed the concept of ‘citizenship’, which entailed both rights and duties for every American. Instead, he says that Reagan ushered in the era of atomized suburban families, who would reach their apogee in the Tea Party. The maxim of Reagan and his libertarian descendants was ‘government is good for nothing, so leave us alone!’ He then paints identity politics as the Left’s counter-punch to Reagan’s bleak and self-interested system. However, Lilla claims that identity politics lost its way: it started out as mass group politics to correct injustices, (the Civil Rights movement, the Women’s suffrage movement), but devolved into college students discussing the oppression of their own racial or gender categories. Therefore, he claims that identity politics is only a surface-level response, keeping the individualistic core of Reaganism while substituting its top-level values. Lilla’s solution is to return to ‘citizenship’ as the basis for American political life. He believes that the problems identity politics calls out in American society — systemic racism, sexual violence and patriarchy, homophobia — can all be solved through pragmatic politics and the idea of ‘equal protection under the law’. This, for me, is where Lilla’s intellectual dishonesty begins to seep in. He understands enough about the claims of the identity politics movements to know that nothing short of a fundamental restructuring of American society can solve their demands. For example, * To protect black people, both casual and systemic racism will have to be purged from American society. * To protect women and queer people, the basis of private life (the heterosexual nuclear family) will have to be replaced, or at least supplemented. * Reparations to Native Americans may require giving back the land. Not everything can be corrected through legislation, civil rights enforcement, and a civic ethos. If Mark Lilla expects there to be social justice, then he cannot comfortably live in his Brooklyn brownstone while his homeownership gentrifies his neighborhood and he steps over homeless people on the street. Further, Lilla thinks that there is no vision of communal life being put forward to challenge Reaganist individualism. But he does not understand that identity politics, except in their most vapid format, are visions of communal life. He claims dishonestly that intellectual politics are all about the specialness of the individual — invoking the stupid cajoles of alt-right commentators about ‘snowflakes’ on college campuses. Yet he is either unaware of the intellectual legacy of afro-futurism, ecofeminism, and queer liberationism (to name only a few), or has intentionally chosen to overlook them. These are all visions of how we should live together in society, how we would define citizenship, and what is expected of each member of our community. I have some other unorganized thoughts on Lilla’s book, which I will leave below: * He has a silly reverence for ‘pragmatic’ politics, while forgetting that mass movements are what push politicians to do things for the people. For example, his description of LBJ is hagiographic when discussing the Voting Rights Act. Lilla says that MLK’s movement would have died without any achievements had LBJ not been willing to make deals and compromise with Congress to pass legislation restoring rights to black Americans. But this is silly: to think that LBJ would have done anything for blacks had the South not been foaming with riots and mass demonstrations is nonsense. * Lilla seems confused about whether he believes individualism is a recent phenomenon in America (introduced by Reagan) or is the long-running core of American political thought, (introduced by the Calvinist settlers of the continent). Or, if he is making a more nuanced argument about the origins of individualism, it was lost on me. * His critique of identity politics is one-sided and hollow: Lilla presents the best arguments for Liberalism against an ill-formed presentation of identity politics. (He talks about college freshmen’s arguments about race, instead of the arguments of intellectuals like bell hooks or Ta-Nehisi Coates. Lilla never presents a substantial critique of Liberalism, which he would have discovered after five minutes of research in any branch of an identity politics movement.) * If you want to read about the value of citizenship and overlapping consensus in politics, just go read Rawls. At least then you will have an intelligent mind to grapple with.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jack Wolfe

    Fact: There are currently 34 Republican state Governors. Fact: There are currently 32 states in which Republicans control both houses of Congress (there's also weird ol' Nebraska, which has only one house of Congress... Republicans control that one, too, of course). Fact: There are Republican majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. Fact: There is a Republican president in office. He's fucking insane Fact: There is a definite rightward slant to the U.S. Supreme Court, and to the n Fact: There are currently 34 Republican state Governors. Fact: There are currently 32 states in which Republicans control both houses of Congress (there's also weird ol' Nebraska, which has only one house of Congress... Republicans control that one, too, of course). Fact: There are Republican majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. Fact: There is a Republican president in office. He's fucking insane Fact: There is a definite rightward slant to the U.S. Supreme Court, and to the nation's judiciary at large. Fact: Liberals cannot win fucking elections for shit Mark Lilla has written a book that left-leaning people need to read, plain and simple. Most lefties will disagree with some of it-- a lot of us will disagree with a lot of it. Many of us will write it off based on a single poorly chosen word or phrase, like a fucking parody of the sort of easily offended Puritan liberal college-educated New Yorker Lilla criticizes all book long (I've already seen several people take umbrage with Lilla's use of the term "mau-mauing"... which might not have been a wise choice, on his part, but STILL, who cares... it's one phrase, gang). I have problems with Lilla's view, too. But the point of Lilla's book is that our problems with each other, as liberals, should not get in the way of crafting a vision for society that incorporates as many folks as possible under the umbrella of citizenship. Somewhere along the way, we alienated a lot of people in a lot of places. In Lilla's eyes, this doesn't mean Democratic ideals-- equality, racial justice, etc-- have lost their luster. It means that we've forgotten how to talk to people-- how to actually persuade people that our side is the one that cares, that our side is about bringing us all up, together. Most of the issues Lilla has with the modern left are rhetorical. We don't say "we." We emphasize the labels of race and gender and sexuality and play down our commonalties as Americans. We insist on our moral superiority and look at other views not as political opinions, but as evidence of irredeemable barbarity. But Lilla also addresses-- and attacks-- the persistent interest of liberals in protest and "movements" at the expense of campaigning, forming alliances, voting, etc-- i.e. the hard work of politics that pays off in winning elections. As Lilla says, it's not that marches and parades and energy and making signs aren't important. It's that, minus liberal governments, those things can never really attend to people's needs. Until liberals have real political power, they can never inspire real social gains. Obtaining that power is gonna require changes from all of us. It does not mean running away from our beautiful multicultural coalition... And it definitely doesn't mean going outside and shooting a deer in the fucking head, or whatever hillbilly field trip you wanna go on. But it might mean rethinking our language, our ways of framing debates, our methods of persuasion. And it absolutely means VOTING for NOT DONALD TRUMP, which DOESN'T MEAN VOTING FOR JILL STEIN AUGHHHH

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jim Robles

    Wow! Between this and "Fragile by Design - The Political Origins of Banking Crises & Scarce Design," by Charles W. Calomiris and Stephen H. Haber, it is hard to offer any defense of the performance of Baby Boomer progressives. What Lilla misses, in evaluating the rise of Trump, is the unwillingness of Baby Boomers, across the political spectrum, to share. He does capture what John Rawls was getting at with his Concept of an Overlapping Consensus. Trump is the apotheosis of Baby Boomer rule. Our co Wow! Between this and "Fragile by Design - The Political Origins of Banking Crises & Scarce Design," by Charles W. Calomiris and Stephen H. Haber, it is hard to offer any defense of the performance of Baby Boomer progressives. What Lilla misses, in evaluating the rise of Trump, is the unwillingness of Baby Boomers, across the political spectrum, to share. He does capture what John Rawls was getting at with his Concept of an Overlapping Consensus. Trump is the apotheosis of Baby Boomer rule. Our consensus has always been that we would have great benefits (Social Security and Medicare) or ourselves and the elderly (protected by the Left), maintain a strong defense (bipartisan consensus), and not pay for it (tax increased blocked by the Right). The concomitant squeeze on discretionary spending has prevented any investment in the future (infrastructure, research, training, education, etc. -- after all, how would it benefit us during our entitled lives?) or any succoring to those left behind by (mostly) technology and (somewhat) globalization. Trump's ascendance is a direct consequence of that: he listened to those we ignored. The Left and the Right are equally culpable in his election. His policies are the apotheosis of Baby Boomer entitlement. Go Boomers!! I found this "brief but brilliant book" in: Opinions -- The Democrats should rethink their immigration absolutism By Fareed Zakaria Opinion writer August 3 https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinio... and in: "But as Mark Lilla points out in his essential new book, “The Once and Future Liberal,” many identity communities are not even real communities. They’re just a loose group of individuals, narcissistically exploring some trait in their self that others around them happen to share." Opinion | OP-ED COLUMNIST In Praise of Equipoise David Brooks SEPT. 1, 2017 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/01/op... "The most important lesson is this: that for two generations America has been without a political vision of its destiny" (p. 99). "And the work doesn’t stop once legislation is passed. One must keep winning elections to defend the gains that social movements have contributed to" (p. 110). "As most historians agree, the unintended consequence was to marginalize the blue-collar unions and public officials who had been pillars of the party structure, and replace them with educated activists tied to single issues or to particular presidential campaigns" (p. 112). "Black Lives Matter is a textbook example of how not to build solidarity" (p. 129). "Whatever might be said about the legitimate concerns of Trump votets, the have no excuse for voting for him" (p. 133).

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    If Al Gore had not already taken the title, Mark Lilla could have easily called his book 'An Inconvenient Truth.' 'The Once and Future Liberal' is a damning indictment of modern liberalism's infatuation with identity politics and its compulsion to segment and hyphenate Americans. Lilla, himself a liberal and academic, shows how liberalism has veered so far off track and the far-reaching consequences this has had on American politics. The author lays out simple remedies for a return to relevance a If Al Gore had not already taken the title, Mark Lilla could have easily called his book 'An Inconvenient Truth.' 'The Once and Future Liberal' is a damning indictment of modern liberalism's infatuation with identity politics and its compulsion to segment and hyphenate Americans. Lilla, himself a liberal and academic, shows how liberalism has veered so far off track and the far-reaching consequences this has had on American politics. The author lays out simple remedies for a return to relevance and viability for American liberalism. Unfortunately, Lilla's criticisms will likely fall on deaf ears or be drowned out in a chorus of protests towards another "entitled white male." 'The Once and Future Liberal' is one of the most important political books I've read in years. Any one who remotely cares about the course of American politics should read it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Cameron

    I imagine this book will be mocked by many. However, Lilla's call for our politics to think and feel through the lens of "citizenship" could be an amelioration for our discourse. Doubt enters when we ask from where will this mood originate. I am not sure Lilla's argument will win his party over. But everyone should at least consider his arguments. We all need to start living outside of our own heads. And despite how hard it can be, those who seek to be politically active must learn to play the ga I imagine this book will be mocked by many. However, Lilla's call for our politics to think and feel through the lens of "citizenship" could be an amelioration for our discourse. Doubt enters when we ask from where will this mood originate. I am not sure Lilla's argument will win his party over. But everyone should at least consider his arguments. We all need to start living outside of our own heads. And despite how hard it can be, those who seek to be politically active must learn to play the game first in order to change it long term.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Antti Värtö

    There is a long and proud tradition among the leftists to lament how the Left has lost it's course and purpose, and how the leftist parties need to reinvent themselves for the new decade/century/millennium. Mark Lilla carries this tradition forward with his short analysis about the failings of the Democrats in the United States for the last four decades. According to Lilla, the Roosevelt years were the heyday of Democrats and liberals in general. Back then, the liberals were the ones with a visio There is a long and proud tradition among the leftists to lament how the Left has lost it's course and purpose, and how the leftist parties need to reinvent themselves for the new decade/century/millennium. Mark Lilla carries this tradition forward with his short analysis about the failings of the Democrats in the United States for the last four decades. According to Lilla, the Roosevelt years were the heyday of Democrats and liberals in general. Back then, the liberals were the ones with a vision. But as the 20th century moved on and the 60's and the 70's happened, the Rooseveltian vision started to be hopelessly out of touch of the new realities. The USA in the 1970's wa a coutry without a vision. Enter Reagan, who galvanised the Right with his vision of "Morning in America". This was an optimistic, individualistic and at it's root anti-political message. The time for Big Government was over; as Thatcher said, "there is no such thing as society, only individual men and women". The Democrats, who never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity, didn't react with a positive, pro-political message of their own. Instead they retreated to identity politics, where "personal was political". Instead of creating a new vision for America, the liberals focused on dividing the nation into smaller and smaller segments and urging people to focus on the problems of their particular identity group. As Lilla said succintly, identity politics is Reaganism for leftists. But now the Reagan era is over. Donald Trump is the POTUS, and he surely doesn't have any vision of his own. This is an opportunity for the left, but Lilla is concerned the liberals spend all their time opposing Trump without creating a positive vision of their own. His proposal is to once more focus on the citizenship. A black lesbian lawyer from New York and a out-of-work middle-aged white former car industy worker from Detroit might not have very much in common - except the fact that they are both citizens of the same nation. And this is the message the left should empathize: we are all in the same boat; if one citizen is treated badly, what's protecting other citizens from the same fate later down the road? This was an entertaining book. The audiobook was less than three hours long, so it was fast absorbed. I'm not an American, so I don't identify with the particular issues Lilla is discussing, but the sorry state of the Left is not unique to the USA. Indeed, the European leftists have made much of the same mistakes Lilla is attributing to Democrats: too much focus on the divisive identity politics, too much reactions to right-wing advances and not enough proactive programs of their own. Therefore I could find lots of substance in the book even as a non-American.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Alex Stroshine

    A bracing repudiation by a centrist liberal of the identity politics that have engulfed the political left. Mark Lilla argues that activist liberalism's obsession with identity (women, black, LGBTQ, etc...) has handicapped and hindered the Democrats' ability to offer a broad-range vision of the common good for Americans. Lilla uses religious vocabulary, speaking of the "Roosevelt Dispensation" that stretched from the 1930s-1960s and that focused on New Deal initiatives that bound Americans toget A bracing repudiation by a centrist liberal of the identity politics that have engulfed the political left. Mark Lilla argues that activist liberalism's obsession with identity (women, black, LGBTQ, etc...) has handicapped and hindered the Democrats' ability to offer a broad-range vision of the common good for Americans. Lilla uses religious vocabulary, speaking of the "Roosevelt Dispensation" that stretched from the 1930s-1960s and that focused on New Deal initiatives that bound Americans together, followed by the "Reagan Dispensation" that promoted rugged self-reliance and a libertarian attitude that has now exhausted itself. America is awaiting a new dispensation and with the Trump "administration" flailing wildly amidst faux-pas after tweeted faux-pas, the political left seem in a prime position to offer it, as long as they can transcend tribal identities and be more open to dialogue and compromise with those who differ from them on hot-button issues. Though I would not consider myself a liberal, I do share Lilla's belief that government is often necessary to provide programs like health care and I think Lilla writes fairly (he admits that if identity is largely about social construction, then Rachel Dolezal and her supporters have a point in claiming that she is black). As other reviewers have already commented, this book has strong "explanatory power" for our cultural moment and how we got from the 1960s to the present.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Murtaza

    The central premise of this short book is that identity politics are the left-wing answer to Reaganite individualism. They prevent people from engaging in common cause and solidarity and send them on an endless internal journey to discover the secrets of their purportedly very deep and meaningful interior "identities." It is an apolitical form of politics that transforms political activism into therapeutic self-indulgence and inevitably drives people apart into deeper and deeper atomization from The central premise of this short book is that identity politics are the left-wing answer to Reaganite individualism. They prevent people from engaging in common cause and solidarity and send them on an endless internal journey to discover the secrets of their purportedly very deep and meaningful interior "identities." It is an apolitical form of politics that transforms political activism into therapeutic self-indulgence and inevitably drives people apart into deeper and deeper atomization from one another. Although I'm a minority and find that fact at least somewhat interesting I feel that there is something to this argument. Is there another basis upon which people can unite? Lilla suggests that the concept of citizenship is enough to ground people in a sense of shared destiny and duty to one another. This strikes me as plausible enough, though appreciation of citizenship as a shared destiny requires some semblance of equality between peoples, particularly reasonable levels of economic equality. No wonder people don't feel united when America feels like a Frankenstein kitted together in which some parts resemble cosmopolitan Dubai and others resemble a deindustrialized third world. Simply nodding to an abstract citizenry is not going to be enough in the fact of such stark material facts. I like Mark Lilla's books because they're short and usually have a few good lines in there somewhere. This one is a polemic about one of the touchiest issues in society and I can see how it couldn't gotten him in some trouble. I don't think that it did, but then again it doesn't seem like anyone heeded his advice either.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette

    He is a liberal who understands the "we" as a national entity for core necessity within successful political movements. Having incredible insight and also applications for this "we" surety in the American past, he STILL does not role model its core connotation. Regardless all liberals or progressives should read this book because it bottom line delineated how/ why you can't impress and convince what you hold in disdain. It's not any easy read despite the length. There are many quotes that are wort He is a liberal who understands the "we" as a national entity for core necessity within successful political movements. Having incredible insight and also applications for this "we" surety in the American past, he STILL does not role model its core connotation. Regardless all liberals or progressives should read this book because it bottom line delineated how/ why you can't impress and convince what you hold in disdain. It's not any easy read despite the length. There are many quotes that are worth listing, especially upon past party core platforms and present era college learning methods and "argument think". An individual self identity building taught philosophy which comes out of a rebel based type of romanticism. It's going to probably fall on deaf ears since the divisions scored by identity based political agendas seem to be deeper the longer and more angrily expressed. The anger feeds upon itself for the expression. That is never realized by the angry. Lastly, he doesn't begin to form any cohesive substance for what the new Democratic Party would use for the uniting, POSITIVE agenda of inspiration. He rather backs himself in a corner intellectually, IMHO. Because in his own rigidity he preaches and does NOT hold any capacity for compromise. His own role modeling chides and is a 180 from what he advises in the copy. And that is essential- compromise without the mean superiority. But as far as his present evaluation of political liberalism right now in the USA, he is correct.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    Lilla is right about the problem--the left does not have a coherent ideology to appeal to a broad swath of people. Moreover, the progressive/labor voice has been dormant and needs to be reactivated. But he's wrong in his analysis of causation. The problem was not caused by university professors and students. It started well before that-the powell memo changed university structures. The left has been in defensive mode since the late 60s. Identity politics is pretty new and I don't think he makes Lilla is right about the problem--the left does not have a coherent ideology to appeal to a broad swath of people. Moreover, the progressive/labor voice has been dormant and needs to be reactivated. But he's wrong in his analysis of causation. The problem was not caused by university professors and students. It started well before that-the powell memo changed university structures. The left has been in defensive mode since the late 60s. Identity politics is pretty new and I don't think he makes a compelling enough case as to why the shift rightward was caused by identity politics. Rather I think identity politics was a reaction to the rightward motion. And that can be described by the ideological capture of the polity by the right. There are a lot of reasons for this and Lilla is absolutely right that the left has to learn to fight back better, but I just don't think we should waste our time vilifying university students who at the end of the day have nothing to do with how much economic inequality has skewed our political system.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sagar Jethani

    An immensely important and challenging work. Mark Lilla expands upon the argument he first presented last November in his New York Times Op-Ed, "The End of Identity Liberalism." He argues that by focusing narcissistically upon identity politics (gay rights, BLM, women's rights, etc) to the exclusion of what binds us together as Americans, liberals created a vacuum which conservatives have deftly exploited by claiming they alone speak for the people. Lilla, whose earlier work "The Shipwrecked Mind An immensely important and challenging work. Mark Lilla expands upon the argument he first presented last November in his New York Times Op-Ed, "The End of Identity Liberalism." He argues that by focusing narcissistically upon identity politics (gay rights, BLM, women's rights, etc) to the exclusion of what binds us together as Americans, liberals created a vacuum which conservatives have deftly exploited by claiming they alone speak for the people. Lilla, whose earlier work "The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction," deftly navigates the historical and psychological forces which animate the conservative mind, urgently writes that unless liberals make a strong course correction away from identity, they will continue to suffer defeat at the polling booth. His case fits generally into the literary consensus emerging in other popular works like "Hillbilly Elegy," "White Trash," and "Strangers in Their Own Land": rural, working-class Americans have been abandoned by urban liberals who are more focused on winning rights for narrowly-defined identity groups than the well-being of vast stretches of white, impoverished America. That these regions of the country cast their ballots for Trump should therefore come as no surprise, given what Lilla terms "The Abidication" of progressives. As with Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr's 1991 publication "The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society," Lilla seems to suggest this embrace of identity on the left was purely elective. Faced with the overwhelming evidence of, say, police brutality toward African-American motorists documented over the past several years, what would he have people do? Forget organizing movements like Black Lives Matter and focus instead on running for the local water board? Faced with the massive pay disparities between male and female wage earners, should we ratchet-down the invective and instead try to convince our neighbor over the fence that women should receive the same pay as men? Of course, mass protests and shouted slogans alone cannot affect political change. In the end, people must participate in the government they seek to alter. But Lilla presents this as a zero-sum game: either protest, or get serious. One can do both. Take his argument that the radical change in public attitudes toward gays occurred not because of gay marches and slogans, but because family members began coming out to each other. Once people realized someone they knew or loved was gay, their attitude changed. This ignores the role the gay identity movement played in helping many gays and lesbians develop the self-confidence to come out in the first place. I witnessed this first-hand in one of my college friends. Without his prior involvement in gay pride parades and identity activities, he would never have come out to his parents. Sometimes, the identity movement can trigger the heartfelt conversations which change attitudes. Lilla also ignores the fact that reactionary forces today are largely impervious to reasonable argument. There is a deep sense among progressives that any effort spent trying to change a conservative's mind is wasted. Indeed, in a so-called post-truth era, people simply choose whatever "facts" appeal to their already-held biases. Lilla's picture of America is a Norman Rockwell painting when it more closely resembles a photo of Charlottesville. Yet, for all this, I worry he may be correct. That if Democrats want to win large reaches of the country, they will have to tone-down their support for blacks, women, gays, and other ostracized groups. In the end, it will have less to do with de-emphasizing some nebulous concept of "identity," and everything to do with appeasing white conservative prejudice. And one needn't go very far back to see a similar capitulation-- just look at Bill Clinton's shift to the right in 1996. We can thank Democrats for the prison-industrial complex, Government Sachs, and the characterization of black men as "superpredators." Faced with this possibility, is it not fortunate that groups like BLM exist to continue holding liberals' feet to the fire, forcing them to declare what they stand for? "The Once and Future Liberal" is required reading for anyone concerned about our country today and how to take it back.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn Kost

    Lilla's thesis is that rather than developing a "fresh political vision of the country's shared destiny....liberals threw themselves into the movement politics of...racial, gender and sexual identity...losing a sense of what we share as citizens and what binds us as a nation." The "increasingly narrow and exclusionary self-definition...turns young people back onto themselves, rather than...outward toward the wider world." Add to this the thought police and political correctness and we have "a n Lilla's thesis is that rather than developing a "fresh political vision of the country's shared destiny....liberals threw themselves into the movement politics of...racial, gender and sexual identity...losing a sense of what we share as citizens and what binds us as a nation." The "increasingly narrow and exclusionary self-definition...turns young people back onto themselves, rather than...outward toward the wider world." Add to this the thought police and political correctness and we have "a new, and very revealing, locution [that] has drifted from our universities into the media mainstream: Speaking as an X … This is not an anodyne phrase. It tells the listener that I am speaking from a privileged position on this matter. It sets up a wall against questions, which by definition come from a non-X perspective. And it turns the encounter into a power relation: The winner of the argument will be whoever has invoked the morally superior identity and expressed the most outrage at being questioned. "So classroom conversations that once might have begun, I think A, and here is my argument, now take the form, Speaking as an X, I am offended that you claim B. This makes perfect sense if you believe that identity determines everything. It means that there is no impartial space for dialogue. What replaces argument, then, is taboo." Moreover, with continual demands to attend to movement and group identity history in curricula, it's important to note that "Neither Elizabeth Cady Stanton (who studied Greek) nor Martin Luther King Jr. (who studied Christian theology) nor Angela Davis (who studied Western philosophy) received an identity-based education. And it is difficult to imagine them becoming who they became had they been cursed with one. The fervor of their rebellion demonstrated the degree to which their education had widened their horizons and developed in them a feeling of democratic solidarity rare in America today." As it would stray from his thesis, Lilla may be forgiven for not including a mention of the erosion of civil liberties by these same illiberal factions. Pew and Gallup surveys indicate that young people favor curtailing freedom of speech and freedom of religion, among others. Coupled with the other phenomena, there is justifiable cause for concern about the future of our nation. We need some serious civics education about the founding principles of the USA. If you have read Lilla's articles on identity politics in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, you need not read this book, as complete passages are shared and no new ideas are introduced. If you have not read them, either do so or get this book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Dan Graser

    This short, cogent, and at times provocative examination of several issues in leftist identity politics is the sort of thing that should have been circulated decades ago. Being more of an Independent I can't totally understand how much of this discussion could be surprising or revolutionary for someone of a leftist disposition but if it effects some much needed change is how their discourse and campaigns are run then I'm all for it. I don't want my review to seem longer than the work itself (jus This short, cogent, and at times provocative examination of several issues in leftist identity politics is the sort of thing that should have been circulated decades ago. Being more of an Independent I can't totally understand how much of this discussion could be surprising or revolutionary for someone of a leftist disposition but if it effects some much needed change is how their discourse and campaigns are run then I'm all for it. I don't want my review to seem longer than the work itself (just over 140 very small pages) so to share some of his more salient points: "Identity is not the future of the left. It is not a force hostile to neoliberalism. Identity is Reaganism for lefties." After explaining how fishing normally works - "The identity liberals' approach to fishing is to remain on shore, yelling at the fish about the historical wrongs visited on them by the sea, and the need for aquatic life to renounce its privilege. All in the hope that the fish will collectively confess their sins and swim to shore to be netted. If that is your approach to fishing, you had better become a vegan." "In democratic politics it is suicidal to set the bar for agreement higher than necessary for winning adherents and elections." Perhaps my favorite issue discussed is the increasing need for a revitalization of the concept of shared citizenry. Frequently that is a term only brought up during stupid debates as to who is a citizen and who isn't or at minimum just generates very old-fashioned notions of civics classes and such. The focus here is on what it means to participate in the governing of a country as one of its citizens, a membership we all share as Americans. That being, maintaining your awareness of fundamental flaws in our system based on varying identities but functioning as a unified political citizenry to make the case for the development of political solutions that work to benefit as many communities as possible, all the while not allowing the fetishizing of every bit of individuality to divide what could otherwise be an effective coalition working towards a shared objective. You may be thinking that is what politicians have been talking about for a long time, and sometimes they do in one or two speeches, however their actions, policies, and the environment on campuses and social media doesn't even come close to this concept. A quick and well-written manifesto that probably would have had a much greater impact during the latter part of the, "Reagan Dispensation," for the American left.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Tristan

    This book is great and mercifully short. Basically, Lilla argues that identity politics is "Reaganism for lefties" because it encourages atomization and instils a disregard for traditional politics. That is, identity politics fractures the left-wing solidarity that's needed to win elections. And, as Lilla states, only by winning elections can progressives hope to maintain the gains of the past 50 years while striving for new ones. Lilla is a man who despises Donald Trump (he explicitly says that This book is great and mercifully short. Basically, Lilla argues that identity politics is "Reaganism for lefties" because it encourages atomization and instils a disregard for traditional politics. That is, identity politics fractures the left-wing solidarity that's needed to win elections. And, as Lilla states, only by winning elections can progressives hope to maintain the gains of the past 50 years while striving for new ones. Lilla is a man who despises Donald Trump (he explicitly says that Trump supporters "have no excuse for voting for him"), and offers a solid diagnosis of problems with the left that played a part in Trump's election. Therefore, it's unfortunate that Lilla's book has been pilloried in left-wing publications (eg. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/15/bo...). Lilla says it well, so I'll throw in a few quotes for potential readers. (And as I said, this book is short - it is maybe a 3 hour read, so you really have no excuse for skipping it.) "If the steady advance of a radicalized Republican Party ... should teach liberals anything, it is the absolute priority of winning elections today. Given the Republicans' rage for destruction, it is the only way to guarantee that newly won protections for African-Americans, other minorities, women, and gay Americans remain in place. Workshops and university seminars will not do it. Online mobilizing and flash mobs will not do it. Protesting, acting up, and acting out will not do it." "What's extraordinary - and appalling - about the past four decades of our history is that our politics has been dominated by two ideologies that encourage and even celebrate the unmaking of citizens. On the right, an ideology that questions the existence of a common good and denies our obligations to help fellow citizens, through government action if necessary. On the left, an ideology institutionalized in colleges and universities that fetishizes our individual and group attachments, applauds self-absorption, and casts a shadow of suspicion over any invocation of a universal democratic we." "Equal protection under the law is not a hard principle to convince Americans of. The difficulty comes in persuading them that it has been violated in particular cases, and of the need to redress the wrong. Prejudice and indifference run deep. Education, social reform, and political action can persuade some. But most people will not feel the sufferings of others unless they feel, even in an abstract way, that it could have been me or someone close to me."

  20. 5 out of 5

    Alva

    An hour into this on audio (or well into the first chapter), I'm finding this a merely polemical work, full of commonplaces as accessible on Facebook as here. Documentation and demonstration of the kinds of assertions about the state of liberalism are really required for this argument to have any force, in my opinion. I compare this to a book like Audacity by Jonathan Chait, which struck me as very well sourced as well as polemically argued, and this book falls far short -- especially when consi An hour into this on audio (or well into the first chapter), I'm finding this a merely polemical work, full of commonplaces as accessible on Facebook as here. Documentation and demonstration of the kinds of assertions about the state of liberalism are really required for this argument to have any force, in my opinion. I compare this to a book like Audacity by Jonathan Chait, which struck me as very well sourced as well as polemically argued, and this book falls far short -- especially when considering that it is written by a historian, who must have a bit of contempt for the ability of his audience to take in facts along with opinions. *** Having finished the audio-book, my opinion of the work is if possible even lower. The diatribe against "identity" is never shored up with documentation, other than the idea that this type of thinking has somehow been originated at, fomented at, and fostered at universities and has corrupted the youth of America. I'm a lot more concerned about the macro-aggressions and outright violence aimed against differently colored minorities, women, and LGTs, than I am about micro-aggressions, though I can accept the argument that micro-aggressions might at least sometimes provoke macro-aggressions. By and large though, I think the macro-aggressions are straight out power plays, and calling resistance against violence narcissistic is just the old conservative b.s. warmed over. But the core of my objection is that Lilla as historian/social scientist offers no evidence that his views of the liberal disorder and its origins are true, other than the catastrophic outcome of the recent election. Guess what? I believe that outcome was the result of the evil wrongheadedness of those who voted for Trump, not of those who presented the alternative.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Conor Ahern

    This is the Mark Lilla book I was hoping for when I read The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction. It discusses the rhetorics of the era of FDR, when we worked together to build this country, and the era of Ronald Reagan, when the individual was the hero. Lilla seems to think we are at the cusp, perhaps in a palate-cleansing period, and won't say what he thinks is coming next. He certainly loathes Trump and understands him to be dangerous. But he warns us away from identity politics. It is no This is the Mark Lilla book I was hoping for when I read The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction. It discusses the rhetorics of the era of FDR, when we worked together to build this country, and the era of Ronald Reagan, when the individual was the hero. Lilla seems to think we are at the cusp, perhaps in a palate-cleansing period, and won't say what he thinks is coming next. He certainly loathes Trump and understands him to be dangerous. But he warns us away from identity politics. It is not a winning strategy, we are told. We can be as woke as we like, but a predicate assumption to supporting any political position is the power to implement it, and on this front the Left in this country has been woefully, if not irretrievably outflanked. I'm not sure I join Lilla in his mocking denunciation of "social justice warriors," and I wonder how he proposes that black people bring light to their brutalization by the state without saying something akin to "Black Lives Matter," which Lilla derides as hopelessly counterproductive. But I do think the American Left needs to seriously rethink its rhetoric and strategy if it ever wants to regain power in this country. Sadly, Lilla doesn't really provide us with any answers--even the class-based call for unity he derides. Still, I think he's onto something that I've been seeing in the sharpest commentaries on the rise of the alt-right, white nationalism, and American anomie. Things are getting desperate and this could be progressivism's last best shot.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Caleb Hoyer

    My biggest fear in reading a book whose very title criticized identity politics was that it would be nothing more than someone saying they’re tired of hearing marginalized communities whine. Luckily, this book wasn’t that at all. Its definition of what identity politics is was much broader than I’d ever thought, and was a very thoughtful critique of the left’s cultural drift towards a very inward, self-focused politics, in a way that all too often doesn’t leave room for an understanding of how l My biggest fear in reading a book whose very title criticized identity politics was that it would be nothing more than someone saying they’re tired of hearing marginalized communities whine. Luckily, this book wasn’t that at all. Its definition of what identity politics is was much broader than I’d ever thought, and was a very thoughtful critique of the left’s cultural drift towards a very inward, self-focused politics, in a way that all too often doesn’t leave room for an understanding of how liberalism can benefit everyone and work for the common good. As Lilla puts it, it is an attitude that has shifted away from What can you do for your country to What does my country owe me by virtue of my identity? The book is very short, and it is such a fascinating topic that I actually wish it had been longer and more researched. There is no sourcing at all, and very few pieces of data or evidence, so it is ultimately really just one (clearly very intelligent) person’s opinion. But it was well-written and well-argued, and provided much food for thought.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    "The only adversary left is ourselves. And we have mastered the art of self-sabotage. At a time when we liberals need to speak in a way that convinces people from very different walks of life, in every part of the country, that they share a common destiny and need to stand together, our rhetoric encourages self-righteous narcissism. At a moment when political consciousness and strategizing need to developed, we are expending our energies on symbolic dramas over identity. At a time when it is cru "The only adversary left is ourselves. And we have mastered the art of self-sabotage. At a time when we liberals need to speak in a way that convinces people from very different walks of life, in every part of the country, that they share a common destiny and need to stand together, our rhetoric encourages self-righteous narcissism. At a moment when political consciousness and strategizing need to developed, we are expending our energies on symbolic dramas over identity. At a time when it is crucial to direct our efforts into seizing institutional power by winning elections, we dissipate them in expressive movements indifferent to the effects they may have on the voting public. In an age when we need to educate young people to think of themselves as citizens with duties toward each other, we courage them instead to descend into the rabbit hole of the self."

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mort

    Equal parts inane and infuriating. He happens upon decent (though often trivial) analysis in passing but then veers into polemic often enough that the whole thing just ends up muddled, confused, and somehow ahistorical even though he regularly appeals to history. His ultimate conclusion is probably the right one, at least as a rhetorical strategy--embrace citizenship, promote a big tent, appeal to the better angels of our collective nature. But how he got there (with identity politics as bugaboo Equal parts inane and infuriating. He happens upon decent (though often trivial) analysis in passing but then veers into polemic often enough that the whole thing just ends up muddled, confused, and somehow ahistorical even though he regularly appeals to history. His ultimate conclusion is probably the right one, at least as a rhetorical strategy--embrace citizenship, promote a big tent, appeal to the better angels of our collective nature. But how he got there (with identity politics as bugaboo) is just kind of a mess. It's like when a you watch "Fight Club" with a teenaged boy. Both of you love the movie but that fact that he wants to start his own fight club suggests that he missed the point.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Alan Tomkins-Raney

    Should be required reading in high school civics classes (if schools still have them) and at universities. A frustrated liberal of the progressive mold conducts a forensic study of liberalism's current self-inflicted woes and offers his suggested remedies to be considered if liberals want to have any future impact on this country. Intelligent and unsparing, this short book is one of the best political studies that I have read in ages. Spoiler alert: the author values solidarity as well as justic Should be required reading in high school civics classes (if schools still have them) and at universities. A frustrated liberal of the progressive mold conducts a forensic study of liberalism's current self-inflicted woes and offers his suggested remedies to be considered if liberals want to have any future impact on this country. Intelligent and unsparing, this short book is one of the best political studies that I have read in ages. Spoiler alert: the author values solidarity as well as justice, and believes that with civil rights come civic duties to our fellow Americans. I find it heartening to discover that the characteristics I find most irritating about the democratic left are finally being analyzed and discussed by the democratic left. One of my favorite quotes from the book (there are many): "Yet it is an iron law in democracies that anything achieved through movement politics can be undone through institutional politics. The reverse is not the case...One must keep winning elections to defend the gains that social movements have contributed to." The author argues that winning elections must be a priority (rallies and protests may sway public opinion, which is important, or they may cause a backlash, but regardless, they will never enshrine and institutionalize progressive change like gaining control of political offices and the bureaucracy will). Prioritizing court victories over legislative victories may have been expedient for liberal causes a few decades ago, but it has also resulted in a public relations nightmare for liberalism. Liberals must articulate a vision that unites and energizes the country. Lately they've very effectively been doing quite the opposite. The author's prescriptions for a path forward are both logical and sensible, and I hope they will be heeded.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mars Cheung

    The general message was well-worth hearing although some of the points regarding the Roosevelt/Reagan dispositions were difficult to understand. I still gave it a four as I felt the points the author was trying to make were well worth listening to. As an individual who identifies as 'liberal'(more or less in the classical sense) who leans center-left, it's been a disappointing experience to see those on the left 'double-down' on identity politics. Engagement of diverse viewpoints has automatical The general message was well-worth hearing although some of the points regarding the Roosevelt/Reagan dispositions were difficult to understand. I still gave it a four as I felt the points the author was trying to make were well worth listening to. As an individual who identifies as 'liberal'(more or less in the classical sense) who leans center-left, it's been a disappointing experience to see those on the left 'double-down' on identity politics. Engagement of diverse viewpoints has automatically been attributed as consorting with the enemy or as racist/sexist from the get-go. As outrage reigns, the nuances and complexities of today's issues left behind and friends/allies become alienated by shaming and virtue-signaling. The author theorizes how we came to be here and argues that, while some of the concerns are certainly legitimate, the means used to address them are tearing us apart as a people. It concludes with a few ideas on how the identity politics can be addressed. Worth a read, though to truly get the most out of it, I'd pair it with one of the Modern Political Thought classes from the Great Courses to give the reader a broader perspective on the principles of liberalism and conservatism. Overall, an 'ok' read.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Margaret B

    I think part of the reason I enjoyed this book so much is precisely because I’m sure that if Mark Lilla and I sat down to discuss politics, we’d probably disagree on quite a few issues. However, his argument against identity politics and for (the broad term) of citizenship and civic duty as a way to restore the democratic party is a very compelling one. I think anyone, regardless of which way you lean politically, could learn something valuable from this short book. It’s not about the issues the I think part of the reason I enjoyed this book so much is precisely because I’m sure that if Mark Lilla and I sat down to discuss politics, we’d probably disagree on quite a few issues. However, his argument against identity politics and for (the broad term) of citizenship and civic duty as a way to restore the democratic party is a very compelling one. I think anyone, regardless of which way you lean politically, could learn something valuable from this short book. It’s not about the issues themselves but about the duty we have to towards each other as citizens and broadening our circles through compromise, understanding, and a focus on the things we share, not the ways in which we are different.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    I really care about America's political future and have been more cautious at some knee-jerk protesting and #resistance in the face of a Trump presidency. Lilla's book offers wonderful context and historical analysis for the current state of the GOP and DNC that, as a young twenty something, I did not completely realize (although there are probably better books out there for that purpose). As a proud gay man, I feel the importance of identity politics but also worry about forces that differentia I really care about America's political future and have been more cautious at some knee-jerk protesting and #resistance in the face of a Trump presidency. Lilla's book offers wonderful context and historical analysis for the current state of the GOP and DNC that, as a young twenty something, I did not completely realize (although there are probably better books out there for that purpose). As a proud gay man, I feel the importance of identity politics but also worry about forces that differentiate us rather than bring us together - and that bringing together is ever more important if we are to go forward after this presidency. Lilla's firm diagnosis of the error in focusing almost wholly on identity politics (while still acknowledging their importance and effect) is firm and no-nonsense. Having seen many queer folk not willing to get to know conservative heteros but demanding full acknowledgement and rights from them left me feeling like something was off despite wanting those same rights. While I think Lilla is potentially too harsh at times, I'm convinced that the work the left needs to do should be messaging that resonates with all Americans and pushes legislative progress because of our shared bond as American citizens rather than pushing for special interests. However, I'm afraid this book won't be well received by many due to its, in my opinion unfair, consideration of social justice movements, Black Lives Matter, etc. In this regard, Lilla seems a little insensitive and out of touch. Our government is slow and elaborate, which is frustrating as a minority wanting change now, but I recognize the strength in its process. Lilla's book is a short, easy read. It's not perfect but I think it's an important consideration to have going forward.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Roger Green

    I read this book looking for more qualification and articulation of an earlier NYT article Lilla presented. He makes bland assumptions about the ways university education works, presumably based on his experiences as a Humanities professor at Columbia, where the Humanities do not suffer the same crises they suffer in poor universities where many of the disaffected and marginalized folks, especially in terms of class and income, go to school. His political genealogies are thinly drawn and weak, a I read this book looking for more qualification and articulation of an earlier NYT article Lilla presented. He makes bland assumptions about the ways university education works, presumably based on his experiences as a Humanities professor at Columbia, where the Humanities do not suffer the same crises they suffer in poor universities where many of the disaffected and marginalized folks, especially in terms of class and income, go to school. His political genealogies are thinly drawn and weak, and he completely misunderstands movements like Black Lives Matter. Perhaps most egregiously, he falls into a well-intentioned tirade against neoliberal identity categories but fails to see that much of the intellectual work done by responsible academics around such topics work to undermine this. In this sense he plays into the political hands of the (albeit befuddled) right. There are especially cringe-worthy, offhand references to the Mau Mau revolt and "shamans," where Lilla's rhetorical frequent framing around metaphors of religiosity presents itself with historical assumptions that have not been relevant since before the Civil Rights movement.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Karel Baloun

    On Page 104, Lilla finally presents two weak solutions: focus on institutions not just movements, and put citizenship and bringing together all citizens as top priority. He’s right that Democrats need the full big tent, but he uses this to say that hard left passion won’t win for the Dems as it worked for the right. He believes Trump is the end/betrayal of conservatism, but I find that over optimistic — as a more effective fascist demagogue could easily emerge. The rest of this thin volume is an On Page 104, Lilla finally presents two weak solutions: focus on institutions not just movements, and put citizenship and bringing together all citizens as top priority. He’s right that Democrats need the full big tent, but he uses this to say that hard left passion won’t win for the Dems as it worked for the right. He believes Trump is the end/betrayal of conservatism, but I find that over optimistic — as a more effective fascist demagogue could easily emerge. The rest of this thin volume is an attack on identity politics, which I agree, are the bane of both progressives and of democracy. Yet, he does a poor job in his viscous takedown by overusing his elite education down to full Marxist analysis, and including punchy non-sequiturs like “Identity politics is the Reaganism of the Left”. I’m not even sure to which choir he is preaching. Lilla is right that modern Democrats lack an ambitious, inspiring vision for the nation. And this book also provides next to none of that. Read Liu and Hanauer’s Gardens of Democracy instead.

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