The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics

Mark Lilla. Harper, $24.99 (160p) ISBN 978-0-06-269743-1
This slim polemic excoriates the identity politics of contemporary liberalism and blames it for Donald Trump’s victory. In a reasoned analysis of 20th-century American politics, Lilla (The Shipwrecked Mind), a Columbia professor, observes that modern American politics is shaped by the visions of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. In the first, “citizens were involved in a collective enterprise” to guard against risk and the denial of fundamental rights. In the second, they were promised a “more individualistic America” that would prosper when liberated from government constraints. He argues that liberals’ collective response to the Reagan Dispensation was to lose “themselves in the thickets of identity politics” and essentially abandon fighting the Republican ascendancy at the electoral level. Because he works in broad strokes and makes no secret of his perspective as a “frustrated American liberal,” Lilla can get shrill, and he spends too much time on campus politics. Though he sometimes overreaches, he also convincingly argues that a lack of political vision and shared purpose are major reasons why America is now led by an “opportunistic, unprincipled populist.” The best liberal response, he argues, is to cultivate “a solidarity that transcends identity attachments.” Lilla’s analysis is insightful, but more likely to fire up debate in college classrooms than to mobilize the masses. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 08/28/2017
Release date: 08/01/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 176 pages - 978-0-06-269746-2
Downloadable Audio - 978-0-06-284335-7
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Audio book sample courtesy of HarperAudio
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