The End of Identity Liberalism

10 days after Trump's election, Professor Mark Lilla wrote a obituary for a politics that is only beginning to be noticed.

Nov 05, 2017
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It is a commonplace in the mainstream media to hear of the divisions sewn by the current President of the United States, Donald J. Trump. These divisions are real, and they are troubling, but they did not begin with Trump and his supporters.

They began among the left and its ‘identity’ brand of liberalism, a tribalistic stance (a ‘rainbow coalition’ of minority group tribes) that is inherently divisive of the body politic as a whole, and the common good.

The author of this article, Mark Lilla, a humanities Professor at Columbia, rightly notes that while Hillary Clinton seemed very much to fall into the internationalist mould on foreign policy, ‘when it came to life at home, she tended on the campaign trail to lose that large vision and slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters at every stop.’

Lilla thinks that this was a strategic mistake, but one which had grown characteristic of the American New Left.  As Lilla notes, ‘In recent years American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.’

This was a strategic mistake because it excluded the voters necessary to win elections:

‘If you are going to mention groups in America, you had better mention all of them. If you don’t, those left out will notice and feel excluded. Which, as the data show, was exactly what happened with the white working class and those with strong religious convictions. Fully two-thirds of white voters without college degrees voted for Donald Trump, as did over 80 percent of white evangelicals.’

The problem with Lilla’s thesis is that he has misdiagnosed the problem.  It is not a mistake of political strategy, it is a mistake of worldview.

I have repeatedly connected identity liberalism with the underlying Cultural Marxism that has seeped from the university campuses and entertainment industry into the political agenda of the Democrat Party in the U.S. and its political equivalents abroad.

It now so pervades its worldview that it cannot be separated from it.

The human commonalities, the loss of which Lilla laments, have been resolutely under attack in the redefinition of the human person, of marriage, and of the family, since the 1970s by identity liberals.  He cannot celebrate these as achievements while still holding onto the common good that depended upon them.

Hillary Clinton lost the last election because she had the credibility deficit that came with the Clinton brand.  In order to establish her credibility with the now dominant radicals in her party, unlike her husband Bill, she was forced to play to her base.

And that base will no longer tolerate a common ground.

Read the full article in the New York Times

More recently, Lilla has repeated his call here in the Wall Street Journal and has recently brought out a book called The Once and Future Liberal. It is reviewed here.

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