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The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics Hardcover – August 15, 2017
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“A terrific short book about the decline of American liberalism explaining how they went from the successes of FDR’s coalition to the pitfalls of today’s identity politics. It’s an accessible book that’s essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how we arrived in the Trump era and where the Democrats go from here.” (Fareed Zakaria, CNN)
“Though it’s a book written by a liberal Democrat for liberal Democrats, every conservative who cares about the future of American politics should read it… The Once And Future Liberal is a punchy, no-b.s. guide to how the Democrats can make the future their own… [A] must-read.” (Rod Dreher, The American Conservative)
“Brief but brilliant book.” (Fareed Zakaria, Washington Post)
“After the disaster of November 2016, a wreckage analysis is desperately needed. Mark Lilla offers a deep and provocative brief on what went wrong, and what liberals, moderates, and progressives might do about it.” (Steven Pinker)
“Mark Lilla will make many people mad, but to excellent purpose. He calls for a revived politics of liberty and justice for truly all and a real debate over how to achieve the common good. The job now is to find and include a genuinely diverse set of voices to create the new American ‘we the people’ that Lilla envisions.” (Anne-Marie Slaughter)
“In the age of Trump, Mark Lilla’s engaging and provocative book is a must-read. The Once and Future Liberal is full of insights on the failure of the identity politics movement, and on what progressives have to do to capture America’s imagination and secure the common good.” (William Julius Wilson)
About the Author
Mark Lilla is Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University and a prizewinning essayist for the New York Review of Books and other publications worldwide. His books include The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction; The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West; and The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Top customer reviews
This book is not an academic tome, rather a short (140 pages), accessible, call to action. Would a longer, more systematic work be "better?" Not if the goal is to reach a large number of readers - most people don't read a lot, especially not long, non-fiction books. Secondly, would that hypothetical, longer book be definitive? Who knows? It takes years to do thorough, careful research, write, and finally publish a substantial work of political and historical analysis. In the meantime many formerly loyal Democrat voters are withholding their votes from the Party due to its surrender to identity poltics.
I agree with his views on identity politics. However, even more fundamentally, employment is critical to sustaining a sense of nation and shared citizenship. Jobs not only pay the bills (hopefully) but bring people into the broader, public arena, linking them functionally and emotionally to other employees/workers and perhaps customers/clients, and offering a sense of accomplishment and contribution to society. Even if we do not live in the same neighborhoods, attend the same church, gossip in the same coffee shops, etc., shared workplace experiences do much to unite us.
Some people will disagree with my review and with the author on substance. Fine. There is much uncertainty here, especially when moving from ideas to their implementation (e.g, winning elections and running a government). Others, who might know or presume to know me, might dismiss my thoughts categorically: those of an OLD, CAUCASIAN, MIDDLE-CLASS ("bourgeois?"), OVER-EDUCATED, RIGHT-HANDED, etc., etc., MALE. Such categorizations have much in common with overzealous identity politics, and some so-called "diversity," and can make democracy unworkble.
Even if you are not liberal I believe this is a worthwhile book for you to read. While he doesn't specifically give guidance for how the right can clean up their act he points out their issues so succinctly that I believe it is not hard to see how they can work on fixing them.
I have long been a liberal myself and left of center on nearly everything. And I raise my middle finger high in solidarity with that hypothetical man. I sure hope he doesn't get immersed in white identity politics in response to his utter humiliation. He's the last kind for which it is acceptable to make fun of his religion, his intellect, and the way he talks.
This book nails the problem and cure, and to my surprise it looks like the left is actually listening.
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.