August 27, 2017


Liberals, Shipwrecked : Democrat Mark Lilla seeks an alternative to identity politics, but it's a lonely quest. (William Voegeli, August 24, 2017, City Journal)

 He wants the Democratic Party to abandon identity politics for the sake of its electoral viability. Effecting beneficial changes requires wielding power, he argues, and in democracies, securing power requires winning elections. In America--vast, diverse, and unruly--such victories can be secured only through "the hard and unglamorous task of persuading people very different from [oneself] to join a common effort." Lilla thus finds it necessary to instruct fellow Democrats that elections are neither prayer meetings nor therapy sessions nor seminars nor "teaching moments."

What is identity politics? As a chapter epigraph, Lilla cites a statement from the Combahee River Collective, a 1970s group whose raison d'etre--black lesbians' issues and perspectives were getting short shrift from existing civil rights, gay rights, and feminist organizations--sounds like a parody of the problem Lilla describes. "This focusing upon our own oppression is embodied in the concept of identity politics," the statement said. "We believe that the most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to end somebody else's oppression."

This rejection of the very idea of an impartial dialogue is, Lilla believes, how the noble legacy of "large classes of people--African-Americans, women--seeking to redress major historical wrongs by mobilizing and then working through our political institutions" gave way, by the 1980s, to "a pseudo-politics of self-regard and increasingly narrow and exclusionary self-definition." Inherent in it is identitarians' "disdain" for the "ordinary democratic politics" of "engaging with and persuading people unlike themselves" in favor of "delivering sermons to the unwashed from a raised pulpit."

Rather than gratefully accept this enlightenment and path to redemption, however, the unwashed are likely to demand an identity politics of their own. "As soon as you cast an issue exclusively in terms of identity," Lilla warns, "you invite your adversary to do the same." Thus, Donald Trump's victory and Lilla's book, which grew out of a New York Times op-ed he wrote the week after the 2016 election.

Posted by at August 27, 2017 7:59 AM