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“The Once and Future Liberal” Book Review

Book review

Identity is about belonging, in the sense that, the common or differentiating factor between two individuals or groups giving people the feeling of individuality at its primary state. Every individual also lives with various identities that are always conflicting with each other, that require allegiance to a person or group either as men or women, black or white, or able-bodied or disabled etcetera. These tend to find a sense of belongings depends on various factors, but the central aspect is the shared values or those an individual wishes to share. Identity politics developed from the need to creatively integrate the diverse but divisive members of the society, making identity politics the central idea in the modern politics. However, identities are not neutral, and its quest is affected by the different and often conflicting values.

“The Once and Future Liberal”, discusses the impact of the strain “identity politics” has had on the American liberalism basing arguments on the recent unexpected election of Donald Trump as the president of the united states. The author of the book, Mark Lilla, believed that the basis of determining the healthiness of the national politics is commonality rather than differences. It is on this basis of commonality that he wishes to unite the fractured liberals who have seen the takeover of the American liberalism by the identity politics. He further argues that political identity cost the American identity, in that it values cultural and ethnic differences more than American identity.

Over the years, the American politics has evolved from Roosevelt liberalism, through the Reagan dispensation, to the Donald Trump, who he suggests is the herald of the death of the Reagan dispensation. Rooseveltian liberalism was a positive force that unified the American politics and culture through the vigorous ideas, charismatic leaders, strong institutions, as well as its accomplishments. Then came Reagan dispensation in which both the Right and Left proposed views that will make the political arguments based on the individuals or groups. However, this Reagan dispensation had significant impacts, from which American politics has not recovered. He notes that it is time that the liberals rallied and reinvent the Rooseveltian liberalism’s vision which is articulated in the modern times.

In the “Making White Supremacy Respectable Again,” the author Katherine Franke argues that Lilla is advocating for white liberalism and simplifies the integration of social movements. She adds that Lilla’s work centres on white life claiming that it is the most important one in the United States. Also, Franke makes an essential note in the sense that Lilla’s work sets a bad background on which white supremacy is made respectable. Lilla in his work blames Trump’s, which he terms an adverse outcome on the people of colour, women, and LGBT because of Hillary Clinton’s election campaign strategy that focused most on these groups in most of her speeches. Therefore, the liberals have developed an identity politics that is obsessed with individual feelings. Furthermore, he argues that to get back on the right track, liberal should commit themselves to pursue their commonality rather than the difference or diversity.

However, Katherine Franke, who is a colleague of Lilla at the University of Columbia, presents that this type of liberalism that Lilla is pursuing is the liberalism of white supremacy. It calls for placing the politics of common interest on the unmarked terrain of the lives and interests of whites. This liberalism disregards the protests by the people of colour and women as just complaints whereas they are based on facts. It is a progressivism that respects the endeavors of ethnic minorities and ladies to get out types of energy that support racial oppression and man centric society as a diversion. In this liberalism human sufferings and systems of power that produce the suffering as beside the point. Therefore, what matters are the liberal value and the idea of America as a “shining city on a hill” that derives allegiance, not our protest.

In “The limits of identity politics” the author relates the work of Lilla to the current political situation in Britain. The author further chooses to discuss these impacts by basing his argument on Lilla’s view on how to help the minorities in a democracy. Lilla wrote “There is a good reason that liberals focus extra attention on minorities since they are the most likely to be disenfranchised. But the only way in a democracy to assist them meaningfully – and not just make empty gestures of recognition and ‘celebration’ – is to win elections and exercise power in the long run, at every level of government.”

The left of Britain is considered with the labour out power since 2010, failing in 2017 election despite seven years of austerity. The right wing is boosted by the press such as BBC, which has an established biasness in an instance such as 2016 referendum where the executives also most rebranded themselves campaigners for the conservative party, rather than their initial broadcasting role. The left wing, however, is active in universities and cultural institutions in Britain.

Nevertheless, the left in the university are characterised by their inclinations and affiliation towards cultural politics representing identity politics as explained by professor Lilla. The focus of cultural politics is towards racial, gender and sexual identity instead of the commonality of politics for the good of the country. In Britain, there were the cultural wars in the 1960s, and social liberals realised victories and gains at that need to be welcomed. These gains and triumphs are with respect to bigotry and homophobia that were profoundly established in the way of life. Thanks to those cultural wars that significantly improved tolerance and harmony in Britain, which is considered one of the most tolerant and harmonious countries to live in.

The author asks “But are we too diverse” and tries to answer this question using the identity politics in Britain. The author guarantees that the left wing are more than the rainbow coalition of these repelled bunches with personality interests. Solidarity and the related feelings are affected by an obsession with the obsession with self-affirmation, will eventually trick the liberals into accepting illiberal behaviours to accommodate these multi-cultures. Ultimately, these behaviours cause weakened historical bonds in the class of institutional loyalties. The author finally concludes by challenging the progressive of Britain to reflect on Steve Bannon’s; former Trump’s chief strategist, statement on crushing Democrats so long as the Democrats focused on identity politics while they focused economic nationalism.

Fred Siegel in his article “It’s All Reagan’s Fault” criticises the book “The Once and Future Liberal” and argues that it missed the point it was supposed to bring home. Siegel argues that the book by Lilla loses its anticipated importance by using placating statements to discuss the dangers associated with politically correct identity politics. Throughout the article, Siegel points out the inadequacy by Lilla to relate his almost bizarre sense of history and the emotional underpinnings of political correctness. Siegel discusses the book in connection to the statement “no recognition of personal or group identity was coming from the Democratic Party, which at the time was dominated by racist Dixiecrats and white union officials of questionable rectitude.”

Scrutinising the statement above, Siegel wonders to which time of the Democratic Party Lilla is referring to in the comment. There is evidence that Lilla was ignorant of the history because there was no mention of the McGovern Democratic Conception of 1972 when the minority seat for women and blacks was introduced. Siegel father states that Lilla left out the contribution of Herbert Marcuse on the left. Marcuse contended that leftists and liberals were qualified to limit anti-extremist and reasonable discourse because the colleges needed to go about as a stabiliser to society on the loose.

One significant setback of “The Once and Future Liberal” according to Siegel is that the aim of the book is more practical than principled. Identity liberalism weakens its main want of politic power that is defined by its element of persuasion. He, however, contradicts this statement by suggesting that the primary objective of politics is to gain the power to defend the truth. Furthermore, Lilla claims that in case of a crisis such as the one in the mid-70s, the country blames the liberals without giving any evidence to support this statement. In fact, this is contrary to what happened in instances such as Keynesianism that led to inflation without growth during Carter’s presidency.

As if the bizarre political, historical claims were not enough, Lilla continues to explain identity as Reaganism, for the lefties. He describes citizenship as the tool to combat Reaganism, but instead of indulging into the expected issue of immigration and border, he criticises the “Black Lives Matter” movement as an example of how not build solidarity. It is in this last passages of the book that he indulges into the characteristics of zigzagging through concepts without providing any sufficient evidence to support his claims. Siegel then concludes his article by passing his verdict on the book as disappointing in most its pages because of the insights into identity using conventional soothing rhetoric.

The topic of identity politics in “The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics” by Mark Lilla, has received several criticisms; both positive and negative from different people. Aurelian Craiutu, in his article “Against Identity Politics”, criticises as well as applauds Lilla’s work in some instances. Craiutu, in the first part, discusses various works by such as Charles, Thomas E. Mann and Norman Ornstein, and David Brooks about Lilla’s work. He then explains Lilla’s view of the two ideologies that have been ruining liberalism. He then discusses Lilla’s advice to both sides of political spectrum before taking a stand on his view of the book.

In reaction to the article “A new spectre is haunting America: the spectre of “coming apart” by Charles Murray, Thomas E. Mann and Norman Ornstein claimed that the situation is worse than it looks. They displayed Republican Party as extreme ideologists who have polarised the partisan while Democratic Party as less extreme in their ideologies but still not perfect. Craiutu claims that the rise of Trumpism has been imminent because of the two different sides of United States’ living conditions. Whereas some parts of the United States live languishing lives, the rest live in an opposite situation. Therefore, the two are compared to two planets that are linked together, but the link will break at any moment. The book “The Once and Future Liberal” by Mark Lilla makes it clear that the hypothetical situation described above is a possibility shortly if not remedied immediately.

The author discusses the impacts of identity politics on the liberal views and the birth of these sentiments. He claims the political ideologies over the past few decades are to blame for the conception of identity politics into liberalism and the disintegration of the community as a result. Both sides of the political spectrum have embraced extreme individualistic ideologies. The right adopted “Reagan Dispensation” that eventually made the talk of common good a “taboo”. The left on the other side was affected by Reagan Dispensation, in that they stopped to think politically as well as losing its older focus on elections and policy. Ultimately, the left is fragmented politically and the efforts to win office and pursuing legislative agenda paralysed. Hence, to the left, the politics of identity is a form of Reaganism blunting the liberal and conservative visions of politics. To remedy this situation, Craiutu claims that Lilla calls for pragmatism to achieve equal citizenship.

Lilla then goes ahead to appeal to the possible influencers who can help remedy this situation such as the younger and narcissistic left-wing readers, conservative readers, and fellow academicians. In addressing the younger and narcissistic readers, he appeals to them to reject “Facebook model of identity” characterised by its presentation of an individual as a mere “homepage” and personal brand. There is also the appeal to fellow like-minded academics on the need to have more arguments as well as on the consequences of concepts of difference and intersectionality on shared citizenship. However, to the conservative, he blames them for their failure to control their camp such Sarah Palin and Donald Trump.

Craiutu finally puts forth his views on the book by Lilla, agreeing in some cases and disagreeing in some instances too. Craiutu states that Lilla is biased in the way he picks his targets leaving out legal and policy development that help promote identity politics. Lilla’s view of citizenship and duties is somewhat sentimental and abstract. Also, there is the issue of the type of liberal Lilla is, according to Craiutu, who claims that it is the centre-right liberalism of the European. He finally suggests that Lilla is in many aspects similar to Raymond Aron who passionately thinks politically leading to criticise almost everyone and reached his conclusions.

Beverly Gage in the book “An Intellectual Historian Argues His Case Against Identity Politics” criticises almost every aspect of the discussion put forth by Mark Lilla. He believes that such provocation that is finally to be compiled as a book needs additional research and substantial evidence to support one’s argument. Besides recognising that commonality should be the focus of shared citizenship, Lilla conveys his message in a way will cause disunity in his audience. Lilla chooses to mock movements such as Black Lives Matter and mean statements towards the campus’ left.

Gage criticises Lilla for not failing to provide the relevant literature through research to provide enough evidence to support his argument. Through such methods, he fails to describe the correct narrative of modern conservative movement and ignore conflicts and structural inequities caused by the golden age of liberalism. Gage further accuses Lilla of failing to realise the feelings of those involved in the identity politics such as the college activists. Also, Gage notes Lilla contradicts himself on the role of movements like feminism and civil rights in the American history, and currently finds this movement counterproductive.

Despite conceding that most American view themselves as members of an identity group, he states that these identity crisis needs prioritising one over the other. He also calls for solidarity from his fellow like-minded comrades, yet he scolds those who are identity conscious. Finally, Gage suggests that Lilla needed to inspect his contradictions and biases regarding identity. He concludes that “The Once and Future Liberal “is a missed opportunity of the highest order, trolling disguised as erudition.”

Jonathan Rauch gives one of the most insightful criticisms of Mark Lilla’s “The Once and Future of Liberalism” considering a wider perspective of identity politics and liberalism. He believes that Lilla’s book is polemic rather a comprehensive history or sociological study or a policy brief. Rauch further believes and encourages critics to base the criticism of this book by standards rather than as an academic scholarship. He further lauds both Lilla’s timing and how he chose his language to relay his message. In “Speaking as a…”, Jonathan Rauch starts by appreciating identity politics as one the main contributors to his marriage, just because it is an identity that caused legalisations of homosexuality. He, therefore, considers identity politics as one of the most influential agents of social change. It is with this respect that Jonathan Rauch discusses Mark Lilla’s take on identity politics for the liberals issuing reasons why identity politics should be abandoned in liberalism.

Rauch identifies two aspects of identity politics practice that many of left-centre activists and intellectuals undertake, which makes Lilla uncomfortable. The first is that their definition of identity politics drives away support. In this aspect, Rauch states that one the liberals lost trust in the electoral politics, they changed their approach to social change to incline towards the legal avenues. In the process, the liberals lost their bases such political organisations, eventually losing their original supporters; the blue-collar workers and white populists. The second aspect is that the liberals often do not practice politics at all in the recent past. He uses the data of the last election of 2016 to argue that the liberals have lost their touch in politics that consisted of almost similar gender and racial composition of the votes. Also, he observes that Lilla states that the liberal no longer conceive politics as not as common struggle but the tool for the struggle against specific forms of oppression

Rauch goes on to agree with Lilla’s view on identity politics in that identity groups work to divide people rather than unify people on shared commonality. Rauch then supports this claim by his own experience during his speeches where the view of class or race is either judged offensive or intolerant. Therefore, it is right to conclude that by putting off the conversation on colour or gender or class will only cause disunity losing its objectivity. Moreover, there is the difference in the economic status of citizens and tools such as education creating a great divide among the citizens.

The main obstacle that faces the liberal movement is the eschewed politics rather than the embraced identity, for example, when some political machines such as the District of Columbia that embraced identity politics but still ethnic favouritism existed. Rauch agrees that criticism of the whites using identity politics to their advantage. However, he also notes that Lilla made a distinction a section of the liberals were concerned with power, but the rest such as academics and activists have lost touch with power politics. He further blames these intellectuals for their role in letting the younger generation for the conception of politics and justice, with their understanding of politics more dangerous than the notion of justice. These academics lefts concentrated on training students about personal identities rather than winning elections and governing.

Rauch then discusses Lilla’s argument on the conservatives. He states that conservatives have set out to take over Republican Party. However, Rauch does not miss to point out is that Lilla uses ineffective examples of the movements that had decisive electoral impacts such as the Tea Party. He instead chooses to use Black Lives Matter movement that had the objective of end policy brutality against blacks. This example creates certain disunity that among those sympathetic to the cops and the victims of police brutality, even though it is morally right move. Liberals who align themselves with such movements by identifying themselves with identity politics, forsake their political thinking at the expense of sacramental thinking.

Rauch further believes that, despite failing of liberalism in their political ideology concerning identity politics, Lilla has made two crucial points. He agrees with Lilla’s claim that there has been a drift of progressives’ politics from power, little investments by activists, and intellectuals failing to organise to swing the state legislates and influencing congressional redistricting. He points out that Obama is in a way responsible for the current weakened party’s institutional capacity by undermining party building and campaigns activities, failing Clinton’s pursuit of the presidency.

Also, Rausch agrees to Lilla’s complaint that the academics of the left have lost their touch and consequentially failing liberalism. These intellectuals are responsible for convincing shaping the culture of liberalism by teaching their students and other professors. Therefore, Lilla believes that the only way the Democratic Party can reform is by through reforming, repudiating, or distancing itself from these academics left. The paper further emphasises the progress of liberalism throughout the history stating the consequences to liberalism during Bill Clinton’s and Obama’s era of the president. However, despite the achievement for the liberals under these two democratic presidents, there is need to incorporate different thinking style and integrating practical politics in their conception of social justice rather than treating politics as an afterthought and a distraction.

On November 20th, 2016, the New York Times published an article “The End of Identity Liberalism,” which focused on dissecting identity liberalism as discussed by Mark Lilla in his book “The Once and Future of Liberalism.” The paper starts by appreciating the diversity in modern America and its successful incorporation of different ethnic groups. However, it claims that such difference is a disaster to the democratic policies in this ideological age. However, in the recent year’s American liberalism has plunged into identity politics causing moral panic preventing the commonality as citizens to unify the Americans.

The paper then supports Lilla’s view that as a result of the last presidential election’s outcome, it is time the liberals start to “kill” identify liberalism. Despite Hillary Clinton’s maturity in politics and at her best, she couldn’t manage to garner enough voters to win the election because of pf her campaign strategy. Rather than concentrating the American citizens as a whole when asking for votes, she tragically slips into the rhetoric of diversity that cost her votes as shown by data. This strategic mistake was the direct result of identity liberalism that has been haunting the liberal since the Reagan dispensation.

The paper notes the importance of identity in cases where affirmative action has been used to reshape and improve corporate life, such as the Black Lives Matter. Nonetheless, it contends that there has been an obsession with assorted variety in both the schools and press, raising a generation that has no idea of the happenings in the world yet just is aware of the episodes in their identity groups. Since their enrolment into school, children are taught of their identities heightening diversity issues. The assorted diversity instructed in schools has been indirectly assimilated into the liberal media with governmental policy regarding minorities in society concentrated on ladies and the minorities thought about a most critical accomplishment in the media.

However, despite such positive impacts, identity liberalism has failed at the electoral levels. Commonality indicates a national health politics, unlike the differences. The paper further states the role of Reagan and Bill Clinton in the absorption of identity politics in liberalism. The two ensured used their time as president to accomplish various domestic programs for different groups, hence planting the seeds of identity among the different social groups among the citizens.

The article explains the “whitelash” concept and the impacts it has on the liberals’ view of identity. At its basic form, this concept frees the liberals from the obsession with diversity that has led the emergence of white, rural, and religious Americans as a possible disadvantaged group with regards to their identity. This emergence is regarded as a reaction to the rhetoric of identity rather than the questions of diversity. Liberals failed to understand that identity movement such as the Kux Klux Klan still exists and whoever plays this identity game is bound to lose.

The author of the article finally calls on post-identify liberalism which has its principles drawn from the successes of the pre-identity liberalism. The best way to way achieve such identity liberalism is by providing a platform where Americans discuss and emphasise on the shared commonality. Therefore, such programs will promote a nation where citizens realise the weight of citizenship and hence strive to work together and to help each other. The teachers on their part need to accomplish their political responsibility by teaching students to become committed citizens. It expresses that one prevailing characteristic of post-identity progressivism is that democracy not just advances rights but furthermore gives obligations, for example, voting by the citizens.

Work Report

Identity politics is the political activism of various social movements such as civil rights movement, feminists movement, gay and lesbians, ethnic separatists etcetera with the aim of political recognition, self-determination, and elimination of discrimination. Its central premise is that these social groups receive social injustice and they will need to rise to defend their groups’ interests collectively. It can be defined as the mobilising a society with regards to culture, identity and politics. Therefore, depending on the school of thought identity politics can either refer to cultural or political activism. Identity politics strives to differentiate the perceived privileges; social, political, and occupational, received by the dominant group and the assumed discrimination towards the oppressed group.

Mark Lilla in his book “The Once and Future of Liberals: The End of Liberal Liberalism”, takes to discuss the identity of the liberal ideologies. Lilla blames a bunch of liberals for their role in the election of Donald Trump as the president of the United States. Lilla’s concern is that the liberals have adopted the concept of identity politics in liberalism. Although Mark Lilla does not define the term “identity politics” in his book, analysing the text gives the reader an idea of what Lilla is talking about in the text. Analysis of the books makes the reader understand that the identity politics about liberalism that Lilla describes is the where the liberals forsake the politics that unites the nation on the common good rather than diversity of the citizenship. Lilla means that by allowing ideas that the liberals incorporate the concept of diversity and rhetoric of identity into liberalism hence forsaking the needs of the American citizens in general. Lilla decides to give his thoughts as a liberal citing various historical claims that have led to this unfortunate disaster of identity liberalism, which he believes cost the liberals political seats and offices.

The concept of identity liberalism has its seeds planted in the mid-twenties after the election of Reagan. After, this election the liberals failed to develop an ideology that is fresh and politically sold the dream of shared destiny that is compatible with the modern times. The liberals, due to frustration decided to take part in the movement whose basis of operation is personal identity. As a result, the liberals lost its focus on the commonality of the citizens that help unify the country, especially in the Roosevelt era liberalism which initiated the support of politic movements ideologies. In fact, Lilla refers to the identity liberalism as Reaganism of the lefts.

Lilla appeals to other liberals to bring to an end identity liberalism and declares that its time is up. He states that it is the obsession of the liberals in the campuses and the influential people with personal identity rather than reasoned political debate. The education systems mainly have blamed for this crisis, which has failed the pass the founding father’s visions of the United States. The students from the start are introduced to the personal identities which focus on what makes a particular group different from the rest rather than the conventional factor of citizenship. The academics need to teach students that besides the rights, each citizen must perform for the country. The influential leaders also need to promote the original ideologies of liberalism by devoting to liberalism. He envisions post-identity liberalism where the nations are united by the idea of their common citizenship and identity politics treated as just another minor aspect of politics.

In his work, Mark Lilla puts forth a theory that the eras of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Franklin Roosevelt set the tone for the emergence of identity politics. Despite successfully uniting the citizens on the commonalities, the three left devastating impacts on some groups in America. For example, though the New Deal had significant benefits to most Americans, it left out the Africans-Americans. Reagan promoted the idea of a small government that did not protect the vulnerable groups in the society efficiently due to its limited power. Clinton’s crime bill and welfare reforms created mass incarceration and disproportionately in the affairs of the communities of colour respectively. Therefore, by promoting equality in all the different types of the nation, the presidents ended up creating a nation that focuses its politics on the identity instead of the common good. By absorbing this concept of identity politics, the liberalism lost their initial political ideology of common good and focused on movements politics. Ultimately, the result was the birth of identity liberalism.

The author devises methods that will help end Trumpism and usher in the age of post-identity liberalism. Lilla outrightly states that the post-identity liberalism is liberalism based its ideologies on the pre-identity liberalism but is developed for the modern era. The eradication of identity politics will require the liberals called upon to embrace citizenship as the common factor in the nations and build political ideologies to improve the lives of each citizen without segregating on racial, or gender basis. He calls upon the academics to “march” in solidarity to mark the end of identity liberalism and teach the students about the dreams of founding fathers for the United States. He further calls on the influential liberal persons to take the initiative to build a party is inclined towards shared commonality and not the diversity of the country. He draws most of his sources from historical incidents that shaped the politics of the United States.

After 2016 presidential where Donald Trump surprisingly won the seat, Mark Lilla writes an op-ed in the New Statesman in which he criticises and blames the left liberals for this win. In the follow-up, the professor wrote a book that dissects the “op-ed” and explains further the reason for such blames on the liberal. He chooses a book as his source of publication because it provided him with enough length to drive his point home. The book can be classified as the genre of response, responding to the Donald Trump’s election. The book is called “the Once and Future of Liberal” in which Lilla turns his rage onto the intellectual-political class of the liberal for their role in promoting liberalism. It is only through a book that Lilla can put his sentiments extensively, in which he passionately urges the liberals to wake up using somewhat harsh and forgiving tone.

The primary audience that Lilla want to address are the liberals who have accepted the integration of the concept of identity politics into liberalism, thus accepting identity liberalism as a political ideology. However, even among the liberals, Lilla focus on certain sections such as the intellectuals, lefts, and students that have the power to change and eradicate the aspect of identity from liberalism.

Firstly, Lilla relates they birth of identity liberalism by giving the liberals the history of how the previous presidents have promoted the idea, tainting the initial ideology of the pre-identity liberalism. He addresses the left of focusing on Reaganism, which is identity focused, instead of the shared common good. Lilla also discusses the campuses for their failure in promoting education and teaching their students the visions of the founding father. The academics, he claims, focused on developing a personal identity among the students that focuses on differences, contradictions to the shared commonality in liberalism. The professor relates to his audience how this identity liberalism has affected the lives of the citizens. He appeals to the citizens of the United States to focus on the citizenship- the shared common good instead of differences to “make America great. Again.”

The book in itself is not academic oriented hence less research and data that could be interpreted therefore wishes to capture the attention of every citizen further and share his ideas to eliminate identity liberalism. Lilla also employs the historical narrative that focuses on bringing out the evolution of liberalism. In giving such story, he ensures that the readers of the book can relate to the factors that he believes, they will play a crucial part to change in the society. Also, the book is straight to the point and uses strong language while pointing to each target audience to make them think clearly on the identity liberalism. Finally, when addressing intellectuals, he uses his professional affiliations with them to express sentiments and disappointments towards the quality of education they are offering their students.



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