Synopses & Reviews
Impassioned and timely, this superbly written polemic by Mark Lilla based on his viral New York Times article argues that focusing on identity has failed the democratic party and offers a road map for a new kind of politics.
"This book is a polemic. It is written by a centrist American liberal stunned and outraged by the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. And it has been written out of anger."
The election of Trump marks the end of an era, argues LIlla, a respected Columbia professor and public intellectual. The political worldview defined by Ronald Reagan that has dominated the American political landscape for nearly four decades is over. On the right, conservatives must now grapple with the fact that a rhetoric of individual initiative and minimal government has given way to thoughtless populist demagoguery. On the left, liberals must reckon with an equally hard truth: Identity Politics has failed.
Driven by a sincere desire to protect the most vulnerable Americans, liberals have promoted a misguided rhetoric that has balkanized the electorate, encouraged individuals to look inward, and failed to offer a persuasive narrative championing government's crucial role in creating a better society. Embracing noble defeat over messy compromise, many liberals have forgotten how real political change is achieved--a stance that has allowed them to become marginalized in every realm of government, from Washington, DC, to the state and local level.
Though devastating, the 2016 election also offers liberals an opportunity to create a new, forward-thinking political narrative--one that reasserts the importance of solidarity, equal protection of the law, and communal purpose, while engaging in the difficult work of building a government to help every American. Blistering and challenging, The Once and Future Liberal is a roadmap and manifesto for twenty-first century liberal politics that can profoundly reshape our national conversation--and transform the left into a formidable, united force for positive change.
From one of the country's most admired political thinkers, an urgent wake-up call to American liberals to turn from the divisive politics of identity and develop a vision of our future that can persuade all citizens that they share a common destiny.
In The Once and Future Liberal, Mark Lilla offers an impassioned, tough-minded, and stinging look at the failure of American liberalism over the past two generations. Although there have been Democrats in the White House, and some notable policy achievements, for nearly 40 years the vision that Ronald Reagan offered--small government, lower taxes, and self-reliant individualism--has remained the country's dominant political ideology. And the Democratic Party has offered no convincing competing vision in response.
Instead, as Lilla argues, American liberalism fell under the spell of identity politics, with disastrous consequences. Driven originally by a sincere desire to protect the most vulnerable Americans, the left has now unwittingly balkanized the electorate, encouraged self-absorption rather than solidarity, and invested its energies in social movements rather than in party politics.
With dire consequences. Lilla goes on to show how the left's identity-focused individualism insidiously conspired with the amoral economic individualism of the Reaganite right to shape an electorate with little sense of a shared future and near-contempt for the idea of the common good. In the contest for the American imagination, liberals have abdicated.
Now they have an opportunity to reset. The left is motivated, and the Republican Party, led by an unpredictable demagogue, is in ideological disarray. To seize this opportunity, Lilla insists, liberals must concentrate their efforts on recapturing our institutions by winning elections. The time for hectoring is over. It is time to reach out and start persuading people from every walk of life and in every region of the country that liberals will stand up for them. We must appeal to - but also help to rebuild - a sense of common feeling among Americans, and a sense of duty to each other.
A fiercely-argued, no-nonsense book, enlivened by Lilla's acerbic wit and erudition, The Once and Future Liberal is essential reading for our momentous times.