Yale’s Beverly Gage slams Columbia’s Mark Lilla’s polemic in the New York Times Book ReviewHistorians in the News
tags: Mark Lilla, Beverly Gag, The Once and Future Liberal
Still gobsmacked by the 2016 election, many liberals may be yearning for a thoughtful, generous and well-informed book to put it all in perspective, a strategic account of where they’ve been, where they are now and where they ought to go. In “The Once and Future Liberal,” Mark Lilla, a professor of the humanities at Columbia and a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books, says his aim is to unify today’s fractured liberals around an agenda “emphasizing what we all share and owe one another as citizens, not what differentiates us.” Unfortunately, he does this in a way guaranteed to alienate vast swaths of his audience, and to deepen left-of-center divisions. Rather than engage in good faith with movements like Black Lives Matter, Lilla chooses to mock them, reserving a particularly meanspirited sneer for today’s campus left. “Elections are not prayer meetings, and no one is interested in your personal testimony,” he instructs “identity” activists, urging them to shut up, stop marching and “get real.”
The inspiration for this slim volume came from Lilla’s November 2016 New York Times article, “The End of Identity Liberalism.” That essay argued that “a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity” had turned liberals into navel-gazing do-nothings, “narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups.” In order to stop losing elections to the likes of Donald Trump, Lilla proposed, “the age of identity liberalism must be brought to an end.” As the book’s promotional material proudly notes, the piece set off “a firestorm of controversy.”...
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