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Mark Lilla Vs. Identity Politics

Donald Trump’s victory last November was a shattering event for American liberalism. Surveying the destruction, the liberal Columbia University humanities professor Mark Lilla wrote [1] that “one of the many lessons of the recent presidential election campaign and its repugnant outcome is that the age of identity liberalism must be brought to an end.” When his essay arguing for that claim appeared in The New York Times, it caused controversy on the left, because it dared to question one of American liberalism’s most dogmatically held beliefs.

Lilla has turned that op-ed piece into a short book called The Once And Future Liberal: After Identity Politics [2]which appears in bookstores today. It’s a thin but punchy book by a self-described “frustrated liberal” for liberals. Lilla is tired of losing elections, and tired of watching his own side sabotage itself. In an e-mail exchange, Lilla answered a few questions I put to him about the book:

RD: You fault liberals for throwing themselves “into the movement politics of identity, losing a sense of what we share as citizens and what binds us as a nation.” Critics might argue that the period of US history that you praise — the “Roosevelt Dispensation” — was a time when blacks, women, gays and other minorities were oppressed. The contention is that the binding you seek to restore was only achieved by suppressing difference in unjust and intolerable ways. How do you respond? 

ML: The conclusion simply doesn’t follow from the premise. The premise is correct: during this period blacks, women, gays, and other minorities were oppressed, and still are, though less so than in the past. But it does not follow that the oppression was achieved causally by suppressing difference. On the country: by setting moral standards of equality and solidarity liberals had weapons for criticizing such oppression and pushing this country to live up to its promise. We have learned from historian Ira Katznelson’s work about the subtle and not so subtle ways in which Dixiecrats succeeded in keeping African Americans from benefiting equally from the New Deal and even the Great Society. But now that we understand that, we can work to make sure it doesn’t happen again and that our programs cover all citizens simply by virtue of their citizenship. We want to abolish the racist difference.

In other words, to understand what ails this country you need to pay attention to difference. In order to fix what ails us you need to hold onto the universal democratic ideal. We and keep fighting until we can make it a reality.

It is very hard to make identitarians see this. They seem to prefer making a point to making a change. But politics is not a speech act and it does not take place in a seminar room. It is not about getting recognition for certain groups who have problems, it is about acquiring power to help them. Now, recognition is important in democratic societies and it is acquired through formal and informal education: what happens in the classroom, what we see on our television and movie screens, what we read. (Sesame Street played a huge role in making this a more tolerant country.) Social movements are important too, since they can change hearts and minds. But acquiring power in a democratic system means winning elections, and winning elections (especially given American federalism) means having to persuade a lot of people from different backgrounds in every corner of the country that they share something and can work together to build something.

One of your most important insights is that liberal politics, by becoming driven by identity, have largely ceased to be truly political, and have instead become effectively religious (“evangelical” is the word you use). Can you explain? 

We are an evangelical people. How we ever got a reputation for practicality and common sense is a mystery historians will one day have to unravel. Facing up to problems, gauging their significance, gathering evidence, consulting with others, and testing out new approaches is not our thing. We much prefer to ignore problems until they become crises, undergo an inner conversion, write a gospel, preach it at the top of our lungs, cultivate disciples, demand repentance, predict the apocalypse, beat our plowshares into swords, and expect paradise as a reward. And we wonder why our system is dysfunctional…

Identity politics on the left was at first about large classes of people – African Americans, women – seeking to redress major historical wrongs by mobilizing and then working through our political institutions to secure their rights. It was about enfranchisement, a practical political goal reached by persuading others of the rightness of your cause. But by the 1980s this approach had given way to a pseudo-politics of self-regard and increasingly narrow self-definition. The new identity politics is expressive rather than persuasive. Even the slogans changed, from We shall overcome – a call to action – to I’m here, I’m queer – a call to nothing in particular. Identitarians became self-righteous, hypersensitive, denunciatory, and obsessed with trivial issues that have made them a national laughing stock (drawing up long lists of gender pronouns, condemning spaghetti and meatballs as cultural appropriation,…). This was politically disastrous and just played into the hands of Fox News.

What the new identitarians demand is more than mere recognition, though. They demand that you see this country exactly as they do, reach the same moral judgments about it, and confess your sins (which is what the word “privilege” is a secular euphemism for). The most recent books by Ta-Nahesi Coates and Michal Eric Dyson are quite explicit about this need for repentance. The subtitle of Dyson’s is A Sermon to White America. And the use of the term woke is a dead giveaway that we are in the mental universe of American evangelicalism not American politics.

There is a barbed, pithy phrase toward the end of your book: “Black Lives Matter is a textbook example of how not to build solidarity.” You make it clear that you don’t deny the existence of racism and police brutality, but you do fault BLM’s political tactics. Would you elaborate?

There is no denying that by publicizing and protesting police mistreatment of African-Americans the BLM movement mobilized people and delivered a wake-up call to every American with a conscience. But then the movement went on to use this mistreatment to build a general indictment of American society and its racial history, and all its law enforcement institutions, and to use Mau-Mau tactics to put down dissent and demand a confession of sins and public penitence (most spectacularly in a public confrontation with Hillary Clinton, of all people). Which, again, only played into the hands of the Republican right.
As soon as you cast an issue exclusively in terms of identity you invite your adversary to do the same. Those who play one race card should be prepared to be trumped by another, as we saw subtly and not so subtly in the 2016 presidential election.

But there’s another reason why this hectoring is politically counter-productive. It is hard to get people willing to confront an injustice if they do not identify in some way with those who suffer it. I am not a black male motorist and can never fully understand what it is like to be one. All the more reason, then, that I need some way to identify with him if I am going to be affected by his experience. The more the differences between us are emphasized, the less likely I will be to feel outrage at his mistreatment.

There is a reason why the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement did not talk about identity the way black activists do today, and it was not cowardice or a failure to be woke. The movement shamed America into action by consciously appealing to what we share, so that it became harder for white Americans to keep two sets of books, psychologically speaking: one for “Americans” and one for “Negroes.” That those leaders did not achieve complete success does not mean that they failed, nor does it prove that a different approach is now necessary. There is no other approach likely to succeed. Certainly not one that demands that white Americans confess their personal sins and agree in every case on what constitutes discrimination or racism today. In democratic politics it is suicidal to set the bar for agreement higher than necessary for winning adherents and elections.

Chris Arnade, I believe it was, once wrote that college has replaced the church in catechizing America. You contend that “liberalism’s prospects depend in no small measure on what happens in our institutions of higher education.” What do you mean? 

Up until the Sixties, those active in liberal and progressive politics were drawn largely from the working class or farm communities, and were formed in local political clubs or on union-dominated shop floors. Today they are formed almost exclusively in our colleges and universities, as are members of the mainly liberal professions of law, journalism, and education. This was an important political change, reflecting a deep social one, as the knowledge economy came to dominate manufacturing and farming after the sixties. Now most liberals learn about politics on campuses that are largely detached socially and geographically from the rest of the country – and in particular from the sorts of people who once were the foundation of the Democratic Party. They have become petri dishes for the cultivation of cultural snobbery. This is not likely to change by itself. Which means that those of us concerned about the future of American liberalism need to understand and do something about what has happened there.

And what has happened is the institutionalization of an ideology that fetishizes our individual and group attachments, applauds self-absorption, and casts a shadow of suspicion over any invocation of a universal democratic we. It celebrates movement politics and disprizes political parties, which are machines for reaching consensus through compromise – and actually wielding power for those you care about. Republicans understand this, which is why for two generations they have dominated our political life by building from the bottom up.

“Democrats have daddy issues” you write. I’d like you to explain that briefly, but also talk about why you use pointed phrasing like that throughout your polemic. I think it’s funny, and makes The Once And Future Liberal [2] more readable. But contemporary liberalism is not known for its absence of sanctimony when its own sacred cows are being gored. 

I was referring to Democrats’ single minded focus on the presidency. Rather than face up to the need to get out into the heartland of the country and start winning congressional, state, and local races – which would mean engaging people unlike themselves and with some views they don’t share – they have convinced themselves that if they just win the presidency by getting a big turnout of their constituencies on the two coasts they can achieve their goals. They forget that Clinton and Obama were stymied at almost every turn by a recalcitrant Congress and Supreme Court, and that many of their policies were undone at the state level. They get Daddy elected and then complain and accuse him of betrayal if he can’t just make things happen magically. It’s childish.

As for my writing, maybe Buffon was right that le style c’est l’homme même [style is the man — RD]. I find that striking, pithy statements often force me to think than do elaborate arguments. And I like to provoke. I can’t bear American sanctimony, self-righteousness, and moral bullying. We are a fanatical people.

As a conservative reading The Once And Future Liberal [2], I kept thinking how valuable this book is for my side. You astutely point out that before he beat Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump trounced the GOP establishment. Republicans may hold the high ground in Washington today, but I see no evidence that the GOP is ready for the new “dispensation,” as you call the time we have entered. It’s all warmed-over, think-tank Reaganism. What lessons can conservatives learn from your book?

I hope not too many, and not until we get our house in order! But of course if Palin-Trumpism – we shouldn’t forget her role as Jane the Baptist – has taught us anything, it is that the country has a large stake in having two responsible parties that care about truth and evidence, accept the norms of democratic comportment, and devote themselves to ennobling the demos rather than catering to its worse qualities. Democrats won’t be able to achieve anything lasting if they don’t have responsible partners on the other side. So I don’t mind lending a hand.

I guess that if I were a reformist Republican the lessons I would draw from The Once and Future Liberal [2]would be two. The first is to abandon dogmatic, anti-government libertarianism and learn to start speaking about the common good again. This is a country, a republic, not a campsite or a parking lot where we each stay in our assigned spots and share no common life or purpose. We not only have rights in relation to government and our fellow citizens, we have reciprocal duties toward them. The effectiveness, not the size, of government is what matters. We have a democratic one, fortunately. It is not an alien spaceship sucking out our brains and corrupting the young. Learn to use it, not demonize it.

The second would be to become reality based again. Reaganism may have been good for its time but it cannot address the problems that the country – and Republican voters – face today. What is happening to the American family? How are workers affected by our new capitalism? What kinds of services (i.e., maternity leave, worker retraining) and regulations (i.e., anti-trust) would actually help the economy perform better and benefit us all? What kind of educational system will make our workers more highly skilled and competitive (wrong answer: home schooling)? If you don’t believe me, simply read Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam’s classic The Grand New Party [3], which laid this all out brilliantly and persuasively a decade ago. It’s been sitting on shelves gathering dust all this time while the party has skidded down ring after ring of the Inferno. (A conservative publisher should bring out an updated version…) Or take a look at the reformicon public policy journal National Affairs [4].

Oh, and a bonus bit of advice: get off the tit of Fox News. Now. It rots the brain, makes you crazy, ruins your judgment, and turns the demos into a mob, not a people. Find a more centrist Republican billionaire to set up a good, reality based conservative network. And relegate that tree-necked palooka Sean Hannity to a job he’s suited for, like coaching junior high wrestling…

As you know, there is a lot of pessimistic talk now about the future of liberal democracy. There’s a striking line in your book: “What’s extraordinary — and appalling — about the past four decades of our history is that politics have been dominated by two ideologies that encourage and even celebrate the unmaking of citizens.” You’re talking about the individualism that has become central to our politics, both on the left and the right. I would say that our political consciousness has been and is being powerfully formed by individualism and consumerism — tectonic forces that work powerfully against any attempt to build solidarity. Another tectonic force is what Alasdair MacIntyre calls “emotivism” — the idea that feelings are a reliable guide to truth. Could it be the case that identity politics are the only kind of politics of solidarity possible in a culture formed by these pre-political forces?

It’s an interesting argument that, if I’m not mistaken, Ross Douthat has made in other terms. I can see that they might be gestures toward solidarity but real solidarity comes when you identity more fully with the group and make a commitment to it, parking your individuality for the moment. Identitarian liberals have a hard time doing that.

Take the acronym LGBTQ as an example. It’s been fascinating to see how this list of letters has grown as each subgroup calls for recognition, rather than people in the groups finally settling on a single word as a moniker – say “gay,” or “queer,” or whatever. I don’t see how ID politics makes solidarity possible. Instead it just feeds what I call in the book the Facebook model of identity, one in which I like groups temporarily identify with, and unlike them when I no longer do, or get bored, or just want to move on.

Here’s a last question — and forgive me, but it’s a long one. I’ve been reading the French novelist Michel Houellebecq lately, and have been struck by how darkly prophetic he is. Houellebecq is not a religious believer, but his novels explore the arid landscape of the post-Christian, materialist West (or at least France). Following Comte, Houellebecq thinks it’s impossible to bind a society together without religion of some kind. In this sense, identity politics may have to do with the demise of Christianity and its replacement by a de facto materialism built around worship of the Self and its desires. (I should say here that I agree with the sociologist of religion Christian Smith, who writes that American Christianity has been hollowed out and replaced by an ersatz, self-centered pseudo-religion he calls Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.) Louis Betty, an American scholar of French literature, from his study of the religious dimension of Houellebecq’s work. Betty observes that as religion (Christianity, specifically) loses its centrality to a society’s life, and becomes rather just another part of the whole, it dissolves. “This is simply not enough for modern people; the symbols therein are too weak, too uncoupled from ordinary existence to give serious motivation. Religion must set a disciplinary canopy over the head of humankind, must order its acts and its moral commitments, must furnish ultimate explanations capable of determining the remainder of social life; otherwise, religion loses itself in the morass of competing perspectives (scientific, commonsense, political, etc.) This is precisely what has happened in the West… .” I agree that the West has torn down the “disciplinary canopy” of the Christian religion. My question to you, assuming that you broadly agree with this judgment, is this: What comes next? What “strong god” will re-bind us? Offer a best-case scenario, and a worst-case one. 

Now we’re getting to my last book, The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction [5]. This is a subject I’ve thought a good deal about, and not only in relation to Houellebecq, who figures in Shipwrecked, so forgive me if I digress.

I don’t agree with your judgment, and here’s why: I have no faith in grand, apocalyptic historical narratives, any more than I have faith in optimistic progressive ones. The worry about the social consequences of abandoning religion are quite old. Just look at ancient Roman polemics against Christianity, which (besides being brilliantly funny sometime) revolved around the social effects of Jesus’s message, not its truth or falseness. Reform movements within Christianity itself have often rung the alarm about cultural decline, for reasons opposite of the Romans’: the Romans found Christianity unmanly and anti-civic, Christian reformers have found every new orthodoxy (most of which began in reform movements) a threat to the simple Christian life and the family.

But something in these polemics changed after the French Revolution, when the focus shifted from the goodness of the Christian life to how the course of history was destroying it. After the Revolution thinkers felt compelled not only to come to a judgment about “modernity” as a set of values but as a historical bloc, a geschichtliche Poltergeist [historical poltergeist — RD]. The anti-moderns started telling a story modelled on the Christian one – Abraham /Kairos / Jesus, lost soul / Kairos / saved soul – but with an apocalyptic conclusion: Christian paradise / Jacobin Kairos / modern inferno. All the variety and complications of the Christian era got airbrushed out, as did the variety and complications of the post-Christian one.

This kind of thinking drew thinkers into a kind of intellectual game, call it “pin the tail on the Kairos.” Crime in the streets? Blame Rousseau. Children speaking back to parents? Blame Voltaire. Kids on the internet? Blame the Encyclopédie. (See my chapter on Brad Gregory in Shipwrecked.)

It’s an intellectual trap. Yes, certain things precede others things; changes have consequences; etc. But history is not a thing, it is a story we tell ourselves as we try to make sense of past and present experience. It does not come divided into pre-cut eras; an “era” is just the space between two marks on a ticker tape that we ourselves draw in order to make sense of our experience. They are useful only so long as they explain things. An era does not have inner “spirit,” such that, if we understand it, we can both explain what has happened in it and, for the present age, predict what will come next. That’s magical thinking.

And it leads to questions like yours: what comes next? If period A was happy because of X, and period B is unhappy because it destroyed X, in period C won’t we have to either restore X or find a substitute for it? This was Comte’s idea and Houllebecq plays with it in his novels. (He never does more than play, which saves his writing.) But what if the picture is all wrong? What if, say, human nature is pretty much the same and that in different historical and social conditions certain qualities get exaggerated, and others wither. Once, say, in our society we were less tolerant but more charitable; today, the reverse. That’s not surprising, and thinking in this way forces you pay attention to both the benefits and costs of change. Yes, sometimes there are costs without benefits, but usually not in human affairs.

That’s not so say we aren’t obliged to choose how to live; we are, because we can. We don’t have to wait for a new apocalypse to overcome the effects of the last one. Certain anti-modern arguments take the form, “things just can’t go on like this.” But, as a sage once put it, if things “can’t go on” they won’t. And modern society does go on. Anti-modern critics need to recognize that: yes we can live in a world without religion structuring our relations, without a “sacred canopy,” etc. The only relevant question is whether it is a good way to live or not.

An example: I read Allan Bloom’s The Closing Of The American Mind [6] while living in Rome, just after it came out. I started it on a lovely Sunday afternoon after I had just taken a walk in the park, where I saw kids dressed in punk and goth outfits (the Eighties!) strolling with their grandmothers who were dressed in widow’s black. It was not the old Catholic Italy, but it was still Italy. People were eating the same food, hanging out with large networks of friends, showing up late for everything. And the ship sailed on. So after my walk and a nice lunch on a sunny piazza I pick up Bloom and learn that the apocalypse has already happened, that we are surely doomed, that modernity destroys all virtue, that Woodstock was no different from Nuremberg, and other such nonsense. It was a liberating moment for me intellectually, and inoculated me forever against prophets of doom drunk on historical fables.

That does not mean the present is acceptable because it is where history has landed us. That, too, is a historicist trap. We still have to choose how to live. What I appreciate about The Benedict Option [7], stripped of historiological hocus-pocus, is that it makes an ultimate value judgment about certain ways of living, and urges people to withdraw and take control of their lives as best they can. We are always in a historical situation, but we can always choose how to live in the face of it, individually and collectively. Not everything is possible, but certainly everything is not so determined that Nur ein Gott kann uns retten [“Only a god can save us” — philosopher Martin Heidegger’s judgment on our time]. To choose is to live seriously, and I respect people who do that consciously and with full awareness of the consequences.

My prescription for anti-moderns is to up your dose of Sartre and stop taking those Hegel-Comte-MacIntyre pills. They don’t agree with you.

What should we learn about identity politics from the terrible events in Charlottesville?

First, obviously, is how inflammatory identity can be.  I’m struck by the psychological parallels between the Charlottesville killer and the marginal types who are drawn to political Islamism in Europe.  These kids tend to be loners, often from broken homes, who find in identitarianism what they think is an explanation of all their resentments, and a program for striking back.  It gives them a purpose and a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves.  And once they are sucked in, the logic of the ideology drives them relentlessly toward violence.  The content of the ideology matters, in both cases.  Political Islamism is about Islam (a perversion of it) and the racist alt-right is about the right (a perversion of American conservatism).  We need to recognize both facts.

Second, for my side, the lesson should be that left identitarianism is a dead end.  It does not unify anybody and it only plays into the hands of the alt-right by inflaming passions. We need to recognize that.

Third, for the conservative movement, the lesson is that you own this.  Yes, you are horrified by what happened and you condemn it in no uncertain terms.  But you have failed to police your side, you have sanctioned indifference to truth, fallen silent in the face of demagogues (Beck, Palin, Hannity, Trump), tolerated a horrifying internet subculture, demonized your opponents, and inflamed hysteria.  By not attacking white nationalism you have abetted it.  Just as moderate imams in Europe preferred not to see what was happening in their mosques, so you have been in denial about the environment you created. It is time to pluck the identity beam out of your own eye before complaining any more about left identity politics.

Mark Lilla’s new book The Once And Future Liberal: After Identity Politics [2] is out today from Harper.

82 Comments (Open | Close)

82 Comments To "Mark Lilla Vs. Identity Politics"

#1 Comment By JonF On August 17, 2017 @ 6:33 am

Re: Popular vote totals were not recorded until 1824.

I said nothing about popular votes. I was pointing out the contentiousness of elections which is well recorded in pamphlets and newspapers of the times. It was certainly not the case that we were some decorous, dull, well-mannered republic before recent times with never a fierce, ugly political contest dividing us into hostile camps. The election of 1860 alone belies that claim– it led straight to the Civil War.

#2 Comment By JonF On August 17, 2017 @ 6:36 am

Also, Joe Sansonese, today’s meager popular vote totals suggests that huge numbers of Americans are disengaged from politics

#3 Comment By Rob G On August 17, 2017 @ 7:40 am

“I wonder if there is an analogous book from a conservative perspective.”

Not yet, at least not a post-Trump one. But some of the essays from Patrick Deneen’s recent book Conserving America? excel at hitting a similar mark, and it very much pays to revisit Lasch’s 1990(!) essay “Conservatism Against Itself,” which, though it didn’t (and couldn’t have) predicted Trump, was remarkably prescient in other ways, many of which still hold true for today.

#4 Comment By James Hartwick On August 17, 2017 @ 7:48 am

Great interview. I would have like to see Lilla’s definition of identity politics, as opposed to regular politics

#5 Comment By Centralist On August 17, 2017 @ 8:01 am

To Scott in PA,

He is not addressing a liberal audience here hence is point. Telling liberals to police Hilary etc on a Conservative site is telling, Democrats to watch Trump. They are already doing that. Got to police your own.

#6 Comment By Liam On August 17, 2017 @ 8:02 am

“Fun facts: (1) in 1850 the department of Agriculture had six or seven full-time employees in Washington! In a population in which 90% of workers were employed on farms or ranches!! (2) The State Department employed perhaps three dozen. (3) The War and Navy departments employed fewer than 1000 in Washington (soldiers and sailors amounted to about 13,000, mostly on the frontier and a few dozen military posts east of the Mississippi). (4) The largest Federal employer was the Post Office, 98% of whose employees were local postmasters and assistant postmasters. (See Nevins’ “Ordeal of the Union,” 1947).”

And there were no truly national economic enterprises yet, either. The Gilded Age saw a transformation of the legal nature of the corporation (it used to be something that was specifically chartered as a privilege by state legislatures, for a limited time and relatively narrow purposes, and without the ability to distribute value to shareholders that was not hard financial assets) and once that happened, it was only a matter of time that government followed suit, because the government is part of the market, not something outside it, as market participants are voters. The only way the national government could ever be effectively reduced to its pre-Gilded Age size is for private enterprise to be likewise re-localized.

#7 Comment By Frankie T. On August 17, 2017 @ 9:43 am

Thanks for posting a very thoughtful and thought-provoking conversation. You’ve motivated me to read Lilla’s new book and probably “A Shipwrecked Mind” as well.

#8 Comment By Joe Sansonese On August 17, 2017 @ 10:53 am

Liam, “no truly national economic enterprises” needs clarification, I think. Before the Civil War, thousands of miles of railroad track had been laid east of the Mississippi without Washington participating at all. Similarly for toll roads, canals, bridges, and most dams. For just one example, the Erie Canal, a daunting project even by today’s standards, was a project of the State of New York and private investors. As I mentioned, in a country where nearly 90% of the workforce was engaged in farming or raising livestock, the total disbursement of the United States apartment of Agriculture in the three decades after it was established in the 1820s amounted to twenty-thousand dollars!

Jon F. You were talking about “contentiousness,” I agree. The problem is that the comment to which you were replying, mine, did not. What I claimed and still do was that the majority of Americans did not much care what was happening in Washington. The minority who did care a great deal does not change that assertion one bit, no matter how indecorous or obstreperous they may have behaved.

Also, I must say, as low as voter participation allegedly is now, the 110-million votes cast in November, 2016, as a percentage of eligible voters is far greater than the 6% who voted in elections in November, 1824. By 1852 the number of voters had inched up to approximately 11% of eligible voters (free adult males).

Your entire line of argument is not merely unresponsive but inherently implausible as well. Until the agitations leading up to and accompanying the Civil War, a unique even without parallel in American history, the legislature in Washington was in session only five months of the year and “accomplished” very little by the madcap standards of the Twentieth Century since World War I and particularly since the New Deal. Why on earth would Americans care about what was happening in DC when so little of it had much to do with their concerns?

At present, in my opinion, we suffer from a kind of collective neurosis, exacerbated by modern communications but rooted in an obsessive and unwholesome interest in what happens in Washington, DC. And that is not, I think, a matter of putting the car before the horse. The utter lack of understanding of constitutional Federalism in action, as well as their role in preserving it, on the part of American citizens itself put in office and encouraged intolerable overreach by all three branches of the federal government, which then feel licensed to set about interfering in every sector of life from the economy to faith and morals. And the Constitution can just go knit. The UNPRECEDENTED levels of hatred, rancor, and nihilistic bitterness we witness all around us in a time of relative peace and prosperity are the result. The Caesars gave the populace of Rome bread and circuses. Our Nero’s provide wormwood and gall.

Mister Lilla urgently desires that we find some means of coming together politically. Hell no! That is the very antithesis of constitutional Federalism, another tedious example of the Left trying to homogenize an un-homogenous nation with the entirely predictable result of increasing civil discord.

Vive le Differences! says I. Let the states be as radically different as is consistent with republican government within each one of them. Let the rings in Washington become once again a matter of indifference most of the time.

#9 Comment By JonF On August 17, 2017 @ 1:21 pm

Also, I must say, as low as voter participation allegedly is now, the 110-million votes cast in November, 2016, as a percentage of eligible voters is far greater than the 6% who voted in elections in November, 1824.

You are aware that women could not vote back then (that’s half the population) and some states still had property qualifications? Universal white male suffrage was still coming into vogue.
And even so the election result created a great deal of public fractiousness: It was thrown into the House of Representatives where John Quincy Adams was made president, to the outrage of a sizable fraction of the population. That election effectively ended the Era of Good Feeling.
Which points to another reality: the Federal Government could and sometimes did do things that affected the well being of a great many citizens, like the War of 1812 which nearly provoked New England into seceding because it wrecked the economy up there. And some years later Andrew Jackson’s asinine policies brought about the Panic of 1837 (saddling Andrew’s hapless successor with the damage, so he was widely known as Martin van Ruin).
In any event Liam has it right: if you want that world you need a time machine to go back to it. There’s no way we could function today without more or less the level of governance we have– not unless you want a human die-off that would make the Black Death look like an outbreak of the sniffles.

#10 Comment By Joe Sansonese On August 17, 2017 @ 2:08 pm

Jon F: That women could not vote supports my claim, I think. Why would they concern themselves with a faro government over which they wielded no political influence?

In any event, you persist in citing examples of rarities like wars and financial panics, as if the reaction to such disasters by Americans was the norm.

Liam may be right. I do not know much about finance capitalism. I do believe, and it’s just a guess, that if for a start the federal income tax were repealed we’d return to the climate of opinion I recommend rather quickly.

I do know that “a human die-off that would make the Black Death look like the sniffle”” is preposterously silly, counterfactual gasbaggery.

#11 Comment By Joe Sansonese On August 17, 2017 @ 2:11 pm

Jon F: That women could not vote supports my claim, I think. Why would they concern themselves with a faro government over which they wielded no political influence?

In any event, you persist in citing examples of rarities like wars and financial panics, as if popular reaction to such disasters by Americans was the norm.

Liam may be right. I do not know much about finance capitalism. I do believe, and it’s just a guess, that if for a start the federal income tax were repealed we’d return to the climate of opinion I recommend rather quickly.

I do know that “a human die-off that would make the Black Death look like the sniffles” is preposterously silly, counterfactual gasbaggery.

#12 Comment By Liam On August 17, 2017 @ 5:04 pm

Joe: “no truly national economic enterprises” needs clarification, I think. Before the Civil War, thousands of miles of railroad track had been laid east of the Mississippi without Washington participating at all. Similarly for toll roads, canals, bridges, and most dams.”

Other than the National Road and odd exceptions like the (failed) C&O canal, none were national enterprises. All highly local. It was the era of consolidation that followed that created truly national enterprises. It was only a matter of time for the gummint to follow suit. Your apparent vision of a restored First Republic is gossamer. “If only … people weren’t” … people. The problem of libertarianism is that it pretends to honor human nature while simultaneously ignoring it. It reminds me of how couples who imagine open relationships will solve their relationship friction naively privilege libido needs over other needs that can be even stronger than libido.

#13 Comment By Joe Sansonese On August 17, 2017 @ 6:41 pm

Liam: I have not been talking about restoring the old Republic. I am recommending that the attitude towards Washington and all its denizens, from the president on down, an attitude that is directly connected to constitutional Federalism—not Libertarianism, by the way. I am not a libertarian by any stretch—of that era be encouraged and reinforced.

There are valuable lessons, though. The Department of agriculture had a half-dozen employees in 1850 as opposed to 23,000 now. Does that not ring any alarm bells? Does that even seem sane to you? the population of the United States was approximately 30 million in 1850, roughly one-tenth the present population. Is six one-tenth of 23,000? The United States was the most prosperous nation on earth in the Nineteenth Century without two-million or even twenty-thousand federal employees. How was that possible?

Supposing that the federal income tax were phase out, what would happen? Not chaos, not hunger nor deprivation, but almost certainly a significant rise in state taxes. That would be fine by me. State-government fools, meddlers, and parasites can be more effectively managed by the populations of the state in which they function than Washington fools, meddlers, and parasites who it is now clear cannot be controlled at all if they do not want to be.

I submit that the relative irrelevance, if you will forgive the neologism, of Washington, it is as plain as paint, is what our constitutional Federal system was specifically designed to further: state control over nearly everything that government may legitimately control, regulate, and legislate, with the exceptions of defense, foreign affairs, and of interstate commerce strictly construed.

There is nothing utopian or “gossamer” about that. As a practical matter was the federal income tax, not abstruse changes in the laws of incorporation, that enabled the federal behemoth to create the bureaucratic nightmare we now live in. Let’s repeal it, in stages if necessary, and see what happens.

#14 Comment By Anne On August 17, 2017 @ 7:35 pm

Mark Lilla can go on and on about illiberal liberalism in academia and rack up kudos from Right and Left (witness all the blog space devoted to him and his book right here in recent weeks) because, for one thing, he’s demonstrably correct as far as he goes. Unfortunately, when it comes to what his book is supposed to be about, so-called “identity politics,” he’s not; for liberals, or more to the point, for Democrats in America, he’s dangerously wrong. The term is, after all, a pejorative the Right uses to denigrate positions and policies the Left has successfully championed over the past 50 or so years to help under-represented — and oftentimes, straight-out persecuted — groups of Americans gain the political clout needed to enter and/or compete in the social mainstream. This wasn’t some newfound trick to win more voting blocs. Both Democrats AND Republicans had been doing it for decades. When groups of citizens find powerful organizations to champion their legitimate needs, everybody benefits in the end. It’s only when Democrats champion one group and Republicans their opponents that “identity politics” becomes an issue, and then mainly for the side that’s in danger of losing more than it can gain. Let’s just say Lilla is one of the few who thinks it’s the Democrats in that position today. (He wrote an much-discussed op ed piece in the New York Times right after Trump’s Electoral College victory with the same title as the book.)

Back when the Democratic Party was based in the big cities of the North and rural precincts of the South, it provided a home to both working-class whites and wave after wave of immigrants who, many believed, threatened other people’s jobs and overall security. The unions, another group big on identity (union vs. non-union, that is) eventually managed to bridge the gaps, thanks in no small part to the political motivation provided by their co-powers in the Democratic party who needed everybody’s votes. When a parting-of-the-ways eventually did take place, in the 1960s when the Dixiecrats up and took their mostly white working-class membership and left the Democratic party because of its support for the civil rights of yet another group, African Americans, the GOP eventually benefited. Why? Because the same “identity group” voted Republican in a bloc.
That’s just the way American power politics has worked until now, not a newfangled way Democrats devised to defeat or bypass the common good.

It’s fairly easy to make historically-challenged Americans believe “identity politics” is some elitist game academics invented to pit trans-sexual reality stars against ordinary working-class stiffs, with all the government chits allegedly going to “women with penises.” That IS the story the Right tells over and over, with middle-class white or African American “snowflakes” or lesbian stormtroopers taking the trans role from time to time. That may, in fact, reflect some real happenings on some, mostly private liberal arts college campuses today, but it’s not what politics, or the strategic championing of some groups’ needs by political coalitions, which what the Democratic Party still is, does.

At a time when the Republican Party is in power and busy setting about finding ways to suppress voter registration by minority groups from Ohio to Texas and Florida, not to mention keeping intact the gerrymandered districts that gave it a majority in the US House of Representatives for the foreseeabld future, Democrats would be foolish to abandon the attention if has long given Hispanic, African American and for that matter, workers’ issues. If anything, it needs to return to its roots and defend more workers, more people who need access to health care, more individuals and groups exploited and forgotten by the likes of the con men who talk “culture” and deliver pain. For 50 years now, Democratic politicians have greeted every set back in the polls by moving right. Mark Lilla is just the latest spokesman for the same bad idea that’s got us nowhere before. The Clintons themselves tried it once. Once was more than enough, one too many for me.

#15 Comment By Anne On August 17, 2017 @ 7:48 pm

Please pardon the many misspellings and grammatical errors in that last comment. I don’t know if I’m experiencing poltergeists or just freaky cyberhijinks, but my screen keeps flipping off and on, with words disappearing and appearing, etc. as I type. Crazy weird. Anyway, more than the usual mistakes have been getting by. I’m giving up now…it’s just hard to do in the middle of a thought. So be it.:)

#16 Comment By Alex Brown On August 17, 2017 @ 9:41 pm

Professor Lilla is a smart guy. So where has he been for all the long decades during which liberals balkanized our country to the breaking point? It appears that only after Democrats lost elections, some of them started to realize that they need to change their tune. But I would still not trust them. After they get their permanent demographic majority, what’s to stop them from going back and doubling on attacks on the people they don’t like?
I think that Democratic party needs to be broken up to separate its extreme terrorist Marxist wing and moderate liberals. Something similar to what they have in Canada: a mainstream left-liberal party and far-left NDP. And if some mainstream Republicans join that new party, it would be tremendous central party. So ideally both parties would shed their extremes. Just my 2 cents.

#17 Comment By Thomas Hobbes On August 18, 2017 @ 3:17 am

I like this guy. A fine description of the problems currently faced by the right and left.

Definitely agree with the analysis of recent events as well.
First, obviously, is how inflammatory identity can be. I’m struck by the psychological parallels between the Charlottesville killer and the marginal types who are drawn to political Islamism in Europe.

The Atlantic actually has a great article on this: [8]
Scholars have often observed a radicalization process that goes something like this: After a first contact with the ideology, a person’s curiosity drives them to seek out more information, often through social media. After trying it on for size, they decide that the ideology sufficiently addresses their grievances, usually by framing it as the result of their group—their Muslim brothers and sisters, or their brothers and sisters in the white race—are being victimized by another group, say infidels or non-white immigrants. Then, the new adherent will consider whether he or she is doing enough to advance the cause, and if the answer is no, the person will act. It’s worth noting the same thing is just as applicable to antifa.

My main problem with Rod (despite is obvious integrity) is that his basic schtick fits nicely in this framework. He focuses on identifying how Christians are being victimized by “liberals” (the big tent group). This is actually much more likely to lead people to “fight back” against “liberalism” than it is to lead people to embrace the BenOpt.

This brings me to Lilla’s final point: for the conservative movement, the lesson is that you own this. Yes, you are horrified by what happened and you condemn it in no uncertain terms. But you have failed to police your side, you have sanctioned indifference to truth, fallen silent in the face of demagogues (Beck, Palin, Hannity, Trump), tolerated a horrifying internet subculture, demonized your opponents, and inflamed hysteria. By not attacking white nationalism you have abetted it. Just as moderate imams in Europe preferred not to see what was happening in their mosques, so you have been in denial about the environment you created. It is time to pluck the identity beam out of your own eye before complaining any more about left identity politics. It’s the left’s job to condemn antifa, extreme SJWs, and commies (Obama actually did this regularly [Hillary not so much]) and it’s the right’s job to police white nationalists, nazis, and clansmen. What aboutism is the opposite of this and unhelpful. The lefts condemnation of neo-nazis accomplishes nothing useful and draws more people to antifa, while the rights condemnation of neo-nazis isolates them and diminishes them. The right (and Donald Trump’s) condemnation of antifa hurts them politically and draws more people to antifa’s side, while the left’s direct condemnation of them would do the opposite (if the left had a central voice to do so at least).

#18 Comment By Rob G On August 18, 2017 @ 6:56 am

It doesn’t sound like you’ve read the book, Anne. Lilla specifically addresses many of your concerns. And while I disagree with him on a host of issues, he’s saying some vital things that both sides need to hear.

#19 Comment By JonF On August 18, 2017 @ 7:18 am

Re: The United States was the most prosperous nation on earth in the Nineteenth Century without two-million or even twenty-thousand federal employees. How was that possible?

How many people want to go back to an 1850s standard of living? Or even 1890s? Even the Amish don’t, not really. Yes, it was superior to what had come before– but vastly inferior to 2017. And yes, we would have to go back to that to have the federal government we had then. It’s all part of a package deal. And that would entail the deaths of tens of millions (billions if applied world wide) who could not survive in a world limited to the technology Lincoln knew. Your romantic obsession with yesteryear reminds me of nothing so much of Pol Pot emptying the cities of Cambodia to realize some buccolic rural utopia that never was and certainly could not be.

#20 Comment By RockMeAmadeus On August 18, 2017 @ 9:52 am

“…and winning elections (especially given American federalism) means having to persuade a lot of people from different backgrounds in every corner of the country that they share something and can work together to build something.”

Well this exactly the problem, Professor.

Many people no longer feel they share “something” and attempts by “elites” such as Lilla (or Dreher, wink) to “persuade” them that they do, just pisses them off more.

Of course that’s not going stop elites because “persuasion” is what they do- regardless of realities on the ground.

When intelligent, well-meaning elites on the left and right don’t get the most important message of the election of you-know-who, then they can try to persuade as much as they want- nobody is listening.

What’s the most important message of the elections?

Extreme concentration of economic, political and cultural wealth and power in the hands of a very few and the consequences this has for a society and nation.

Yes, you-know-who is himself one these wealthy, but apparently he knew what was going on in the country and knew how to take advantage of it.

That cannot be said about the “respectable” “responsible” “adults” among the elites.

How about an interview between the two gentlemen on this.

#21 Comment By DonChi On August 18, 2017 @ 10:53 am

Interesting guy, but he completely loses the plot here:

“I’m struck by the psychological parallels between the Charlottesville killer and the marginal types who are drawn to political Islamism in Europe. These kids tend to be loners, often from broken homes, who find in identitarianism what they think is an explanation of all their resentments, and a program for striking back. It gives them a purpose and a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves. And once they are sucked in, the logic of the ideology drives them relentlessly toward violence.”

Mr. Lilla, I thought you considered intellectual rigor a virtue. There is zero evidence that this kid was driven relentlessly toward violence. The psychological parallels you’re looking for are actually to be found in the Antifa camp. But mentioning that fact would mess up the narrative, wouldn’t it?


#22 Comment By Franklin Evans On August 18, 2017 @ 10:57 am


Candidate. Earned (via voting) delegates. Superdelegates casting their vote for.
Hillary Clinton. 2,220. 591.
Bernie Sanders. 1,831. 48.

Earned differential — 389 in favor of Clinton.
Total superdelegates — 639.

Stipulating some important nuances, starting with how superdelegates are named in each state, and how they are not subject to any nomination or vote by constituents, the swing number is the key. Clinton won by less than the margin of the total superdelegates, and could have lost to Sanders.

It’s spurious to claim that Clinton manipulated the primary, because it is inherently manipulatable. If there were no superdelegates, your point to Brendan is clear and valid. That is a might huge “if”. 🙁

#23 Comment By Dan Green On August 18, 2017 @ 10:58 am

I guess I over simplify a form a so called Macro explanation I dropped any political affiliation a long time ago and became a dedicated Realist. Realism helps me objectively review The Social Democratic Welfare State Model that is so popular in Western Democracies. We lag but the Democratic party has made great strides to support the model. The model is admirable and offers something for everyone. Obama did an exceptional job of orating the objectives. Then of course the Democrat’s deserted their constituency, and bingo a personality like Trump is President and a pure Socialist like Bernie Sanders is very very popular.

#24 Comment By Jack On August 18, 2017 @ 11:43 am

It’s incredible how much a smart guy like Lilla misunderstands history. He doesn’t seem to think that civilizations rise and fall, even though the historical evidence that they do just that is overwhelming.

#25 Comment By Joe Sansonese On August 18, 2017 @ 8:27 pm

JonF: Your obsession with nothing I ever wrote or recommended reminds me that illiteracy is more widespread than I imagined.

I really shouldn’t have to point this out, but it is possible to have a proper understanding of the relationship between the Federal government and the states without literally going back to 1850. Where on earth you got the loony idea that that was what I was recommending is simply baffling. Madison made a specific year-long study of all known Republics going back to Athens in the Fifth Century BC, Rome in the First, and the Dutch Republic of the seventeenth century. He drew from them what he thought was useful and noted what was malign. And here’s a flash, einstein, he never concluded that anybody needed to go back in time to achieve the one or avoid the other.

I am further amazed to see that you now estimate that the consequences of returning to constitutional Federalism, which is not only the form of government we actually find in our constitution and is also all I have ever advocated, have escalated from millions to billions of deaths.

Pol Pot? Good grief, what rubbish you do spout, apparently without embarrassment, too.

Truly nutty.

#26 Comment By minimammal On August 19, 2017 @ 12:14 am

Coincidentally, I am reading “The Closing of the American Mind,” and I disagree with Lilla about Bloom. I find Bloom prophetic. His essential argument is that rationalism has led to the rejection of reason, which has been replaced with culture and “rootedness.” We are witnessing the triumph of particularity over universalism:

“Human rights are connected with one school, respect for cultures with the other. Sometimes the U.S. is attacked for failing to promote human rights; sometimes for wanting to impose ‘the American way of life’ on all people without respect for their cultures. To the extent that it does the latter, the US does so in the name of self-evident truths that apply to the good of all men. But its critics argue there are no such truths, that they are prejudices of American culture…. There is a continuing war between the universality of the Enlightenment and the particularity that resulted from the teachings of Enlightenment’s critics. Their criticism appealed to all the old attachments of family, country and God that were uprooted by Enlightenment, and gave them a new interpretation and a new pathos…. The ‘new ethnicity’ or ‘roots’ is just another manifestation of the concern with particularity, evidence not only of the real problems of community in modern mass societies but also of the superficiality of the response to it, as well as the lack of awareness of the fundamental conflict between liberal society and culture… And the blessing given the whole notion of cultural diversity in the U.S. by the culture movement has contributed to the intensification and legitimization of group politics, along with a corresponding belief that the individual rights enunciated in the Declaration of Independence are anything more than dated rhetoric.”
(pg. 191-3)

“Group politics” is now completely legitimized and the “culture movement” is the reigning ideology. Thirty years after Bloom wrote his book, it is widely accepted and frequently declared on the part of multiculturalist SJWs that the Enlightenment ideals upon which American society was founded no more than the prejudiced machinations of racist white men (look no further than the manifesto by minority students of the Claremont Colleges responding to Heather MacDonald’s guest lecture). Indeed, any universalism to be found is expressed solely in the oppression that all non-WSMs are said to endure in their own unique, intersectional ways. Although universal rationalism may have led us to overreach in many ways, do we really want to return to the kind of cultural chauvinism and tribal resentment and mistrust which predates the Enlightenment values that brought civilization, prosperity and peaceful fraternity (albeit, imperfectly and unequally) to the world?

Ironically, the culture movement, though it opposes most religion that isn’t Islam or some other “oppressed” belief system, is increasingly similar to the dogmatic, censorious religious authorities of centuries past, while orthodox Christians (and conservatives more broadly) seem to be filling in for the role of the Enlightenment thinkers. The former denies individual rights insofar as the individual only has rights in relation to his membership in some monolithic identity category that has been prescribed for him, while the latter believes in universal human rights, the innate dignity of the individual, and the ability and responsibility of the individual to make moral decisions. There is no true individualism when culture reigns over reason because each individual has no agency except within the parameters of his specific cultural group; hence, non-WSMs are always victims and WSMs are always oppressors.

Although it may be tempting for Christians to want to live their own “rootedness,” they can’t let themselves get bogged down in particularity in exactly the way the identitarians want them to be and thus become merely one squabbling faction among many (I think the Benedict Option could be instrumental in this regard). Christianity is not a “lifestyle” and human rights are not mere opinions or “value judgements.” Christians and those of similar conscience must stand by their universalism and refuse the temptation to enter into the tribal scrum. In spite of the pressure and abuse they will receive for doing so, Christians must maintain and proudly declare that “all men are created equal, that all are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”

#27 Comment By Agellius On August 19, 2017 @ 1:17 am

I’m a new fan of Lilla’s. He’s great.

“As soon as you cast an issue exclusively in terms of identity you invite your adversary to do the same. Those who play one race card
should be prepared to be trumped by another, as we saw subtly and not so subtly in the 2016 presidential election.”

I think we also saw this in Charlottesville. If white supremacism is growing — I say “if” since I wonder if it may be not so much growing as coming out of the closet — I think leftist identity politics gets part of the credit for it.

#28 Comment By JonF On August 20, 2017 @ 5:25 pm

Joe Sansonese,

I do not engage in flame wars on this blog, although I tempted to return your accusation of illiteracy right back at you, since you obviously do not understand my point.
Here it is explain two ways, one as a general principle, one as an analogy that should be easy to grasp.

1. The most basic law of nature, not even the “first” law, but rather the Zero Law is this: Time is a one way street. There is no “going back”, only going forward. We can remember the past, we can learn from past, admire the past, occasionally indulge in nostalgia for the past– but we can never restore the past.

2. As far government goes it has grown as it has because of everything else that has grown in our society too. A baby grows to a child then to an adult and its bones must necessarily grow with it. If they didn’t– well the result would be ghastly. Government is the structure of our society as the skeleton is the structure of the human body. They must grow together, and trying to cut government back down to the size it was in 1787 would make as much sense as trying to reduce an adult’s skeleton to that of an infant.

#29 Comment By Joe Sansonese On August 21, 2017 @ 10:10 am

Your first point is more of the same rubbish you have spotted before. No one, and certainly not I, wishes to go back in time. It’s a straw man. It’s baffling that you insist on returning to this preposterous suggestion. Even the corpse pf a straw man may begin to stink, it appears.

Second, the baby analogy is wildly inappropriate (I might even say literally infantile). The Federal government is hideously outsize an has been for at least 70 years. It’s become so primarily because of the income tax, which allows Congress aggrandize its powers by placing 23,000 potential parasites in, for example, the Department of Agriculture, who then devise endless “programs” that simultaneously hemorrhage money and keep them busy.

I asked you before—you did not answer—if the population is but ten times bigger now than in 1850, why is the Department of Agriculture four-thousand times larger? No baby increases its size by a factor of 4000 after birth, including elephant and blue-whale progeny! The analogy is ridiculous as applied to the growth of the federal government, absolutely ridiculous without qualification

Replying to another commenter, I suggested, as a place to start that did not involve time travel, repealing the federal income tax. In all probability, what will happen after that is not your hilariously farfetched projection of tens of millions of deaths but an increase in state taxes; the which will be an enormous improvement. Parasites, frauds, meddlers, and incompetents simply cannot survive under a fiscal regime where a budget must be submitted and balanced. Do just that and then observe with what alacrity public attention will turn overnight from Washington to state government. See how the electorate can then participate in “draining the swamp,” as well as how patently ridiculous are sophomoric homilies about the inevitability of government waxing prodigiously in size and scope, neither batteries nor time machine required.

The constitution of 1787 was designed for real, true, actual, authentic—what’s the word?— Federalism. But that is not the republican form of government we endure at present. What we have instead is a phony, a deliberately crippled Federalism from which an array of policy disasters such as but not limited to national insolvency follow inevitably.

An obsession on the part of too many Americans with Washington politics, a variety of mass neurosis, also follows faux Federalism, setting the country by the ears, ensuring sectional hatred, and conflict that simply cannot be avoided. In an authentically constitutional Federal system of governance, state prerogatives would obviate self-defeating attempts to homogenize the nation politically, which the all-powerful federal bureaucracy labors to achieve àla Procrustes and his one size fits all, or else, bed. Disregard for the vast differences state to state in policy preferences leads without fail to the unparalleled bitterness and rancor we witness today; as how should it not?

The passage of the 17th Amendment is particularly illustrative. Before 1916 a US Senator wisely needed to keep his state’s interests uppermost in his mind save in time of war or insurrection, because his state’s legislature had elected him, he was answerable to the interests of his state. The comical grandstanding of fools like McCain and Graham and Schumer and McCaskill and a whole lot more, who imagine themselves to be just so many Pericles or Solons, simon-pure and free of messily parochial interests, was quite impossible.

The United States Senate was specifically designed to give a single state—let’s be candid—a blunt check, free of nuance, on the power of Congress, why Wyoming and Rhode Island enjoy representation in the Senate equal to California and Texas. Two million can block 50 million, which is fine per constitutional Federalism but an arrangement of competing interests that liberals like Mr. Lilla simply cannot abide.

Moreover, the US Senate will never be reformed along majoritarian lines. So let’s repeal the 17th Amendment as well as the 16th. (NB: We don’t have to revisit 1916 to accomplish that either.) Make the federal government function the way it was designed to work.

#30 Comment By Mario Diana On August 21, 2017 @ 10:20 am

Lilla is already being called a “white supremacist,” by some on his side, as if he advocates for apartheid or Jim Crow.


Well, Professor Lilla, who now is the voice crying in the wilderness?

In all seriousness, I just finished the book yesterday. It’s very good. But, I’m ambivalent. The more responsible part of me would like to see the Democrats take seriously this come-to-Jesus “kairos” of his, just to bring more normality to U.S. politics. Still, I cannot help but gloat to see just how far gone and benighted the Left has become. I’m afraid he is throwing pearls to swine.

#31 Comment By JonF On August 21, 2017 @ 1:45 pm

Re: Before 1916 a US Senator wisely needed to keep his state’s interests uppermost in his mind

How is this not true today? Well, OK, the fact that our politics is awash in money and outside interest groups can thereby influence senators. But that’s wholly a problem with money in politics, not with the 17th amendment. Because at election time the only people who can vote for a senator are people who live in the senator’s state– and this should produce a comity of interest between the senator’s politics and the interests of the state he represents. After all, a state has no existence apart from the people who live there, and no interests apart from the interests of its people. Those who would argue otherwise are really saying they only want some small select group of people to matter and to perdition with everyone else.

#32 Comment By Alison Fairfield On October 20, 2017 @ 11:05 am

As a wife and mother of 3 children the ages of Rod’s, I am, of course ate to this little party. Be that as it may…

So I read the original Op-Ed piece when it appeared in the Times, and, to some extent followed the leftist blow-back: That’s the White-est Piece Ever! Yet another case of “nobody in the academy is safe these days” just ask poor Richard Swinburne.

Here’s just the one point I will constrain myself to make: Lilla is not a political scientist, so maybe his follow-up shouldn’t have been about winning elections?

The original Times piece, in my view, made a more salient point about the deleterious educational effects produced by way AP history is taught in high schools across this country (to the kids most likely to lead.)

I couldn’t have agreed more and dashed off the link to my daughter’s “APUSH” (AP US history) teacher at her (allegedly) Catholic College Prep School. This teacher also is the club sponsor of Young Democrats, no surprise there.
So Lilla could possibly get a two-fer if he weeded his own field. Isn’t it interesting that he made a defensive knock at home schoolers instead?