Books in Brief

The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics, by Mark Lilla (New York: HarperCollins; 160 pp., $24. 99).  Professor Lilla’s book, which appeared originally as an essay in the New York Review of Books, has received much attention (almost all of it bad) from liberals angered by its thesis that identity politics as it has developed over the past couple of decades is responsible for liberalism’s growing unpopularity among middle- and lower-middle-class Americans and for the declining political fortunes of the Democratic Party evidenced by Donald Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton a year ago and the GOP’s nationwide hold on state governments and governorships.  Lilla argues that identity politics based on race, ethnicity, sex, and so forth not only divides liberals but encourages them to look inward rather than outward, to concentrate on the personal rather than the genuinely political.  In doing so he makes a valid distinction between the “movement” politics that are prevalent nowadays among liberals and the traditional institutional politics necessary to winning elections at every level of government—city, state, and national—and so to realizing the broad political agendas liberals expect will ensure the liberal future they envision for the country.

Lilla, who teaches “humanities” at Columbia College,...

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