Rethinking identity liberalism h/t John Roskam. Mark Lilla, a true blue liberal, has attracted some critical attention from his buddies by suggesting that they lost the plot with identify liberalism and they need to do something different.
But how should diversity shape our politics? The standard liberal answer for nearly a generation now has been that we should become aware of and ‘celebrate’ our differences. Which is a splendid principle of moral pedagogy – but disastrous as a foundation for democratic politics in our ideological age. In recent years American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.
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. Hillary Clinton was at her best and most uplifting when she spoke about American interests in world affairs. But when it came to life at home, she tended on the campaign trail to lose that large vision and slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters at every stop. This was a strategic mistake. If you are going to mention groups in America, you had better mention all of them. If you don’t, those left out will notice and feel excluded…
But the fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined group, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life.
There is a lot of bite in the piece, no wonder it stirred up the leaves in the dead forest of the left. There is some bullshit as well. “The moral energy surrounding identity has, of course, had many good effects. Affirmative action has reshaped and improved corporate life. Black Lives Matter has delivered a wake-up call to every American with a conscience.”
A confession of liberal intolerance. This should stir up a storm as well. He is taking up the Haidt theme that there is disgraceful intolerance of conservative voices on campus. To his credit he is taking it up as a man of the left.
To me, the conversation illuminated primarily liberal arrogance — the implication that conservatives don’t have anything significant to add to the discussion. My Facebook followers have incredible compassion for war victims in South Sudan, for kids who have been trafficked, even for abused chickens, but no obvious empathy for conservative scholars facing discrimination.
The stakes involve not just fairness to conservatives or evangelical Christians, not just whether progressives will be true to their own values, not just the benefits that come from diversity (and diversity of thought is arguably among the most important kinds), but also the quality of education itself. When perspectives are unrepresented in discussions, when some kinds of thinkers aren’t at the table, classrooms become echo chambers rather than sounding boards — and we all lose.
“The dead forest of the left” comes from a long critical piece on David McKnight’s effort to go beyond left and right without any comprehension of classical liberalism or economics. “It seems that David McKnight is speaking from the dead forest of the left, a forest of trees that remain standing despite being cut off at the base, held up by the press of numbers and the intertwining of their branches.” Add public funding to the forces keeping the trees upright.