The Crisis for Liberalism Identity Politics Is No Match for Foundational Values

By Douthat, Ross | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), November 21, 2016 | Go to article overview

The Crisis for Liberalism Identity Politics Is No Match for Foundational Values


Douthat, Ross, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


The 2016 campaign was a crisis for conservatism; its aftermath is a crisis for liberalism. The right, delivered unexpectedly to power, is taking a breather from introspection as it waits to see what Trumpism means in practice. The left, delivered unexpectedly to impotence, has no choice but to start arguing about how it lost its way.

A lot of that argument already revolves around the concept of "identity politics," used as shorthand for a vision of political liberalism as a coalition of diverse groups - gay and black and Asian and Hispanic and female and Jewish and Muslim and so on - bound together by a common struggle against the creaking hegemony of white Christian America.

This vision had an intuitive appeal in the Obama era, when it won the White House twice and seemed to promise permanent political majorities in the future. And the 2016 campaign was supposed to cement that promise, since it pitted liberalism's coalition of the diverse against Donald Trump's explicitly reactive vision.

But, instead, 2016 exposed liberalism's twofold vulnerability: to white voters embracing an identity politics of their own, and to women and minorities fearing Mr. Trump less than most liberals expected, and not voting monolithically for Hillary Clinton.

So now identitarian liberalism is taking fire from two directions. From the center-left, it's critiqued as an illiberal and balkanizing force, which drives whit-cis-het people of goodwill rightward and prevents liberalism from speaking a language of the common good. From the left, it's critiqued as an expression of class privilege, which cares little for economic justice so long as black lesbian Sufis are represented in the latest Netflix superhero show.

Both of these critiques make reasonable points. But I'm not sure they fully grasp the pull of an identitarian politics, the energy that has elevated it above class-based and procedural visions of liberalism.

It's true that identity politics is often illiberal, both in its emphasis on group experience over individualism and, in the web of moral absolutes - taboo words, sacred speakers, forbidden arguments - that it seeks to weave around left-liberal discourse.It's also true that it privileges the metaphysical over the material, recognition over redistribution.

But liberal societies have always depended on an illiberal or pre-liberal substructure to answer the varied human needs - meaning, belonging, a vertical dimension to human life, a hope against mortality - that neither John Stuart Mill nor Karl Marx adequately addressed.

In U.S. history, that substructure took various forms: The bonds of family life, the power of (usually Protestant) religion, a flag-waving patriotism and an Anglo-Saxon culture to which immigrants were expected to assimilate. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Crisis for Liberalism Identity Politics Is No Match for Foundational Values
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.