Moving the Political Battle to the Courts

Mark Lilla is a committed  Democrat who admonishes his party for the its descent into Identity Politics in The Once and Future Liberal- After Identity Politics 

Distrust of the legislative process and increased reliance on the courts to achieve their goals also detached liberal Democratic elites from a wider base. To pass legislation you need to persuade very different sorts of people that it makes sense, which might require compromise but also helps ensure that the law will not provoke a mass reaction that leaves you in a worse position than when you began. Legislation can be tweaked, and negotiations about it are usually about how to balance a number of relative goods. In ordinary democratic politics, groups represent interests that can be defended but also balanced against each other when necessary to get agreement. To get standing in court, on the other hand, all you have to do is present your case as a matter of absolute legal right, and the only people you have to persuade are the judges assigned to your case.


Depending on the courts moved the conversation from the Democratic process and made the court selection the center of the political battle. It was foolish to assume that the Democrats would always be in control of that process.

Democrat’s Self Sabotage

Mark Lilla is a committed  Democrat who admonishes his party for its descent into Identity Politics in The Once and Future Liberal- After Identity Politics 

 The only adversary left is ourselves. And we have mastered the art of self-sabotage. At a time when we liberals need to speak in a way that convinces people from very different walks of life, in every part of the country, that they share a common destiny and need to stand together, our rhetoric encourages self-righteous narcissism. At a moment when political consciousness and strategizing need to be developed, we are expending our energies on symbolic dramas over identity. At a time when it is crucial to direct our efforts into seizing institutional power by winning elections, we dissipate them in expressive movements indifferent to the effects they may have on the voting public. In an age when we need to educate young people to think of themselves as citizens with duties toward each other, we encourage them instead to descend into the rabbit hole of the self. The frustrating truth is that we have no political vision to offer the nation, and we are thinking and speaking and acting in ways guaranteed to prevent one from emerging.

Limits of Government Power

Mark Lilla is a committed  Democrat who admonishes his party for the its descent into Identity Politics in The Once and Future Liberal- After Identity Politics 

But every catechism tends over time to become rigid and formulaic, until it eventually becomes detached from social reality. Which is exactly what happened to American liberalism in the 1970s. To the principle that collective action to serve the public good was legitimate, it added the profession of faith that taxes, spending, regulations, and court decisions were always the best way to accomplish this. By the 1980s there were countless reasons to question the assumption that government knew what it was doing and could be trusted to do it—Vietnam, Watergate, impotence in the face of stagflation, and more. Too many programs were introduced in the Great Society, too quickly and with rhetoric so elevated that it created exaggerated expectations, which resulted in inevitable disappointment. Frustratingly, none of these programs seemed capable of reversing the decline of big cities and the expansion of the welfare rolls. And some programs clearly made matters worse. Compounding the problem was that liberals refused to speak about the new culture of dependency, or about the tremendous rise in violent crime in the 1960s, most of it having nothing to do with drug offenses.


Lilla refers to a moderation that is missing from the Democratic platform. while we can realize the limits of free markets we mist also realize the limits of government power

Power Assymetries

from Scientific American, The Unfortunate Fallout of Campus Postmodernism- The roots of the current campus madness, by Michael Shermer:

The intellectual battlefields today are on college campuses, where students’ deep convictions about race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation and their social justice antipathy toward capitalism, imperialism, racism, white privilege, misogyny and “cissexist heteropatriarchy” have bumped up against the reality of contradictory facts and opposing views, leading to campus chaos and even violence. Students at the University of California, Berkeley, and outside agitators, for example, rioted at the mere mention that conservative firebrands Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter had been invited to speak (in the end, they never did). Demonstrators at Middlebury College physically attacked libertarian author Charles Murray and his liberal host, professor Allison Stanger, pulling her hair, twisting her neck and sending her to the ER.

Students are being taught by these postmodern professors that there is no truth, that science and empirical facts are tools of oppression by the white patriarchy, and that nearly everyone in America is racist and bigoted, including their own professors, most of whom are liberals or progressives devoted to fighting these social ills. Of the 58 Evergreen faculty members who signed a statement “in solidarity with students” calling for disciplinary action against Weinstein for “endangering” the community by granting interviews in the national media, I tallied only seven from the sciences. Most specialize in English, literature, the arts, humanities, cultural studies, women’s studies, media studies, and “quotidian imperialisms, intermetropolitan geography [and] detournement.” A course called “Fantastic Resistances” was described as a “training dojo for aspiring ‘social justice warriors’” that focuses on “power asymmetries.”

If you teach students to be warriors against all power asymmetries, don’t be surprised when they turn on their professors and administrators. This is what happens when you separate facts from values, empiricism from morality, science from the humanities.

Evangelism and Politics

Mark Lilla is a committed  Democrat who admonishes his party for the its descent into Identity Politics in The Once and Future Liberal- After Identity Politics 

The paradox of identity liberalism is that it paralyzes the capacity to think and act in a way that would actually accomplish the things it professes to want. It is mesmerized by symbols: achieving superficial diversity in organizations, retelling history to focus on marginal and often minuscule groups, concocting inoffensive euphemisms to describe social reality, protecting young ears and eyes already accustomed to slasher films from any disturbing encounter with alternative viewpoints. Identity liberalism has ceased being a political project and has morphed into an evangelical one. The difference is this: evangelism is about speaking truth to power. Politics is about seizing power to defend the truth.


Lilla’s points are well made and likely to be ignored by his fellow Democrats until they experience further losses and realize that Trump’s election was not the result of Russian interference or other excuses. It was less about Trump’s win than the Democrats failure and loss.