Mark Lilla writes a great analysis of the rise of identity politics in the Wall Street Journal, The Liberal Crackup
As a teacher, I am increasingly struck by a difference between my conservative and progressive students. Contrary to the stereotype, the conservatives are far more likely to connect their engagements to a set of political ideas and principles. Young people on the left are much more inclined to say that they are engaged in politics as an X, concerned about other Xs and those issues touching on X-ness. And they are less and less comfortable with debate.
Over the past decade a new, and very revealing, locution has drifted from our universities into the media mainstream: Speaking as an X…This is not an anodyne phrase. It sets up a wall against any questions that come from a non-X perspective. Classroom conversations that once might have begun, I think A, and here is my argument, now take the form, Speaking as an X, I am offended that you claim B. What replaces argument, then, are taboos against unfamiliar ideas and contrary opinions.
Conservatives complain loudest about today’s campus follies, but it is really liberals who should be angry. The big story is not that leftist professors successfully turn millions of young people into dangerous political radicals every year. It is that they have gotten students so obsessed with their personal identities that, by the time they graduate, they have much less interest in, and even less engagement with, the wider political world outside their heads.
There is a great irony in this. The supposedly bland, conventional universities of the 1950s and early ’60s incubated the most radical generation of American citizens perhaps since our founding. Young people were incensed by the denial of voting rights out there, the Vietnam War out there, nuclear proliferation out there, capitalism out there, colonialism out there. Yet once that generation took power in the universities, it proceeded to depoliticize the liberal elite, rendering its members unprepared to think about the common good and what must be done practically to secure it—especially the hard and unglamorous task of persuading people very different from themselves to join a common effort.
Every advance of liberal identity consciousness has marked a retreat of liberal political consciousness. There can be no liberal politics without a sense of We—of what we are as citizens and what we owe each other. If liberals hope ever to recapture America’s imagination and become a dominant force across the country, it will not be enough to beat the Republicans at flattering the vanity of the mythical Joe Sixpack. They must offer a vision of our common destiny based on one thing that all Americans, of every background, share.
This is a great article and you should read the whole thing.
The Republicans have suffered through factious litmus tests. Abortion, gun rights, immigration, and religious liberty are top issues used to filter candidates. If a candidate refuted the orthodoxy on any one of them he would lose a constituency. These distinctions have not gone away, but only receded in the face of greater threats from the left.
The Democrats have fractured themselves on the altar of identity politics. Their unity was a powerful advantage over the fractured Republicans. Now they are just as fractured. This explains how they eat their own. The memo from James Damore that got him fired from Google was not a hateful sexist memo of the right, but a thoughtful consideration of the Google diversity objective that violated the orthodoxy that anything other than discriminatory behavior could explain different outcomes. On every other point he was an ally of their policy.
Identity politics drives the political correctness which further alienates the middle. It causes contempt for not only the opposition party but for their fellow Democrats who value other liberal issues more.