Identity Politics Essay Example

Published: 2022-04-29
Identity Politics Essay Example
Type of paper:  Book review
Categories:  Political science
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1677 words
14 min read

Selection of The Chosen Topic

Identity politics is the political activism of various social movements such as civil rights movement, feminists movement, gay and lesbians, and ethnic separatists. The aim of these movements are political recognition, self-determination, and elimination of discrimination. Its central premise is that these social groups receive social injustice and they will need to rise to defend their groups' interests collectively. It can be defined as the mobilizing a society with regards to culture, identity, and politics. Therefore, depending on the school of thought identity politics can either refer to cultural or political activism. Identity politics strives to differentiate the perceived privileges; social, political, and occupational, received by the dominant group and the assumed discrimination towards the oppressed group.

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Mark Lilla in his book "The Once and Future of Liberals: The End of Liberal Liberalism," takes to discuss the impact of identity politics on the liberal ideologies. Lilla blames a bunch of liberals for their role in the election of Donald Trump as the president of the United States. Lilla's concern is that the liberals have adopted the concept of identity politics in liberalism. Although Mark Lilla does not define the term "identity politics" in his book, analyzing the text gives the reader an idea of what Lilla is talking about in the text. Analysis of the books makes the reader understand that the identity politics in liberalism that Lilla describes. It is the where the liberals forsake the politics that unites the nation on the common good rather than diversity of the citizenship. Lilla means that when the liberals incorporate the concept of diversity and rhetoric of identity into liberalism, they forsake the needs of the American citizens in general. Lilla decides to give his thoughts as a liberal, citing various historical claims that have led to this unfortunate disaster of identity liberalism, which he believes has cost the liberals political seats and offices.

The Concepts, Theories, and Methods

The concept of identity liberalism has its seeds planted in the mid-twenties after the election of Reagan. After, this election the liberals failed to develop an ideology that is fresh and politically sold the dream of shared destiny that is compatible with the modern times. The liberals, due to frustration decided to take part in the movement whose basis of operation is personal identity. "What was astonishing during the Reagan Dispensation was the development of a left-wing version of it that became the de facto creed of two generations of liberal politicians, professors, schoolteachers, journalists, movement activists, and officials of the democratic party. This was not a historical accident. For the fascination, and then obsession, with identity did not challenge the fundamental principle of Reaganism. It reinforced that principle: individualism" (Lilla, 2017 pg. 9). As a result, the liberals lost their focus on the commonality of the citizens that help unify the country. Especially in the Roosevelt era liberalism which initiated the support of politic movements ideologies. In fact, Lilla refers to the identity liberalism as Reaganism of the lefts.

Lilla appeals to other liberals to bring to an end identity liberalism and declares that its time is up. He states that rise of identity liberalism is due to the obsession of the liberals in the campuses and the influential people with personal identity rather than reasoned political debate. The education systems are primarily responsible for this crisis, which has failed to pass the founding father's visions of the United States. The students from the start are introduced to the personal identities which focus on what makes a particular group different from the rest rather than the common factor of citizenship. The academics need to teach students that besides the rights, each citizen must perform certain roles for the country. The influential leaders also need to promote the original ideologies of liberalism by devoting to liberalism. He envisions post-identity liberalism where the nations are united by the idea of their common citizenship and identity politics treated as just another minor aspect of politics. Most of the sources in this book are from historical incidents that shaped the politics of the United States.

In his work, Mark Lilla puts forth a theory that the eras of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Franklin Roosevelt set the tone for the emergence of identity politics among the liberals. Despite successfully uniting the citizens on the commonalities, the three left devastating impacts on some groups in America. For example, though the New Deal had significant benefits to most Americans, it left out the Africans-Americans. Reagan promoted the idea of a small government that did not protect the vulnerable groups in the society efficiently due to its limited power. Clinton's crime bill and welfare reforms created mass incarceration and disproportionately in the affairs of the communities of color and the minorities respectively. Therefore, by promoting equality in all the different types of the nation, the presidents ended up creating a country that focuses its politics on the identity instead of the common good. By absorbing this concept of identity politics, the liberals lost their initial political ideology of common good and focused on movements politics. Ultimately, the result was the birth of identity liberalism. However, scrutiny into the historical relation of these political events in the book, show that they are quite absurd and have no substantial evidence to support the author's claims.

One notable methodology that Lilla uses to analyze the identity crisis is by comparing the view of the Europeans on the politics of the United States. He accomplished this when he was on sabbatical in France, where he decided on only to read European publications and avoid the American ones. However, one major thing that Lilla notices is the American press and how it has been affected by identity crisis in their releases. The stories in the American media are based on causality defined by the imprint identity drama. Surprisingly it has changed external reporting on America unlike the identity drama of those European countries that contain little or no identity dramas in their reporting. An important example that Lilla uses to express his point is the case of transgender fate in Egypt and the view the American and the rest of the world would look at the matter. The Americans would focus on the imminent political and religious change in Egypt as affecting both Egypt's future and indirectly the future of the Americans'. Finally, Lilla makes his judgment on his experiment and concludes that in such a scenario, none of the news sources in the European would adopt such a focus as the American media has done.

The Nature of The Publication

After 2016 presidential where Donald Trump surprisingly won the presidential seat, Mark Lilla writes an op-ed in the The New York Times in which he criticises and blames the left liberals for this win. In the follow-up, the professor wrote a book that dissects the "op-ed" and explains further the reasons he blames on the liberal. He chooses a book as his source of publication because it provided him with enough length to explain his points. The book can be classified as the genre of response, responding to the Donald Trump's election. In the book called "The Once and Future of Liberal" Lilla turns his rage onto the intellectual-political class of the liberal for their role in promoting identity liberalism. It is only through a book that Lilla can put his sentiments extensively, in which he passionately urges the liberals to wake up using somewhat harsh and forgiving tone.

The Publication's Audience

The primary audience that Lilla want to address are the liberals who have accepted the integration of the concept of identity politics into liberalism, thus allowing identity liberalism as a political ideology. However, even among the liberals, Lilla focus on specific sections such as the intellectuals, lefts, and students that have the power to change and usher in the pots-identity liberalism.

Firstly, Lilla relates the birth of identity liberalism by giving the liberals the history of how the previous presidents have promoted the idea, tainting the initial ideology of the pre-identity liberalism. He addresses the left for focusing on Reaganism, which is focused on identity, instead of the shared common good. Lilla also discusses the campuses and their failure in promoting education and teaching their students the visions of the founding father. The academics have been focusing on developing a personal identity among the students that focuses on differences, contradictions to the shared commonality in liberalism. "A vision that would orient the Democratic Party and help it win elections and occupy our political institutions over the long term, so we might apply the changes we want and America needs. Liberals bring many things to electoral contests: values, commitment, policy proposals. What they don't bring is an image of what our shared way of life might be." Therefore, identity liberalism has negatively affected the lives of the American citizens in several ways. Hence, the citizens of the United States should focus on the citizenship- the shared common good instead of differences to "make America great. Again."

The book in itself is not academic oriented hence requires less research and data that could be interpreted. Therefore, Lilla wishes use simple deductions to capture the attention of every citizen further and share his ideas to eliminate identity liberalism. Lilla also employs the historical narrative that focuses on bringing out the evolution of liberalism. In giving such a story, he ensures that the readers of the book can relate to the factors that he believes, will play a crucial part to change in the society. Also, the book is straight to the point and uses strong language while pointing to each target audience to make them think clearly about the identity liberalism. Finally, when addressing intellectuals, he uses his professional affiliations with them to express sentiments and disappointments towards the quality of education they are offering their students. Thus, the audience gets first-hand insights into the history of liberalism and their role in promoting identity liberalism.


Lilla, M. (2017). The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics. HarperCollins.

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