The Liberal Crackup

The Wall Street Journal ran an excerpt from Mark Lilla’s new book, The Once and Future Liberal, coming out on Tuesday that we mentioned here yesterday. Here’s a link to the whole piece if you are a WSJ subscriber, but if not here are two of the better paragraphs in it:

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.

This phenomenon, I submit, is why conservatives have the advantage out in the real world, and why conservatives are more likely to win political battles in the long run, despite the left’s near monopolistic control of academic, the media, popular entertainment, and corporate human resources departments.

Two further notes: What Lilla describes as having burst the bounds of academia into the media mainstream now also applies to large parts of corporate America. See: Google. I’d love to see a study some time of how many graduates with degrees in Gender Studies or related politicized fields end up in corporate human resources department jobs, or consulting companies that put on “diversity” training seminars for corporate America.

Second, I’ll wait to read the whole book to see Lilla’s complete judgment, but one question the early excerpts raise is whether “progressive” students are in fact not liberals at all (and not actually in favor of progress for that matter: I saw Harvard’s Steven Pinker give a great lecture in June on the question “Why are ‘Progressives’ against progress?” He has a book coming out in March that will explore this question.) If it is the case that today’s so-called “progressives” are in fact anti-liberals, does it not require then that liberals go into explicit opposition to “progressivism,” and—horrors—ally with conservatives?

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