Crisis on the Left

In continuing to link mainstream published voices, Ross Douthat’s NYT column on the three factions of the left since the election is surprisingly insightful.

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 white-cis-het people of good will 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.

Unfortunately the values of “Imagine” are simply not sufficient to the needs of human life. People have a desire for solidarity that cosmopolitanism does not satisfy, immaterial interests that redistribution cannot meet, a yearning for the sacred that secularism cannot answer.

So where religion atrophies, family weakens and patriotism ebbs, other forms of group identity inevitably assert themselves. It is not a coincidence that identity politics are particularly potent on elite college campuses, the most self-consciously post-religious and post-nationalist of institutions; nor is it a coincidence that recent outpourings of campus protest and activism and speech policing and sexual moralizing so often resemble religious revivalism. The contemporary college student lives most fully in the Lennonist utopia that post-’60s liberalism sought to build, and often finds it unconsoling: She wants a sense of belonging, a ground for personal morality, and a higher horizon of justice than either a purely procedural or a strictly material politics supplies.

On one hand, it’s really refreshing to see someone say “There are two other factions in Blue Tribe America besides the identity politics school of thought: the classical liberals and the economic left. But having acknowledged they exist, one must ask, why is the identity crowd kicking their ass, even in the wake of this history defeat?”

On the other hand “… because they don’t have a Higher Purpose, like the Catholic Church!” is maybe the most Douthat conclusion ever.

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