Mark Lilla on Identity Politics

Today Rod Dreher (conservative) interviews Mark Lilla (disgruntled liberal).

Lilla on the religious bent of the America and the new left:

“We are an evangelical people. How we ever got a reputation for practicality and common sense is a mystery historians will one day have to unravel. Facing up to problems, gauging their significance, gathering evidence, consulting with others, and testing out new approaches is not our thing. We much prefer to ignore problems until they become crises, undergo an inner conversion, write a gospel, preach it at the top of our lungs, cultivate disciples, demand repentance, predict the apocalypse, beat our plowshares into swords, and expect paradise as a reward. And we wonder why our system is dysfunctional…

What the new identitarians demand is more than mere recognition, though. They demand that you see this country exactly as they do, reach the same moral judgments about it, and confess your sins (which is what the word “privilege” is a secular euphemism for). The most recent books by Ta-Nahesi Coates and Michal Eric Dyson are quite explicit about this need for repentance. The subtitle of Dyson’s is A Sermon to White America. And the use of the term woke is a dead giveaway that we are in the mental universe of American evangelicalism not American politics.”

It is a good interview: Lilla gets in some digs at Dreher’s vision of the world but Dreher does not take the bait and lets his interlocutor expound his thesis.

My comment: we living in the stupid years. Sure, things have been worse, but they are not getting better in the foreseeable future. Politics can’t save you. You can only hope that the frayed common culture they want to destroy holds out long enough for decent folks to build up alternative networks and subcultures on the ground. May the future belong to the silent industrious ones.


  1. greg wilson · · Reply

    I think you’re somewhat mistaken to connect identity politics solely to our evangelical roots. I mean technically any single thing we think about in western culture can be connected to evangelical roots because we’ve been an evangelical nation since the beginning) so anything that comes after that will have course be somewhat connected. But in the same way that being pro-abortion AND being anti-abortion BOTH have evangelical roots to an extent so do identity politics.

    HOWEVER.. I would argue that you’re only choosing to look at the issue through the lens of evangelicalism without asking whether there have been any branches that have grown FROM that but have thus been broken from its original tree and now act on its own. Identity politics are solely from the realm of Marx and other very much atheistic views of human life.

    Though those views are peppered with enlightenment-era ideas like justice (for example) they are also peppered with the view that human life does not boil down to morality nor does it boil down to obedience under God.. instead human life boils down to POWER and not that of God’s but HUMAN POWER. Identity politics says that human beings need to give up their individual power and all those “structures” that allow for it to continue. It asks for this not in a rational sense but in the most absolute, pure, and complete sense possible. As much power is possible to rip away from individual humans to create greater harmony under a local human structure is what it asks for.

    Identity politics are borne from the belief that God does not exist, will not interfere in our lives, and thusly we are alone to figure out how to perfect ANY and ALL remnants of injustice or too much power spread about. The term “woke” is not a term from Christianity persay. I would argue that it’s a wholly Niezschean, leftist, atheistic term.. a term that states that human beings have been “asleep” by simply going along with life happily and content. The term “woke” is a call to live anxiously and afraid of the power that others could have to oppress you. Not just other groups, but your parents, you friends, your teachers, your spouses. There is nothing Christian about these concepts nor about identity politics (at least in the way they’re expressed in our country). We never talk about blacks forgiving whites, we only frame the conversation almost as if the very existence of whites MEANS oppression of blacks, we never talk about reconciliation, or compassion, or morality. We only talk about power.

    1. Lilla is not suggesting identity politics is an outgrowth of evangelicalism, they are obviously Marxist in origin, but that its modes and tropes are evangelical in form.

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