The Liberal Crackup

In the WSJ, Mark Lilla (himself a liberal) writes of “The Liberal Crackup”:

For those students who will soon become liberal and progressive elites, the line between self-discovery and political action has become blurred. Their political commitments are genuine but are circumscribed by the confines of their self-definitions. Issues that penetrate those confines take on looming importance, and since politics for them is personal, their positions tend to be absolutist and nonnegotiable. Those issues that don’t touch on their identities or affect people like themselves are hardly perceived. And classic liberal ideas like citizenship, solidarity and the common good have little meaning for them.

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.

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