Identity and the Founders: A Response to Mark Lilla

The Junto today carries my thoughts on an op-ed published in yesterday's New York Times by the distinguished historian-of-ideas Mark Lilla. The op-ed argues that the 2016 presidential election demonstrated the weakness of "identity liberalism." Celebrations of diversity, Lilla writes, cannot compete successfully with appeals to the "shared destiny" of all Americans.

In my response, I highlightand questionthe way Lilla invokes the American founding and other elements of early American political history. Although I agree that politicians in a republic must appeal to the common good, and I sympathize with Lilla in his concern that liberals have not always effectively done so, I argue Lilla has overlooked the way American nationhood itself is an identity politics. Healthy republican political activism, I suggest, is a matter of continuously constructing an inclusive "people," not taking the founding character of the nation for granted.