« Making Sense with Sam Harris

#99 — What Happened to Liberalism?

2017-09-28 | 🔗

In this episode of the Making Sense podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Mark Lilla about the fate of political liberalism in the United States, the emergence of a new identity politics, the role of class in American society, wealth inequality, and other topics.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Today, I'm speaking with Mark Lilla Mark is a professor at Calum, a university and a prize winning essayist for the New York Review of books and many other publications. His books include the ship, remind mind the stillborn God the reckless mind, and his latest book, which is what we discussed, is the once and Future Lib and Mark, and I talk about essentially that the nature and history of liberalism in the United States and how identity politics has changed it. We talk about the ways in which I in any politics may or may not be legitimate. We talk about the role of class in american society, wealth inequality. And we disagree about a few things. We agree about others, but it was a very enjoyable conversation and one that many of us who care about the future of politics have been having more and more.
So now without further delay. I bring you Mark Lilla I am here with Mark Lilla Mark thanks for coming on the podcast good to be here, so we have a mutual friend in Andrew Sullivan. I think that was our connection and Andrew someone who I have sparred with two arms. Jewel, amusement and benefit and he's a great example for If someone who you can disagree, strider with and still become friends, this is really the what I aspired have all disagreements become, but it doesn't usually workout that way you have the two of you have been going at each other for quite awhile, haven't yet yeah yeah, so you've written this wonderful new book, and it's wonderful also in part because it's so short, it really is one of these books that you can pick up and finish no matter
What your band with problems are, and the title is the once and future liberal an it's really this elegy for a real liberal politics that we seem to have lossed and in its place. We have this horror, show of identity politics, so it before we get into this perhaps- or perhaps you can just summarize your background as a writer and political scientist and journal How do you describe what you have done and focused on as a writer? Well, this stuff that's relevant to this book I think in my biography is, I grew up in a place called Macomb County Michigan. Is a blue collar county bordering on Detroit Eminem grew up on ten mile RD. I grew up on twelve mile RD, so
comb county used to be an early 60s, the most democratic lopsidedly democratic county in Suburban County in America. By one thousand nine hundred and seventy two George Wallace won the Michigan primary and the county went for Nixon and ever since political scientists have been studying it and pollsters of minced, putting it as the home of Reagan. Democrats- and I saw this change happen in my life. I saw it happening with my neighbors. I saw it happen within my own family extended family, not my close family and I've been puzzling ever since then about why it is that the party and liberalism more generally lost the affection
and the enthusiasm of what used to be their base. Their white working class base. Anne, what might bring us back on course, so I gotta just I started Wayne State University commuting. Putting myself through school got a scholarship to Michigan and when, after the Kennedy School to study public policy, and when I was done, I was offered job on the public interest by my professor Daniel Bell and and the public interest was known as the first neoconservative magazine, but what neoconservative meant back in the 70s is that you were as Irving Kristol like to put it a liberal, who's been mugged by reality, and what that meant was that you were still a liberal, but you realize that a lot of this solutions that or rather programs that we thought would solve social problems.
I didn't do so well and some of them were counterproductive. Uh. I realized that no one was paying attention. Economic growth and and also not paying attention to the white Working class. So as people in the working class more generally, and so it was, the party had been sort of captured by the activist class. So people who have been involved with you know the it was called the coalition for democratic majorities. So Bill Clinton came out of that Pat Moynihan was part of that. He was on our board and so being conservative meant being a kind of reform liberal while realism, sort of took off in its own direction after after Mcgovern, and so ever since I've watched these various. You know The lines between right and left and liberal and conservative move around. I don't feel I'd move that much. I moved some but
but essentially I'm still the kind of pre Mcgovern Liberal that I was back then, and so you know I've been writing been writing in the New York Review of books about american politics, the American right and then in my, more scholarly work. I've been writing about attacks, other attacks on the enlightenment. But let's define a few terms here that, because these keywords that you use in the book, so let's start with liberal. How do you define liberal what? What does it mean and- and perhaps you could disentangle it from if it can be disentangled from the word left. Well, I think we have to talk about those two terms in the american con text. The word liberal means something else in England and means something very different on the continent where it essentially means just radical free market views
american liberalism was always, I think, founded or developed around two fundamental principles from the progressive through the the deal, and the first was social solidarity that we stuck together, that the Hoover Republicans were happy to? Let people fall off by the side of the road, any others that there should be equal protection under the law and so those two principles with the principles the liberals professed. They didn't always live up to those principles. Now when it came to practice and so and I I and then I think what was added on to that was liberal, anti communism and no illusions about Marxism and this specially communism, as both in theory and in practice, and so there was a cow
a liberal anti communist consensus, certainly that continued from the new deal down into the 1980s and the left. I suppose you could They include some of those liberals, but there are people on the left who, while they accept some of those, those two principles of solidarity and equal protection, I have always had a soft spot, if not for communism, then from Marxism for Movement, Politik for radical radical movements. Seeking some sort of imaginary change and in my view- and so you know on the left. I would say there were this sober people who were the liberals and then everyone else, and what about the term progressive
Well, the word progressive, you know originally was sort of the foundation of liberalism. You know, but progressivism was also very patriotic. It's very interesting now to return to the writings of Teddy Roosevelt and to read his attacks on monopoly and his fight for protecting american workers, which was wrapped up with a kind of optimism about the country in the experiment that it is and a day sense of America as a nation and as one nation without denying the you know the same kind of social diversity that we have. He believed in a kind of unifying citizenship and people call themselves progressive, had that you have held on to the economic message, but they've lost that sense of the nation and that's what I'm trying to bring back in. In my book, yeah you just
private time, when liberals could salute the flag without embarrassment, and I must say that is a time before my timer. Certainly before anytime, I can remember liberalism, at least in my experience has always been associated with a kind of cynical distance from anything that could be called patriotism without any kind. Self consciousness, and I'm wondering when that happened. I mean. Is this? What Watergate in Vietnam did to liberalism. Well, I think that begins with the civil rights movement and the recognition that Democrats, in particular had
loud, Jim Crow to continue and flourish in the south, and that seemed to be a violation of what the country stood for and what liberalism seemed to stand for and then, of course, Watergate. I think, was less important than Vietnam yeah, which really broke the contract between the american government and the american people. You know I saw this quite intimately where I grew up where I grew up a lot of kids served in Vietnam and I had a paper route and in the afternoons I drive by it dusk, and I would see these stars in the window. Not do you know where to start on the window used to be uh? No well, it used to be that if you the child in the military that the army or whatever the service was, would send you a little flag with a star on it and what people would do that
hanging in the window with a kind of Christmas light around it. So you could see that they had someone there and the flags came in two colors. There was one color if your child was alive and there was another one if he or she had died there and so you could just drive by. You know I drove by on my bike and I would just see all these lights and the two colors and know when it was that someone lost somebody And I was an altar boy. I served the funerals of families that lost their sons and- and you know those people felt, on the one hand betrayed by the government, because it was clear that their sons were dying to no purpose, but they had even deeper anger at the elite class of journalists and writers and activists and kids on campus,
who are spitting on the flag that they had just used to drape the coffins of their sons, an I saw that happen before my eyes, and so it both disaffected these people from, other liberals and also from the government itself and made them cut them loose in a way for whoever came along an then came along promising to end the war. Reagan came along promising to make everything better or not or not, in a trump yeah yeah. Well, we'll talk about anger at the elites eventually, because that is at the center of so much of what's going on in our Paula. Now, I'm really on both the left and the right before we press on what is identity politics? Well,
I I, I think, the meaning of identity politics is changed, so I needed distinguish the kind of identity politics that began in the 50s and what were living with. Now you know with the civil rights movement, you had a movement that was focused on on one identity group, and then you had the women's movement that did the same and the early gay rights movement. And those identity movements in a sense one about identity. They were about groups, but they weren't about so much, but the inner experience of an identity. Rather they were about King America's to fill its promise to make everyone in equal citizen, and so those movements were really about. Enfranchisement that you say for citizens and we're not full citizens, and so that is very consistent to my mind with the older liberal tradition. But then what
happened in the 80s and on is that people who are wrapped up in in the politics of these movements became very self torrential and uh for them and identity. Was not something that bound people together and to the country, but rather became a kind of way of reflecting on, France and a lot of social movements broke apart on the basis of identity resentments and so the new left broke apart for all kinds of reasons, but one of them is that African Americans complain that they weren't part of the leadership, which is true. Women complain that they part of the leadership, which was true. Lesbians, complained that feminists normalizing heterosexuality, which was also true.
And so the united front of the left broke down over these identity issues. And then what happened is that there is a retreat to the universities, and so people on the left really abandoned electoral politics in these groups and instead develop this idea that all social change happens through social movements that are tide to identity. An you end up with gender theory. You end up with race theory. You end up with feminist theory. And you end up now with maybe three generations of young people Liberal elites have been brought up in the university to think about politics in terms of group and their own individual identity's, rather than of the common good and a message that might bind us together as a name
yeah? You have a nice passage here on what happened to the new left, I'm quoting you. The new left was torn apart by all the in electoral in personal dynamics that plague every left, plus a new one identity. Racial divisions were quick to develop. Blacks complained that most leaders were white, which was true. Feminist complain that most salwar men, which was also true soon black women, were complaining about both about the sexism of radical black men and the implicit racism. Of white feminists, who themselves were being criticized by lesbians for presuming the naturalness of the heterosexual family. What all these groups wanted from politics was more than social g It's an end to the war, though they did want that they also. I wanted there to be no space between what they felt inside and what they did out in the world. They want
to feel at one with the political movements that mirrored how they understood and defined themselves as individuals, and I love that I mean that picture of fragmentation seems exactly what has happened and it you have this. You know what has been described as the oppression Olympics, where there's a an economy of, victimhood, where certain identities, trump others, and if you are a a black lesbian you know, you're somewhere near the apex of grievance and therefore does anything you say is undeniable by someone who doesn't share your identity if you're black, lesbian muslim well, then better, yet so,. I have been paying little attention to the reception of your that your book has gotten and so I notice, for instance, the review in the New York Times which had annoying to you. It was
going to me. I hadn't even read your book and it was obvious that that review was silly, unfair and plus saw the interview you did with David REM in the New Yorker an he seemed again desperate to shore up some concept of identity politics. What has been your or experience thus far in making your case post publication, and why do you think people are not readily seen? What is wrong with identity politics, both politically is as a matter of just political pragmatics, but also into actually in morally. Well, I I think, one of the reasons why there are two reasons I think one of the reasons is that identity politics has really become an evangelical project and
or it has all the all the markings of american revival, this religion. You know the fact that we use the word woke up which comes from you know, which comes from conversion. The group you know this is the great awakenings in this country, and especially over the past three four years. For some reason, we've gotten into a panic about a lot of these issues that are real issues, but they've been around for a long time and suddenly developed a hypersensitivity, certain things are there reasons for that. You know: what's happened with African Americans and the police and various other things Charlottesville. You know there. There are reasons for that, but it's also become dogmatic in the sense that it's not that people want you to agree with them or even just to work with you. They want you to believe they want you to accept their version of american history,
their critique of american society, the particular critique of the police, and, while you may agree with some of those things which you look for in politics, this kind of common ground what you can agree on like Miss police, mistreatment of Africa, can motorists, for example- and you can work on that together, so I you know, did they become people won't. Take yes for an answer I think often, but the other thing is I I I I have felt in the reaction to the book that I put my finger on a real nerve in or a sore spot, and that is that
I keep saying in interviews, as I say in the book that protecting minority groups is what we do is liberals, that's what we're about. You cannot protect anyone if you don't hold institutional power. Institutional power in this country is not just held in the presidency. It's held in the Courts Congress, and especially the state and local level. If you are not the state and local level or the congressional level. You cannot protect anybody now. The only way to be successful at those levels is to have a message that reaches beyond your identity group. Therefore, if you want to actually protect african Americans, gays lesbians, just walking down the street holding hands women who are being paid less than men, you need to hold power and you have to you, have to find
new message, not one based on yourself in your feelings in your identity, but a message about certain principles that will that you hold and then inform your your political commitments, but then other people can also hold, and so these big names of solidarity and equal protection. I think at just his principles. Most Americans hold two. If you just ask them, but then once you get down to cases, then you can have disagreements, so you can persuade people. But if you say to someone you must understand me, but you cannot understand me because of who you are you completely hermetically sealed yourself and you're unable to pursue? Wait anyone else, and so your politics become expressive and you fall in love with noble defeats, maybe but
a bully too. I mean that is the what is left for you to do two by way of persuasion, because a reason has failed. There is to just bully people with, in this case the threat of being called a racist, it's interesting. What you just said strikes me as a fairly complete recapitulation of what I recall Hillary Clinton saying when confronted by some black lives matter, people at one of her events, yeah yeah, I I mentioned it briefly in the book, and you know she I forget if it was at that time or not, but that they were just they weren't letting her. Week uh, you know they had adopted these MOU Mou tax tactics of breaking into meetings, not letting people speak, and I forget if it was then or another time when Hillary Clinton pointed out that Martin Luther king would not have achieved his
goals were it not for the practical politician LBJ who was willing to cut deals, cut deals with dixiecrats and to make the civil rights legislation happen, the great Soci the program's movements alone cannot achieve anything and institutional politics can always trump what movements have achieved? I mean look what's happening at the state and local government in this country. The democratic party in feminist groups fought for a constitutional right for a woman to get an abortion that was achieved, but in large parts of this country a woman de facto cannot get an abortion. That is not because we haven't marched enough. It isn't because we haven't had enough court cases. It's
because Democrats and liberals do not hold power in at the state and local level. Where rule where in subtle and not so subtle ways, it's become impossible for people to run clinics for a woman can get an abortion and they also feel under a threat of violence, in the only way to change that. The only way to make that right, actual is to go out to the south of the southwest and find a way to convince those people to come over to your side. There's, no. What the way you got to get out of your bubble. You had to get out from behind your laptop and you've, got to go and meet people and talk to just to reach your friends, not because you need to Genya flex to the white Working Class or Joe six pack, as if he's some sort of special figure to achieve what you want it would she you've got to get out there number do you have. Are you
I think you say this in your book. Perhaps this was just an interview, but I believe you've argued that there's an asymmetry here between the right and the left. There's an identity politics of the right as well, but where identity politics a losing strategy for liberals; it isn't necessarily a losing strategy on the right. That's right, I mean you know it's it's hard to know what to say about this subject at this because, ten years ago, when researchers would ask white people in surveys, how how important is your white identity and you feel whites are being discriminated against. You get maybe five percent. Now the figures are up over twenty five percent, and why is that? Well, it's not that people have always felt that way. Rather, you know we have a right wing media
almost monopoly. I news in parts of this country that have been able to play this up and they've been able to play it up in part, because we on the liberal side keep talking about identity, that's not to say that identity politics creates racism, it is to say that it can make it more salient at differ comments, and you know the rise of this white consciousness. You know it's, it's title sorts of things, including social changes that have happened in the country, economic changes. You know the rising import, their rock the rise, the black middle class, the fact that you know women are in the workplace and again and also the growth of a non working white male population. But so
you know we're in a funny moment right now, but it in this moment at least. It's certainly clear, Steve Bannon, said this himself that the more we talk about I did difference and engage in sort of campus at the campus over open up five, the more we help recruit people to the other side to say we have identity too. You know Breitbart Breitbart article about my book saying been saying this stuff for years, and it's been working for us and Steve Bannon said that in this famous interview with Bob Kuttner that got him fired, he said keep talking about that issue since working for me, man just keep talking about them yeah and on one level is just if you're going to practice, identity, politics, you shouldn't be surprised when white people eventually practice identity politics of their own. But is it a consequence of the fact
that whites are still a majority in the country that that that it's it doesn't the identity aspect of it doesn't move to be a liability in the same way, to give you just a little more material here, I wanted to read another passage which points up again. I don't know if this is the same a symmetry, but it certainly is an asymmetry. What you talk about, how the the web pages of the two parties differ, and you talk about it on the republican site. At the time you wrote this. There was a essentially a white paper title, principles for american renewal and just it was just a statement of positions of the party and vision for where the party wanted to take the country, and then you set on the democratic website. There was no such doc. You
now I'm quoting here. There is no such document be found on the Democrats homepage. Instead, when you scroll to the bottom of it, you find a list of links. Titled people and each link takes you to a page tailored to appeal to a distinct group and identity. Women, Hispanics quote: f: Americans, the LGBT Community native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. There are seventeen such groups and seventeen separate messages. You might think that by my mistake, you've landed on the website for the lebanese government, not a party with a vision for America's future. I mean I don't know if it's the same geometry of weakness there, but you can see how that kind of fragmentation with where we means nothing but diverse groups, each of which is solely empowered to attest to its own grievances by virtue of its identity. It's not a moral or political foundation from which
argue in ways that will attract people from outside your group to form a common cause with you, yeah one thing I've learned in talking about the book is that I should have the size. One thing more that I say, but I knew I needed to put a front and center, and that is that you cannot understand any social problem in America. Without talking about identity, you can understand poverty. You cannot understand unemployment. You can't understand a car serration policy. If you don't address how these policies of
that many of these different groups- that's absolutely right and we're more aware of that now and that's a good thing, but when it comes to addressing those problems and building a common vision for the country that will appeal to people who aren't members of those groups, that's the time to employ a different kind of rhetoric, and so often the response I'm getting from people is. But how can we not talk but identity, because identity is important in all these ways? That's true! So when you analyze the problem, you know what your commitments are. Once you understand that full of identity in this country, but in order to follow through and achieve a result out there and not simply express yourself and make yourself heard? Politics is not a speech act. Politics requires a common effort and persuasion, not self expression.
And so it requires a kind of double mindedness. I would say now about identity, recognizing it to understand the country speaking in a different way, in order to try to do something about it. I guess I'm going to sound more skeptical of identity, then, then you do at least in this moment. Maybe I got get. I hear you arguing that it's politically imprudent to M size identity as as a matter of moving forward, but I just actually think that for most of the problems and certain, for every problem where identity isn't actually the relevant variable red represents a a moral and intellectual error to be speaking in terms of identity. As a so I'm thinking of the writer and philosopher, Rebecca Goldstine, recently said she said to the extent that we are rational. We share the same identity. That
really gets at the heart of what my concern is with identity. Politics is that I mean that is what it is to be rational. Is it fonality is how we fuse Archon didn't horizons with strangers who are capable of reasoning in the same way based on the same evidence, and so by that identity. Politics is a failure of rationality, and so I meant to give you an example that will make this clue here, if you and I were going to talk about what's wrong with black lives matter now. As a movement, you know we as two white guys talking about this. We are guaranteed absolutely guaranteed to be attacked as racist by people in that movement just for speaking critically about it, no, no matter how legitimate our criticism.
In the end, these charges of racism will come without any evidence to substantiate them, apart in the fact that we spoke critically about the movement and without any apparent awareness of a burden to read, but the substantive points we actually made about the movement. So I mean this is this gets to the heart again of what I think is so toxic about identity. Politics is that I mean there are things that are wrong with black lives matter. The color of a person's skin is totally irrelevant when pointing these things out and the core of black lives matter seems to be not understanding that fact and uh. I am not saying that a person's life experience doesn't reveal certain problems to him or or conceal others from him and a and a- and this is a point you make in the book- and this is the point made on his podcast, a white guy like me, or you can't claim,
I know what it's like to be: a black man driving a carbon being pulled over by the cops and searched without due cause. If it's not an experience, had there's something we're missing there, but I would, you are not missing the important piece when actually talking about injustice in our society, an if you're, if you're going to argue, I'm not saying you, but if one is going to argue that the core problems of justice and fairness and equality can't be argued for in a way that Trance ends race. It just strikes me as manifestly untrue and also totally counterproductive for the people who need those arguments most right now. Well here we're going to have an interesting disagreement? Actually, so this will be fun. To begin with, I think it's Is that a lot of our problems that we face right now have nothing to do
identity, I mean the problem of monopoly in this country. I failed to see or dealing with N Korea or environmental problems. I fail to see the id entity angle to all of those were all sorts of issues that we that we can talk about, but it's true that Americans, right now, our overly identity, conscious, I would say in it, have an id an idea of sick. If sociological categories you know, I find it which box you go in and that's right down. So I know what you're going to see in what you believe. That's alright, but on the other hand, it's important to identify with something uh in order to move, to motivate action and to build solidarity, I do not jump into the water to save my drowning mother rather than someone else, is there drowning? Because I have a rational argument, I do it because I have a feeling and those feelings
we might want to criticize afterwards, but we know that it gives you a precommitment at least somebody right, and so it makes perfect sense to me that, let's say a college educated, middle class african American. Uh, who may no longer faced the discrimination of his parents and grandparents to feel a sense of solidarity with the group that will make him want to actually act and not simply make arguments in the marketplace you know, but what gives our lives? Some thickness is a little bit of partisanship. I mean we're part is, Then I'm a partisan of my family over your family push came to shove, it doesn't mean we're going to be the Hatfields and the Mccoys. I have a pre commitment to my car and we want to rely on that as well. You know,
and so this picture of the is no direct route from the rational mind to human action that does not pass through something emotional right, and you know, Plato understood this. I mean and all these earlier miss of what we are inside psychologically that we have three parts. We have a rational part. We have in appetitive part that just desires things, and then we have this thing in the middle, which is emotional, it gets attached to things it can. It is not rational, but it can be trained by reason, and so you know, I think, would be a terrible thing if we lived in a world without that identification and if we just elementary particles floating out there, because why sacrificed you know? I got. I got a lesson in that when I went in the 1980s, I spent some time in Poland
in Solidarity years Ann. I ceased being a Catholic long ago an, but I saw the power of Catholicism to make people stick together and fight common, something that is so. They associated the religion with the fate of the nation. Now that's now leading to all sorts of problems in Poland, because it's taking this anti liberal turn. But it's also the case that people would not have resisted without that sense that something some identity thing bound them together. That's a movie I think that is not necessarily warranted, because you are not sure what the counter factual location would be, and I would argue that yes is absolutely clear- that tribalism of all kinds is energizing. And religious tribalism is especially so, but the idea that you can't find
a nonsectarian source of energy in the face of evil. Right or in the face of dysfunction in the face of injustice, I just don't think It's true, you know if there's a hurricane bearing down on your city and you have to start filling sandbags the high. Hurricane is motivating enough and the idea that you're, a christian filling sandbags is, I think, in the best case, irrelevant I'll grant you that descriptively. Identity has been an enormous source of energy, you know moral and otherwise for people, but it then does take the turn that you just described in Poland, where it becomes a basis of its own. Form of intolerance and and anti liberalism, so just to roll back to what you said initially on this topic. If I have to pick a side, I'm on the side of someone, who's making sense right at the moment, eh person of Myra,
pigeon or my skin color or my political party stops making sense. I'm on the side of the person of whatever skin color or whatever religion or whatever political party who points that out, because error is the problem into dishonesty, is the problem. Confirmation bias is the problem. Delusion is the problem and just see pegging anything of real substance to identity is a kind of anchor to delusion, or is a kind of machinery for producing delusion or at least self deception in the future. In the most benign case- and I think the analogy you drew to save, you're drowning mother as opposed to my drowning mother. I mean those are the kinds of examples that that, while understandable, you would think there's something wrong with you. If you were, as at the Dalai Lama, professes to be indifferent to who you saved
is all beans or equally ends in themselves. There's something about that ethics that we can't totally embrace and feel good about ourselves at least most of us, but those are precisely the cases of bias that can't be mapped onto society at large and we constantly correct for them with our institutions and our laws, and we feel not only do we feel good about doing that. We see that's the only way to go so I'm in the example I've given on this topic before when I've spoken about the ethics here is that obviously, I'm partial to my child. I am most can learned about my child health and he was a lots of sick children in the world at woohoo. I don't spend much time thinking about, but the moment my child gets sick. It consumes my day. So when I show up at the house
little with my child and something's really wrong, I want to be seen as quickly as possible, but I don't actually want a hospital that is unfair. I want some process triage going on in a hospital that I know will occasionally work to my dick, advantage and disadvantage of my child, but I just know the given everyone's competing interests and given the fact that somebody richer than me is going to show up at the hospital sometime when I'm there. A fair system is the only system that is, in fact, ethical, and I think that that gets us out of id entity the moment you have to map it onto society at large, what seems to be your leaving out Billy human imperfection in the imperfection of institutions. You know if you're most hospitals is not a question that them having their ideas wrong. About who should be treated is that they don't have enough resources, they don't have enough time and
if you're in an emergency room? I've spent a lot of time in emergency rooms with that family members that I've had to defend, better, be an advocate right, your because you're in a non you might say non optimal ethical situation and all of life, is non optimal and so what xml? Let's just focus on that a little bit more, because as of I'm in the murder, in the emergency room with my daughter, who's been injured. Let's say: she's got a broken arm. I think it's a broken arm and I see the circumstance exactly as you described, which is one of of limitation, an imperfection and therefore triage and I'm you know obviously incredibly impatient to get my daughter scene, she's, extremely uncomfortable, I advocating for her at the desk and the nurse or Doctor Lu Sydney and says we'll see her exactly as soon as we can
patient over here is before you, and this patient is. Is you going cardiac arrest right. That is an argument. The answer to that That from me, if I'm an ethical saying he when being isn't you, my daughter is the most important child on earth, but what? If there? But what? If there are children, they can only have one child in terms of triage, there's no difference between the two of them you're not going to advocate for your child. If you push me in truly into extremities- and these are both just we truly have a an emergency on our hands and one child is essentially going to die. Well then, I can't really attest to how saying I will be, but I'll tell you who I think I should be in those moments is someone who doesn't lose his awareness of the fact that other people are just as important to themselves and their
are just as important to them as I am to myself and my child is to me and that there is a stepping out of one's self. There is a kind of view from nowhere, it is a norm that is again something that we lose sight of, but when we making laws and building institutions and design in our society, that's precisely what we try to hold on to and with. There is a cover roles in veil of ignorance here that is so incredibly useful because it is clarifying of all of the of the kind of fragmentation you are describing here what were of mere identity in Mir. This is my team and it's us against the world sure, but you know the problem with all those I agree with you about, ideally about our institutions. The problem with all those principles is that they don't
always motivate action, which is what we want. We don't want people to have their ethics right. We want them to do actually do the right thing, and that requires appealing something that makes you listen to reason right and that's an emotion. I think you're selling people short because the soul. When I look at my life, it like everything, I'm I'm not the most political person, I've sort of been dragged into politics as a result of how awful our politics have become. But when I look at it the hours I have spent railing against Trump and you never take another topic that is mode and to me, the hours and my the now years. I've spent worrying about writing about speaking about the problem of jihadism right. None of that is based based my identity, I mean I'm certainly not saying anything, I'm saying because I'm a Democrat or have been a Democrat or because I'm a Jew
or because I mean because I'm white I mean none of that. There are people who would say. Oh no, actually, your criticism Islam has everything to do with the fact that you're a Jew or that you're you're white, but it actually doesn't and ice. I'm standing shoulder with shoulder with people who are former Muslims from Pakistan who the same arguments in the same concerns, in fact their concerns Raven Height, and we can be motivate. My reasons that have not thing to do with the accident in person, not denying that. Maybe we're talking past each other, I'm getting the impression that you want a world bled of these identity, fitments? Let let let me put it in a way that brings back on of the book, and that is one of the things that changes when you shift from identity politics version one which is about
making claims of a group in order to be incorporated into the nation and model two which is about your own personal identity, which is very fluid, which you kind of construct yourself like a facebook page and so you're only attachments are to whatever groups you feel you're identifying with that's a sign of of kind of in this nation of our society in a kind of radical libertarianism that is actually de politicizing, because the next step from that is to say. Why should I care about other people in this group at all, I'm just myself it does. It doesn't motivate you to get out there, and I would imagine that one reason you got motivated about radical Islam, because this country got attacked, and I imagine that the p, the the Muslims you talk to our
sympathetic to your point of view about radical Islam are worried about their countries and their faith right. These are emotional attachments we have and the more atomized we become, whether it goes from the nation to a group to me as an individual, my special little identity within the less we we get together to do something, and so you know at the end of the set chapter of the book I say: there's an odd overlap between reaganite individualism. He said you know, is everyone for himself in the market and I construct my own id. I have no pre attachments to any group, or certainly not to my country, so that identity politics becomes a kind of reaganism for lefties.
I think that's right. Let's bring in another variable here that we haven't spoken about an you mention in your book fairly briefly and it, and I think you you do say that it actually play the role one would expect it would play and that's the the variable of class. Why isn't class subsume mean most of what we're talking about here and white. Why would I would think just naively that class would trump most identities, which is to say a truly wealthy black person or muslim or l person would perhaps on many of these questions have more in common with a truly wealthy person of a different identity. Then here she would with some whose classically in their in group who happens to be poor
or really disadvantage in that way. So talk a little bit about class and why we- and we haven't been talking about class for the last. Yeah. I know that's the right question. I think there's a couple. Things need to be so one that you're absolutely right. I think that Non college educated people I mean just a black I and a white I who were working on a loading dock. What are they talking about all the time they're talking about their wages, they're worried about their kids that would about the schools, that's what they talk about. They don't talk about their differences. Like I countless you, scams from people saying exactly that after I wrote the article that became this book a year ago, you know a guy who'd been in the military who I said now I work in a military contractor. I've got a black woman who's. My boss, you smarter than any of us. I work with a diverse group of people. Along the same bowling team and after we bowl we go out, and we talk about economic pro
columns and worrying about our kids in this world, whether they're going to get ahead. So if we actually talk more about those things, I think we would have a better chance of pulling people together. So why don't wait? Which is your question? I see What is we become? A less mobile country economically, I mean on indexes, if you can mobile mobility, the United States after World WAR, two rank very, very high compared to Europe and Asia. Now we're getting down to average or below, and so people who go into young people going to college today are far more likely to have had professional, educated and even grandparents and they've never really experienced other people's lives
and and seeing how important economic matters are, the two things they don't get. They don't get. How important religion is to people and they don't understand how much class matters out there, and so instead, there talk to focus on identity, is the big difference in life and and in american society? Would it isn't at all? And so Marxism fell out of favor for all sorts of reasons having to do with Marxism, but also, I think, with the increasing libertarianism and individualism of our society, and so you know, class solidarity was the product on the left was a product of both a common experience, but also a common set of ideas that made sense or seem to make sense of that idea. And now you know liberals who, who matter in the talking classes, whether it's
people in universities or in the press, warm publishing houses or in law firms or in Washington, never experience rather don't experience, class differences and haven't experienced a sort of a upward mobility, the to the degree that an earlier generation of Americans did yeah yeah this. The conversations reminded me of the conversation I had with Charles Murray and I'm sure, you're familiar with his thesis of just how I listen to that podcast. So was very interested. The my recognition of what a bubble I live in was made salient to me when I thought about the fact that Christopher Hitchens was the last person I knew on earth who smoked cigarettes at I mean. So I really can't say that with a straight face that where I am with respect to that variable
and that, as you know, segregates with so many other things seems to me. That is not only liberal elites or the the chattering classes who are out of touch with the importance of class is also the underclass. That's out of touch the importance of class in some way, and I think I see this in the fact that Trump manage to get elected. I mean how is it that people who, for the most part, you aren't especially well educated or well off- saw this boy king in his gilded palace, and recognize send him somebody who was just like them, man and a champion of their interest yeah
Well, that's one of the oldest questions in you know: understanding America right, vendors, Zombot back in the 20s, wrote a book called. Why is there no socialism in America because you had this working class and they didn't seem to be aware of it, and so socialists and Marxists for years tried to- these class consciousness and they had some success, but part of the problem is that the rhetoric of class that comes from Europe doesn't match on two american experience. In the same way, you know this is a country with what aspirations, even in the in the working classes? and you also have an elite that up until recently was not a hereditary elite, which is what Charles talks about in his book, but it's becoming increasingly so, and so Charles points out in the book that he's
that no used to be that american presidents sort of ate and drank alcohol. The way most Americans did they had canned peas,. And they had a little alcohol and no wine with dinner, and they watched a western at night on tv or at the movies And our societies, you know broken up. You know we're located. There's a class and social divide there, this big, but I don't think we need to talk about classes class so much to talk about privilege. You know, Americans, don't like certain privileges and they interpret them in a funny way. You know so here's trump, who is what he is fabulously wealthy in this people, keep saying he's a poor man's idea of a rich man. He passes Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton pushed all the wrong buttons,
even though they care more about and have thought more concretely about working people, then Donald Trump ever has it has to do with the way they dress the way they talk. The fact that once African American, the other is a woman, but you know they're not in the comfort zone. It's a very interesting. I I lived in France for a number of years, and it's very striking to me that every time a a male friends politician goes out to give a speech he puts on his jacket and he tightens his time goes out and gives it no matter where he is. When american male politician goes out, he takes off his jacket. It loosens his tiny rolls up his sleeves, because we have to give a sense here that were regular people right. So you know the the the way in which class works in the symbols work the sort of democratic norms, the we,
but we sort of circumvent those norms and develop classes. It's it's just a very complicated question, but if we talk about privilege that there is a privileged class, that's screwing you which Bernie talked about, then that will have some residents yeah, I guess, there's another aspect to it. I think which is aspirational, and this is to some degree uniquely american, where no matter what class someone is or how much, how far to the wrong end of the tail of the Bell curve, they are economically there's. This sense that they're, a lottery ticket might all please come in right, and so I guess I was given a glimpse of this. When I I once wrote, I think it's in twenty ten I wrote a couple of articles about you're, just worrying about wealth inequality and I got immense amount of hate. Mail from people who clearly were not billionaire
is or they're not people have. I had basically I had. I said at some point. This is there's a certain level wealth inequality that is clearly non functional. You know for our society. I mean we we do not want to live in a world where there are trillionaires just living in comp Allen's ringed with razor wire and then everyone else is, you know: that's got people starving on the sidewalk outside their their walls. So if you grant that at some point you have to want to redistribute some of this wealth in in the the the the the billionaire's need customers right and they need educated customers and they and- and so even if it's just self interest alone, if you're someone like guy in a Steve Balmer, I think highly of talking about a Microsoft who just put down at least a million dollars to fight. You know a having any income tax at all in Washington. I said a you at some point to recognize that you, as a fantastically rich person benefit from being
surrounded by happy productive, creative people who are not commiserate by need at every moment, even for only selfish reasons. You should want a reduction of the extreme wealth inequality and for making that argument. I just heard from people who were outraged- and it was it's like at. This- was a kind of taboo that I had articulated them, and these were people who clearly thought on some level that they were going to be the next billionaires or man, I'm sure they would not frame it that way, but I can imagine there. People who look at Trump in kind of aspirational way, which is you know at some point life may take that turn toward the gilded palace and the four I want to live in a system where you get to key
all your winnings without any self consciousness, and you don't redistribute anything to my shift was neighbor yeah. Well, we've always had trouble with the language of recovery distribution, which is why I think we should never use the word politically. It's one thing to talk about disadvantage, not being given that chance: Americans vibrate to that, but when it comes to actually moving money from person a to person b, they would you know they feel that's a violation of something deeper. What America is supposed to be, so it's very hard to develop a rhetoric in a message that gets people together in order to win elections and to pass legislation without tripping along all of all of those wires. So I have to say, you know,
one thing that Donald Trump did, even though he is the billionaire is that he he attacked other billionaires and it will attack Wall Street. That's for sure before bringing it into the cabinet uh and he helped to bury. I think, a certain of the the the Reagan Party, the Reagan Republican Party, because he said it's not acceptable that our workers live like this. Now no Republican had said that, since one thousand nine hundred and eighty how many workers were left to fend for themselves, and we were supposed to be against unions right that citizens are just roadkill either the tail of the distribution life is tough or they would say, don't worry about it. Tax cuts will solve everything with not a single person in America left who believes that tax cuts will solve anything,
tax cuts. That isn't even true, like I remember the time, then this again in a few years old, but I remember with the polling that was done, and that's where the percentage of Americans who won to get rid of the estate tax write was. It was some enormous percentage of people polled thought that the estate tax was an absolute outrage, but the percentage of Americans who are would ever conceivably have to pay an estate to is is minuscule. I don't have the numbers at hand, but I mean there is that kind of match. I don't know if that's changed, but that seems to be part of the of the american political psychology yeah. What they worry about, you know is something quite concrete for them, which is. I was finally able to this house thanks all so the government that gave me a tax deduction on the mortgage, and I just want to pass my house house on to my kids. You know that's pretty much their biggest asset and so somehow target.
The bigger states and letting these people know that we're not targeting you is is is that is a difficult thing to do, though it is true. You know- and He would point this out on on the stump that when you mentioned particular policies like do you think that workers should have decent health protection? The answer is, yes, do you think workers should happy a pay, the living wage. Yes, they do and so put before them various progressive and democratic, liberal policies, and they say yes to them. Then if you ask them, does that make you a liberal? They say no, I'm opposed to liberals. So that is a sign that there's a cultural AL, g there. It is not just about the policies. Right was also there's something wrong with the word to I I mean all these words were using you'll, even a on
my tongue are now per George over? At least I I have to identify with them with some caviar's liberal? Is it has a a stain gonna? Add sodas progressive amid a progressive is now on most interchangeable, with social justice warrior, and we need words with which to frame the path Ford, an you use, is what one word, which will actually hasn't, come up much in this conversation but which you you invest a lot in in your book also doesn't really trip off the tongue, and you acknowledge this and- and that word is citizen, and- and you your arguing that we really need a this concept of being a citizen, dusted off and and brightened and put forward, as as a kind of an organizing principle yeah, because you know it's true that we have a multicultural society. We have a diverse society, people have
of themselves as belonging to various groups, but there's one thing that we all share and that's citizenship. Ann I know that sounds like some schoolmarm standing up at the blackboard and tapping a pointer at the. Various amendments to the US constitution, but the idea that we as citizens get to determine our future should be very empowering and there are two sides to citizenship. One is that you have a claim on society and even more importantly from my point of view, so you have a duty to society. We don't have a language of public duty in this country right now, because we have two competing libertarianism is one on the right, someone on the line left and there's no sense that you owe something to your country and that your country- oh something to you, that it's reciprocal, but
You know it was not so long ago that JFK was able to say I don't ask what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country and was an electrifying mode I was I'm old enough to remember sort of that that that was still in the air into the late sixties, but but we don't feel that now we don't can you summarize the reasons for loss of of connection to the? No? duty on the left and the right. Are they the same or the the different sources of skepticism there? Well, I can think of various explanations of give you one that I think someone like David Brooks or Ross outfit might give, and that is that we have delegitimize. The notion of Judy in every part of our society is not just in relation to citizenship, but by becoming
less religious society by becoming more individualistic, both in our morals and in our economy. That technology has separated us more from each other. We actually have become elementary particles, and so we all yearn for some belonging to something. But we won't accept the idea of duty and that's been a big change in America site in modern life. It it's not just happening here. You know it's happening in any country, that's gone through a modern transformation, and so that's one explanation. I think parts of that is true. The parts of it- I was true that are true, but I don't have an answer fully to that question. What I do know is that in the 1950s fifties, people were complaining about young people
as being this lost generation. That was not political. All they wanted to do was go surfing and get married and you know, go to go, go bars and things like that Then Kennedy came along and then 60s radicals came along and suddenly there was a sense of common political purpose as citizens, so uh. I have no idea. I I just uh, you know at least I want to put it out there that a lot you know we can accomplish much. If we don't feel it's a feeling, it's not a principle, it's not a moral principle, and that may be where we differ of feeling that we owe thanks to other than others, that since building us an early age yeah. Well, I guess I wouldn't separate feeling in from principle or or
Our reasoning even in quite the same way- and I you know, I feel something very strongly when I see someone- obviously not making sense right, it's a doubt for a rejection of somebody's claims that It's obviously untrue feels a certain way to me and I, in a and to some, have spoken about on previous podcast, but there's no scientific work, some of which I've done, which suggests that this separation between reason and emotion. Never made any sense and and doesn't make any near anatomical sense, but I think actually the there were. There was one explanation. I don't think it you discussed in this context in your book, but this does seem relevant in your book. You describe how one of the path on the left that is either the cause or consequence of movement, politics or identity. Politics. Is this notion that
We basically have made no progress at all in the black community. Black lives matter. It's the racial injustice is spoken about. Out as though we are so you fifteen minutes, past Jim, Crow and and II because say. Same for all these other identities. There's something about this notion. If you're not acknowledging any progress, if you can't see hey for whatever reason that we have made massive progress s on race and gay rights and to and women's empowerment, well, then you're your kind of disconnected from reality, because and obviously we have made significant progress there, but you also this. Does this seem to cancel this the sense of duty to one society, because it what you're saying that society has completely failed? You right you're still in the state of emergency.
That has never changed and goes all the way back to you know slavery or women's suffrage, or a man in the closet door or whatever it is, and that's disempowering and kind of canceling of the sense of working collaboratively and profitably with society. It is no you're, absolutely right. I've had about this is that you know it is. It is because I'm very, and that's what I mean by the slightly history, Ical tone now and the kind of evangelical fervor that's out there is, it seems, people who are swept up. It seem really unwilling to it how much progress we've made. We have a black middle class. We did not have that when I was younger, we almost you know, I probably have
The families in America have someone in the extended family who's come out as gay and there's been. Acceptance of gay marriage has been an extraordinary moment in our history and rather than using that progress to say that the people, you made a lot of progress and And you need to make more, but we know you can do it because you've made progress. That's an encouraging thing! When you talk to a kid, you don't keep he gets everything wrong. You say you actually you're halfway there and let's keep going, but it is also connected to the fact that in it you know when it comes to this year's student activists. Is that not to student activists but the sort of activity? twitter class that the very much want to say that they've experienced this,
and so you know they act as if our campuses with the last bastions of Jim Crow and they exaggerate the sense of outrage Van Van Jones said with after this one second reaches a quote: yeah one saying you know the you you're in the most
liberal place in america- I'm not going to take I'm not going to pay the jungle for you, I'm not going to take the weights out of the gym. You gotta toughen up, but you gotta get out there and if these activist said instead that I'm a beneficiary of the progress we've made, I'm not complaining about me, but I am complaining about the fact that there are african Americans have not benefited from this, that there are places where gays are afraid to come out and so on, and I'm demote devoting myself to those others not to myself to those others. You would gain respect from other people right. But if you know someone clicks on clock on Fox NEWS and sees you know kid,
set the most elite institutions complaining about Halloween costumes, how this was to take that seriously. They turn off. But if those kids instead said Thanksgiving Break, I'm going out to you know a black churches in Baltimore and I'm to deliver turkeys and I'm going to help people in those black neighborhoods, because I'm privileged- and I have a duty to do that. That would be impressive, yeah well we live in interesting times, Mark yeah the where those so I I would be remiss in in. If I could let you off here without asking what you think will happen or a you hope will happen, in the fairly near term here with respect to trump and impeachment, and all of that I do have a sense of where this is going, I don't I I've spent so much time railing against
rob everyone. Everyone understands how much I abhor him. So we don't need to talk about how bad he is. But what's your sense of where things are and politically you know you and I read all the same things. So there's probably nothing that I can tell you that you haven't already read two or thought about his possibilities. I mean in Chile crass terms, you know some crass calculating terms. You know I do worry if we got MIKE Pence as a pet is it too soon that might really help the other side? But that's a superficial thought now. The thing that I'm concerned about, I say
and feel like. I want to learn more about. Is this sticky attachment to Trump, and you know that there has been a kind of extraordinary. I'm sure psychologists have a word for this. When you become fully you fully identify, you can affect with the thing that is causing your problem right and so that you
I have a stake in someone who's dragging down the ship here and people. You know I bought a lot of land in cars in my my life and when you have a limit, you gotta know when to cut loose and these people bought a lemon, but they will not admit that they're invested in a way to something deep, culturally going on there. That needs to be explored and understood, and if we could unlock that, I think we could understand the country better. Yeah, we'll also there's this level of conspiracy. Thinking in everyone's information, diet now which it's very difficult to correct for, but it's clearly contaminating the way people think about which is what is going on in Washington or or anywhere else yeah. I don't know if you, you saw the excerpt from Kurt Anderson's new book that was published in the Atlantic about how America lost its mind. A Serta sets it in historical perspective
might be assumed to have on your show yeah. I think I think I should be coming up it going historically, and you realize this is nothing all that new in the countries is not very cheerful book. I have to stay here more joy on horizon, listen mark. Thank you. It's been great to talk to you and- and it was great to agree and disagree, however subtly I wish you the best with this book and the rest of your efforts, because you are making the right sounds at this, okay, see on the barricades. If you find is podcast valuable. There are many ways you can support it, you review it on Itunes or Stitcher or wherever you happen to listen to it? You can share social media with your friends, you can blog about it,
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Transcript generated on 2019-10-14.