A Conversation with Mark Lilla on His Critique of Identity Politics

David Remnick in The New Yorker:

Remnick: We’re speaking a couple of weeks after Charlottesville, and a lot of things are converging all of a sudden, not for the first time: history, politics, identity. How would you rate the national conversation we’re having at the moment, when it comes to race, identity, and politics?

Remnick_Mark-LillaLilla: Well, I wouldn’t call it a conversation. It’s an overused word. I’m a little tired of it.

Remnick: “The national conversation.”

Lilla: “The national conversation.” “We need to have a conversation” about something—which is a euphemism for avoiding something and a real conflict. But it’s something that’s been simmering below the surface for a very long time—it’s not that we haven’t been talking about identity issues. But to see this flash out from the right, very suddenly, just brings home, I think, the incendiary nature of this, and how, when passions are excited about identity issues, conversation stops. Not many journalists picked up on this, but the demonstration was actually a quotation of a demonstration in May, 1933, when Nazi students, shortly after Hilter’s appointment as Chancellor, marched through the University of Berlin at night, with torches, into the courtyard of the university. That’s where the famous book burning took place. They knew exactly what they were doing.

Remnick: Then what’s the proper response to such a demonstration? Persuasion?

Lilla: No, the first thing you do when fascists show up in the street is you show up, too. And that’s what people did. I have all sorts of problems with the Antifa people—we need to stay very far away from them—but look at what happened in Boston over the weekend. You had all these people show up. There really weren’t many people on the other side. And so I think there are moments like this, which are rare, of absolute moral clarity.

More here.