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Publisher's Summary

From one of the country's most admired political thinkers, an urgent wake-up call to American liberals to turn from the divisive politics of identity and develop a vision of our future that can persuade all citizens that they share a common destiny.

In The Once and Future Liberal, Mark Lilla offers an impassioned, tough-minded, and stinging look at the failure of American liberalism over the past two generations. Although there have been Democrats in the White House, and some notable policy achievements, for nearly 40 years the vision that Ronald Reagan offered - small government, lower taxes, and self-reliant individualism - has remained the country's dominant political ideology. And the Democratic Party has offered no convincing competing vision in response.

Instead, as Lilla argues, American liberalism fell under the spell of identity politics, with disastrous consequences. Driven originally by a sincere desire to protect the most vulnerable Americans, the left has now unwittingly balkanized the electorate, encouraged self-absorption rather than solidarity, and invested its energies in social movements rather than in party politics.

With dire consequences. Lilla goes on to show how the left's identity-focused individualism insidiously conspired with the amoral economic individualism of the Reaganite right to shape an electorate with little sense of a shared future and near-contempt for the idea of the common good. In the contest for the American imagination, liberals have abdicated.

Now they have an opportunity to reset. The left is motivated, and the Republican Party, led by an unpredictable demagogue, is in ideological disarray. To seize this opportunity, Lilla insists, liberals must concentrate their efforts on recapturing our institutions by winning elections. The time for hectoring is over. It is time to reach out and start persuading people from every walk of life and in every region of the country that liberals will stand up for them. We must appeal to - but also help to rebuild - a sense of common feeling among Americans and a sense of duty to each other.

A fiercely argued, no-nonsense book, enlivened by Lilla's acerbic wit and erudition, The Once and Future Liberal is essential listening for our momentous times.

©2017 Mark Lilla (P)2017 HarperCollins Publishers

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Couldn’t Agree More!

Your message is exactly right, but from perspective and based on listening to the reaction of hosts of your interviews regarding the book, I see no chance that your observations could move the Democratic Party. I think you are speaking to a brick wall.

I long ago removed my party identification because the messaging both sides subliminally told me I was not welcome. In my view, political parties are myopically focused winning the next election. It is well known that party strategy often is to prioritize keeping a hot button issue unresolved instead of working across the isle to find practical solution I order to use it to drive fund raising and the base voter to the polls next election.

Neither of the parties are concerned about the long term best interest of the nation as a whole. This is a fact of nature of modern mass media politics.

I do wonder however if your message could form the seed of a coalition of those like myself who are motivated by a broader range of factors in choosing a candidate. N

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Brilliant and Painfully True

Ever since Trump won the presidency, I've read every book I can get my hands on to figure out why. So far I've read dozens of them (I'm one of those weirdos who listens to a book every single day, rain or shine). This book is far and away the best of them. Invest just a few short hours and you will understand exactly why the Democratic Party doesn't win elections anymore. As a Berkeley alum, this was a painful but necessary wake up call for me.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Thoughtful Insights for a Pragmatic American

What did you like best about this story?

Finally, someone who has the same idea in his head about the course of American polity, but says it a lot better than I.

Any additional comments?

An understandable insight of the political tilt of America now- as the result of the last 50 years of societal development. He paints a picture of the loss of a central idea or vision which unites folks, and its replacement with personal & identity politics. His view of this seems spot-on to me, but disappointed in a too short discussion of how to remedy the situation.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Bryan
  • DENVER, CO, US
  • 10-04-17

Very helpful toward coherent liberal initiatives

Clear and objective hard lessons learned for why democratic and liberal initiatives and cohesion are weaker today than have been for a long time. Constructive insights into solutions.

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Would be a great polemic; pulls too many punches

There is a wonderful polemic in here trying to get out. Unfortunately it is held down under a bit too much hedging and qualifying and punch-pulling. This book is already short. It would be a better book if were even shorter. Lilla is too kind to his fellow liberals.

Lilla is spot-on correct in his descriptions of identity politics and its harmful effects on the country. But these depictions are nearly always preceded by fawning concessions to the achievements of liberalism. In the opinion of this reader, these concessions are not needed and not helpful.

The book contains more than a few highly quotable sentences and paragraphs, but not enough to redeem the work as a whole. The book is worth reading, but not worth buying.

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An extremely timely book

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I believe Mark Lilla completely describes the problems modern liberals are experiencing. And of course the country as a whole. The lack of citizenship or common good has been subsumed by a politics by and for the individual so extreme that no democratic ideology is possible. I highly recommend this book to my fellow citizens, both liberal and conservative.

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Insightful, spot on and dearly needed

For years I have believed that I have remained relatively consistent in my politics and attitudes towards government, democracy and life. I recall my support for Nixon (pre-criminal years), Dole and Heinz because I am a liberal and a patriot. I watched the Republican party drift and drift until anyone like the above named figures no longer had a home in their party. Having lived largely abroad for the last 15 years, I have now experienced the same thing from my own "side" where I now often find myself defending "progressives" and even conservatives against this unimpeachable mob of identity, self, entitled and fetish obsessed politics of the left. I have stood my ground but it has only been in the last 2 years and most definitively since the victory of Donald Trump that voices on the left have started to be heard as the need to question why we keep losing elections though the nation shares our values becomes a question of existential importance. Mark Lilla, from inside the ivory tower of academia tells us in no uncertain terms what are the signs and symptoms of our illness on the left, diagnoses what ails us with an accurate, broad and even sober understanding of history and I believe offers a clear prescription on how to get well and move forward.

This is a must read slap in the face wake up call for those who think of themselves as "woke" to cut that crap out and to focus on the progress that has been made with the cooperation of the whole of society, what unites us, why we must and how to speak with people who disagree with us and why it is essential to do so in a way that displays a mature adult attitude in a democracy that true progress is maintained through open discussion, debate based on facts and not identity and by working within political institutions to win elections from bottom to top by listening, unifying and compromise based about our shared citizenship rather than through our victimhood, personal circumstances and the courts.

We will ignore his assessment at our own peril. Those coddled and sensitive members of what I call the "Regressive Left" need to understand that they are the left version of the selfishness spawned by Reagan on the Right. That is their cultural heritage and if they don't like finding out who their father is, then they have to snap out of their self-delusion and move forward into an era that can still forward their interests without the need to label every one less holy than themselves as evil.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful