The Once and Future Liberal

After Identity Politics

April 2018 9781849049955 160pp
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For nearly forty years, Ronald Reagan’s vision—small government, lower taxes, and self-reliant individualism—has remained America’s dominant political ideology. The Democratic Party has offered no truly convincing competing vision. Instead, American liberalism has fallen under the spell of identity politics.

Mark Lilla argues with acerbic wit that liberals, originally driven by a sincere desire to protect the most vulnerable Americans, have now unwittingly invested their energies in social movements rather than winning elections. This abandonment of political priorities has had dire consequences. But, with the Republican Party led by an unpredictable demagogue and in ideological disarray, Lilla believes liberals now have an opportunity to turn from the divisive politics of identity, and offer positive ideas for a shared future.

A fiercely-argued, no-nonsense book, The Once and Future Liberal is essential reading for our momentous times.


‘A deep and provocative brief on what has gone wrong, and what liberals, moderates, and progressives might do about it.’ — Steven Pinker

‘An urgent and important book.’ — John Banville

‘Lilla in his new book issues an important, passionate and highly critical wake-up call to liberals who, he believes, are stuck in the mud. . . . Lilla’s message to liberals is timely and welcome.’ — The Washington Post

‘Lilla is no conservative. Yet it would be hard to find a better skewering of modern American liberalism than in this slim volume . . . Lilla’s book is a sizzling polemic.’ — Financial Times

‘A dead-on diagnosis.’ — The Guardian

The Once and Future Liberal has annoyed a great many people in the US, though its message is nothing but common sense: in the age of Trumpery, nothing can be done for vulnerable minorities unless liberals get themselves elected to positions of influence. An urgent and important book by one of the clearest and most inspired political thinkers of the day.’ — The Guardian, ‘Best Book of the Year’

‘Essential reading.’ — Fareed Zakaria, CNN

‘Challenging and powerful.’ — The New York Review of Books

‘Lilla seeks to summon liberals to a politics of broad national interest.’ — The Atlantic

‘A stunning indictment of the left’s fatal descent into a bedlam of identity- and a stirring call to the power of shared citizenship and the universality of liberal ideas. Brilliant and necessary.’ — Lord Ken Macdonald QC, Warden, Wadham College, Oxford, and former Director of Public Prosecutions

‘If I could magically place a copy of Mark Lilla’s The Once and Future Liberal into the hands of every Democratic Party politician, activist, major donor, pollster, and consultant in the country, I would . . . Lilla has written the most admirable and necessary political broadside in years.’ — The Week

‘Mark Lilla questions liberalism’s intellectual foundations in order to make it forceful and successful . . . An important book.’ — Libération

‘Besides analysing how American liberals have lost both their appeal and their politi­cal power, The Once and Future Liberal  proposes a way to make liberalism relevant again.’ — Haaretz

The Once and Future Liberal is the angry cry of someone on the left who no longer recognizes his comrades . . . Polemical but passionate, it is at the centre of the identity debates that still divide the United States.’ — Le Point

‘Lilla masterfully sets a dialogue in this short book.’ — Los Angeles Review of Books

‘Mark Lilla will make many people mad, but to excellent purpose. He calls for a revived politics of liberty and justice for truly all and a real debate over how to achieve the common good. The job now is to find and include a genuinely diverse set of voices to create the new American ‘we the people’ that Lilla envisions.’ — Anne-Marie Slaughter


Mark Lilla is Professor of Humanities at Columbia University; a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books and The New York Times; and author, most recently, of The Once and Future Liberal (also published by Hurst). His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

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