Bipolarity, addiction, and identity politics afflict us. But the greatest of these is identity politics.
America, G.K. Chesterton remarked, is “a nation with the soul of a church.” So it remains, in a way, even as more Americans than ever before are renouncing organized religion. For when a nation with such a soul grows corrupt, its spiritual hunger does not vanish but instead seeks satisfaction in the service of other, likely angrier gods. In our latest great awakening, argues Georgetown professor of political theory Joshua Mitchell, we are becoming a nation with the soul of a witch trial.
Mitchell’s American Awakening: Identity Politics and Other Afflictions of Our Time is an ambitious book, offering an elaborate and penetrating diagnosis of the present condition of the American soul. As Mitchell sees it, the country is beset by several interrelated afflictions: identity politics, bipolarity, and addiction. All of these collaborate in posing a mortal threat to our liberal republican order, but identity politics is the most acute and virulent of the three.
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Mitchell, like many others, sees identitarian zeal as a new form of religious faith. This is not intended as a backhanded slap at religion itself. Identity politics is best understood, Mitchell contends, as a heretical residue of a decayed Christianity—not as authentic Christianity’s terminal phase. As heresy, it may indeed imperil its
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