Joshua Mitchell, "American Awakening: Identity Politics and Other Afflictions of Our Time" (Encounter Books, 2020)

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Brace yourself for a sobering analysis of the state of the body politic and national soul. America is ailing from three main afflictions that are dangerously undermining the nation’s ability to act in the interest of the common good.

So argues Joshua Mitchell, a professor of political theory at Georgetown University, in his 2020 book, American Awakening: Identity Politics and Other Afflictions of Our Time (Encounter Books, 2020)

According to Mitchell, the first and most serious of these afflictions is the rage for identity politics which he argues has become a religious arena for sacrificial offering. The sacrificial scapegoat of our day is the white, heterosexual man. Those who do not fall into that category are deemed pure and innocent groups who must purge the stained transgressor group.

The second affliction is a sort of bipolarity in which many Americans veer from feeling invincible on their social media platforms at one moment to suddenly feeling impotent in the face of everyday problems. In the latter mode, they abjectly rely on the expert class and global managers to see them through all manner of problems from climate change to pandemics to economic travails.

The third affliction, says Mitchell, is the enervating hope held by many Americans that they can find shortcuts that negate the need to acquire basic life skills. Mitchell gives the examples of substituting social media “friendship” for actual face-to-face contact with others, online shopping instead of navigating the brick-and-mortar world and relying on technology to get us to our destinations be that technology online maps or, in days to come, self-driving cars.

But the book is not all gloom and doom. Mitchell argues that we can regain national cohesion via the recovery of liberal competence and adherence to three pillars of renewal: committing to the middle-class commercial republic our country was founded as; a sincere effort to address the legacy of slavery; and a modest foreign policy.

Given what minefields race and politics are currently, this is a fearless book.

Give a listen.

Hope J. Leman is a grants researcher.

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