Liberalism Radicalized: The Sexual Revolution, Multiculturalism, and the Rise of Identity Politics

From the Heritage Foundation.


Beginning in the 1950s, a more radical form of liberalism emerged in the academy that sowed the seeds for the sexual revolution and multiculturalism. Neo-progressivism mobilized the New Left of the 1960s, transformed American politics, and continues to dominate the cultural and political conversation today. It combines what neo-progressives call personal politics (the idea that American citizens have a right to all forms of self-expression) and cultural politics (the idea that cultural groups are entitled to special status) together as the twin pillars of a new identity politics. As a result, citizens today have more, not less, freedom from government in the realm of sexual expression, and the American electorate has been fractured into various groups.

In the past two decades, a new, more radical form of progressivism has taken over American social and political life, even finding its way into the White House. Fresh instances of this new progressivism appear every day. For example:

  • At the 2012 Democratic National Convention, progressives officially supported same-sex marriage as a civil right and unofficially rejected the word God in their platform;
  • President Barack Obama, labeled the “First Gay President” by Newsweek for his support of gay rights, has instructed the Attorney General of the United States not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act; and
  • Vice President Joe Biden has said that discrimination against transgendered persons is the “civil rights issue of our time.”

The new progressivism divides Americans into categories of race, class, and gender. It renews the specter of race conflict by rejecting the goal of civil rights, in which individuals achieve equality under the law; instead, the goal is political racial solidarity against what is viewed as an inherently racist American system.

As a former law professor, Obama has been associated with the movement called Critical Race Theory, which—according to a proponent—“seeks to highlight the ways in which the law is not neutral and objective, but designed to support White supremacy and the subordination of people of color.”[2] Race politics has taken center stage, with both political parties vying for the loyalty of the growing number of Hispanic Americans. Obama attributed his recent presidential victory to the “Latino community,” while the Republican Party, admitting that it is “too old, too white,” scrambles to court the Latino vote.

Finally, the politics of gender has grown as 55 percent of women voted for Obama in 2012.[4] Rallying around the Affordable Care Act, progressives accused those who opposed the new right to taxpayer-funded contraception of waging a “war on women.”

This is not the old progressivism of 1910, nor is it the self-styled “liberalism” of the 1940s and ’50s. The term “liberals” here refers to what many in the Democratic Party and American society called themselves between 1948 and 1969. These were the heirs to the early 20th century Progressives. Economically, these are the liberals of the generation that came of age during World War II: unionized blue-collar laborers and farmers.

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