The force transforming Western liberalism has many hashtags, many slogans, many admiring and pejorative descriptions, but no single name that everyone can recognize as a singular description of the thing itself. #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, social justice and intersectionality, anti-racism and the “great awokening.” “Cultural Marxism” and “SJWs” and “identity politics.” Political correctness, of course, and more obscurely “left modernism” and “hyper-liberalism.” Like the blind men feeling different portions of the elephant, the words all capture something, but the form of the animal remains a bit fuzzy, with a generally familiar shape but tusks and trunks where you don’t necessarily expect them.
One particularly useful phrase belongs to the cultural critic Wesley Yang, who calls the transformational force “the successor ideology” — meaning that it represents a possible successor to liberalism, like Marxism in the last century, but also that it’s inchoate and half-formed and sometimes internally contradictory, defined more by its departures from older liberal ideas than by a unified worldview.
If you want to see the successor ideology at work, this implies, don’t look for a definitive program. Look for places where progressive movements cease working toward some long-sought liberal goal and start to argue in terms that leave liberalism behind.
Thinking this way is useful because so many prominent left-of-center causes today contain within themselves both reformist and revolutionary tendencies, and progressives regularly move back and forth between the two — between familiar liberal goals and the successor ideology — depending on the context, the challenges, the enemy, the opportunity.
The surge of feminist and #MeToo activism in the last decade, for instance, has advanced a longstanding and admirable liberal goal — the right of the individual to be free from rape, assault and unwanted sexual aggression. But at the same time it has generated new disciplinary structures. …