Growing up in the shadow of the Holocaust, Yascha Mounk absorbed early lessons about identity politics. His mother, whose Polish Jewish parents survived the Nazis by fleeing into the Soviet Union, cringed whenever she heard the word Juden on the street where they lived in Germany. But Yascha felt no hostility, just the benevolence of people so keen to prove they weren’t antisemitic that they “treated me with the kind of nervous niceness usually reserved for the mentally handicapped,” he says.
People criticizing, say, Woody Allen changed their tune if Yascha entered the room, fearful of lambasting one Jew in front of another. As a direct descendant of people persecuted by the Third Reich on grounds of their ethnicity, he was exempt from military service. And over the years, he watched the growing backlash against German guilt —and its chilling consequences.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that now, as one of America’s leading public intellectuals, Mounk is alarmed that a healthy appreciation for the culture and heritage of minority groups has morphed into an obsession with group identity in all its forms. The result, he argues in his new book, The Identity Trap: A Story of Ideas and Power in Our Time, is the stifling of discourse, the recasting of the mutual influence that once served as social glue into “cultural appropriation” and the promotion of the belief that members of different groups can ever truly understand one another.
Dr. Mounk joins us to trace the origins of this latest set of ideas about identity and social justice that is rapidly transforming America — and explains why he believes it will not only fail to accomplish its noble goals but will ultimately impede progress toward the very equality we desperately need.
Professor of International Affairs at Johns Hopkins University, Yascha Mounk holds a near-unique place in American discourse. Excoriated by the right for his clarion call about the dangers of their populism, he has been equally rejected by Progressives for his warnings about the threat to democratic stability posed by cancel culture. He is the author of four previous books, founder of the online magazine Persuasion, and a contributing editor at The Atlantic.
Mounk will be in conversation with Pamela Paul, columnist, journalist, editor and author. Paul is an op-ed writer for The New York Times and is the former editor of The New York Times Book Review.
Wednesday, October 4, 2023 | 6:00 PM Eastern