We need to restore politics within traditional limits

This, like so many things today, is a dispute over fencing. Classically liberal politics is all about good fencing. Our system is set up to fence in the government, which the American Founders knew had a tendency to wander into adjacent territory. The persons and arrangements within the government were, themselves, fenced in further: Congress cannot do this, the president cannot do that. Politics was a crucial enterprise, but a narrow one. It was designed to do the minimal work of keeping people from killing each other — and to leave maximal space for those same people to pursue what it was never within the power of politics to provide: the various and innumerable goods that make up a human life.

In general, conservatives continue to favor this structure. Certain things are, and ought to be, outside the boundaries of politics. That’s not to say they’re not debatable, or entirely irrelevant to political considerations; it’s just to say that politics, properly understood, is a blunt instrument with little meaningful application to many, if not most, of the most meaningful parts of life.

But progressives have reversed these priorities. It is not simply that nothing is outside of politics – as an extension of the logic of “identity politics,” that is true, as far as it goes. It is that there is nothing of which the political aspects are not the most important. Mozart symphonies, Saul Bellow novels, Jivamukti yoga, Twitter accounts: The most important thing about them is how they interact with our urgent political debates.