The triumph of liberal democracy was celebrated by Francis Fukuyama (1991) and his patrons as the only available alternative left before the world but now building over his previous narrative and midwifing the post-honeymoon course of liberal democracy Fukuyama observes that a new precarious state is in view and that the conservatism has reincarnated in a newer garb through new identity zealots or tribes of different collectivities articulating on traditional lines. Against liberal democracy an anti-thesis has emerged with the spate of retributive stringent assertions under collective identities violent, dominant, exclusive and subjugating intimidating its very existence and leading towards chaos. Fukuyama elaborates how identity is rooted in inner self which has transformed from the Luther’s perception, Rousseau’s view to the Hegelian idea and acquired its current content. In his latest volume Identity: Contemporary Identity Politics and the Struggle for Recognition (2018) Fukuyama brings into discussion some serious issues in the aftermath of these developments and attempts at resolving the crisis by creating a ‘civilian order’ against the identity politics and multiculturalism. He suggests for controlling the malaise by impressing upon the use of identity for the sake of integration.
Identity Politics and the Human Nature
The term ‘identity politics’, which according to Francis Fukuyama undermines democracy, was first used in the middle of the twentieth century by psychologist Erik Erikson (1968). However, after the third wave1 when democracy was supposed to mature in value and practice the retrogression of world politics towards conservatism or what Larry Diamond (2015) calls ‘global recession’ brought the term into serious discussions. The political movements like Arab Spring, student’s protests in South Africa, Brexit, black lives matter, populist nationalism of different states like Turkey, Japan, India and United States, anti-immigrant movements of Europe and white supremascism etc. are the reflection of identity politics.
Politics is rooted in human nature and Fukuyama too begins with the probing of human nature, the root behind the extension of man’s desires and moral responsibilities. While defining identity Fukuyama takes the Platonic route to describe the human psyche in terms of soul that comprises of three parts: reason, spiritedness or emotion and desire. Thymos which he discussed in The End of History and the Last Man (1992) too regarding democracy and recognition, is spiritedness causative of isothymia, an urge to earn recognition on account of dignity as equal to others. Then he introduces the counter-idea of Megalothymia which means the need to be recognized as superior to others. Both the ideas of desire to be equal or superior to others present a neo-liberal dialectics based on which move the forces of identity. ‘Thymos or “spiritedness,” including the demand for recognition and indignation at injustice, are fundamental to politics and this human quality has often proved to be destructive’ (Callaway, 2019:64).
Identity is defined as an inner self by Fukuyama against the outer self or world of social rules and norms that doesn’t acknowledge its worth and dignity. ‘Only in modern times has the view taken hold that the authentic inner self is intrinsically valuable, and the outer society systematically wrong and unfair in its valuation of the former. It is not the inner self that has to be made to conform to the society’s rules, but society itself that needs to change’ (Fukuyama 2018:10). This is a kind of reverse situation taken into cognizance the Hobbesian man who is wicked, greedy and an evil to be controlled by law. Fukuyama follows the Marxian schema of social reconstruction that considers human nature a social construct resultant of the work of material forces of production and ownership of property that requires an overhauling so that the human nature could be altered accordingly.
The Inner and the Outer self
The foundations of identity were laid with the perception of the disjunction between one’s inside and one’s outside and Luther was the first to valorize the inner self over the external. But Luther is distant from the modern understandings of identity as his innerself is unidimensional (based on the faith that either accepts or rejects god) and didn’t seek recognition. J.J. Rosseau liberates Luther of this drawback as he reverses the Christian moral evaluation of man by declaring him secular, the freedom of whom lies in the natural and universal ability to experience the sentiment de l’existence, free of the layers of accumulated social convention. While Rousseau expands the moral choice from the binary of good and bad declaring man a sinless innocent creature Hegel’s intervention connects human dignity with moral choice when he declares that human beings are morally free agents who are not simply rational machines seeking to maximize satisfaction of their desires. Hegel puts recognition of this moral agency at the centre-stage of human condition when he argues that human history was driven by a struggle for recognition. But since recognition fails to be satisfying without dignity of labour the democratic setups guarantee individual rights and equal dignity, where the dignity of few of traditional societies gives way to the dignity of all (Chap.3&4).
The synchronization of the outer self in conformity with the inner self that is dignity conscious is Fukuyama’s major concern for which he sees a ray of hope in developing a modern impersonal state he referred to as ‘getting to Denmark’ (Fukuyama, 2011). The decay of the modern liberal democratic set up is another concern, especially after the regressive policies of the democratic regimes of Europe like Brexit, anti-immigration stances and the rise of populist nationalism in US and other parts of the world.
The systems which discriminate or deny recognition are megalothymia based and they require a reshuffle and replacement by isothymia. The crisis here is essentially of liberal democratic order, though earlier, Fukuyama had explained how Thymos was related to history with the visible angst against the communist states of Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and China. “We cannot understand the totality of the revolutionary phenomenon unless we appreciate the working of thymotic anger and the demand for recognition that accompanied communism’s economic crisis’ (Fukuyama 1992). However, the financial constraints of welfarism depleted the social democracies. Recognition struggles targeted newer groups and their rights as groups, rather than the economic inequality of individuals. In the process the old working class was left behind (2018:112-113). Now amidst the identity politics that overwhelms the world with staunch assertions Fukuyama has registered a significant shift from his previous standpoint which was pro-liberal and anti-left.
Since Identity politics threatens liberal democracy by eroding the democratic values, principles and inclusive social order portending chaos Fukuyama proposes some measures by developing a space for thymos and human dignity. He suggests the creation of a ‘civil identity’ by evolving the common civil values against the given ethno-cultural or religious identities. The creedal national identities built around the foundational ideas of modern liberal democracy have to be promoted and public policy to deliberately assimilate new comers to those identities followed. His proposal at state-building includes introduction of national services, state symbols, cross-community values and effective state that helps to evolve an inclusive system repudiating the diverging identities. Fukuyama draws a parallel to Gellnerian model of evolving the national consciousness along the territorial existence of state as he speaks of evolution of a ‘uniform civilian order’ along the multiple identities in the hope of subjugating the latter. He, in fact, over expects from the identity voices to merge with this civilian order, though it may be a long term project but not impossible too. Identity can be used to divide but it can also be used to integrate and herein lies the remedy. No one contends that human beings are capable of rational behaviour or that they are self-interested individuals who seek greater wealth and resources but then to understand identity politics we need a better theory of human soul. While Fukuyama bears silence about the left his chords have turned more critical of the right.
Notes and References
1The term ‘third wave’ was used for the first time by Samuel P. Huntington who associates it with the democratization process to describe the global trend that has seen more than 60 countries throughout Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa undergo some sort of democratic transition since Portugal’s ‘Carnation Revolution’ in 1974.
Callaway H G (2019)Identity, the demand for dignity and the politics of resentment.Law and Politics Book Review29 (6).
Diamond, Larry (2015)Facing up the democratic recession. Journal of Democracy 26 (1).
Erikson, Erik H (1968) Identity: Youth and Crisis. New York: Norton.
Fukuyama, Francis (1992) The End of History and the Last Man. New York: Free Press.
— (2011) The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution. New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux.
— (2018) Identity: Contemporary Identity Politics and the Struggle for Recognition. New Delhi: Hachette India.