The New York Times bestselling author of The Origins of Political Order offers a provocative examination of modern identity politics: its origins, its effects, and what it means for domestic and international affairs of state
In 2014, Francis Fukuyama wrote that American institutions were in decay, as the state was progressively captured by powerful interest groups. Two years later, his predictions were borne out by the rise to power of a series of political outsiders whose economic nationalism and authoritarian tendencies threatened to destabilize the entire international order. These populist nationalists seek direct charismatic connection to “the people,” who are usually defined in narrow identity terms that offer an irresistible call to an in-group and exclude large parts of the population as a whole.
Demand for recognition of one’s identity is a master concept that unifies much of what is going on in world politics today. The universal recognition on which liberal democracy is based has been increasingly challenged by narrower forms of recognition based on nation, religion, sect, race, ethnicity, or gender, which have resulted in anti-immigrant populism, the upsurge of politicized Islam, the fractious “identity liberalism” of college campuses, and the emergence of white nationalism. Populist nationalism, said to be rooted in economic motivation, actually springs from the demand for recognition and therefore cannot simply be satisfied by economic means. The demand for identity cannot be transcended; we must begin to shape identity in a way that supports rather than undermines democracy.
Identity is an urgent and necessary book—a sharp warning that unless we forge a universal understanding of human dignity, we will doom ourselves to continuing conflict.
Political scientist Fukuyama (The End of History and the Last Man) makes an ambitious and provocative critique of identity politics, which he locates in both the leftist crusade for equality for marginalized people and right-wing ethnonationalism and "economic anxieties," which he says are "actually rooted in the demand for recognition." He organizes his analysis around the concept of thymos, "the part of the soul that craves recognition of dignity," which results in either "a desire to be respected on an equal basis with other people" (which, thwarted by marginalization, spurs leftist identity politics), or a "desire to be recognized as superior" (which he connects to dictatorial leaders). He draws from philosophers such as Hegel and Marx; traces the ascendancy of modern liberal democracies, specifically the French Revolution; and turns a critical lens on the Arab Spring, Europe's immigrant crisis, and Donald Trump to argue that identity politics has morphed into a "politics of resentment." The analysis ends with proposals for promoting broader conceptions of identity that bring people together to support liberal democracy's functioning. This erudite work is likely to spark debate.