IDEOLOGY IS OUT, IDENTITY IS IN: Stanford's Francis Fukuyama on the Rise of Populism in the West and How Identity Politics Thwarted the End of History

By Gillespie, Nick | Reason, January 2019 | Go to article overview

IDEOLOGY IS OUT, IDENTITY IS IN: Stanford's Francis Fukuyama on the Rise of Populism in the West and How Identity Politics Thwarted the End of History


Gillespie, Nick, Reason


IN 1992, FRANCIS Fukuyama published The End of History and the Last Man, an extended argument that the combination of liberal democracy and market capitalism could represent the end state for the evolution of human governance.

The book was an influential, much-discussed hit, with its central idea--"the end of history"--becoming popular shorthand for the triumph of liberal democratic capitalism. In the process, Fukuyama became one of the nation's most widely recognized thinkers.

Fukuyama, notably, did not argue that other, more totalitarian forms of government could never return--only that in the very long term, market capitalism would prove more durable. Yet more than a quarter-century later, with the rise of populist political campaigns and democratic unrest throughout the Western world, some have wondered whether his most well-known idea remains relevant. In Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), the director of the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford University and fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies tackles what he sees as one of the primary driving forces behind these challenges: the rise of identity politics.

In September, Fukuyama spoke with Reason's Nick Gillespie about his new book, the Donald Trump presidency, why economic gains aren't enough to hold a society together, and whether or not we've really reached the end of history.

Reason: Start by giving me the elevator pitch for Identity, which you say you wouldn't have written if Donald Trump hadn't won the 2016 election.

Fukuyama: My view is that the nature of global politics is shifting to an identity axis and away from the economic left-right axis of the 20th century that was defined largely by ideology. And by identity I mean these fixed characteristics that link us to certain groups, usually based on things like ethnicity, race, religion. It could be gender.

Sexual orientation?

Sexual orientation now in the United States and other developed countries. I think that that is not good for democracy, because these fixed characteristics are supposed to be determinative of your politics. And in a way, that's a problem in many countries like Iraq or Syria or Libya, where everyone is tied to a fixed identity group and therefore you can't have a modern political system.

Your book revolves around a couple of key concepts. Can you please explain them briefly?

Isothymia is the desire to be recognized as equal to other people. If you're disrespected or [treated as] invisible, you want to be recognized. In the United States context, that's the Declaration of Independence: "All men are created equal." And every marginalized group that says, "You don't see me as a human being," I think that's what's driving that.

Megalothymia is not a universal characteristic, but it's universal to almost every political order....You get certain individuals who are not satisfied with equal recognition. They want to be better than everyone else. For a democratic political system that's a particular problem, because you've got to somehow limit the ability of an individual like that to hurt the rest of the political system.

Are you arguing in the book that certain identity groups are now taking on that role, where they're demanding to be recognized, or that their grievances be recognized, as separate and greater than other groups?

The first manifestation of modern identity politics was European nationalism. And there you start with the desire of the Germans [in the 19th century] to live within their own community, because they're all scattered around Central and Eastern Europe; they don't have a single state under which they're all ruled. And then they get that state.

So they just want to be recognized like other peoples, but then the isothymia evolves into megalothymia where they say, "Well, actually, we ought to dominate the Slavs and all these other people surrounding us. …

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