The renowned political theorist and author of The End of History and the Last Man argues that the current rise of ultra-right nationalism that is sweeping the globe has its roots in frustration over a lack of universal or national identity in the face of the rise of narrower forms of recognition based on nation, religion, sect, race, ethnicity, and gender.
Yes, the world has gotten better for hundreds of millions. But Fukuyama reminds us that across much of the West, people have suffered dislocation and elites have captured the fruits ... Unlike many avuncular critics of identity politics, Fukuyama is sympathetic to the good such politics does—above all, making the privileged aware of their effect on marginalized groups ... Fukuyama does have his criticisms, however ... Fukuyama worries that the 'woke' the left gets on identity issues, the weaker it gets on offering a critique of capitalism ... A low-key shortcoming of Fukuyama’s book is that...it is a book about books about books. On the one hand, theorists gotta theorize. On the other, with an issue so fraught and a world so full of rage, [the] author could have made good use of a rental car and the Voice Memos app ... [the book] lack[ed] the earth and funk and complexity of dreaming, hurting human beings.
The demand for recognition, Fukuyama says, is the 'master concept' that explains all the contemporary dissatisfactions with the global liberal order ... Fukuyama covers all of this in less than two hundred pages. How does he do it? Not well ... A lot comes from the astonishingly blasé assumption...that Western thought is universal thought ... He also thinks that people on the left have become obsessed with cultural and identitarian politics, and have abandoned social policy. But he has surprisingly few policy suggestions himself. He has no interest in the solution that liberals typically adopt to accommodate diversity: pluralism and multiculturalism ... It’s unfortunate that Fukuyama has hung his authorial hat on meta-historical claims.
Identity is Fukuyama’s attempt to grant noneconomic politics a history and a future. Yet, in doing so, he falls prey to the same error that he charges identity politics with committing. His origin tale, based in thymos, for what he views as noneconomic politics leads him to continually misconstrue the element of economics, which is as crucial to thymotic 'struggles for recognition' as thymos itself is crucial to human nature ... In fact there is no example cited by Identity as a potent manifestation of identity politics that is not strongly linked to economics—even the activists mobilizing around injured dignity at elite universities can be properly seen as trying to get their money’s worth ... It is a testament to Fukuyama’s intelligence and the depth of his commitment to democracy that, despite beginning from the incoherent, crumbling premises of centrist punditry, the political program that emerges from his recent publications can only be described as a concerted push for socioeconomic justice.