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.
Leading political theorist Fukuyama...suggests that liberal democracy is in global crisis because of knotty, interrelated problems having to do with thymos, the human desire for dignity and respect ... The solution, suggests Fukuyama, is not rejection of identity politics, but rather a reinvigorated 'creedal' identity—in which national identity is tied to shared values as opposed to race, ethnicity, or religion—so that thymos is channeled into constructive ends, like civic engagement. Keenly thought-provoking and timely.
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.
Mr. Fukuyama’s attempt to explain the theoretical basis of dignity is a bit of a mess ... Readers may wonder if the connections between Luther and Rousseau go any deeper than the simple notion of introspection, how Rousseau’s ideas jumped all the way to Burma and Iran, and how it was that the American civil-rights movement was inspired by the ideals of the French rather than the American Revolution. Mr. Fukuyama’s breezy account doesn’t stop long enough to ask these sorts of questions ... He does make a persuasive case that modern identity politics arose out of post-Freudian therapeutic worldviews of midcentury America ... Mr. Fukuyama displays an unaccountable need to sound as if he’s above ideology and faulting both sides for their excesses. That’s a tough sell on the topic of identity politics, which is overwhelmingly a creation of the left ... More interesting is his proposal of a mandatory-service program to require the young to work for common national goals. That may still fail to bring us together, but historically the only thing certain to accomplish the aim of national unity is large-scale war against an aggressor—and nobody wants that.