Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment

Francis Fukuyama, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018


Professor doctor Nicholas Dima


America at a Crossroads... In his endeavor he is trying to understand man’s nature and social Francis Fukuyama is a prolific California-based writer who already published many books on the evolution of politics. The titles of his works speak volumes: The Origins of Political Order, Human Nature and…Social Order, From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy, The End of History, or organization, to discern present trends, and to offer some ideas about the future.

Identity is a study of the current political organization starting with the exploration of the human soul. As an American of Japanese origin, he is trying to understand the role of personal identity in politics. In doing so, he combines a number of disciplines from psychology and philosophy to sociology and political systems. This is a new stage in understanding the link between individual behavior and social organization in the era of globalizations and wide-spread democracy. The foregone conclusion is that in a world of huge diversity in which each person wants to express his or her most intimate identity, there is little left in common to hold the society together. True democracies can no longer unite everybody. Thus, the present is confusing and the future is uncertain…

Fukuyama splits every hair to understand what’s going on in the world. He starts by explaining the meaning of some Greek words: Thymos, the part of the soul that craves recognition and dignity, Isothymia, equal recognition for others, and Megalothymia, the desire by some people to be recognized as superior. He uses these words and many expressions throughout the entire book. To make his point, the author also resorts to classic philosophers. For Hegel, for example, history is driven by a struggle for personal recognition…

The current Western political systems are driven by two forces: conservatism, expressing mainly old nationalism and religion, and liberal democracy, defined somehow vaguely and in rather utopian terms. Each of these trends gathers countless small groups and individuals that too many times have little in common. The new world of diversity and multiculturalism no longer fits either the traditional spiritual beliefs or the materialistic Marxist motivation. ‘Human psychology is much more complex than the rather simpleminded economic model.’ People seek more than economic redress; they want public recognition and restitution of dignity. In fact, the author introduces the old dichotomy between the material and spiritual sides of man. At long last, it is admitted that the innermost identity of any person is spiritual…

People want to be recognized for their inner worth; for what they are! Thymos is the seat of today’s identity politics, claims professor Fukuyama. Accordingly, individuals associate first with their immediate peers and then adhere to larger groups. However, current diversity obstructs the possibility of forming governing majorities… People want to be treated equally, but, are we really equal?

Questions abound: Who am I really? Traditionally, Christianity shed light on this subject, but we have separated the church from politics and now we are searching for universal values. What are those values and who is defining them? The book splits the hair and appeals to biology and culture, but the boundary between nature and nurture is also contested. Looking for answers, the author cites ideas from Rousseau, Luther, Kant, Freud, Huntington and others, but finding the right answer is elusive. There is a consensus though that personal dignity is best served by an ideal democratic system, but where is that ideal?

            An important chapter is dedicated to nationalism and religion, two forces that continue to shape today’s politics. Religion may be on the retreat, but nationalism, as opposed to globalization and internationalism, is on the rise. And even religion in its extreme manifestations is resurging among Muslims…

The new world appears to be moved indeed by a search for personal identity, dignity and status. We all want to be recognized and respected… Me first!  Yet, collective identity is still expressed at a national level and is driven by nationalism. That implies a land, a language, a country… And it also implies an old trap: We versus Them. Can our modern world avoid this trap?

Trying to better understand the relationship between individuals and politics, Fukuyama cites a study done in California by a progressive group. How best could one be represented in politics? According to the study each human being has an innate importance.  Expressing this inner self is the goal of all men. But are all men good? The study admits that some people are cruel, violent, narcissistic, dishonest and socially irresponsible… Should the society esteem such individuals? Should such individuals be allowed to develop and express their innermost capabilities? What universal values should we adopt? And the confrontation between the old right and the new left is still on.

In the new climate the left has changed its tactics. It moved from class to cultural struggle. It rejects all together the traditional values of the West and it assails the Christian Church. In this regard, the new left has actually reversed Christian moral values. Satanic churches are now openly active. And the left also found a new tool named Political Correctness…

The internationalists also argue that national identities are obstacles to global cooperation and need to be replaced, but how and by what? The old USSR tried for seven decades to create a Soviet identity, but it failed. It took centuries or millennia to forge a nation. It will take a long time to undo it.

Diversity adds spice to the world, but narrowing identities and ever growing diversity threaten collective action and social life. This trend is visible now in Western Europe and the United States. Samuel Huntington titled his last book: Who are we? America was traditionally defined as a people sharing religion, ethnicity, language, and commitment to principles of government. The current centrifugal force of diversity is reducing America to the last two creeds only. What kind of America will there be if the present trends continue?

What is to be done? Fukuyama indulges into a good theoretical debate about Europe, but offers no real solution. In the long run Europe may acquire a new identity, but it is far from reaching it. Europeans may agree on common principles of government, but unlike America, they do not share a common language. And the left does not want to acknowledge the only one thing that all Europeans share: Christianity. Given the number of foreign immigrants, little wonder many Europeans are back to nationalism.

In concluding, the book takes the reader inside of a forest where one can see and analyze every tree and every branch, but can no longer see the forest. And the forest is the nation. It is our language, our culture, our shared values; it is what keeps us together. Through nation-states we have a workable world order. It is possible that nations would merge into a collective human race, but if this ever happens, it would take hundreds and hundreds of years… Nicholas Dima.


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