Who are You?
Identity: the Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, Francis Fukuyama, Profile Books, London, 2018, 218 pp., reviewed by Leslie Jones
According to sociologist Francis Fukuyama, identity politics can sometimes be “a natural and inevitable response to injustice”.[i] For notwithstanding the nominal equality of the liberal democracies, people are too often judged by their skin colour, or their gender etc. He therefore endorses the demands of #MeToo and Black Lives Matter.
The left invariably supports such protest movements. It has no answer, however, to the job losses caused by automation and globalisation, as manufacturing moves from Europe and the US to regions such as East Asia, with lower labour costs. Indeed, as segments of the working class are “dragged into an underclass”[ii] the American left has all but abandoned its traditional natural constituency, to wit, the proletariat.
Into the resulting political and ideological vacuum stepped candidate Donald Trump, a consummate political operator, highlighting in his campaign both deindustrialisation and the opioid crisis blighting white communities. Fukuyama notes that the left’s support for identity politics, immigration and political correctness is “a major source of mobilisation on the right”[iii], a veritable recruiting sergeant. Trump supporters are generally neither poor nor are they mainly manual workers. But they are “bottom of the white heap”.[iv] They resent their declining status and the metropolitan elite’s preoccupation with minorities. For his fans, Trump is “like a poor person, just with more money”.[v] They admire his refusal to be politically correct, witness his acerbic comments about “Pocahontas”, aka Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Fukuyama believes that the West benefits economically from immigration. But he accepts that the nation state must control its borders and that obligations to refugees should “be tempered by practical considerations of scarce resources…”[vi] Trump’s much vaunted wall, however, is unnecessary, in his opinion. Most of the 11-12 million undocumented aliens in the US arrived legally, on visas that subsequently expired and they are generally law abiding and economically productive.
Unlike one Swedish social democrat who deems assimilation contrary to human rights (see Kent Ekeroth, SD, demolishes the Swedish establishment in parliament, YouTube), Fukuyama supports stringent requirements for naturalisation. Unassimilated immigrants are an economic burden and a potential security threat. And mass immigration from eastern Europe from the new member states of the EU and the presence in Europe of large numbers of Muslim refugees and immigrants is rejuvenating right wing populism. Homophobia, honour killings, arranged marriages and terrorist outrages in Nice and Paris, have “tested the limits of multiculturalism”.[vii] The EU is not only undemocratic but it has failed to generate an authentic European identity.
Fukuyama proposes a remedy for the populist politics of the present. His is a middle path between the conservative neo-nationalism of Orbán, Le Pen, Trump et al. and the liberal internationalism of Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel. Notions of national identity based on ethnicity, as espoused by Viktor Orbán, are retrograde, in his judgement. He considers Donald Trump, likewise, a dangerous demagogue, a tacit supporter of outmoded notions of American identity based on white ethnicity and Christianity.[viii] For Fukuyama, “Trumpism” is what CNN commentator Van Jones calls a “white lash”, an expression of white/male status anxieties.
In Du Contrat Social, Rousseau distinguishes between “la volonté générale” (the general will) and “une volonté particulière” (a particular will, i.e. a sectional interest). Professor Fukuyama evidently accepts this primary distinction. He recommends, accordingly, that we transcend identity politics and “promote creedal national identities built around the foundational ideas of modern liberal democracy”.[ix]
i Fukuyama, page 115
ii Fukuyama, page 116
iii Fukuyama, page 118
iv See Helen Lewis, “From white trash to the whitelash: what do white people want?”, New Statesman, 29 April 2017
vi Fukuyama, page 175
vii Fukuyama, page 147
viii See “Behold Fake History”, Quarterly Review, October 2018, review of Behold, America, by Sarah Churchwell
ix Fukuyama, page 166