Identity: Book Review

October 16, 2018

Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment (2018), Francis Fukuyama, political scientist and (former?) neocon. An earlier book (The Origins of Political Order, 2011) described the requirement of political order: 1) capable administration or bureaucracy, 2) rule of law and 3) accountability. (He associated accountability with democracy, while I would emphasis disclosure, complete financial information, and audits). Fukuyama them spent 600 pages on the how and why, plus the history of how political order evolved. In the Preface he claims the current book was written because of the Trump presidency, especially the problems of policy and character. However, he points out that American institutions captured by  powerful interest groups were decaying and unable to reform.

 

Democracies around the world increased from about 35 in 1970 to 110+ by shortly after 2000 (the third wave according to Samuel Huntington), as part of a continuing economic globalization and the lifting of many out of poverty. Simultaneously, inequality increased (see Brill's Tailspin) as growth benefits went mainly to the elite. Especially after 9/11 and the subprime debacle of 2008 and the Great Recession, the liberal global order went into reverse, including more authoritarian governments (think China, Russia, Turkey and so on; plus big disruptions in the Middle East. Democratic elections, global world views and statesmen/women do not seem to fare well when economic and other political problems occur; in 2016 results included Brexit and Donald Trump. The left/right spectrum of normal politics (including me as median voter guy) was turned on its head, with Trump getting votes from both typical right wing and left wing areas (e.g., progressives centered around union voters). New factors included resentments and perceived humiliations, in part because many people were left behind--fueling resentment as a humiliated group. Resentment included sexual assault and harassment; mistreatment of black, leading to Black Lives Matter.

 

The concept of identity was developed by psychologist Erik Erikson in the 1950's and identity politics in the 1980's. Identity is related to the inner self. GWF Hegel argued the struggle for recognition was the major driver of human history. Money is  a perceived marker of status and buys respect. Neo-classical economics has little consideration for values not related to material self interest (especially utility theory). Marx emphasized the class struggle based on working class versus capitalists.  Fukuyama starts with desire and reason as components of human psyche (soul), then adds thymos as the seat of judgment of worth. Greeks viewed warriors worthy of respect as willing to risk their lives, while aristocrats viewed themselves as superior (megalothymia, recognized as superior). Other viewed themselves as just as good (isothymia). The modern world recognizes isothyrmia for all "self evident." Identity politics is driven by the quest for equal recognition if marginalized; the story of nationalism often slides to those that demand recognition as superior. 

 

Chapter 3 suggests that identity was started with the Protestant Reformation, initially from Martin Luther struggling with his inner self but limited only to faith (not public recognition). Rousseau suggested democracy, human rights, natural goodness of the inner self (not sinful--disputing both Luther and Hobbes), while being critical of accumulation of property as causing  pride and envy (disagreeing with Locke who thought private property was natural to early humans). Rousseau asserts that society exists outside the individual with the mass of rules and customs that limit human potential and happiness. He points out that agriculture led to private property which increased hierarchy and inequality. Adam Smith described the emerging commercial society, the division of labor and the importance of markets. The printing press led to literacy and diffusion of ideas.

 

Chapter 4: Identity unites three phenomena: 1) thymos, that craves recognition, 2) the inner versus the outer self, raising the importance of the inner self over outer society, and 3) the concept of dignity. Socrates indicates that dignity belongs to the warrior class; Christianity relates it to moral choice (e.g., Luther's rationale for faith). Kant secularizes moral choice as the ability to follow abstract rules (not a utilitarian calculus; "categorical imperitives," based on philosophical reasoning). Chapter 5: The state should treat humans as moral agents worthy of respect. Consider Arab Spring as a large number of spontaneous uprisings because of corruption by officials and lack of respect related to authoritarian and corrupt governments. The moral core of liberal democracies is freedom and equality. Rule of law gives people certain basic rights, equally to all citizens and an equal share in power. This includes market economies that rely on individuals pursuing self-interest, which lead to wealth inequalities. Greater freedom increases inequality, efforts to equalize reduce freedom--what are the legitimate powers of the state?

 

Chapter 6: recognizing the dignity of individuals versus the dignity of groups. Anglo-American tradition: Hobbes, Locke, Mill--freedom is the ability to pursue desires without constraint. Hobbes showed humans fundamentally equal based on political rights from social contract. Rousseau saw inner self as good, but moral rules bad. Individual choices expanded with market economy and social mobility; perspective of liberty and autonomy. French Revolution: 1) preached universal rights of humans versus 2) French nationalism.

 

Chapter 7: Philosophers (Luther, Rousseau, Kant and Hegel) believed in equality of dignity of people, but understood dignity in different ways.  A market economy requires free movement of capital and labor, benefiting from liberal societies and protections of individual freedom. Shift from village to urban society (Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft) with psychological dislocation of an imagined past--presumably suffering cultural decay to self-interest (some Germans blamed the Jews). Identity became a problem, such as uniting Germans from the Austro-Hungarian Empire (from Bismarck to Hitler). Various parts of the underdeveloped world modernized without development. Nationalism spread in Europe and the colonies. Chapter 8: Left-wing parties in Europe accepted  the market economy and shifted to the center, but defined as the party of economic equality mainly by redistributing wealth. De-industrialization has ravaged the old working class. Right wing parties now count of working classes for support, mainly as nationalists--a matter of identity?

 

Chapter 9: Economists focus on utility for material goods rather than thymos (need for recognition). Feminism focuses on rising to the top of the social hierarchy (not working class jobs) and salary as a marker of dignity and justice. Racism based on lack of respect as a human being. Huntington: politically destabilizing group middle classes perceived as losing their status. Tocqueville: French Revolution started by rising middle class with sinking prospects. The working class in the US did great from post-World War II until the 1970s, then economically downhill (with rising wealth inequality). Working classes supported FDR and the New Deal and stayed democratic until Reagan in 1980. More and more rural/working class felt the elites did not pay attention to their problems; then the Tea Party who felt the elites looked down on them; also, blamed problems on others and generated increasing resentment (both elites at the top and others they felt were favored and undeserving).Economic distress is somehow considered loss of identity. Nationalism and religion could be more appealing than left-wing rhetoric. The left increasingly focused on marginalized, exploited groups (presumably encouraging special recognition) rather than the large working class.

 

Chapter 10: 19th century dignity was 1) liberal individualism of liberal democracies and 2) collective identities either national or religious. Dignity democratized with progressive rights. Dignity universal in Christian tradition because people had moral choice, then secularized during Enlightenment (e.g., Kant and Rousseau). Maslow's hierarchy of needs: food and water, social needs, self-actualization (essentially self-esteem or dignity). Self expressed through feelings rather than reason (what about social responsibility, integrity; self-esteem assumes virtues). Self-esteem seems tied up with identity (Christopher Lasch: self-esteem associated with crippling narcissism rather than human potential). Early 20th century social dysfunction (e.g., delinquency associated with deviant behavior to be punished, rather than counseling).  

 

Chapter 11: 1960s and the rise of feminism, environmental movement, plus disabled, native Americans, gays and immigrants. What are the rights of minorities, women, etc., plus student protests of Vietnam,, followed by disclosures of Vietnam lying, Watergate. Judgments of members of individual groups were important. Laws desegregated schools and enfranchised women (and later gays, etc.), but society continued to think in group terms, leading the modern identity politics. The "lived experience" of women differed from men, ditto black versus white. Multiculturalism became a thing, considering the diversity as a good thing (fairly consistent with classical liberalism--but with a split with the Marxists that focused on the working class). Social democrats sought to expand the welfare state and provide more social protections. As redistributive programs created perverse incentives, Marxist parties collapsed and social democrats embraced capitalism--emphasis moved from working class to identity politics. A substantial number of white Americans joined the underclass, while progressives had strategies to deal with job losses or income disparities. Plus polarization of American politics, activists with identity issues not representative of the public; one result is identity politics on the right and opposition to political correctness (things that can't be said in public). Various identity groups often see others as threats.

 

Chapter 12: Japan, Korea and China have well-developed national identities; Middle East and much of Africa don't (both ethnic and religion). Also questions of national identities. Other problems include government corruption. National identity important to generate trust and cooperation based on shared values. A Social safety net can reduce income inequality and a strong national identity useful. Groups are divided by self regard, tend to think they are in a zero-sum competition. Democracy connected to national identity and the need to protect basic rights. Pluralistic interests and opinions can be reconciled peacefully. Populist objectives include "take back our country." Post-World War II set to "global cosmopolitanism," with problems considered global in scope plus international human rights.

 

Chapter 13: Founders of European Union tried to weaken national identities to broaden the appeal of a wider Europe. Duty of loyalty to nation's principles and laws; problem with welfare benefits for Muslims and lack of assimilation. Federalist 2 (John Jay), defines one united people as defining American identity, but religion and ethnicity key characteristics for identity (e.g., initially English migrants all speaking the same language--now religion and ethnicity not shared, but common language and principles exist). Civil War as a fight over national identity (e.g., equality versus state rights). Current identity on left and right problematic because it returns identity back to race, ethnicity and religion. Sarah Palin defined "real Americans" as those living in small towns and rural area (note that diversity associated with cities). Samuel Huntington called Anglo-Protestant culture built around the Protestant ethic as essential (note: the culture not the religion or ethnic heritage). Identity related to constitutionalism, rule of law,and human equality. 

 

Chapter 14: Each person and group experiences disrespect in diverse ways; rapid economic and social change is happening, increasing diversity and globalization, which changes the status of various groups. Populist right sees a fading culture; identity politics fractured left-wing politics; losing the white working class; plus emphasis on victimization. Right: protect free market system; left: protect people from vagaries of the market and increase economic distribution fairness. Post-World War II success depended on center-right, center-left agreeing on basic issues. China/Russia learned to use media for their own interests, including walling people off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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© 2016 Gary Giroux

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