As a young and idealistic college student, I was introduced to the ideas of Francis Fukuyama, whose “End of History” thesis was meant to build in some part on the “Clash of Civilizations” perspective pushed by his late advisor, Samuel Huntington. Fukuyama’s work was interpreted by many to imply a rather inevitable conclusion wherein liberal democracy and capitalism would triumph over traditionalist radicalism or authoritarianism. With the resurgence of certain illiberal movements, along with rising religious extremism, some moved to pompously to assume the End of History argument had been well and fully debunked.
According to Fukuyama, they simply got it wrong. Writing in his recent book on the politics of identity, he describes the “end” as more of a target than some final destination, meaning that there will not forcibly be a linear path to one outcome. Central to the failure of this perfect assumption is the role of thymos, a Greek word referring to the part of our soul craving recognition or dignity, independent of desire and reason. The idea helps explain why some people uplift the national concept or may even endorse economic policies which are detrimental to the free market. It is not a question of them “not knowing” that liberal economies are efficient, but instead electing for a position of self-respect ahead the churning alienation of consumerist capitalism.
Complementing the term is megalothymia, referencing here the desire to be seen as superior. In this case again, Fukuyama explains that public pursuit of a deeper notion will counterman mainline economic theories concerning material gain because that goal is inadequate to the people’s vision. We also have isothymia, or the drive to be seen as equally good to others. Of course a problem can be generated by promoting too much equality:
“Recognition of everyone’s equal worth means a failure to recognize the worth of people who are actually superior in some way.”
The development of capitalism presents an issue along these very lines. While governments wish to promote growth, changing models can lead to alienation from the family or village community, as I similarly discussed in Socialism of The Right. With the disproportionate benefits and wealth going to higher-educated elites of the meritocracy, the working class (in this case whites) feel resentful, because they are neither privileged nor permitted to play the victimhood card like minorities do. Hence they turn towards figures pledging to arrest the decline and perhaps improve poor conditions.
Fascinating as the text is, Fukuyama becomes a prisoner of liberalism’s own contradictions. On the one hand, he concedes that the Founding Fathers often had a strictly racial view of what the American project entailed. This history is diminished by his writing in favor of Ben Sasse’s “creedal” viewpoint, comprised of some generalized “freedom” patriotism and civic nationalism, or precisely what the GOP et al had promoted until Trump’s rise. Strangely enough for a freedom and democracy defender, Fukuyama says people who don’t accept equality can be excluded from this national concept.
It remains to be seen what role clashing identities shall play in the political field to come. What I find so interesting about figures like Fukuyama is that they can’t escape such uncomfortable facts. Twenty years ago, hearing a scholar discuss these ideas was almost unheard of, but now the threat posed by various populist and nationalist movements has become an overpowering storm. Therefore we are likely to see an aggressive Sasseian campaign to purge the ranks of dissenting rightist viewpoints and restore free speech so the Left (and Islamofascism) and be defeated.
Victory awaits, I guess.