Summary of Fukuyama's "Against Identity Politics"

Francis Fukuyama in his article "Against Identity Politics: The New Tribalism and the Crisis of Democracy" analyses the identity movements in the USA and Europe, and its implications for democracy.

Summary of Fukuyama's arguments


1. The rise of identity: Human beings are not just motivated by a desire for material goods but also for dignity and respect. The rise in demand for dignity can be understood as emanating from two reasons: loss of dignity of the jobs of the working class due to globalization; identity-based movements like feminist movement race movements etc., having achieved significant success in civil and economic aspects, are now focusing on the issues that they face on a daily basis, the lack of dignity. 

2. The changing focus of the left: As the economic situation of the working class improved, the US left ran out of issues to mobilize people. It thus embraced identity movements as a new mode to mobilize people.

3. Dangers of identity politics: 

i) Diverts focus away from economic issues: "Tendency of identity politics to focus on cultural issues has diverted energy and attention away from serious thinking on the part of progressives about how to reverse the 30-year trend in most liberal democracies toward greater socioeconomic inequality." Similarly, it has taken the focus off the problems of the major section like opioid crisis etc.

ii) The relentless identity-based division makes the democratic project unviable: "Democratic societies are fracturing into segments based on ever-narrower identities, threatening the possibility of deliberation and collective action by society as a whole. This is a road that leads only to state breakdown and, ultimately, failure. Unless such liberal democracies can work their way back to more universal understandings of human dignity, they will doom themselves—and the world—to continuing conflict."

iii) Makes compromise difficult in policy decisions: "Identity politics has made the crafting of such ambitious policies more difficult. Although fights over economic policy produced sharp divisions early in the twentieth century, many democracies found that those with opposing economic visions could often split the difference and compromise. Identity issues, by contrast, are harder to reconcile: either you recognize me or you don’t. Resentment over lost dignity or invisibility often has economic roots, but fights over identity frequently distract from policy ideas that could help. As a result, it has been harder to create broad coalitions to fight for redistribution: members of the working class who also belong to higher-status identity groups (such as whites in the United States) tend to resist making common cause with those below them, and vice versa."

iv) A threat to free speech: "Left’s identity politics poses a threat to free speech and to the kind of rational discourse needed to sustain a democracy. the preoccupation with identity has clashed with the need for civic discourse. The focus on lived experience by identity groups prioritizes the emotional world of the inner self over the rational examination of issues in the outside world and privileges sincerely held opinions over a process of reasoned deliberation that may force one to abandon prior opinions. The fact that an assertion is offensive to someone’s sense of self-worth is often seen as grounds for silencing or disparaging the individual who made it."

"Every society has certain views that run counter to its foundational ideas of legitimacy and therefore are off-limits in public discourse. But the constant discovery of new identities and the shifting grounds for acceptable speech are hard to follow. In a society highly attuned to group dignity, new boundaries lines keep appearing, and previously acceptable ways of talking or expressing oneself become offensive."

Fukuyama's solutions to the dangers of identity politics

1. Creedal policy: "Democracies need to promote what political scientists call “creedal national identities,” which are built not around shared personal characteristics, lived experiences, historical ties, or religious convictions but rather around core values and beliefs. The idea is to encourage citizens to identify with their countries’ foundational ideals and use public policies to deliberately assimilate newcomers."

2. Civics education in schools that promotes creedal policy.

3. Change citizenship laws: Make citizenship law territorial based (born in the territory) rather than based on ethnicity.

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