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Francis Fukuyama: Identity politics is undermining democracy

New York bestseller, political scientist and analyst, Francis Fukuyama travels to many regions to talk about the liberal democracy, especially to talk to young people who still have faith in liberal democracy existing in the volatile world.

Georgia, Tbilisi  has become one of his venues that he can contribute to democratic transition. In this time, as a Politurco writer, I also had a chance to attend the event and get the opportunity to chat with him. My review consists of two parts one will be on his speech in Tbilisi, and for the second part for upcoming issue. I aim to compare and contrast “Turkey’s image” in Francis Fukuyama’s  two books The end of History and the Last Man (1992), and Identity, The Demand for Dignity and The politics of Resentment” ( 2018).

Politurco Columnist Abdulmelik Alkan with Dr. Francis Fukuyama
Politurco Columnist Abdulmelik Alkan with Dr. Francis Fukuyama.

The Leadership Academy of Development (LAD) was organized in Tbilisi on October 22-27 as  part of an ongoing project by Stanford University’s ‘Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL)’. In partnership with Economic Policy Research Center (EPRC), Free University of Tbilisi and the Bank of Georgia University, this year the training topic was “The Role of Public Policy in Private Sector Development” that Francis Fukuyama himself delivered the seminar to young policymakers and applicants from different sectors.

In his public lectures which were around his latest book Identity, the Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, Dr. Fukuyama pinpointed several issues that many parts of the world faces today. To him, Democracy is in mess and disarray and populism is in rampant. He defined the populism as a leverage for several countries to undermine the democratic institutions.

His definition for ‘Populist leaders’ was intriguing. He suggests that populist and charismatic leaders use socio-economic benefits and their rhetorics of “man of people” simply aim to gain majority consent. Populist leaders hate institutions, rule of law and modern states functions. They appoint their own judges whom they like thus courts are not independent.

Helping the populist leader, ‘populist party’ plays a significant role to shape the identity as it holds the loyalty section, a populist party in Fukuyama’s words, doesn’t take the society as “whole people” and the populist party is highly ‘territorial’ when it comes to satisfy their voters. He gave Hungary as a disappointing example that Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban shaped the identity on only “Ethnic Hungarian” and built an illiberal state. Hungary is not the only country that built illiberal states and undermines institutions. Other countries mentioned were Russia, Turkey, Poland.

Literally, those illiberal behaviors of leaders emptying the institutions, their economic nationalism policies aim to undermine liberal democracy and shake the international order to its roots. That’s simply why they need to consolidate the functions and institutions of liberal democracy.

He takes on Trump as the populist leader that he managed to establish the identity using economic nationalism. The United States has never been so divided in any other time in history but under Trump, the gap is widening. Republican Party has turned into a party where mostly white Americans united while Democratic Party transforms to a party of minorities and women now. Both parties shift in their ideological discourse to adopt the identity.

Dr. Fukuyama mentions about the President Putin of Russia using nationalism in its region. When he elaborates the reasons of Trump and Putin having sympathy for each other,  he suggests that it is not personal rather it is rooted in common nationalism (Identity  p.g, 9).

For all new populist and illiberal country, Fukuyama borrows the philosophical phrases to elucidate to driving forces behind the identity today. He calls out Hegel for its “Struggle for recognition” idea so that individual identities to be recognized as a political identity in the contemporary world.

In his both books, in Hegelian understanding “struggle for recognition,” he defines the desire for man to be recognized is a part of the soul that wants to be known. It is called thymos which is the propensity to feel self-esteem arises out of the part of the soul as an innate of justice. (Last man, pg. xvi) So thymos in soul craves for the dignity. Fukuyama makes us understand that neither nationalism nor religion will disappear as a force in world politics, and liberal democracy is not fully completed because the fundamental problem of thymos is not solved. Tymos is the central theme for Fukuyama. He even mentioned # MeToo movement in USA today is a part of thymos that women want to be recognized as a person with dignity, not an object.

To him, people, they believe that  they have certain worth and when they feel that they are treated worthless or being looked down they experience the emotion of anger, on the contrary, they feel we don’t live up to our own sense of worth, they feel shame, if they evaluated correctly with their worth they feel pride. The desire of recognition underlines and carries anger, shame and pride define the political life and Hegel saw those driving forces to whole historical process. Isothymia is the demand to be respected on an equal basis with other people, while megalothymia is the desire to be recognized as superior. These three innate quality of human being can’t be end but can be moderated.

These lays foundation of the identity factor in political landscape that lead to illiberal politician and states if they are not harnessed with the reason. Solution or responses to the populist leaders, he said, we should be united, regardless of background and individual preferences, we should be the voice for rule of law, democracy and freedom.

At the end of the event, Fukuyama signed his book ‘Identity: The demand for Dignity and The Political of Resentment’. Book is translated in to Georgian Language.

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Abdulmelik Alkan
Abdulmelik Alkan
Abdulmelik Alkan is a doctoral researcher focusing on Foreign Policy Analysis, South Caucus, diaspora and ethnic minorities.

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