Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment
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This event took place on Thursday, September 13, 2018
JOANNE MYERS: Good morning, everyone. I'm Joanne Myers, director of Public Affairs programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council I'd like to welcome our loyal subscribers, those subscribers who have yet to renew, and those who are thinking about becoming one, to this Public Affairs breakfast program.
To mark the beginning of this program year, it is our pleasure to host the renowned political scientist and public intellectual Frank Fukuyama. Beginning with his legendary essay "The End of History," Professor Fukuyama's writings on the state of the international order have proven prescient time and time again. In his most recent book, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, his scholarship and lucid analysis are once again on display as he returns to themes he began to explore in 1992. This book will be available for you to purchase at the end of the hour today.
Around the world identity politics is being blamed for deepening political divisions. From Budapest to Rome, London to Washington, every social, political, and economic debate is colored by identity. Where once differences in background and culture were celebrated as inspiring multiculturalism, our differences feed perceptions of unbreachable division. Where once immigration was seen as enriching Western societies, it is now considered a cause of distress. Whether it is class, race, ethnicity, gender, or religion, political leaders all over the world are mobilizing their followers around the idea that their dignity has been affronted and must be restored. As Professor Fukuyama writes: "Identity politics has come to the fore. It has become our common culture, no longer the province of one party or side. It has entrenched both sides of the political spectrum, fueled populist nationalism, authoritarianism, religion conflict, and democratic decline."
But what is identity, and what does it mean today? In Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment Professor Fukuyama addresses this question by providing a historical overview leading to a modern concept of identity. He asks us to consider what he says is a richer understanding of human motivation and behavior. His focus is on what happens when people feel that their dignity is not recognized, publicly claimed, or acknowledged by the political system, all necessary elements for a thriving democracy. There is no doubt that the demand for recognition of one's identity is a master concept that unifies much of what is going on in world politics today. As identity claims continue to polarize democratic societies to the point of no return, the defining question is: Is there a way out?
For guidance, please join me in welcoming the person who has often been called "the soothsayer of our age," Frank Fukuyama. Welcome back to the Carnegie Council.
FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: Thanks very much, Joanne. I stop here at the Carnegie Council every single time I do a book tour, and I'm really grateful for you hosting me. It's been a great audience, and I look forward to our discussion.
The reason that I wrote this book really had to do with the elections of 2016 that brought Donald Trump to office and Britain out of the European Union. The rise of global populism is in my view the single biggest threat to global democracy.
Of course, you've got authoritarian countries like Russia and China that pose a much more traditional geopolitical threat, but I think the surprising thing that has emerged is that within established liberal democracies, beginning with the United States, you had this upwelling of a kind of populist movement that really threatens the liberal part of liberal democracy in which you have democratically elected leaders like Viktor Orbán, the Law and Justice Party in Poland, Erdoğan in Turkey, and I would say our president, Donald Trump in the United States, who are intrinsically anti-institutional. They claim to represent the people out there, and therefore if institutions like the courts or a justice ministry or the media get in their way, they attack them and try to undermine the institutional basis. This has gone very far in both Poland and Hungary where both judicial systems have been pretty much stripped of their independence since those populist parties came to power, and obviously something comparable to that is playing out in the United States.
So the question is, what's driving all of this? The most recent example, the election last Sunday in Sweden where Sweden Democrats, another anti-immigrant populist party, came in third with 17 percent of the votes—they're the third party now in the Swedish Parliament.
There is a usual explanation which is economic. It has to do with globalization and the fact that globalization made everybody richer in the aggregate but that middle classes in the developed world have been losing ground. A lot of jobs have been going to China and Bangladesh and other parts of the developing world. I don't deny that this is an important trigger for what has been happening. There has clearly been this period of, I would say, excessive enthusiasm for certain kinds of neoliberal policies that have accelerated this kind of economic decline in developed countries, but I think that people tend to underestimate what I would call the cultural dimension of this, which is the identity dimension.
As a psychological phenomenon I spend the first third of the book really talking about the origins of the modern concept of identity because I have a very specific definition of it. We have an identity that is written onto our licenses; that's not what I mean.
Identity I think begins with the psychological phenomenon that Plato labeled thumos. It's a Greek word that is usually translated as "spiritedness," but it's the part of the human psychology that the economists just don't get. They get acquisitiveness and they get rationality, but thumos is this desire for other people to recognize your internal worth or dignity, and I think it's a universal characteristic, particularly when you feel that you've got an inner self that is not being adequately recognized by the surrounding society. That's the part of it that in Western thought has developed over the last several hundred years into the way that we think about ourselves. We think that we have a deeply buried inner self that is authentic and is being suppressed by the society around us, and unlike wayward teenagers from time immemorial who are brought into compliance with the outward society, the modern idea is that actually that inner self is the true, legitimate one, and it's the outer society that's false, and it's the outer society that needs to change.
This becomes the basis for a lot of political movements because we want public recognition. We want other people to affirm our worth, and that has to be a political act.
There are lots of manifestations of this beginning with I think democracy itself. If you think back to 2011, the beginning of the Arab Spring. Mohamed Bouazizi, this vegetable seller in Tunis, had his cart confiscated by the police. He tried to go to the governor and said: "Where's my cart? Can I have it back?" They wouldn't listen to him. He got to a point of such despair that he doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire, and that was the trigger for the Arab Spring because this was a very recognizable act of denying someone's basic humanity; you don't think that this person, this citizen of your country, is worth even responding to when you take away his livelihood.
It was a very familiar thing. This is the problem with authoritarian government. Authoritarian governments do not treat their citizens as full human beings, with agency, with voice, as people that they have to respect.
Obviously, the Arab Spring went very wrong after that point, but I think that opposition to this lack of dignity was at the base of those protests.
In Ukraine in 2013-2014 you actually had an uprising that the young Ukrainians themselves labeled a "revolution of dignity" against Viktor Yanukovych, this kleptocrat friend of Putin's who was trying to drag Ukraine back into the Russian orbit, and they felt that this kind of a regime did not give opportunity and dignity to them, and this is what led to Yanukovych being forced to flee Ukraine and this second attempt after the Orange Revolution to create a democratic country.
I think that dignity actually lies as a basis of liberal democracies. We give our citizens dignity by giving them rights. They have the right to speak, to associate, to believe in what religious belief they want, and they have the right to participate in a democratic political system.
The trouble is that this kind of universal dignity, which is really the basis of modern liberalism, is just not satisfying for people after a while. It's bad when you live in an authoritarian regime under Mubarak or Ben Ali or whatever, but over time you begin to take that basic recognition as a generic human being for granted, and you want other forms of recognition, so recognition takes these very specific forms.
The first major form it took in the 19th century following the French Revolution was nationalism. What does a nationalist want? A nationalist says: "I am part of a cultural group"—united usually by language. "We don't have our own representation as an independent country," so if you're Serbia buried in either the Ottoman or the Austro-Hungarian empires, you want a separate independent Serbia.
This force is what really drove the First and Second World Wars. It was people seeking recognition not as generic human beings in a liberal society but as members of specific ethno-linguistic groups demanding recognition as such. Needless to say, this did not lead to good results in the first half of the 20th century.
The other form I think that it takes in contemporary life is certain forms of radical Islamism. When he was 13 years old, Osama bin Laden came crying into his parents' room saying he had just watched a show about the mistreatment of Palestinians and other Muslims around the world. He felt that Muslims were being disrespected, attacked, and disregarded, and in a sense that created the psychological conditions for his wanting to give Muslims agency through terrorism, essentially.
I think that a lot of the people, especially the young European Muslims, who have gone to fight on behalf of the Islamic State, it's not as if they necessarily had a religious conversion in which they suddenly are pious people. I think a lot of them basically faced an identity problem: They knew that they came from a different Muslim society, they didn't really like the traditions of their parents, they were not accepted in the European societies in which they settled. Then all of a sudden you get Baghdadi or one of these Islamist preachers saying: "You're a member of a great and dignified ummah. That's who you are. We can tell you who you are." That is the identity call I think that motivated a lot of people to go and fight on behalf of the Islamic State.
This lies at the basis of a lot of global politics. Vladimir Putin feels that Russia was disrespected in the 1990s when it was weak. This allowed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to push up to its borders and incorporate all of these former parts of the Soviet Union. Xi Jinping talks about the hundred years of humiliation that China suffered at the hands of the West. A lot of geopolitics at that very high state level is driven by these sorts of resentments and these claims that are essentially claims about dignity.
This is also, in my view, related to the politics of liberal democracies, including those of the United States, in ways that actually lead to this funny convergence in the way that we think about ourselves.
In the 1960s you had the beginning of a whole series of very important social movements beginning with the civil rights movement for African Americans; the feminist movement; the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning (LGBTQ) rights movement; movement for the disabled; and Native Americans. All of these groups had in common the fact that they were not recognized, that they were invisible to the rest of mainstream American society. They did not get respect, and they wanted it. It was a necessary act of social justice to demand recognition as equal and full citizens. The phrase "identity politics" doesn't get started until the 1960s and 1970s with the growth of these social movements. They're very important in terms of the overall justice of American society, but they developed in a way that shifted the agenda, particularly of the left in the United States. There is also a counterpart in Europe because the left previously had been based on class, on economic issues.
The big issue for 20th century politics was a split between—in Europe a Marxist right; in the United States and other Western European countries it was a left and then a right that was more in favor of economic freedom, and those were the basic polarities of 20th-century politics. Increasingly, I think the left began to interpret injustice and marginalization in identity terms rather than in these broad class terms. So it was the specific experiences of these marginalized groups that began to define what injustice meant, and that again is a perfectly legitimate way of understanding things. People have different lived experiences, so the kind of injustice that an African American feels in an inner city feels is very different from a professional woman in Hollywood or whatnot. These are in fact reflecting real differences in experience.
But as the movement developed you had a shift in, I guess, the moral valuation of these identities. Just to give you an example, just within the civil rights movement Martin Luther King in the 1960s basically said: "We want African Americans to be treated like other Americans. That's all we're asking for, that we're part of this larger democratic community, and we want to have equal rights."
When the Black Power movement started you got a different kind of argument, saying: "No, actually black people are not the same as white people. We've got our own values. We have our own culture, and we want to be respected as a cultural group" rather than as individuals participating in a kind of uniform society whose standards are set by white people. That I think characterized the evolution of a lot of these particular groups built around a particular identity.
I'll just give you one little example of this. I'm treading on very dangerous territory here, so we'll see whether we can get through this all right. For example, I have a friend in Washington whose daughter was born deaf. When she was a teenager she had cochlear implants, and all of a sudden she could hear well enough to become—and then she went to law school and now is actually an advocate for deaf people.
But there was actually a lot of hostility to just the idea that she should have this kind of an implant because the argument within certain parts of the deaf community was: "We have our own culture, and you are undermining that because you're suggesting that you're disabled in a way that"—and you can see how dignity politics plays into this. You don't want to imply that anybody's worth is less than anybody else because of a physical disability. This is the way I think that politics has evolved, and it is troubling for a couple of different reasons.
First, democratic societies of course are pluralistic, and they have these differences in experience, but if they're going to be democratic communities, they also have to hold something in common. They have to have certain common values in order to discuss, to deliberate, to work together in the context of democratic institutions. When identity begins to stress difference rather than shared experience, or if you say you've got these different lived experiences but no possibility of a common experience, then I think you've got a certain problem.
There are other manifestations of this. I think in terms of free speech this has been discussed a lot. I think this is more an issue in certain universities and in the arts community and so forth where there is a view that has grown up that the way that I was born determines the way that I'm going to think, and that can be based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and so forth. That is a really ironic outcome because in a sense the struggle of modern liberalism was to get away from biological characteristics and say: "Actually, no, we're all equal human beings. We all have equal agency, and we're going to interact as this kind of universal human agent."
Instead, you're saying: "Well, no, actually we're all divided into these groups that are determined by how we are born, our religious traditions, our biological condition, and that should influence the way that we think about politics, about culture, and about a lot of other issues." So there is something discordant with an understanding of liberal tradition I think that is involved in this sort of identity politics.
The worst thing I think in a sense is what it has done—this understanding of identity that grew up on the left has now triggered a corresponding movement on the right, and that's what Donald Trump represents.
Donald Trump—this is the part that I think a lot of people don't quite understand. A lot of people voted for Donald Trump who were not workers in manufacturing plants who lost their jobs to China. A lot of people are much better off than that. They still supported him. Partly it was just Republican partisanship.
But partly I think they were responding to this cultural complaint, that the left had become so politically correct that you couldn't talk about issues honestly, and that's why he surprised everybody by calling Mexicans rapists, by the Access Hollywood tape, all of these things that should have sunk a normal politician didn't sink him, and deliberately so because I think a lot of his popularity lay in the fact that he was not politically correct. He could challenge some of these nostrums of the way that Americans have developed about talking about themselves, and I think that continues to be one of his enduring sources of popularity.
I hate to say this, but I think he's basically a racist, and he has been perfectly happy to be racially divisive. He really got his start in politics by suggesting that President Obama was not born in the United States. He has been somewhat careful in making overtly racist statements, but I think it's pretty clear that he's perfectly happy to capitalize on the racial feelings that other Americans have toward each other, and that has been very bad. You now have an alt-right and a set of white nationalist groups that had been marginalized over the period since the civil rights movement that are now coming back.
This is not a good situation if both the left and the right see themselves in these increasingly biologized identity categories. My own view is that we need to get back to the 20th century. We have to go back to class because actually sociologically class is the single most important dividing line between Americans right now.
There are a couple of different books that build on the same kind of data. One comes from Charles Murray, his book on the white working class; the other one from Bob Putnam at Harvard on the other side of the political spectrum. They present exactly the same sort of data, that over the last 30 years if you look at inequality, it is almost entirely class-based. That is to say, if you have a university education or higher, you've done extremely well in this country, and if you have high school education or lower, you've fallen off a cliff basically in terms of your income, and then in terms of social status.
By latest Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates, 72,000 Americans died in the most recent year that they can estimate this for from this opioid epidemic, most of whom are rural working-class white people. So the social catastrophe in a certain sense facing poorly educated Americans regardless of ethnicity or race or class or gender is pretty horrific.
Within all of the identity groups you see the same kind of split. African Americans who have higher educations are doing better, women, and so on.
I actually think that we've got a really big class problem in the United States, and it's one that is probably best addressed through, I think, classic social policy. I really like Obamacare. I think that was an example of something that was not identity-based. It was really a policy meant to give health care to all Americans who didn't have it. That kind of a focus should really be the focus of the way that we try to reintegrate our society.
I think that national identity is important, but it has to be—and this is where Europe I think has got in a certain way a bigger problem than the United States because the United States I think by the period after the civil rights movement had actually arrived at what I would call a "civic identity," meaning that our identity was not based on ethnicity or race, it was based on belief in the Constitution, belief in the rule of law, belief in the principle of human equality embodied in the Declaration of Independence. So you could be naturalized as an American citizen from Guatemala or Korea or wherever, and the moment you took the naturalization oath, you could say "I'm an American," and nobody would laugh at you for saying that. That's what it means to have a civic sense of national identity.
I thought that had been something we had acquired painfully over the 250 years of American history, and now that's being challenged by certain people on the right who want to drag us backward into a more ethnic or racial understanding of what it means to be an American. In Europe you've got thicker cultures in each individual European country, and therefore the task of integrating newcomers has been a lot harder.
So that's one issue. You've got to have a national identity that is open, that fits the de facto multicultural societies that we live in.
But the second thing is you have to worry about assimilation or integration into that culture, and I think that's what's been missing from the immigration debate. I think it is legitimate to worry about levels of immigration that are at a level where you think you've got a real problem in integrating people in the next generation. In many Western countries you've hit that level. The focus on the integrating part has not nearly been as strong I think as it needs to be.
I've got a lot of very specific policy recommendations for how you do this. For example, something like national service would be a good way of getting people to recognize that they are citizens. We in America love having rights. We think the government owes us a lot of stuff. We don't tend to think that we owe the government very much. I think that the model of national service involved in something like the draft didn't lead to very good military outcomes, but it had a very important socially integrating function.
Today the Army is one of the few places in which Americans of different regions and backgrounds and classes are forced to work together under stressful circumstances. We've segregated ourselves by class to such an extent that that really doesn't happen in very many other institutions.
Maybe with that, I've got a bunch of other ideas about how you deal with this kind of issue, but maybe we'll leave it there and open the floor for discussion.
QUESTION: Rita Hauser.
I really appreciated that overview. You missed one thing, in my book, demography. I don't know whether you discuss it or not, but today's New York Times front page, "There are more foreign-born in the United States now than native-born," which is to my mind a very profound development. [Editor's note: The article she is referencing is headlined: "U.S. Has Highest Share of Foreign-Born Since 1910, With More Coming From Asia."According to U.S. Census Bureau figures for 2017, the U.S. foreign-born population is 13.7 percent.]
Europe doesn't make babies, and they're hostile to immigration. What happens when societies die off for lack of people, even if they keep their ethnic identity? To me, the saving grace for America is immigration, and if we turn away from that, I don't know what the answer is, all the problems that are involved nevertheless. But you have to face up to the fact of declining demographies.
FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: Actually, the countries that have the biggest problem with this are all in Asia because the lowest fertility rates are in Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and so forth. Singapore is a little different, but most of those other countries do not permit widespread immigration, and they're going to have an even more severe problem.
Again, I think that the figure that the Times said, the number of foreign-born in the United States is 15 percent right now of the total population, which is about what it reached by the 1920s when the Reed-Johnson Act was passed, cutting off immigration.
I think again you can tolerate different levels depending on the way that you manage the policy. For example, Australia and Canada today have higher levels of foreign-born than the United States. They do not have populist movements the way we do. Part of that is that I think they don't have much illegal immigration.
Australians get blamed for putting all these migrants in Papua, New Guinea, and Nauru, and so forth, but they're very careful to make sure that they are in control of the process. Both of them have skills-based legal immigration.
This is a really important point. I think that there is a tendency to think that anyone who questions the current immigration system is basically a racist or a xenophobe and just doesn't like all these foreign-born people.
I think there are a lot of reasons for thinking that we might not have the right system, and one of them has to do with the rate at which we can actually integrate people into the broader society. I think that was why Angela Merkel made a really big mistake back in 2015 by in theory just throwing the doors open completely because frankly, Germany does not have a great record in integrating people. Its native-born population is declining, so yes, they do need more bodies in there, but they will be successful only if they take people at a rate in which they can really become part of German society. I think it's legitimate to consider factors like that and not just think about numbers.
QUESTION: Rob Judson, Griffin Capital. Thank you very much for your presentation.
I read your article in Foreign Affairs and was particularly impressed not only by the breadth of what you had to say but the practical policy solutions that you referred to. Could you share with us some of the other ones in addition to national service?
FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: The most important issue is comprehensive immigration reform. The path toward that has been on the table since the 1980s. Essentially you've got an undocumented population of 11-12 million people in this country. You need to have a political tradeoff in which you credibly promise future enforcement of existing immigration laws in return for a path to citizenship for those undocumented.
It's a complicated policy issue because you want to give priority to people who came legally, that have been here a long time, who have proven that they're successful, productive members of American society, and you've got a very clogged immigration system that processes them, so there are a lot of moving parts to it. But that was the basis of Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), the immigration reform in 1986; it's the basis of what the Bush administration tried to do.
The problem is our current blocked political system where both the left and the right conspired to make this trade not possible. On the right, there is obviously this hard core of anti-immigration people who will simply not accept legalization in any way, shape, or form, but also on the left there are people who just don't think enforcement is an important issue. I think both of those positions are wrong.
In other words, what you need is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) but not just for children, you need DACA for the parents as well. The parents have been in the country for 15 years working as a busboy or a maid or something. Why shouldn't they also have a path toward citizenship?
That's the theoretical solution. The big political problem is how the hell you get there given the fact that the two poles of the fight have a veto over the respective parts they don't want. But I think that's clearly the goal that you need to work your way toward.
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Ib Petersen. I'm the ambassador of Denmark to the United Nations.
Just two questions. You pointed to reintroducing classic social policies as one of the instruments. Coming from Denmark, where we have—
FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: Yes, you've got them.
QUESTIONER [Mr. Petersen]: —based our welfare state on that, Sweden as well, and so on. But we also see these tendencies, and as you mentioned yourself the election in Sweden last week. Could you elaborate a little bit on what you see and how should that be adjusted if we are to pursue that?
Second question is: Working in the United Nations it's tempting to ask where do you see international cooperation in this? The United Nations since it was established stands for an international normative framework in a number of areas, in particular human rights and so on, but we also see now particularly from the United States but also from others kind of retrenchment from international cooperation. Where do you see that as part of how we somehow adjust for developments?
FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: You're right that in continental Europe you have a very different situation. As far as I'm concerned Americans have been brain dead about social policy for 30 years. After the Great Society, we said, "Oh, that failed, and we're not going to really take that seriously anymore," until you got to the Affordable Care Act, which I think was really a big milestone in terms of having the government do something to improve social equality.
That's obviously not the problem in Scandinavia. I think in Scandinavia you have the opposite problem, that a lot of the opposition to immigration is due to people thinking that immigrants are going to take these welfare state benefits without paying into the tax system, and they're going to make it nonviable for the rest of the society.
In a sense, the question then is really this question of integration, about making sure that immigrants have jobs, that they seem to be productive members of the society, and that they're perceived that way by the mainstream native-born population. How that's done is very complicated.
We had a nice conference when I was a visiting professor at Aarhus on the question of national identity. The fact of the matter is that European identities are just thicker than American identity, so that problem of integration is harder.
On the question of the United Nations, we're at this peculiar point where there has obviously been this big backlash against certain forms of globalization driven by some of these institutions. Let me just begin by saying of course they're necessary. You have a de facto globalized world. It needs to be managed, so you need this whole dense layer of international organizations. A lot of them are very specialized in sanitary and phytosanitary regulation, air traffic control, all the independent sales organization (ISO) agreements, and so forth.
I think that the universal ones like the United Nations itself have real problems because you don't have a fundamental agreement on first principles of government, and therefore cooperation has been very difficult. But there is this problem that I think has grown up especially in terms of the international human rights regime that has a problem with accountability.
For example, in Europe the rights of refugees, people blame the European Union, but a lot of the expansion of those refugee rights has come through the European Court of Human Rights, which is not an EU institution at all. It's really an outgrowth of the Council of Europe. So you get this situation in which you cannot deport somebody who has been convicted of terrorism in your country because of the human rights conditions back in Palestine or wherever they're being sent back to. People see this, and they say: "This is crazy. We never voted for this." This was something done by a completely unaccountable supranational institution.
I think there needs to be some focus on this kind of problem. I have no idea how to solve this.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. My name is Joăo Vale de Almeida. I am the ambassador of the European Union to the United Nations, so we are sticking for a moment in Europe.
It's great to see you because like many of us I've been quoting you in the last 20 years or so, and it's good finally to meet. I can only congratulate you for your previous books. I am looking forward to reading this one.
Coming back to the issue of identity and the concept of identity, this is, as you said, an issue for Europe. I think we have three temptations: One is to say that it doesn't exist. We don't talk about it, it's taboo. We don't talk about that issue because it's too complex and it raises other issues, so forget it. We put it aside.
The second temptation is to say, "Let's build a European identity," and by doing that gradually the national identity will phase out.
The third temptation is to say, "Let's only stick to national identities and forget about the rest."
The debate in Europe today and the struggle we are going through now is to try in my way—and this is the concept I wanted to put forward—is a sort of multilayered identity. No one loses, should not lose, and no one should attempt to take away a national identity. Why should we do that?
But that's perfectly compatible with a regional identity, and in Europe as you know there are strong regional realities, and a European identity, and on top of that a global identity because we live in a globalized—so at least I can think of four layers of identity that should be absolutely compatible.
Shouldn't we try to build on that? There is a big debate in Europe today about European sovereignty. It's the same kind of debate. Do you oppose national sovereignty, which doesn't make any sense anymore in today's world, but do you try to build another concept of sovereignty? These multilayered sort of concepts, I think at least that's what we're trying to do.
The very final point—because I hear a lot, and I've been ambassador to the United States before—being here in New York I hear a lot about division in Europe and the demise of Europe. You look at the opinion polls after Brexit and after Trump and after Crimea, and you see a rise in support for the European project among young people, so I'm still hopeful.
FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: Thank you. I gave a lecture in Geneva about eight or nine years ago on this question of European identity. I do think that the founders of the European Union and then the theorists like Jürgen Habermas and a lot of the theoreticians of Europe in the postwar period really did have the hope that a European identity would displace all of the national identities that had been responsible for all of the conflict in the 20th century. This was a worthy cause.
But I think that given the institutional structure of the European Union it was really never possible to invest a lot of effort in that. What does it take to create an identity? You need to have an education system that teaches a consistent story about nationhood and what it means to be European and so forth. That remained under control of the Member States.
As a result, this idea of a post-national Europe was kind of a mirage, and I think it was brought home after September 11, when a lot of European countries discovered that they had minority populations that really had not been well-integrated, and then all of a sudden this issue of what does it mean to be a citizen and part of our community seemed to be a much more vivid issue that nobody really wanted to address. That's the point at which I think a lot of European countries began to rethink their citizenship laws and citizenship requirements and so forth.
I still think that it would be a great thing if you could actually convince people that they're all European, that that's a really important emotional point of reference for them. I just don't think that it's terribly realistic right now.
It may be that Europe has recovered a little bit, but I think the drivers of that, I don't see them institutionally in place. Therefore, I think the state level, because it is the repository of the legitimate use of force that continues to be the domain of states, that's going to have to be the primary community to which people are going to feel emotionally bound.
Of course, we have all these identities at all these different levels, but I think in the end we're—you want to have people integrate into the largest identity possible that is capable of maintaining a democratic set of values across that common cultural space, and right now I think it still resides more at a nation-state level than at this transnational level. But certainly all the other ones are there as well, and they should be cultivated.
My sense is that your hopefulness about the possibility of returning to a better sense of identity in the United States rests upon a kind of golden-age sense that we reached this equilibrium point in the aftermath of the civil rights movement where people accepted an idea of constitutional identity. I wonder if that's true. It seems to me that the white backlash of which we now see the kind of grandchild in the form of white nationalism begins during the civil rights movement, and when the civil rights movement goes from just guaranteeing equal rights to actually giving the goods that the Great Society did, that's when the white backlash grows.
Is it really right that there was that moment back then that we need to reclaim, or is it possible that race remains this unhealed wound in the United States that results both in white nationalism and in the racial response to the white nationalism?
FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: Look, race was always a factor. I think that when Obama was first elected in 2008 Americans were celebrating prematurely that we had somehow arrived at this post-racial society. In retrospect that really was not true, so all of those feelings unfortunately remain.
The thing is that I don't think any society really gets beyond a lot of these sorts of atavistic fears of other people, but the whole point of having a set of social norms that govern civic discourse is to keep them suppressed. Certainly what has happened in the last couple of years is that those restraints have just come off, so I really hate to think on high school playgrounds these days what kids are willing to express that they wouldn't have expressed five or ten years ago simply because of at the highest levels of society people are saying these really pretty insulting things that they were not allowed to say or it was really looked down upon to say previously. So that's the sense in which I think things really are different.
The other thing is the framing. If you're a white American 50 years ago, you didn't say to yourself: "Yeah, I'm a white person. I'm part of this group called white people." You just said, "I'm an American."
What's different I think about a lot of the ways that the white nationalists now understand their own situation, they say: "Well, we're part of this oppressed minority. We're victims also because all of these other groups are claiming benefits and taking them away from us." That's a framing that really is borrowed, I think, from the left-wing identity politics, and it's something new that really didn't exist previously.
QUESTION: Hi, I'm George.
I have read the essay in which you call for a kind of creedal nationalism, a kind of nationalistic identification that is unbiologized, less biology, more idea-oriented.
When I heard the gentleman over there at the table talk about this identity at multiple levels—could I read just a few sentences from, this is the great British writer D. H. Lawrence, just a few sentences of his notion of identity, written back in the 1920s, and I'd like to see your response to it: "I am part of the sun as my eye is part of me. That I am part of the Earth my feet know perfectly, and my blood is part of the sea. My soul knows that I am a part of the human race. My soul is an organic part of the great human soul as my spirit is part of my nation. In my own very self, I am part of my family. There is nothing of me that is alone and absolute except my mind, and we shall find that the mind has no existence by itself. It is only the glitter of the sun on the surface of the waters."
A kind of lyrical expression of exactly what he said about the possibilities of a kind of nested identity, identifying deeply at various levels. Isn't that possible? We live in a more fluid age of gender and other things. Can't we try to inculcate this sense of multiple fluid identities?
FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: Obviously, that's a reality, and it's something to be promoted and so forth, but you've got to think about politics because politics is about collective action. Collective action, for better or worse, in a democratic society takes place at a national and then all of the different subpolitical levels underneath that. Unless people in a sense have a clear sense of belonging to this broader democratic community where they share certain beliefs in the legitimacy of certain very specific kinds of political institutions, those institutions aren't going to work very well.
So yes, you can think, I'm a child of the universe or of the sun or whatever, but if you don't think, Yes, but I'm also an American who believes in the Constitution and in separation of powers and the importance of an independent judiciary, and you don't have that pretty firmly in your mind, you're not going to be able to organize to resist people who want to undermine that.
That's why I think you have to think—sure, in cultural terms we have all these different levels of identity, but politically the problem is that that sense, especially in the United States but in other countries as well, like Italy, for example, you have a degree of polarization where people really don't think of themselves as living in a common culture or under a common set of values, and that's the thing that is not going to be overcome by these other multiple layers of identity. You have to talk about national identity and what you as a citizen hold in common with fellow citizens.
QUESTION: Ron Berenbeim.
I'd like to get back to demography because I think that's where this discussion started, and I think it's extremely important.
In the United States we've experienced—or at least the phenomenon has been noted—what we call "the great sort," where the people who have what is called a creedal commitment to the United States seem to be migrating to the cities, and the people who have a blood-and-soil commitment remain in the small towns.
At the same time, the smaller entities in American politics retain disproportional political power. North Dakota has two senators; so does California. This phenomenon is not unique to the United States. I think in the United Kingdom, where I spend a good deal of my time, the only large city that voted for Brexit by a narrow majority was Birmingham.
I don't know how you overcome these demographic imbalances. I know that it has been on my mind. I recently read Middlemarch and the Great Reform Act of 1832 where they tried to eliminate some of these disparities successfully, but now we seem to have regressed practically to the point that is depicted in that novel.
FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: You're correct in saying that the single most powerful correlate with who votes for a populist population is population density. This is true for many countries other than the United States. It was certainly true in Britain.
But if you look at who votes for Viktor Orbán, it's not people living in Budapest, it's more rural voters. Who votes for Erdoğan in Turkey? It's not people in Ankara or Istanbul. It's more rural kinds of voters.
Population density is correlated with certain kinds of conservative social values. I think that's just become a feature of the nature of politics. How do you overcome that? You're not going to undo that sorting because a lot of that is driven by these structural factors having to do with education and access to services, a lot of things that are very hard to correct.
That's why I think that what you need to do is work on the ideational understanding of identity so that it doesn't become the case that one party simply sees itself as representing a certain set of—and by the way, I don't think it's the case that all the creedal people just live in big cities. I think they've got a problem with that creedal understanding, too. I think a lot of people living in small towns still have this older sense of what America stands for that is pretty healthy.
QUESTION: Susan Gitelson.
We've been talking a lot about the Europeans. Let's talk about the Asians. Recently the Asian Americans have been complaining about discrimination in entering elite institutions like Harvard.
The term "Asian" really, as you know better than I, is quite varied. China has the largest population in the world and a growing sense of identity; Japan has done so well but has other historic reasons or whatever.
Tell us what you think of Asian identity.
FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: As you just said, there isn't such a thing. Especially in Northeast Asia, everybody is at each other's throats.
In fact, it's interesting. Every time one of these comfort women issues comes up, I get a call from the consul generals of both Korea and Japan asking me to weigh in on this debate, and I say firmly but politely: "No thank you. I'm not going to get involved in this."
So there isn't really an Asian identity. There are a lot of different groups that come from a geographical place that we call Asia, but they have very different interests.
How they vote is actually going to be a very interesting issue over the years because typically they've tended to vote for liberal causes and for Democratic candidates, but I do think this meritocracy issue provides the Republicans with a certain kind of opening, so that is something that we're going to have to watch very carefully because they are the fastest-growing—given that they're not a group—group of new Americans in the country.
QUESTION: Anthony Faillace.
Which party steps away from the identity competition first? Because you could easily see the Democratic Party doubling down on cobbling together the identity groups and this continues for a while. So who steps away from the competition first?
FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: I don't know the answer to that, but that points to an important issue, and it's really one of the things that I wanted to get across in my book.
Let me just lay everything out on the table. I think it's super-important that the Democrats win in November. I say that not as a partisan Democrat—I wasn't a Democrat until I moved to California—but I just think that you're not going to get any accountability, and the checks and balances in the system are not going to work unless the Republicans suffer a pretty big electoral setback beginning in the November election. That's the starting point.
But the Democrats in 2020 are going to have a really big problem because they've got this strategic choice to make about whether they double down on their existing identity groups. There's a big temptation to do that because that's where all their activists live, and if you want to get voter turnout, that's the strategy that you use, and that's the way you can win elections.
On the other hand, the reason that Trump won in the Electoral College was because he won enough of these white working-class voters in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania that he won in the Electoral College. So that's the choice, whether you double down on the identity politics or whether you try to adopt a position that welcomes back some of those white voters.
I think it's a very bad situation if the Republican Party continues to go in the direction it's going in right now, if it becomes a party of white Americans, and the Democratic Party becomes a party of minorities plus a few professional white liberals. That's not a good situation for the country to be in. My hope is that the Democrats choose the broadening strategy because among other things even though you can win an election based on the identity groups, it's going to be hard to govern under those circumstances.
JOANNE MYERS: Once again I'd like to thank you for giving us so much to think about. Thank you again for coming.
FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: Thank you.