Fukuyama’s fake effort to bring back Western national identity and find a cure for jihadism
In the opening paragraphs of Francis Fukuyama’s cover article, “Identity and Migration,” in the British magazine Prospect, he points to a fundamental gap in liberalism that we traditionalist conservatives have been talking about for years, like voices in the wilderness:
Modern identity politics springs from a hole in the political theory underlying liberal democracy. That hole is liberalism’s silence about the place and significance of groups. The line of modern political theory that begins with Machiavelli and continues through Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and the American founding fathers understands the issue of political freedom as one that pits the state against individuals rather than groups. Hobbes and Locke, for example, argue that human beings possess natural rights as individuals in the state of nature—rights that can only be secured through a social contract that prevents one individual’s pursuit of self-interest from harming others.As soon as I read Fukuyama saying that liberal theory fails to articulate the significance of groups, my ears pricked up and I thought he was about to take the big leap beyond liberalism and neoconservatism and start to talk about nation and culture. A glance ahead to the last paragraph of the article even showed he was making bows to Samuel Huntington and the clash of civilizations, which, of course, has always been anathema to universalist democratist neocons like Fukuyama.
But almost immediately my second thought was, no, Fukuyama was not going to take any leap, he would simply do what he has done before (see Note below) and claim to be adopting a non-liberal idea, in this case group identity, but then define this group identity as … liberalism.
And, as it turned out, that is exactly what he ends up doing in this lengthy article. But his path to that point is complicated and roundabout. What follows is a summary of his argument. Even if the final result is shallow and disappointing, with Fukuyama’s articles getting there is all the fun.
Fukuyama writes that concern for “identity” begins when one’s external environment, one’s inherited way of life, culture, and religion, no longer provides a satisfactory meaning. This leads one to search for an inner source of meaning and identity.
Identity politics was born with Luther. For Luther, the external devotions of the Catholic religion and of the Augustinian Order no longer “worked” for him, he had to find an experience within himself, in order to feel right with God and right with himself. This led to his discovery of salvation through faith.
Next came Rousseau, who went beyond religion and made identity a matter of the personal authenticity of one’s “true” self in contradistinction to the artificial and unequal and unfree conventions of society.
Then came Johann Gottfried von Herder, who expanded identity into the cultural and group realm. Now it was a rediscovery of one’s folk culture that provided one’s “authentic” self as distinct from the sterile ways of modern life.
Let me stop here and say that an obvious problem with Fukuyama’s analysis up to this point is that he’s treating identity almost as if it were a symptom of a disease. It’s only something one cares about when external society no longer provides satisfactory meaning. But I think that’s a negative way to see identity. To have a group identity is normal and natural, part of the order of things in which we exist. That Fukuyama can only see identity in implicitly negative terms, as “identity politics,” as a compensation for something that is felt as missing, rather than as a primary and normative value in itself, assures that he will never integrate the idea of identity into a full and rounded experience of existence.
Having looked at the historical origins of identity politics in the West, Fukuyama now turns to Islam. According to Olivier Roy, whom Fukuyama treats as his authority here and in previous articles, Islam is now in a huge identity crisis because the traditional Muslim ways of life have been disrupted by two factors: emigration to the West, and the impact of modernity. Beset by either or both of these factors, Muslims are no longer surrounded by the inherited givens of a way of life, they have to seek their identity, and they find it in jihadism.
Amazingly (showing that he is a theorist completely out of touch with reality), Fukuyama claims that Muslims never followed jihad before this modern identity crisis drove them to it. As in previous articles, Fukuyama simply integrates jihadism into the dialectic of Western alienation, denying its historic roots in uniquely Islamic teachings and institutions:
As Fritz Stern, Ernest Gellner and others have shown, modernisation and the transition from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft constitute an intensely alienating process that has been negatively experienced by countless individuals in different societies. It is now the turn of young Muslims to experience this. Whether there is anything specific to the Muslim religion that encourages this radicalisation is an open question. Since 11th September, a small industry has sprung up trying to show how violence and even suicide bombing have deep Koranic or historical roots. It is important to remember, however [here come the clichés!], that at many periods in history Muslim societies have been more tolerant than their Christian counterparts. The Jewish philosopher Maimonides was born in Muslim Córdoba, which was a diverse centre of culture and learning; Baghdad for many generations hosted one of the world’s largest Jewish communities. It makes no more sense to see today’s radical Islamism as an inevitable outgrowth of Islam than to see fascism as the culmination of centuries of European Christianity. [Italics added.]With that last sentence, Fukuyama has become as absurd—and as dangerous—as Dinesh D’Souza, blind to the realities of Islam, and trying to blind others as well.
Having explained the Muslim identity crisis which he sees as the sole source of today’s jihadism, Fukuyama then turns to Europe. The nations of Europe had corporatist political, cultural, and religious structures long before they began receiving Muslim immigrants. The Netherlands, for example, had separate corporatist arrangements for Catholics, Protestants, and Socialists. The Europeans (preceded by the Canadians, the real founders of multiculturalism) thought they could simply add Muslims onto this preexisting structure, so that, just as the state subsidizes Christian churches and Jewish synagogues, it would subsidize Muslim mosques as well, and the Muslims would fit right in. But, as we all know, it didn’t work out that way, Muslims are not integrating according to the rules that worked for other groups.
So here comes Fukuyama’s solution: the respective European countries need to give up their cultural corporatism and develop a common national identity, no longer based on ethnicity or religion, into which Muslims as well as the traditional Europeans can all belong. The Germans showed the way to this with the idea of Leitkultur or “guiding culture.” And what did this Leitkultur consist of? Here we go: “certain obligations to observe standards of tolerance and equal respect.” In other words, this renewed common national culture is nothing other than liberalism itself, along with some minimalist national holidays and rituals to help create a feeling of common belonging.
The first prong of the solution is to recognise that the old multicultural model has not been a big success in countries such as the Netherlands and Britain, and that it needs to be replaced by more energetic efforts to integrate non-western populations into a common liberal culture.It’s exactly what I predicted Fukuyama would say after I read the first two paragraphs of the article. He acted as if he was finally admitting a serious flaw in liberalism, namely its emphasis on individual rights at the expense of group and national identities. So he comes up with a new “national identity” for the countries of Europe, and it turns out to consist of the generic liberal ideals of tolerance, equal respect, and individual rights (which by the way provide nothing distinctively national, since Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands all believe in tolerance and equal respect). Liberals and neocons can never go beyond liberalism and neoconservatism. They may make little gestures toward doing so, as Fukuyama does in this article, but they can’t do the real thing.
And here comes the final absurdity. What, after all, is the point of this newly designed liberal national identity? It’s to heal the jihadism among the Muslims, right? The jihadism, according to Roy and Fukuyama, results from the identity crisis suffered by Muslim immigrants in the West, when they find themselves in a meaningless alien environment. So what Fukuyama is proposing—and this is only the implied final step in his argument, he doesn’t say it outright because if he did so the pure absurdity of it would become plain for all to see—is that the Western Muslims’ attraction to jihadism, fueled by the identity crisis brought on by their displaced condition in Western countries, will be cured by giving them a new identity based in liberal tolerance and equal respect.
In other words, Muslims, stripped of their customary, religiously based way of life, and seeking the most intense and murderous experience of identity to replace the historic culture of which they have been deprived, will instead find a satisfactory substitute for their lost culture in the shared belief in the equal dignity of all men, seasoned with some benign national rituals, and thus they will no longer be drawn to jihadism.
The obvious problem with this theory is, since what they’re missing is Islam, and since what alienates them is the non-Islamic, de-racinated Western society in which they live, how could the shallow slogans of liberalism ever provide them with the deeper meaning that they seek?
Yet, as astonishing as it is, that’s what Fukuyama is saying. If you don’t believe that he could be saying something this empty and ridiculous, read the article yourself.
NOTE: In the early 1990s Fukuyama did something very similar to what he does in his current article. When immigration restrictionists complained about the neoconservatives’ assertion that America was only an idea not a culture, Fukuyama, in his article “Immigration and Family Values” in the May 1993 Commentary claimed that he too believed America was a culture. But he didn’t mean it, as I showed in my letter in the August 1993 Commentary, part of which is quoted below. The entire exchange of letters, which included letters by Peter Brimelow and Michael Lind, is worth checking out. (There is a .pdf document available for free online and Commentarys’ .html archive which is not free).
… Even the one instance where Mr. Fukuyama admits a flaw in the pro-immigration ideology turns out to be a finesse. He acknowledges that America is not simply based on belief in universalist ideas about democracy, but that America is also a culture, even a “Christian, Anglo-Saxon” culture. This appears to be a major concession to those conservatives who insist on American cultural particularity, especially as regards immigration policy. But then Mr. Fukuyama does a very strange thing. He identifies the essence of this newly discovered American culture as “family values,” i.e., as a set of behaviors which promote economic productivity, and which can be expressed with lots of statistics. In other words, Mr. Fukuyama, having conceded that America is not just a political abstraction but a culture, reinterprets that culture itself as an abstraction.And in his Prospects article in 2007, it’s the same story. He recognizes that the liberal individualist paradigm doesn’t work, and that something more is needed. But, being a liberal, he’s completely unable to go beyond the liberal paradigm. So he goes through motions of invoking the idea of national identity, but this national identity turns out to be the same old liberalism.
Andrew Bostom writes:
Fukuyama has always been an intellectual lightweight and he remains stubbornly ignorant of Islamic doctrine and history…This article is hardly surprising, but it is yet another profoundly depressing example of Le Trahison De Clercs of our time: the denial of readily discernible Islamic doctrine and historyThucydides writes:
Your review of Fukuyama’s Prospect article is superb. Fukuyama is struggling to understand what is going on while protecting his fundamental liberal assumptions, surely a futile exercise. He accordingly tries to understand jihadism as a form of rational action. The jihadist is only trying to recover some sense of group identity to meet his emotional needs. The problem will be solved by providing him with an alternative sense of identity – which mirabile dictu, turns out to be – stock liberalism.LA replies:
Thucydides writes:Thucydides replies:
Excellent comments. You say that some Americans do not feel an American identity. This may be true, but we have our identities, even if we don’t feel them or acknowledge them. If you set down a universalist liberal from the United States in any other country, he would never be taken as anything other than what he was. He would never be perceived as a generic type, even if this is what he believed himself to be. As de Maistre said, he had met Frenchmen and Germans, but he had never met this thing called Man.LA replies
Thucydides is right about identity being there even if we don’t acknowledge it.Richard B. writes:
Your Fukuyama discussion is EXCELLENT! You’ve really nailed it.LA replies:
The way Richard tops off the idea of liberal “identity playing” with the idea of liberals’ ultimately wanting to become jihadists is really neat. It is the completion of the liberal/nominalist project. There are no stable essences, there are just individual desires, so we change from thing to thing, from identity to identity, until we finally change into the obedient subjects of those whose identity is not changeable and who seek our destruction.EG (Genetic interest) writes:
You write:LA replies:
What E.G. is pointing to may exist individually or collectively in various cases, and in a given context it might be appropriate to bring it up. But in the present instance. it amounts to a biased ad hominem attack. Why? Because Fukuyama is not being any more anti-West or anti-white than myriad whites. We have no evidence that his liberal views are motivated by his race. There is nothing in what he has ever written that remotely suggests that he is “seething with an (unconscious) hatred and jealousy of whites.” There are Anglo-Saxon Protestants such as McCain and G.W. Bush who have evinced far greater hostility to our culture and a longing for other cultures to replace it than Fukuyama has displayed. So E.G.’s theory falls down on the face of it.Bob Vandervoort writes:
It strikes me that Fukuyama’s own identity may be at issue here, which is why he tries to dodge the controversial issues of race, ethnicity, nation, culture, etc. Fukuyama is a man of Japanese extraction living in Western Civilization. This probably creates some own tension in his own mind, about what his identity is all about.LA replies:
I find Mr. Vandervoort’s questions useful and legitimate. First, he is approaching this speculatively rather than dogmatically. Second, he speculates that the racial factor may create a tension in Fukuyama’s mind on the question of identity, which is very different from suggesting, in the absence of any evidence whatsoever, that Fukuyama is seething with hatred and jealousy toward whites.E.G. writes:
You write:LA replies:
I called it a theory, meaning I acknowledge you were suggesting this as a possibility not a dogmatic statement.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 26, 2007 09:34 AM | Send