Fukuyama on Identity Politics

Brilliant piece by Francis Fukuyama for the Prospect on multiculturalism, group identities, immigration, and the future of Western liberal traditions.

Fukuyama begins by noting that:

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.

In (AQAL) integral discourse, this is the lack of lower quadrants, socio-cultural molding, inherent to being-in-the-world. From that hole, multiculturalism arises as treating groups as having the same rights as individuals. I would add, in terms of negative modernity, the legal description of a corporation as an individual, hence having the same rights. But that for a different discussion.

FF then goes on to correctly note that Islamism is a postmodern identity politics movement, particularly in European Islamic forms. Islamism arises at the nexus point from the shift from traditional to modern society. It is the alienation process, so profoundly described by Durkheim, that causes the reaction towards group identity (left-wing conservatism).

FF writes:

The argument that contemporary radical Islamism is a form of identity politics has been made most forcefully by the French scholar Olivier Roy in his 2004 book Globalised Islam. According to Roy, the root of radical Islamism is not cultural—that is, it is not a by-product of something inherent in Islam or the culture that this religion has produced. Rather, he argues, radical Islamism has emerged because Islam has become “deterritorialised” in such a way as to throw open the whole question of Muslim identity. The question of identity does not come up at all in traditional Muslim societies, as it did not in traditional Christian societies.

Which explains why:

second and third-generation European Muslims have turned to it [identity politics Islamism]. First-generation immigrants have usually not made a psychological break with the culture of their land of birth and carry traditional practices with them to their new homes. Their children, by contrast, are often contemptuous of their parents’ religiosity, and yet have not become integrated into the culture of the new society. Stuck between two cultures with which they cannot identify, they find a strong appeal in the universalist ideology of contemporary jihadism.

Fukuyama draws two conclusions from this analysis. One: Islamism is of a kin to radicalized movements like Bolshevism, Nazism, Baader-Meinhof, springing as it does from the alienating, disenchanting forces of modernity, meaning it is not necessarily an Islamic issue. Two: more modernity is only going to increase the problem. And I would add that is not going to change. At least economically and culturally, whatever happens politically. Democracy is only for the short term going to spring up more such radicalized elements, however much simultaneously it may be helping others move along. That is, in short, the dialectic of progress.

Fukuyama then goes into a long discussion between the differences between America and Western Europe over identity and group dynamics. Read the piece for yourself, just a few key points. America has generally been better at immigration because it is built around an idea: a dream. Europe no matter what the public discussion of post-national identities after WWII still has them, they are generally not discussed, and tend to be much more ethnically based. Europe may have a stronger tradition of tolerance of difference, but is not generally interested in communion, integration.

Fukuyama concludes with what he calls two prongs to the solution–the two prongs I have discussed repeatedly on this blog. Both must happen.

One–major elements, if not the whole kitchen sink, of the corporatist Euro welfare state must be thrown out. A main concern about this tradition is the continued recognition not just of (interior) toleration of diversity but (exterior) legal recognition of differences could lead to different legal systems. Such systems can not exist for classical liberalism to function. Here’s Francis:

some contemporary Muslim communities are making demands for group rights that simply cannot be squared with liberal principles of individual equality. These demands include special exemptions from the family law that applies to everyone else in the society, the right to exclude non-Muslims from certain types of public events, or the right to challenge free speech in the name of religious offence (as with the Danish cartoons incident). In some more extreme cases, Muslim communities have even expressed ambitions to challenge the secular character of the political order as a whole. These types of group rights clearly intrude on the rights of other individuals in the society and push cultural autonomy well beyond the private sphere.

Prong Two is for white Europeans to change the sense of national identity so that Muslims can be French, British, German, etc. And not just in some theoretical or possibly legal sense, but culturally (interior). FF:

The other prong of the solution to the problem of Muslim integration concerns the expectations and behaviour of the majority communities in Europe. National identity continues to be understood and experienced in ways that sometimes make it a barrier for newcomers who do not share the ethnicity and religious background of the native-born. National identity has always been socially constructed; it revolves around history, symbols, heroes and the stories that a community tells about itself. This sense of attachment to a place and a history should not be rubbed out, but it should be made as open as possible to new citizens. In some countries, notably Germany, 20th-century history has made it awkward to discuss national identity, but this is a dialogue that needs to be reopened in the light of Europe’s new diversity—for if existing citizens do not sufficiently value their national citizenship, then European countries can scarcely expect newcomers to value it either.

Only coming down hard on immigrant communities and their incompatible aspects with modern liberal traditions will only engender further conflict and bloodshed. Pushed to the extreme it will head in the Children of Men, V for Vendetta dystopic avenue. On the other hand, that last line is so key: as long as Europeans hate themselves they will only treat others as victims (or aggressors). And of course that self-loathing will not attract many to its cause. Leaving then only the choice of the group identity and a conflict model.

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Published in: on February 6, 2007 at 4:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

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