People in the West Are Hungry for a Substantive Vision of the Good

Nov. 30 2018

In his recent book Identity, Francis Fukuyama discusses identity politics, which he understands to be among the most powerful forces in today’s West, and traces its roots to a very natural human desire for recognition on both the individual and collective levels—a desire discussed by ancient philosophers and one that changed dramatically with the spread of Christianity and again with the Reformation. Sohrab Ahmari writes in his review:

There is a tendency among some liberals, of the classical and contemporary varieties alike, to view today’s identity politics as a novel and alien invasion. Fukuyama’s best contribution is to remind readers that deep secularization, what he calls the “disappearance of a shared religious horizon,” set the stage for today’s identity explosion. In other words, the same process that made liberal democracy possible also divested Western societies of a common source of attachment, belonging, and recognition. In its place have come demands for recognition based on race, nationhood (including the nasty, exclusionary kind), sex, gender, and a thousand newfangled sexual preferences.

So what to do? Fukuyama devotes the final chapters of his book to imagining some new model that could reconcile, on the one hand, liberal democracy and, on the other hand, the various longings for collective recognition and deeper attachment that we group under the term “identity politics.” This is the book’s least compelling portion. The author can’t give up on the idea that secular universalism is the only way forward, since in his view, religion can offer only “partial” recognition.

Thus, instead of calling for a recovery of Western democracy’s religious roots, as the likes of Pope John Paul II and Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks have argued, Fukuyama insists that secular, liberal-democratic culture itself should become the glue that holds us together. Put another way, the procedural norms of liberal democracy that are enshrined in Western constitutions should form the basis for attachment to the reigning political order and respect for the dignity of the other.

But such thinking is precisely what got us here in the first place. . . . If the last few years have taught anything, it is that voters across the West are hungry for a substantive vision of the good and of belonging and recognition. . . . A soupy end-of-history transnational liberalism doesn’t sate Western man’s spiritual hungers.

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More about: History & Ideas, John Paul II, Religion, Secularization


Hizballah Is in Venezuela to Stay

Feb. 21 2019

In a recent interview, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned the presence of Hizballah cells in Venezuela as further evidence of the growing unrest in that country. The Iran-backed group has operated in Venezuela for years, engaging in narcotics trafficking and money laundering to fund its activities in the Middle East, and likely using the country as a base for planning terrorist attacks. If Juan Guaido, now Venezuela’s internationally recognized leader, is able to gain control of the government, he will probably seek to alter this situation. But, writes Colin Clarke, his options may be limited.

A government led by Guaido would almost certainly be more active in opposing Hizballah’s presence on Venezuelan soil, not just nominally but in more aggressively seeking to curtail the group’s criminal network and, by extension, the influence of Iran. As part of a quid pro quo for its support, Washington would likely seek to lean on Guaido to crack down on Iran-linked activities throughout the region.

But there is a major difference between will and capability. . . . Hizballah is backed by a regime in Tehran that provides it with upward of $700 million annually, according to some estimates. Venezuela serves as Iran’s entry point into Latin America, a foothold the Iranians are unlikely to cede without putting up a fight. Moreover, Russia retains a vested interest in propping up [the incumbent] Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro and keeping him in power, given the longstanding relationship between the two countries. . . . Further, after cooperating closely in Syria, Hizballah is now a known quantity to the Kremlin and an organization that President Vladimir Putin could view as an asset that, at the very least, will not interfere with Russia’s designs to extend its influence in the Western hemisphere.

If the Maduro regime is ultimately ousted from power, that will likely have a negative impact on Hizballah in Venezuela. . . . Yet, on balance, Hizballah has deep roots in Venezuela, and completely expelling the group—no matter how high a priority for the Trump administration—remains unlikely. The best-case scenario for Washington could be an ascendant Guaido administration that agrees to combat Hizballah’s influence—if the new government is willing to accept a U.S. presence in the country to begin training Venezuelan forces in the skills necessary to counter terrorism and transnational criminal networks with strong ties to Venezuelan society. But that scenario, of course, is dependent on the United States offering such assistance in the first place.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Mike Pompeo, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy, Venezuela