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.