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


What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

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More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy