Fukuyama has a new book on identity

[I’d aspired to blog daily. The day after my first post a road construction crew outside our home dug up our internet cable by mistake, which was finally repaired after three days and lots of phone calls by my wife to our service provider.]

The heading under which I found Evan Goldstein’s interview with Francis Fukuyama in the Chronicle Review led me to remark simply, “Duh.”

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But Fukuyama is not a completely uninteresting figure–there’s more to him than having simply burped, “history is over,” and actually probably more to that thesis than is often recognized. So, I read the interview, and probably will read his new book on identity. Some thoughts.

It’s a common thing for conservative-minded thinkers to erect a false opposition between politics based upon principles on the one hand and politics based on identity on the other. On their telling, goodness and light flows from the former, evil and darkness from the latter. To me and to many others, it seems like a simple thing to recognize instead that principles, good and bad, necessarily take root in and arise from particular identities.

But Fukuyama, for all his apparent ideological shifts, is still simplistic and Manichean in this regard. And his discourse on identity is explicitly pointed away from certain identities–able-bodied heterosexual white males primarily. This is seen from his validation and valorization of groups that make up Steve Sailer’s Coalition of the Fringes, united as it is around its resentment and aggression towards whitey.

Yet Fukuyama, who is more or less of the same generation as Sailer (right?), clearly wishes for something comparable to Sailer’s notion of Citizenism—some moralizing civic glue that can bring us all together, at least within the American territorial space, and keep us from variously sulking within our ethnic enclaves and viciously fighting with one another.

Fukuyama hesitates to agree that there’s a free speech crisis on campus. He observes that the conservative spin machine frequently oversimplifies and sensationalizes occurrences in a clumsy manner, which I get, and he notes that people like Charles Murray normally do get to speak, which strikes me as a shallow take.

But Fukuyama’s remark that “What happens on campus ultimately does filter down to the rest of society” was a recognition that was critical to my own development as I made my way through the sociological jungles of Lawrenceville, Bowdoin and Kenyon. In my experience, community discourse moved to a rhythm of unspoken assumptions and impulses to which I ultimately failed to relate. The individuals and groups that were promoted as model leaders by the school administrations frequently struck me as more than a little weird, and sometimes even mentally ill and openly hostile towards large segments of society. It occurred to me that these classmates of mine would one day occupy territory in the lower strata of elite society, and this instinctively worried me. It led me to look ahead and consider the kind of political and philosophical responses that would be required to counter their influence.

There’s something false and truncated about Fukuyama’s explanation of how civilization has come apart. In his telling, “identity came to the forefront” in “the ‘60s and ‘70s.’” But identity always animated American life and purpose. “American” was an identity—a white identity—and in important ways, in many people’s minds, still is. For whatever reason, Fukuyama hews to an institutionally-privileged narrative of American origin and history, in which its immaculate Lockean/Enlightenment founding repeatedly had to be defended against toxic, unnatural white racialism in various forms. The possibility that racialism has some legitimate place within this arc of history is never seriously considered. Figures like Fukuyama are able to stave of the cognitive dissonance in order to preserve a story in which politics of identity are not really a respectable possibility until the period during which non- and anti-white forces—ones that Fukuyama respects as good and legitimate—begin to gain more power.

Fukuyama’s flash autobiography of his turn away from the academic Marxism is entertaining:

Q. You have an unusual background for a political scientist. You majored in classics at Cornell, then did graduate work in comparative literature at Yale, where you studied with Paul de Man. Later you spent time in Paris sitting in on classes with Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida. Any memories from this journey through deconstruction?

A. I decided it was total bullshit. They were espousing a kind of Nietzschean relativism that said there is no truth, there is no argument that’s superior to any other argument. Yet most of them were committed to a basically Marxist agenda. That seemed completely contradictory. If you really are a moral relativist, there is no reason why you shouldn’t affirm National Socialism or the racial superiority of Europeans, because nothing is more true than anything else. I thought it was a bankrupt way of proceeding and decided to shift gears and go into political science.

Fukuyama has very sensible things to say about the late Samuel Huntington. Until recently I was unaware that Huntington did more than simply write important books that more or less congrued with white racialism. Fukuyama says he disagrees with Huntington’s restrictionist sentiments on immigration but shares his view “that white Europeans had a specific culture that they brought to North America that was very important for the subsequent functioning of liberal democratic institutions in the United States.”

So, that’s kind of an up-note, to my ear. Fukuyama ends on a very conventional-sounding down-note:

[W]e have a president who is, I believe, a racist, and has certainly been willing to accept support from racists. It’s very dangerous that he’s awakened this overt xenophobia. It makes me really mad.

Two womps.

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