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What Francis Fukuyama Says Follows the End of History

Francis Fukuyama is tired of talking about the end of history. Thirty years ago, he published a wonky essayin a little-read policy journal and became an overnight intellectual sensation. His argument, that the triumph of Western-style liberal democracy marked "the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution," remains an iconic declaration of the post-Cold War world. He’s been defending it ever since. He’s regularly asked if some event — September 11, the 2008 financial crisis, Donald Trump’s election — has invalidated his thesis. His answer is no.

As Fukuyama sees it, the confusion stems from a misreading (or a failure to read) the last few chapters of his 1992 book, The End of History and the Last Man(Free Press). It was there that he fretted about the ability of liberal democracies and market economies to satisfy the human desire for recognition. Liberal democracy can deliver peace and prosperity, but what happens if peace and prosperity aren’t enough?

It’s a question Fukuyama returns to in a new book, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment(Farrar, Straus and Giroux). The answer, he suggests, is all around us: A global surge of identity politics, which has in turn fueled populist nationalism, authoritarianism, religious conflict, and democratic decline. "Demand for recognition of one’s identity is a master concept that unifies much of what is going on in world politics today," he writes.

From his home in Carmel, Calif., Fukuyama, a professor of political science at Stanford University, spoke with The Chronicle Review about identity politics, global politics, being a student of both Paul de Man and Allan Bloom, and how higher-education leaders have failed to defend fundamental ideals.

Q. Let’s start where you start Identity:Donald Trump. The book is a response to his election. He also made an appearance in The End of History and the Last Man.

A. One of the arguments I made in The End of Historywas that it’s good to have a democracy linked to a market economy because it acts as a sponge for the ambitious energies of people who could otherwise become Julius Caesar or Adolf Hitler. That’s the context in which I mention Donald Trump. Our political system has to absorb such people and render them safe. At that time, it looked like our system was doing that. He could be a real-estate developer or, later, an entertainer. That wasn’t enough for him, and he went into politics. Now we’ve got a real problem. Our constitutional system was designed to prevent the rise of fantastically ambitious individuals, to limit them through a system of checks and balances. That’s the test we’re up against right now.

Q. Are you feeling optimistic?

A. Check back after November. ...

Read entire article at The Chronicle of Higher Education