Fukuyama Understands Identity

Fukuyama_review_20191025Francis Fukuyama. 2018. Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment. New York: Macmillan.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The issue of identity is on everyone’s lips today. In the absence of the unity provided by Christian faith, American lives are shrinking into ever-smaller communities of self-interest facilitated by media-friendly cell-phones and social media. As day-to-day, face-to-face interactions, our kids’ social skills leave them ill-prepared to deal with the normal ups and downs of life that threaten their self-worth. Without a solid identity, they are anxious and often leave adolescence with more pills than their grandparents. When I found out that Francis Fukuyama had a book on this subject, I snapped it up.

Introduction

In Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment Francis Fukuyama writes:

“In this book, I will be using identity in a specific sense that helps us understand why it is so important to contemporary politics. Identity, in the first place, out of a distinction between one’s true inner self and an outer world of social rules and norms that does not adequately recognize that inner self’s worth or dignity.”(9-10)

In a world where the poorest of the poor anywhere on earth can turn on a television and see how the rich live anywhere else, the sense of what’s fair and what’s not becomes immediately obvious to everyone. Those disrespected through circumstances, law, or persons no longer can be told that that is just the way things are. Dislocation, war, and conflicting demands make it even hard to realize a stable identity and sense of dignity. Fukuyama concludes that the “Demand for recognition of one’s identity is a master concept that unified much of what is going on in world politics today.” (xv)

Origin and Organization

Yoshihiro Francis Fukuyama (1952-) is an American political scientist, political economist, and writer. He is best known for his book The End of History and the Last Man (1992), which argued that the spread of liberal democracies and free-market capitalism of the West could end sociocultural evolution. Fukuyama earned his BA at Cornell University, studied at Yale University, and received his doctorate from Harvard University. He is currently on the faculty at Stanford University.[1] Fukuyama writes in fourteen chapters:

  1. The Politics of Dignity
  2. The Third Part of the Soul
  3. Inside and Outside
  4. From Dignity to Democracy
  5. Revolutions of Dignity
  6. Expressive Individualism
  7. Nationalism and Religion
  8. The Wrong Address
  9. Invisible Man
  10. The Democratization of Dignity
  11. From Identity to Identities
  12. We the People
  13. Stories of Peoplehood
  14. What is to be Don? (vii)

These chapters are preceded by a preface and followed by notes, a bibliography, and an index.

The Dignity Problem

The visibility of inequities has become more obvious. Fukuyama writes:

“Between 1970 and 2008, the world’s output of goods and services quadrupled and growth extended to virtually all regions of the world, while the number of people living in extreme poverty in developing countries dropped from 42 percent of the total population in 1993 to 17 percent in 211. The percentage of children dying before their fifty birthdays declined from 22 percent in 1960 to less than 5 percent by 2016. This liberal world order did not, however, benefit everyone. In many countries around the world, and particularly in developed democracies, inequity increased dramatically, such that many of the benefits flowed primarily to an elite defined primarily by education.” (4)

Economists talk about the law of one price—with free trade, the price of a good or service should be the same everyone, adjusting for shipment, storage, and other costs.

Fukuyama notes the tension created, writing:

“Huge new middle classes arose in countries such as China and India, but the work they did replaced work that had been done by older middle classes in the developing world…women were displacing men in an increasingly service dominated new economy and low-skilled workers were being replaced by smart machines.” (4)

Inequities create indignities because no one enjoys change and we have seen massive changes. Fukuyama notes: “economic grievances become much more acute when they are attached to feelings of indignity and disrespect.” (11) He sees issues like the #MeToo movement and gay marriage as being driven by the desire, not for economic equality, but the desire for equal respect (19).

The Identity Connection

Fukuyama develops his concept of identity writing:

“The modern concept of identity unites three different phenomena. The first is thymos, a universal aspect of human personality that craves recognition. The second is the distinction between inner and outer self, and the raising of the moral valuation of the inner self over outer society. This emerged only in early modern Europe. The third is an evolving concept of dignity, in which recognition is due not just to a narrow class of people [like soldiers and first responders], but to everyone.” (37)

He sees this question of equal dignity motivating the French Revolution and resent uprisings, like the Arab Spring. He tells a story:

“On December 17, 2010, police confiscated the produce from a vegetable cart of a Tunisian street vendor name Mohamed Bouazizi, ostensibly because he did not have a permit. According to his family, he was publicly slapped by a policewoman, Faida Hamdi, who confiscated his electronic scales as well and spat in his face…Bouazizi went to the governor’s office to complain and to get his scales back, but the governor refused to see him. Bouazizi then doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire, shouting, ‘How do you expect me to make a living.’” (42)

Bouazizi was not a protester or political prisoner, but had been abused and his story set off an uprising—The Arab Spring—that spread across several continents. The problem of indignities of this sort struck a nerve.

Assessment

Francis Fukuyama’s Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment pictures our current political climate with rare clarity. He writes with philosophical and historical precision and tells a good story. I enjoyed this book; perhaps you will too.

Footnotes

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Fukuyama.

Fukuyama Understands Identity

Also see:

Vance Chronicles White Poverty in America

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/ID_2019  

Continue Reading

Moore Engages Secular Culture, Part 2

Russell Moore, OnwardRussell Moore. 2015. Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel. Nashville: B & H Publishing Group. (Goto Part 1)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In writing about culture, we never leave it and it has changed more rapidly in the past generation than in any previous historical period. For most of human history, people have lived primarily in small, rural communities where everyone knew each other. Boomers were the first generation to grow up primarily in urban areas while many of our parents grew up on a farm or came from a small town. Other than technological changes of recent years, our cultural context is remarkably similar to that of the first century Roman empire.

In part 1 of this review, I give an overview of Moore’s book. In part 2, I will drill down into three of his arguments: the end of cultural Christianity, the attitude about human dignity, and the focus on family stability.

Bible Belt No More

Moore grew up in Biloxi, Alabama and, as a pastor, was well aware of the cultural ways of the Bible Belt. He observes:

“…cultural Christianity is herded out by natural selection. That sort of nominal religion, when bearing the burden of the embarrassment of a controversial Bible, is no more equipped to survive in a secularizing American than a declawed cat released into the wild. Who then is left behind? It will be those defined not by a Christian America but by a Christian gospel.” (24)

Here Moore is taking aim at residents of the Bible Belt, presumably conservative Evangelical Christians, but this natural selection process appears equally to weed out the sons and daughters of mainline denominations, as membership numbers attest.

But Moore’s highlights the moral turpitude of cultural Christians in a story about the two groups of kids in his church’s young group. The first group were the “churched” kids who knew “how to get drunk, have sex and smoke marijuana without their parents ever knowing about it.” (71) The second group were “mostly fatherless boys and girls, some of whom [were] gang members, all of them completely unfamiliar with the culture of the church.” and did not even try to hide their sinful activities. (70)

What attracted the attention of this later group was not the materials produced by the denomination to relate to them—they laughed at them. What attracted their attention was the gospel itself. One kid asked: “So, like, you really believe this dead guy came back to life?” (71) The fact that the gospel resonates better with the unchurched kids than the churched kids led Moore to abandon hope for cultural Christianity and the Bible Belt so closely associated with it.

Human Dignity

One the great ironies of the postmodern era is the pervasive campaign against human dignity veiled in language suggesting something quite different. Moore writes

“Abortion, torture, euthanasia, unjust war, racial injustice, the harassment of immigrants, these things aren’t simply ‘mean’ (although they are that too). They are part of an ongoing guerilla insurgency against the image of God himself, as summed up in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus identified himself with humanity—in all of our weakness and fragility.” (120)

Abortion, for example, has limited the supply of labor in the United States and motivated immigration—teenagers used to do most of the work now done by Hispanic workers. Many immigrants are killed or raped in coming to the United States from Central America to escape economic hardship and abuse by drug gangs. Those persecuted elsewhere have also been given priority in the granting of green cards and citizenship, but Central American immigrants have been legally discriminated against and treated badly day to day in spite of being hardworking and practicing Christians. Such treatment is out of step with our American heritage and is an assault on human dignity.

Moore talks about the “culture of death” today in United States and focuses on the unborn as being the image of God most dramatically abused in America today. Unable to defend themselves, the unborn are disposed of like trash for no other reason than that they are inconvenient. When we separate humanity from nature and body from soul (121), the question of convenience increasingly motivates many assaults on human dignity affecting the weak, the infirm, and the disadvantaged.

Family Stability

Moore’s comments on sexuality are probably his most controversial, but his logic is unmistakably biblical. He writes:

“Throughout the cannon of Scripture, there’s a close tie between family breakdown and spiritual breakdown. That’s why idolatry and immorality are linked repeatedly in the Old Testament. The mystery of the Christ/church pattern itself was revealed, it should be remembered, to a congregation in the shadow of a fertility goddess (Acts 19:21-41)…sexual immorality has profound spiritual consequences (1 Cor 6:17-20)…the body is a temple, set apart to be a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit.” (170)

Sexual immorality, veiled in the language of liberation and personal freedom, has actually led to a culture where women are denigrated and abused, putting them under the subjugation, not of husbands and fathers, but of strangers and men in power. If abortion on demand is always available, women, not men, assume responsibility for reproduction. Moore sees the postmodern sexual ethic not as something new, but a resurgence of good old fashion paganism.

It is indeed ironic that the #MeToo movement shows the depth of this problem in that the women stepping forward as having been harassed and abused are not the poor and the defenseless, but the celebrities and powerful, who have been the primary beneficiaries of the women’s movement and who already had access to the courts and had the resources to pursue legal action.

Assessment

Russell Moore’s Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel challenges us to distinguish the gospel of Jesus Christ from different manifestations of Christendom in American culture. Moore advocates engaging the culture, not simply criticizing it, to expose aspects of the culture that present opportunities for Christian witness. His narrative style facilitates this engagement and makes his writing both entertaining and accessible.

Moore Engages Secular Culture, Part 2

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2zRkNMJ

Continue Reading

Prayer Day 8: A Christian Guide to Spirituality By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Available on Amazon.com
Available on Amazon.com

Heavenly Father. We praise you for graciously sending your son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We give glory to his name—our perfect priest, prophet, and king. In the power of your Holy Spirit, help us also to listen to his voice and obey his commands. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Padre Celestial. Te alabamos por mandar graciosamente tu hijo, nuestra Señor y Salvador, Jesucristo. Damos gloria a su nombre—nuestro sacerdote perfecta, profeta, y rey. En el poder de tu Espíritu Santo, ayuda nos también a escuchar a su voz y obedecer sus mandamientos. En el nombre de Jesús oramos, Amén.

Continue Reading