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[Francis Fukuyama, Identity. The demand for dignity and the politics of resentment. Deusto, Barcelona, 2019. 208 p.]
review / Emili J. Blasco
The democratic deterioration we are seeing in the world today is generating a literature of its own, like that which, on the opposite phenomenon, arose with the democratic springtime experienced after the fall of the Berlin Wall (what Huntington called the third wave of democratization). In that moment of optimism, Francis Fukuyama popularized the idea of the "end of history" -democracy as the final written request in the evolution of human institutions-; today, in this democratic autumn, Fukuyama warns in a new essay of the risk that identity, stripped of liberal safeguards, will phagocytize other values if it remains in the hands of resurgent populist nationalism.
The warning is not new. Huntington, who in 1996 published his Clash of Civilizations, highlighted the driving power of nationalism, was not moved by it; then, in recent years, various authors have referred to the recession of the democratic tide. Fukuyama quotation the expression of Larry Diamond "democratic recession", noting that compared to the leap made between 1970 and the beginning of the new millennium (from 35 to 120 electoral democracies), today the issue has decreased.
The last famous theorist of the International Office to write about this was John Mearsheimer, who in The Great Delusion notes how the world today realizes the naivety of thinking that the liberal architecture was going to dominate the domestic and foreign policy of nations. For Mearsheimer, nationalism is once again emerging strongly as an alternative. This had already been observed just after the decomposition of the Eastern Bloc and the USSR, with the Balkan war as a paradigmatic example, but the democratization of Central and Eastern Europe and its rapid entry into NATO led todelusion.
It has been the personality and policies of the current inhabitant of the White House that has put some American thinkers, including Fukuyama, on alert. "This book would not have been written if Donald J. Trump had not been elected president in November 2016," warns the Stanford University professor, director of his Center on Democracy, development and the Rule of Law. In his view, Trump "is both a product and a contributor to democratic decline" and is an exponent of the broader phenomenon of populist nationalism.
Fukuyama defines populism in terms of its leaders: "Populist leaders seek to use the legitimacy conferred by democratic elections to consolidate their power. They claim a direct and charismatic connection with the people, who are often defined in narrow ethnic terms that exclude important parts of the population. They dislike institutions and seek to undermine the checks and balances that limit a leader's power staff in a modern liberal democracy: courts, parliament, independent media and a non-partisan bureaucracy."
It is probably unfair to hold against Fukuyama some conclusions of The End of History and the Last Man (1992), a book often misinterpreted and taken out of his theoretical core topic . The author has then further concretized his thinking on the institutional development of social organization, especially in his titles Origins of Political Order (2011) and Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Present Day (2014). Already in the latter he pointed to the risk of regression, particularly in view of the polarization and lack of consensus in American politics.
In Identity, Fukuyama considers that non-ethnic nationalism has been a positive force in societies whenever it has been based on the construction of identities around liberal and democratic political values (he gives the example of India, France, Canada and the United States). This is because identity, which facilitates a sense of community and belonging, can contribute to six functions: physical security, quality of government, promotion of economic development , increase in the radius of trust, maintenance of social protection that mitigates economic inequalities, and facilitation of liberal democracy itself.
However -and this may be the book's intended warning-, at a time of recession of liberal and democratic values, these are going to accompany the identity phenomenon less and less, so that in many cases it may change from integrating to excluding.