Ch 1 The Politics of Dignity

There have been fifty years of economic and democratic growth - although the benefits were not equally distributed, everyone's slice of pie got bigger. But this stuttered with the economic shocks of 2008, for instance, and various political reversals. People began to re-examine the consensus in favour of liberal democracy and globalization, and became critical of the creation of an educated 'global elite' who were able to take preferential advantage of the economic order..

A theme of this revision has been a shift towards focusing on the inner self - the authentic individual core - which may not match the assumptions of the surrounding society or political structure. Politics has become restructured to express a desire to see society and the world re-ordered to match this internal self - whatever this may be for each individual. For 150 years the primary political axis of left versus right has been about the control of economic resources. The left seeks to regulate wealth towards greater equality, and the right seeks to unfetter the individual from undue control to permit their maximal financially-creative opportunity. This analysis could, in some ways, align with the internal identity: to ensure that one's identity is the elite beneficiary, or alternatively to ensure that one's identity is not unfairly disadvantaged. However it is too simple a model to describe the urge to have one's identity validated in a broader sense by the surrounding social order.

Left and right are an economist's axis of political structures, but the great movements of modern politics go way beyond economics into the motivations of nationalism, gender politics, environmentalism, religious extremism, and all the other energies that have stirred the political soul of our times.

Ch 2 The Third Part of the Soul

The theme here is Plato's Republic, and its description of the three motivations found within his view of the soul, or psyche. He describes the motivations of desire, and their regulation by the motivations of reason. These two sources of motivation are broadly familiar in Freudian terms as the Id and the Ego. But as a basis for political theory they are inadequate - although economists tend to believe that they are a sufficient analysis. The missing component in this view is the thymos. This is the basis for the judgement of worth, and underlies the ideals of noble actions (however they are judged), sacrifice etc. 

In this analysis Plato does not assume that thymos is equally present in all members of society: Fukuyama uses the phrase megalothymia to describe the concentration of the motivation towards noble action in the aristocracy or warrior classes. The presence of thymos in lower orders is ignored, or irrelevant to Plato's description of the Republic.

Fukuyama's main point here is that thymos has come into focus in modern politics alongside a concept he describes of isothymia - the assigning of equal value to the thymetic motivation in every member of society. Everyone's perception of what is worthy should be equally valid, and seeks to have itself validated by social order and political structures.

He identifies two potential weaknesses with isothymia. One is that the desire to elevate the value of one's own thymos can easily slip into devaluing the conflicting thymos of others. The second is that this concern with the equal value of every individual's thymos has the potential to deny the potential for excellence in individuals: it is as if one may not applaud a concert pianist any more enthusiastically than a rank beginner playing chopsticks.

However, isothymia is the basis of identity politics, whether nationalism, transgenderism, feminism, or religious fundamentalism. Even intersectionality can be a manifesto for a certain domain of isothymia.

Ch 3 Inside and Outside

The modern concept of identity is more than thymos alone: it has arisen from this growing sense that we have an authentic internal identity that is more valuable the outside identity or roles assigned to us by society. This growing sense has been developing for a few hundred years, and Fukuyama identifies it (for example) in the thinking of Martin Luther and the birth of protestant Christianity. Luther's transforming vision was that the inner person was the focal point of God's concern, and the external rituals of the church were not able to touch the needs of this authentic personal identity. Fukuyama describes Luther's theories of identity as being pre-modern, focused as they were on the unique truth and essentiality of the Christian faith, and also backing away from the idea of public validation. However, I am not sure Fukuyama reads this second point correctly, since Luther surely did expect the whole world to validate his analysis of human identity, even if he did not seek personal glory.

In trying to trace the evolution of Luther's internal identity concept towards our current understanding, Fukuyama turns to the writings of Rousseau about the origins of human society and political economy. Although Rousseau anticipated the modern understanding (broadly) of the human social evolution, from hunter-gatherer to agrarian to industrial society, his understanding of the evolution of human psychology appears to be more wayward. In a nutshell, though, he though of pre-social humans as innocent of the desires and motivations we have been describing as thymos, and only the creation of social structures has given rise to these things, with ambivalent or largely negative consequences: pride, greed etc. His conclusion to this analysis is that humans need to move 'back' to a more primitive state innocent of thymos, in a way, by means of discovering our true inner selves which hide beneath the layers of acquired social sensibility.

Whilst Rousseau's understanding of human nature may not be correct, he was surely prophetic in drawing this distinction between society out there and its conflict with the valid, authentic and discoverable inner identity. Just examining the ways in which Rousseau's view of human nature is at odds with (and defective compared with) Plato's, Fukuyama notes that pride cannot be, as Rousseau supposes, a late addition to human motivations. It need not be taught - it seems innate to human experience, and surely was not a creation therefore of human social structures.

Finally, Fukuyama considers how recent this idea of authentic inner identity at war with social prescriptions must be. For most of human history there has been little variation in social condition available to any particular individual. In a such societies each individual's place is constrained by fixed role and hierarchies within a fairly simple range of available tasks in a narrow circle of friends and neighbours. There is insufficient opportunity to deviate to make questions about authentic internal differences meaningful. The vast diversification within society, geographical and social mobility and the availability of printing and now the internet to disseminate ideas all combine together to make this growing model of inner identity a relevant reference. The question "who am I, really?" can now have significant purchase since there is the scope for a vast gulf between the imagined or desired and the external social reality.

Ch 4 From Dignity to Democracy

Fukuyama summarises his idea of the concept of identity as the fusion of three things: thymos, the authentic internal voice, and the demand for dignity - the equivalence of significance that each of us is believed to hold.

In this chapter he discusses the rise of this concept of dignity, which he equates to a recognition by society of the universal nature of moral agency. He traces this back through three historical explorations. The first in Christian theology, especially as seen in the Reformation. The second in the philosophical writings of Kant, and the third in the works of Hegel.

In Christian theology he points to the story of Adam and Eve - their "fall" is their assumption of moral agency. They are now different from the animals, in that they can make decisions to sin or not - but less than God in their imperfect moral decision making. Kant recognizes the significance of moral agency, but takes it beyond the spiritual domain. 'Morality is not a utilitarian calculus of outcomes that maximise human happiness, but the act of choice itself.' In Hegel this becomes the defining centre of the Human Condition. It is only when this personal agency is universally recognized that humans are free from the slavery of their political or social confinement. He saw this as being born in the French Revolution, and the destiny of social order.

Hegel observed that the driving energy of the French Revolution was a struggle over dignity. It was not enough for the inner self to exist, but it must be validated by law, and social structure. ".. A world in which the dignity of only a few was recognized would be replaced by one whose founding principle would be the recognition of the dignity of all.'

Ch 5 Revolutions of Dignity

This chapter begins with a recent account of 'democratic revolutions' in the Arab world and Eastern Europe - the so-called Arab Spring and Colour Revolutions. Fukuyama gives a thumbnail portrait of their origins and motivations, and points out that their aspirations were not necessarily the achievement of representative democracy. Rather, all them seem to about the search for social validation of personal identity: they were, as the chapter title describes, born of a frustrated sense of the lack of individual dignity experienced by the citizens involved.

Fukuyama claims that, in these matters, these revolutions indicate two themes that are common to liberal democracies, even though these revolutions were not themselves necessarily aimed at the achievement of liberal democracy. The themes are freedom and equality.

Freedom is generally the right of individuals to do as they wish with their time and property, and equality usually seen as equal freedom from excessive control and equal freedom to participate economically and politically. Modern liberal democracies attempt to ensure these by creating a capable state bound by the rule of law. The rule of law provides coverage for the freedoms, and equality of political participation creates government accountability, thereby protecting the rule of law.

Liberal democracies are never perfect - there are inbuilt conflicts between the rights of citizens, and natural aspirations within the organs of government to shift the boundaries of their power.So instead these liberal democracies are a dynamic balance, incomplete but continually steered back by the mechanisms of equality motivated by their citizens' aspirations for dignity. Thus this recognition of equality is a unifying characteristic of liberal democracy.

Authoritarian regimes, on the other hand, do not have this state recognition of individual dignity as their heart - they may be paternalistic, or exploitative. But certainly lack this concept that all citizens possess equal dignity. A revolt against this form of constitution drove the French Revolution, and is good insight into the motivations of popular revolts in many other cases.

Ch 6 Expressive Individualism




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