Friday, October 5, 2018

The Fantasies of Francis Fukuyama


Rahul Vaidya 
The name ‘Francis Fukuyama’ is knotted closely to 90s triumphant neo-liberalism and its fancies and fantasies about itself. Fukuyama was one of the most astute theorists around to articulate this triumphalism and capturing of popular imagination with collapse of Berlin Wall and end of Cold war.  His arguments could be summed up as The collapse of communism in USSR and East Europe is defeat of the last serious ideological challenge to the march of ‘capitalism, free trade and liberal democracy. Furthermore, other communist countries like China have started adopting the road of market and globalization. Fascism was already defeated in Second World War. So end of cold war is ‘End of History’ of ideological battles’. No wonder he was lapped up by Western capitalist media circuits and championed around as an ideological force/ justification to fall in line for whatever resistance of Left remained and follow the ‘march of history’. Many Social Democratic parties worldwide had adopted this line of argument since the days of Euro-communism to varying degrees anyway; so it was no wonder that New Labor and Clintonite Democrats on both sides of Atlantic happily joined this euphoria. 


There was a catch though. Fukuyama was not the only one who was articulating the fancies of this age of ‘yuppie’ neo-liberal 90s capitalism. There was a dark side to this ‘moon’. And it was well captured by Samuel Huntington in his theory of ‘Clash of Civilizations’. It was a vision of history as a never ending crusade between warring religions and cultures and modern ideological battles of past two centuries as mere blip in this. The euphoric celebration of free markets and consumerism was ridden and riddled with a horror of ‘Islamic Terror’. This horror gradually took dystopic forms and proportions which has in a sense compelled Fukuyama to revise his thesis about ‘End of History’ and tackle the question of ‘Identity’. He recently wrote an essay ‘Against Identity Politics: The New Tribalism and the Crisis of Democracy’ and his book ‘Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment’ has just published. I would stress that this is an important addition to the ongoing discussion about Far Right politics not so much from the point of offering cogent solutions or honest introspections of euphoric neo-liberal/ neo-conservative thought about how their ‘magic tree of free market and globalization bore such evil fruits of neo-Nazism and racist mobilizations’; but rather as a symptomatic reading of how these reflections reveal the structural compact the mainstream neo-liberal/ neo-conservative thought continues to share with far Right politics. 

First of all, it is important to highlight that Fukuyama constantly tries to put forth a ‘linear conception of history’ and seeks to base it in ‘spirit’ or ‘idealism’ of sorts. I would however argue against a popular belief that ‘such linear conception is integral part of European modernity’. European/Western liberal thought developed and achieved hegemony parallel to development of capitalism. This thought often views human history as a constant march of human freedom as basic ‘spirit’ against all odds. This is sheer idealism and often non-dialectical/ pseudo-dialectical one at that.  However, the Marxist analysis challenges this and adopts a dialectical materialist view of history as ‘history of class struggle’. This view neither requires the fictional gloss of ‘spirit’ nor it holds romantic dreams of ‘inevitability of classless society and communism’. Hence it is extremely inconvenient to people who want to reduce modernity to eurocentrism, imperialism, domination etc. etc. 

Fukuyama tries to emulate Hegel in his idea of grand narrative of history as a result of a ‘dialectical struggle’. But his emphasis remains on building ‘grand narrative’ of ‘free Trade, capital and their all encompassing reach is triumphant’ and now locating the causes of the far-Right rising in another ‘grand narrative’ of pop-psychological theories, and alchemy of ancient Eastern/ Western philosophical concepts. It is as if ‘Dialectical Struggle’ is totally anathema for him. ‘Whatever is real, is Rational’ has been the favourite line of Hegelian Right which seeks to provide ideological/ philosophical cover for existing ‘Order’. Fukuyama is follower of this tradition. His journey from ‘End of History’ to present has been to avoid any analytical inspection into what constitutes the hegemony and rule of the ruling class/ ideas and merely to explain their strength and triumph as their explanation. It is a circular loop- in that sense, Fukuyama is nothing better than a significant balladeer of the ruling ‘Order’.  His formulation about identity reinforces that. 

Fukuyama argues that 'Far-Right forces grew out of the 2007-08 economic crisis is not a sufficient justification. Their growth is rooted in larger identity politics’. Either as a part of liberal urges to prove one’s non-partisanship or as a part to push forth his own conservative agenda, Fukuyama tries to blame both Left and Right for indulging in identity politics: ‘Both Left and Right were doing politics based on economic issues during large part of 20th century. Left politics was based on trade unions, social welfare programs, re-distribution of wealth etc. whereas Right wing politics was focused on reducing government intervention in business and markets, to reduce fiscal deficits, tax reforms etc. However, Left politics now is centered on various racial minorities, immigrants, refugees, women, LGBT etc. while Right wing is focused on majoritarian politics and mobilization of dominant race, religion, nationalism etc.’  What is most curious and breathtaking is Fukuyama’s deployment of Plato’s concept of ‘Thymos’. ‘Democracy is victory of egalitarian manifestation of identity (isothymia) over dominating/ superior notion of identity (megalothymia)- and it includes everything: American slavery, civil war, workers’ rights and their struggles, women’s’ liberation etc.’ This is nothing but another idealist laboring to stick every material development to a fictional spiritual code. The politics at work here is pretty obvious. ‘Be it exploiters or exploited, they all just indulge in identity politics- where the ‘group, tribe and its notional insult/ exploitation takes the foreground and the entity of ‘individual’ gradually loses out’. This is a seemingly strict libertarian individualist stance, only adopted to discredit and delegitimize the struggles of oppressed. 

New Yorker’ has heavily criticized Fukuyama for this: ’The whole project, trying to fit Vladimir Putin into the same analytic paradigm as Black Lives Matter and tracing them both back to Martin Luther, is far-fetched. It’s a case of Great Booksism: history as a chain of paper dolls cut out of books that only a tiny fraction of human beings have even heard of’.      
It has further taken Fukuyama to task over his indulgence in pseudo- concepts like ‘Thymos’: 
Fukuyama adopts Plato’s heuristic and biologizes it. “Today we know that feelings of pride and self-esteem are related to levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain,” he says, and points to studies done with chimps (which Socrates would have counted as animals, but never mind).
But so what? Lots of feelings are related to changes in serotonin levels. In fact, every feeling we experience—lust, anger, depression, exasperation—has a corollary in brain chemistry. That’s how consciousness works. To say, as Fukuyama does, that “the desire for status—megalothymia—is rooted in human biology” is the academic equivalent of palmistry. You’re just making it up.
Fukuyama resorts to this tactic because he wants to do with the desire for recognition what he did with liberalism in “The End of History?” He wants to universalize it. This allows him to argue, for example, that the feelings that led to the rise of Vladimir Putin are exactly the same (albeit “on a larger scale”) as the feelings of a woman who complains that her potential is limited by gender discrimination. The woman can’t help it. She needs the serotonin, just like the Russians”.

One is reminded of Lenin’s sharp critique in ‘Materialism and empirio-criticism’ of similar cravings of ‘graduated flunkeys’ to conjure up an admixture of modern science and idealism in service of reactionary ideas and forces on the ground. The actors and locations have changed. The inspirations and political battles have not. Be it as it may. 

Fukuyama approaches the rise of identity politics in an ingenious way. His argument can be summed up like this: 
In 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King and civil rights movement for African Americans, Women’s liberation movements strengthened the battles for egalitarian society and laws. They met with varying degrees of success in legal domains; however socio-economic exploitation and inequality remained largely unaddressed. Eventually movements like Black Panthers etc. grew who emphasized on independent Negro Identity, history and recognition, respect. Their argument was for recognition of independent Negro experience of oppression which cannot be reduced by mere common civil rights but needed a far greater sensitization and recognition on the part of society. Slowly the Left- progressive parties, movements adopted this ‘multi-culturalism’ which focused on ‘identity and its recognition and respect’ rather than ‘common civil rights’- (Fukuyama has a particular objection precisely against this). The post-war welfare state model unraveled during 1970s after oil crisis and problems of stagnation. The Social Democratic parties in the West who had championed this model thus found themselves in a quagmire. They chose an easy way out which was ‘multi-culturalism’ which chose not to address the central issues of economy, inequality but cultural ones of identity and recognition. and as a reaction, the Right wing was forced to respond with majoritarian politics based on race, religion, culture, nation etc.”

This is a very convenient but concocted chain of history that Fukuyama is presenting here. Are we then to assume here that Ku Klux Klan in 19-20th century US, Fascism in 1930s, or even more, the whole racial hatred structural in operation of colonialism- imperialism; are these all were also ‘reactions’ to multi-culturalism of the Left?  If one understands oppression as another form of chess board with black and white chess pieces and chooses to ignore its historical origin, manifestation, and politics; it is obvious which side such understanding is suited to.  

Fukuyama goes further and argues that ‘Leftist identity politics has endangered freedom of expression, and consequently democracy itself’. Why? Because of Left’s excessive insistence on ‘political correctness’- this has resulted in compelling all established politicians articulate in a measured, composed manner. A significant section of people has seen through this sham and is willing to support Trump and his likes for it considers them to speak their mind without succumbing to ‘political correctness’. They view this as expression of authentic self and not bothered with wearing masks’. 

It is funny to consider ‘political correctness’ as source of evil. It is basically arguing that fight for justice is source of injustice. Sensitization of public discourse about race, gender, class oppression involves a tricky relation with language. Language is a theatre through which the hegemonies assert themselves and hence any battle to counter them would necessarily involve an insistence on ‘political correctness’ through which language itself has evolved over centuries. The trouble is Fukuyama is not willing to consider all this. He is also not willing to consider the fact that the ‘sham’, the ‘mask’ he invokes is a symptom of a failure of his own neo-liberal/ neo-conservative thought which dreamed to forge a happy consensus of Left and Right over free markets and consumerism. The irony hence is after 2008 crisis, everyone on that bandwagon is finding their own scapegoat but not introspect their own role in this mess. 

Fukuyama’s one observation is certainly on point: the Right has adopted very well the entire Leftist discourse of anti-establishment, anti-media, social- political system and its partisanship etc. However, his conclusion that ‘Left is responsible for this dangerous game of identity politics’ is a sheer falsehood. 

The most important part of his essay is about the need for democratic society to develop ‘common civil identity’. The euphoric capital during 90s had adopted a liberal stand towards migration and oppression these migrants faced. It changed rapidly after terrorist attacks on WTO towers in 2001 and ‘state should keep a close eye on the citizens for their own good’ became the dominant dogma. The laws became more and more strict. The Syrian refugees influx, ISIS only aggravated the migrant question in Europe. Muslim migrants, refugees, conflict between their religious laws and modern European civil laws etc. became favourite talking points for media and popular discourse. Hizab, women’s oppression, rights of minority communities, fatwas etc. have been familiar pointers for how the national imaginary is captured in the binary of ‘multi-culturalism vs. majoritarianism/ nationalism’ (Shah Bano, Rashdie, Babri demolition etc. have been familiar steps of same process in India) Fukuyama takes a staunchly anti-multiculturalist position and argues for total ‘assimilation’.  ‘The State and civil society should help the minorities to get assimilated easily in the mainstream. The democracy should nurture a ‘common civil identity’ for this- it should be based on common values, and not religion, language, race etc. European countries should make their citizenship laws stricter. Only birth is not sufficient basis for citizenship but learning the language, history also should be mandatory. One should need to take oath to follow and have faith in country and ideals prescribed in constitution’ – this is the gist of what he insists upon.   

He goes on: ‘Leitkultur (leading culture)’ is a cultural identity which recognises enlightenment values and hence should be the basis of citizenship. The Left and progressives should recognize that safeguarding Enlightenment values is their primary responsibility. They should not overlook this primary task in pursuit of becoming multi-cultural as it is ironical that it is the French far- Right which is insisting on preserving the French republican values of freedom- equality- fraternity. American ‘common civil identity’ can be formed through some form of compulsory ‘National service’- be it military service or civilian work like school teaching, environment preservation etc. 

In short, Fukuyama is arguing for Left to root for a ‘common civil identity’ through which it can defeat the majoritarian politics of Far Right. Either it is naivety or cunning on his part. For it assumes that such ‘common civil identity’ cannot be deployed for the Far Right politics. We are very much familiar with our ‘common civil identity’ formed through the experience of freedom struggle- the tricolour, the Charkha, Vande Mataram, ‘Bharat Mata ki Jay’ chant; how all this has been deployed by Sangh Parivar as their monopoly for majoritarian cause to treat Dalits-Muslims- tribals as second grade and suspicious citizens; how Sangh Parivar sheds crocodile tears over common civil code and rights of Muslim women. It is not much different in Europe- US. French ‘common civil identity’ – the national anthem ‘Marseille’, tricolour as the symbol of French revolution- how all this is used by Neo-Nazis as their monopoly and targeting the second-grade citizens/ immigrants in ghettos for whom the principles of freedom-equality-fraternity simply don’t apply. The French Army which went to crush the slave rebellion in Haiti in 1791 encountered this predicament of ideal and reality of bourgeoisie revolutions in a stark fashion: those rebel slaves were singing French revolutionary song ‘Marseille’ upholding the ideal of French revolution and championing human freedom. It then became quite difficult for the French army to fight a war to enforce slavery. The rebellion of slaves in Haiti is certainly praiseworthy and inspiring; what is more important to bear in mind is the fact that even after 1789 French revolution which ended royalty in France; neither the Jacobins nor Napoleon found it contradictory or problematic to send armies overseas to seek colonies, and let those armies sing ‘Marseille’ to force slavery. The entire journey of colonialism to globalization has been to preach the universality of European enlightenment values and adopt them to enforce slavery to ghettos and oppressions. The Far Right today is merely taking this mainstream process to its logical conclusion.    

Fukuyama’s assimilationist arguments appear very much in sync with his neo-liberal/ neo-conservative journey. What is important to note is the fact there are already many voices on the Left who are echoing this. ‘Rockstar Marxist’ intellectual Slavoj Zizek has argued ‘it is of primary importance to safeguard the European enlightenment values. A vast cultural gulf separates the refugees and European citizens and it is important to speak about it. If we do so, only then we will be able to save Europe as Europe’. What is this cultural gulf? Aren’t the refugees running away from ISIS, or other ‘evils’? Are persecution and ghettos part of enlightenment values as common ground so as to club together from Left to Right? These questions do not trouble Zizek as he is in effect invoking the far Right’s favourite ghost of ‘Islamic Terror’. Certainly he distances himself from persecution of refugees by professing the Christian principle of ‘Love your neighbour’. But how this constant chatter of the ‘neighbour’ as ‘complete stranger’ as Zizek indulges in will be useful for their acceptance?  If we accept the Leftist analysis of refugee question as a symptom of real problem of American imperial intervention in the West Asia, and Syria problem as a result of power tussle between Russia-Turkey- US –Iran; then it is imperative not to let our answers slip the slippery slope of ‘identity’ and European ‘values’. Sadly Zizek falls prey precisely to this temptation. 

It is not just Zizek who being on the Left, is at fault here. Even Fredric Jameson- who otherwise is well known for his incisive analyses and Marxist critique of post-modern world, economy, culture; falls prey to this temptation of building a utopia via a certain ‘common identity’. His arguments in the book ‘American Utopia- dual power and Universal Army’ is a ‘Barracks communism’ if we adopt Marx’s phrase. Nationalization of banks & insurance companies, ban on oil extraction, massive taxes on big corporations, universal minimum income, control on media, ban on Right wing propaganda, universal free Wi-Fi, free college education, free healthcare are the usual Left policy prescriptions. The key lies in his solution to the question ‘how all these measures would be achieved- funding wise and manpower wise?’ His solution is mandatory military service for every American citizen. Military discipline for everyone will ensure required workforce and efficient construction of infrastructure. Furthermore, since military is the only arm of the state which has been spared from neo-liberal policy of reducing state expenditure; if everyone joins military, everyone becomes government employee; and so automatically a certain form of socialism will be realized automatically’. This has been quite an ambitious sketch by Jameson and sad to mention, it is totally divorced from historical materialism. The strong inter-linkage between military, war mongering, domination, nationalism, colonialism, racism can break only during revolutionary crises. (The Bolshevik slogan ‘Land, Bread, Peace’ succeeded in Tsarist Russia during First World War, but it was not repeated in other European countries. It was a lonely incident of a united front between soldiers running away from war front, workers dying of hunger and heavily oppressed peasantry). The hitherto Left position against aggrandizing nationalism and military-industrial complex enforcing wars to seek profits has been turned upside down in this romanticising over military in Jameson’s scheme. 

It was still fine if this would have remained limited to academic schema and fantasies. What has complicated the situation is the new narrative of ‘white working class’. A section of Left has indulged in the fantasy that ‘Trump and Brexit represent a certain revolt against neo-liberal capitalist policies. It will be a good reality check for the power of capital. Also, the trade war and undermining of finance capital will result in de-coupling and thereby reversing the globalization and revitalising the national economies’. It is understandable to account for the anger against the process of globalization- neo-liberalization. These processes led to massive outsourcing of jobs from developed countries. Traditional Left parties started to sideline the trade unions as they accepted the diktats of multi-national capital and further, they adopted multi-culturalism to ensure their electoral prospects. The White working class was angered by this betrayal and hence they switched to far Right parties and politics to take back the control’. This has been the broad line of argument. It can be called a classic case of historical amnesia. One cannot and must not equate capitalism with Free Trade. The latter is just a stage in the development of former. 19th century England vouched for free trade but rising powers like Germany and US challenged its power by imposing import taxes. Both free trade and protected trade are parts of capitalism and policy stances adopted by capitalist classes to respond to particular situations. Trump and others today seek to reverse the cycle of free trade back to tariff protected trade. The important consideration there is to widen the gulf between ‘White working class’ vs. ‘immigrants’ and ‘foreign criminals’ to consolidate their xenophobic politics. On the other hand, the global capital opposes it to the extent it wants to safeguard the ‘skilled migrant labor’. Trump’s policies of reducing corporate taxes, encouraging private sector in auto, infrastructure, and manufacturing are clearly out of traditional capitalist right wing playbook- so there are no surprises there. The moot question is how much of white working class will be able to get back their jobs. The capital clearly won’t afford their salaries as these are middle aged, skilled labor. Structurally, automation and artificial intelligence is going to replace this labor more than any other. All this objective analysis is what is warranted of Left. However, if it chooses to merely echo the whining over ‘white working class’; it is choosing to pander to majoritarian agenda of shifting the discourse to racism. It is essentially acceptance of far Right solutions both economically and socially. If one analyses the unorganised, informal labor in developed countries; majority among them will be immigrants and refugees. It is sad that the ‘nationalist’ Left championing Brexit has forgotten its class solidarity with these workers. The working class- which is described as ‘part of no part’ can be truly identified with these informal immigrant workers only. These workers are facing dual assault- economic and social. And the Left which so far stood in solidarity with them has now abandoned them in running after the mirage of ‘national revival’ and ‘taking back control’. One is constantly reminded of National Socialist camouflage adopted by classical fascism of 1930s onwards which champions workers without ‘working class politics’ and eggs them to articulate a xenophobic ‘national unity politics’ from the front. 

If sections of Left are in such sorry state, the Social Democrats are no better. Fukuyama’s critique of their sham of multiculturalism is justified in a different sense in that not because it is multiculturalism per se but their use of it to make up for the compromise they reached with neo-liberalism. What is more, they have added a new trick to their trade. If Far Right is gaining, one would have expected these parties to honestly acknowledge that their adoption of neo-liberalism was wrong and would then chart out a different path for socialism. But instead of all that, they are merely interested in raising the ‘bogey’ of ‘Fascism’ and morally blackmailing others on the Left to join the ‘United Front’ under their stewardship. 

In short, ‘raising the bogey and crying foul’ has been a favourite pastime of liberalism in which Fukuyama & neo-conservatives, European Left and Social Democrats have been happily indulging in so far. However, the real radical question is recognizing that ultra-Right fantasies of the day involve both ‘national revival/ conservation’ and ‘neo-liberal consumerism’ and how to traverse them. Which is the class benefiting out of this fantasy is the real question worth asking again and again. How to preserve international working class and class solidarity is a matter of real reflection. In a sense, ‘class’ is the only material ‘common civil identity’ and it can be strengthened only through movements and struggles. It is futile to run after old or new tricks and fantasies of ‘national identities’. 

The Author is an Interdependent Researcher based in Delhi 



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