BOOK REVIEW: IDENTITY: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment
By Francis Fukuyama. Pages: 240 pages.
Identity is a fundamental human desire to belong to a group and be valued for the same. But as argued by Francis Fukuyama, Identity is one of the crises we face today in our world. Identity is used to divide societies, categorise them into small units at odds with one another; in other words, identity is what prevents us from building coexisting communities. So do we need to abandon identity altogether? Fukuyama says we need to create broader and more inclusive conceptions of identity by building strong national identities to reduce social tensions.
To grasp what really could be the solution to the negativity that identity comes with, let us explore why we need to be identified with a specific group. According to the five hierarchical needs of humans by Abraham Maslow, we need safety, self-esteem, love and belonging. The need for recognition, respect and worthiness drives us to the need to be associated with a group. This belonging also provides us with a sense of safety from the injustices or aggressions from other groups.
This reality goes as far back as to the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. For instance, the great philosopher Socrates associated this need for our yearning for favourable judgments about our worthiness and dignity, which is part of our souls: thymos. He identified three parts of the human soul the first one being our desires, such as thirsty and hunger. The second part is the inner voice that compels us to keep away from rotten meat even though we might be hungry. The third part is thymos or the need for dignity and recognition from other people. The last part is what dictates today’s identity politics, our tendency to form political tribes or alliances based on either ethnicity or membership to a particular group to fight for dignity and recognition.
The modern concept of identity stems from individual rights to collective communal interests. For example, the author takes the instances of France’s revolution where people demanded that the elite class recognise the fundamental dignity of ordinary people without discriminating them on race, gender or class. These demands result in two types of identity politics; which are individualism and collective groups. When the revolution demanded individual freedom of expression and the right to equality in the face of the law, they also demanded that the dignity of collective groups be protected and respected as well.
The revolutionaries then proceeded to have one nation and defend their new republic from outside invaders. That is an example of how individual and group desires can be promoted to create broad collectives of people who share common interests and defend one nation which in return respects and protects their freedom and dignity as individuals and groups. If we rethink our concept of identity, we can scale it up to national levels to create patriotism and love for one nation because once individuals feel equal in their countries and get recognition and dignity from the communities, we might not be forced to belong to a group that fights for the same. The author concludes with the necessity of societies agreeing on primary common culture and build on that to broaden their identity to the national level if they fail communities will break down; every group or tribe becomes self-serving and protective of their interests, and the country as a whole ceases to function effectively.
Fukuyama identified problems of identity but only offered theoretical solutions rather than practical ones. For example, he did not provide hands-on experiences from other nations or his expertise in how societies can Follow to address identity born crises. Otherwise, the book is excellent, and I highly recommend communities searching for different opinions on how to overcome identity politics.
Review Contributed by Hassan Abdulle.