Identity by Francis Fukuyama


An excellent short book on today’s identity politics and populist politics. It ties together history and the present and provides convincing arguments against some recent political movements. I don’t agree with all of his arguments, but I find it beautifully written and I wish there can be more such books both on the right and on the left end of the political spectrum.


It started out by explaining what his previous book title meant – the end of history should be more adequately called “the target/objective of development/modernization”. It then pointed out the idea of megalothymia – the desire to be recognized as superior and he raised the question of whether that desire can be channeled via a liberal democracy with a market economy. Here in this book, he argues that identity politics is a threat to liberal democracy + market economy (which he proposed to be the ultimate target of modernization). He warns against the potential danger of “calling for equality for the marginalized groups” slipping into “calling for superiority”. The value of identity arises from Luther when he realized that salvation is only via God’s mercy, and thus is internal rather than external. He then pointed out that the ability for people to label themselves has increased by a lot once people are free to move around and to communicate with others who are not from their own village. Fukuyama argues that because people internally yearn for conformity, when faced with more identities than was ever present in the history of humanity, people get confused and are lost. He further criticizes the contemporary left that they are 1. Led by a small group of enlightened people 2. Chooses to celebrate an increasingly narrow group of marginalized people instead of building solidarity with a large collective. Another pungent criticism for the modern therapy that he quoted was that the it focuses on fulfillment of the patient’s emotional needs without encouraging the patient to subordinate those needs to those of others, or to some cause other than him/herself. He points out that identity politics has two choices – to unite or to divide. Unfortunately it has been going in the “divide” direction. In the end he calls for using identity to unite and to integrate, which will be the remedy to today’s populist politics.