Identity politics

End of History Author Francis Fukuyama Thinks Leftist Identity Politics Helped Create Trump

Plus: Why Jordan Peterson may be right about postmodern neo-Marxism.


Panayotis Tzamaros/ABACA/Newscom

In an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education, Francis Fukuyama—author of the much-debated 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man—laments that leftist identity politics provoked a backlash from the populist right, which in turn gave rise to Donald Trump.

According to Fukuyama:

A great deal of modern politics is about the demand of that inner self to be uncovered, publicly claimed, and recognized by the political system.

A lot of these recognition struggles flow out of the social movements that began to emerge in the 1960s involving African-Americans, women, the LGBT community, Native Americans, and the disabled. These groups found a home on the left, triggering a reaction on the right. They say: What about us? Aren't we deserving of recognition? Haven't the elites ignored us, downplayed our struggles? That's the basis of today's populism.

Fukuyama, a former neoconservative who later became a critic of the Iraq War and voted for Barack Obama in 2008, notes that each of these leftist groups is justified in seeking recognition. But the tactic of associating a certain problem with a specific identity group, he adds, can backfire horribly:

The problem is in the way we interpret injustice and how we try to solve it, which tends to fragment society. In the 20th century, for example, the left was based around the working class and economic exploitation rather than the exploitation of specific identity groups. That has a lot of implications for possible solutions to injustice. For example, one of the problems of making poverty a characteristic of a specific group is that it weakens support for the welfare state. Take something like Obamacare, which I think was an important policy. A lot of its opponents interpreted it as a race-specific policy: This was the black president doing something for his black constituents.

I expressed similar concerns when I suggested that political correctness was partly responsible for the right-wing backlash that produced President Trump.

Fukuyama has some interesting thoughts about the campus free speech problem, which he claims is not a full-blown crisis, despite the occasional dust-ups. He also discusses his experience as a student of Jacques Derrida, a French philosopher often lampooned by Jordan Peterson:

Q. You have an unusual background for a political scientist. You majored in classics at Cornell, then did graduate work in comparative literature at Yale, where you studied with Paul de Man. Later you spent time in Paris sitting in on classes with Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida. Any memories from this journey through deconstruction.

A. I decided it was total bullshit. They were espousing a kind of Nietzschean relativism that said there is no truth, there is no argument that's superior to any other argument. Yet most of them were committed to a basically Marxist agenda. That seemed completely contradictory. If you really are a moral relativist, there is no reason why you shouldn't affirm National Socialism or the racial superiority of Europeans, because nothing is more true than anything else. I thought it was a bankrupt way of proceeding and decided to shift gears and go into political science.

Peterson is often attacked for using the term "postmodern neo-Marxism" to describe campus leftist thinking, particularly in the humanities and social sciences. Critics contend that there's really no such thing as a postmodern neo-Marxist, since postmodernism and Marxism are competing philosophies that disagree on a host of things. Fukuyama seems to agree with Peterson.