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This titular indecision reflects another contrast: whereas Spengler’s concerns were genuinely universal, Fukuyama’s are lamentably parochial. He takes the current, often ephemeral preoccupations of the American elite and elevates them into global concerns. Identity politics, which is the US equivalent of what Europeans call multiculturalism, has long been the obsession of the Democrats, who have tried and failed to meet the challenge of Donald Trump with a rainbow coalition of minorities. Their misguided strategy is now coming under sustained criticism from liberal as well as conservative voices, notably Mark Lilla in his book The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics. Fukuyama has nothing to add to this critique.

What he does, however, is to broaden the notion of identity so much that it ceases to have any explanatory power. So for example he tries to explain the Trump phenomenon by reference to the supposed identity politics of white Americans. This is the “politics of resentment”, as opposed to the “demand for dignity” of, for example, the #MeToo or #BlackLivesMatter movements. Fukuyama’s loaded terminology (“dignity” versus “resentment”) betrays his own identity as a tenured professor, the Californian son of Japanese immigrants, and a liberal Republican Never-Trumper. But Trump voters have equally complex and various identities, the most salient of which is probably their aspiration to get on in the world without big government getting in the way. As Lilla — unlike Fukuyama — understands, sometimes economic factors outweigh cultural ones.

Identity doesn’t explain everything. One of the weakest aspects of Fukuyama’s account of identity politics is his analysis of Islamism. To see religion as “a species of identity politics” risks the error of reductionism. Religion can only be fully understood in its own terms, i.e. theologically. The tectonic shifts in Islam that result in political demands, for example for the restoration of the Caliphate, cannot be made comprehensible by comparisons with more secular societies such as the United States.

At the Cheltenham Literary Festival, Fukuyama warned that our focus on identity would transform the West into the Middle East. He blames the Right more than the Left for its emergence. But the problem isn’t identity: it is Western civilisation turning against itself. It isn’t the patriots waving Union Jacks at the Last Night of the Proms who threaten to import the troubles of the Middle East — it is the Corbynistas waving Palestinian flags at the Labour Party Conference.
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