I am intrigued by dichotomy – good vs. evil, liberal vs. conservative, collectivism vs. individualism, science vs. art. I was fascinated by Baruch Spinoza’s notion that science is a universe of specifics summarized in generalities, while art is a universe of generalities summarized in a specific (a specific painting, piece of music, sculpture or literary work). Some people look at me when I say that and go, huh? But it makes sense to me.
Anyway, Francis Fukuyama’s Identity – The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment (2018) is remarkably stark portrait of a vast number of Americans who are lost moral souls. He explains why they are so alienated in my favorite chapter of his book – Ch. 6 – Expressive Individualism, in which he describes how we are all heirs to historical and ongoing moral confusion – a break-down of moral consensus – an identity crisis and loss of dignity for a majority of humans.
There are two forms of identity/dignity according to Fukuyama:
- The political demand for the recognition of individual dignity
- The political demand for the recognition of collective dignity
The first, individualism, puts equal protection of individual autonomy at the moral center. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) saw individual autonomy as the human ability to make good moral choices. This human right (the recognition of individual dignity) is inviolable because of each human’s intrinsic worth. But the morality of equal rights has moved and is moving philosophically deeper. It’s not just “mere political participation”, as Rousseau wrote, it’s becoming a “plentitude of feeling” – the ability and freedom to fully express our inner selves. It’s this idea of expressive individualism that’s causing so much political discontent.
We are amid a civilization wide shift in artistic and literary sensibilities that mirrors a fundamental breakdown of moral consensus, which was historically based on religion or Kant’s philosophical reasoning. The moral vacuum was filled by Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) in Beyond Good and Evil – On the Genealogy of Morals (1886). He developed the idea that each individual defines morality for oneself. Fukuyama points to the direct line between Nietzsche and the Supreme Court decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992). The Court held that liberty is “the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life”.
Unfortunately, that casts adrift each individual away from a shared morality. Next week, the War Chest wades deeper into this phenomenon.