Francis Fukuyama’s new book, Identity – The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment (2018) is insightful. He teaches us that human identity is rooted in the “third part of the soul”. The first part is desire or preferences; the second is the calculating rational maximizer. The third part was described in Plato’s Republic (381 B.C.) with the Greek word Thymos or spirit – the human need for self-respect, dignity and moral discipline.
Fukuyama’s ideas are compelling because they are based on great, proven historical thinkers instead of the contrived, clouded thinking of today’s “intellectuals”. Martin Luther, Augustine, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, Hegel, among many others, figured out an awful lot about the human condition that modern thinkers simply discard. The sweeping arrogance and willful ignorance of some writers today is mind blowing.
Fukuyama tours the development of humanity’s search for our inner selves, first from religious thinkers, and then via Rousseau’s secularized inner identity. Rousseau was a bad guy, ultimately wrong about a lot, but he did probe very deeply into the relationship between individual humans and society. He provided a launching pad for thinkers like Adam Smith, the founder of modern capitalism.
Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations (1776) argued for the importance of the division of labor and free markets. Before that, in his The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) he laid out the profound connection between economic interests and social status/personal well-being (identity – i.e…..who we really are). Fukuyama’s book makes a vital point that the causality between ideas and material conditions goes both ways.
Was the Great Enrichment driven by ideas or material conditions? Karl Marx, et al, argues that modern ideas were derivative of material conditions (wide spread discontent, oppression and exploitation). Max Weber and Deidre McClosky argue the reverse; that the spirit or moral roots of capitalism started with ideas, which then lead to great wealth (we saw that here on 7/16/18). It goes both ways. Ideas (bourgeois values and work ethic) shaped the material world and then the material world created conditions for the spread of material resource power, which we can pack into our War Chests. Let’s wade a little deeper into the thoughts of Francis Fukuyama next week.