In the decades since writing his famous essay “The End of History?,” Fukuyama has explored an often forgotten yet critical dimension of liberal democracy: the desire for dignity. In an ideal world, citizens would ground their identity in their shared humanity. But now, people are seeking recognition in narrow identity groups, based on nationality, religion, sect, race, ethnicity, and gender. Identity politics has always existed, but leaders on the left and the right have exploited the fears created by economic and social upheavals to build political coalitions around particular groups and their demands for recognition. For Fukuyama, this is the greatest threat to liberal democracy. He sees the politics of resentment being expressed by Vladimir Putin in Russia, Xi Jinping in China, and Viktor Orban in Hungary—and, in only slightly less overt ways, in established liberal democracies. As Fukuyama writes, a sense of nation is essential for liberal democracy, precisely because it speaks to the human desire for identity and respect. The challenge is to foster an inclusive and civic-minded nationalism that appeals to humanity’s most generous spirit. Great forces of history are arrayed against that endeavor, so leaders and people across the liberal democratic world must turn it into an active political project.
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