As crunch time approaches, we talk through some worst-case Brexit scenarios: for the government, for the economy, for Remainers, for Europe. Have the negotiations been a humiliation for Britain? Is the Tory Party facing an existential crisis? And what might go wrong if the marchers for a 'people's vote' got their way? Plus we speculate about what a no-deal Brexit would mean for Britain's service economy. With Diane Coyle, Helen Thompson and Chris Bickerton.
David talks about the enduring influence of Gandhi with Ramachandra Guha, author of an epic new biography Gandhi 1914-194: The Years That Changed the World. A conversation about the politics of protest, the legacy of empire and the possibility of moral leadership. Plus, what was it like having Gandhi as your father?
David talks to the author of The End of History about his new book, Identity. Can 'identity politics' really make sense of everything from populism to #MeToo? Why are liberal democracies struggling to meet their citizens' desire for recognition? And what happened to the end of history anyway? Plus we discuss the Kavanaugh hearings, 'getting to Denmark' and the challenge of an ageing population.
DAVID: Hello, my name is David Runciman and this is Talking Politics. Today we're talking to Francis Fukuyama, still best known for coming up with ‘the end of history.’ Now he's trying to make sense of identity politics. We recorded this conversation a couple of days ago in London, part of our tour of small podcasting rooms. We did this one at The New Statesman. We're very grateful for that. Francis Fukuyama's book is called Identity: Contemporary Identity Politics and the Struggle for Recognition. And he is taking on some of the really difficult issues of today. But I started by trying to make the link back to the end of history and talking to him about recognition. You've been writing about this theme for a long time, let's call it recognition, the recognition of dignity as being a huge driver of how human beings behave. And it's there in The End of History and the Last Man, and in that account, it is one of the great advantages of liberal democracy that it provides suitable channels for human beings’ desire for recognition. And in the last 25 years, clearly it has continued to provide that, but that relationship has become much more fraught, and this book is partly about how fraught that relationship is in various ways. Is it recognition that has changed and what we mean by recognition, or is it liberal democracy that's changed in that 25 year period?
FRANCIS: I think that, in a way, both of those things have happened. And it depends on what country you’re talking about. One of the things that's happened in Eastern Europe, for example, where you've had the rise of populous parties driven by resentment, is that I think the kind of recognition that a liberal democracy provides, which is basically recognition of your rights as a citizen on an equal basis, has become less important because you have a whole generation that has grown up after the fall of communism. And they don’t have the experience of living under an authoritarian regime that doesn't recognise that basic human dignity, and then they can go on to worry about other things like the EU or immigrants or losing their culture. I think that the economic changes that were set off by globalisation has also triggered a downgrading of the status… You know, we've talked a lot about the working class in many rich countries and how they've lost jobs and income. But the problem is that it's not simply an economic phenomenon, it's a cultural phenomenon because when you lose a job, you also lose the status that goes with it, and society seems to be telling you that you're worth less than you were, or your father was. And that, I think, is really one of the drivers of a lot of the populism—that these people feel that they used to constitute the national identity of their country, people like them, middle class people that were hard working and raising families, and all of the sudden, they're seeing that their status has been taken away from them. And that, I think, accounts for why a certain kind of recognition demand has been made. A lot of white, working class citizens in developed countries feel that the elites really don't care about them and haven't taken their problems seriously. So I think it depends on the part of the world as to how it manifests itself.
DAVID: In The End of History and the Last Man, one of the things that you say, and correct me if I've got this wrong, but there was a danger that people would seek recognition outside of politics. You kind of imagined a possible future where, for want of a better word, liberal democracy becomes a bit boring. And one of the examples you give of that is European, EU-style politics. And you say in this new book, you mention Donald Trump—who appeared in that book too as an example of someone whose desire for not just recognition but forms of domination as well—would be channelled outside of politics. Is one of the things… and is it a surprise to you, the extent to which this is all being channeled through politics?
FRANCIS: Well I guess it shouldn't have surprised me. So the argument I was making was that one of the great things about a capitalistic economy is that you can become really big and recognised and still do things that are socially productive. You don’t have to become a Hitler and Mussolini, you can become an incredibly rich business man. But it turns out that these rich businessmen after a while just want to do other stuff. Donald Trump, actually, I don’t think it was that successful… he went bankrupt. Not that socially productive. But, you know, it wasn’t enough to contain his ambitions. Other rich billionaires like Bill Gates actually do things that are productive. So they go and found a foundation to get rid of tropical diseases. But Donald Trump, I think, had a different agenda and decided that political recognition was the one thing that he didn’t have, and here we are as a result of that. So the function of the market economy as a kind of safe zone where you can get recognition has worked in some cases but unfortunately didn't in this one.
DAVID: [5:50] Is it a kind of accident of history that Trump’s desire for that kind of recognition coincided with what you talked about in your answer to the first question, that sense of loss of recognition on the part of large sections of the electorate… is that just an unlucky coincidence?
FRANCIS: It's certainly an unlucky coincidence that he came around at the time that he did. I think it's not unconnected to his earlier career because I think in dealing with construction and running casinos, he was probably in touch with a part of the American working class or middle class that a lot of the elites that live in New York or San Francisco or Chicago really have lost touch with. I mean that's the thing that strikes me about America today is that, you know I live in Palo Alto California, which I’ve always regarded as the bubble of all bubbles. Everybody is rich and well educated and their kids go to these incredibly good, competitive schools. And it's very very easy the way we've segregated ourselves by class to actually not realize what's going on in the middle of the country, or even just 50 miles outside of Palo Alto, you have a very different set of economic conditions and a very different kind of culture. And I think Trump really, in a way, never lost touch with that even though he was living in a stratum that few of us can contemplate.
FRANCIS: Well David Goodhart talked about this right, in The Road to Somewhere. In a sense, the educated become very cosmopolitan and they lose touch with the local identities that working class people have. It is a distinctive kind of identity to be liberal-minded, cosmopolitan, open to different cuisines and people, to travel, and that sort of thing. And I think that that divide is pretty stark with people that don’t have those opportunities or are not interested in taking them. The other thing that I think is really pretty clear in the last couple of years is that resentment of those people that do have the educations and are able to take advantage of globalization is pretty pronounced because I think that there is a sense of cultural superiority on the part of the educated that is intensely resented by the people that tend to vote for populist candidates or causes. So that has become in itself an important cultural divide.
DAVID: I always think the problem with the educated is they’re the one tribe who don’t think they’re a tribe, so it makes them much more annoying than all the other tribes out there. But part of the answer there was captured in terms of mobility. This is genuinely about… and it is always one of the questions, what is it about a college or university education that’s different from what happens to you at school? And some of it is to do with, in David Goodhart’s terms, simply moving away, moving around. But is it also about… because there is a view, particularly I think in the States, that colleges have an inherent liberal bias. And that something that happens in colleges is not just about cosmopolitanism; it’s more political than that.
FRANCIS: There’s no question about that. I mean there is a definite liberal bias in universities. I see that all around me at Stanford where I would be hard pressed to find a single faculty member that voted for Donald Trump.
DAVID: You’ve got Niall Ferguson, don’t you have Niall Ferguson?… not that he would have got to vote…
FRANCIS: Yeah, although he's actually not a Stanford professor, but… actually I'm not a Stanford professor technically either, so I shouldn’t complain about Niall. But there is a uniformity of thought in campuses that I think is rightly criticized because it doesn't reflect the actual diversity of the broader American society.[10:02]
DAVID: Is it an identity? Because one of the arguments that your book has provoked is, aren’t we actually talking about shared material interests? Are we talking about shared cultural background? Are we talking about people who think of themselves as having a shared identity or not?
FRANCIS: Not exactly because I think that one of the characteristics of modern identity is to feel unrecognized and disregarded by the outside society. And I don’t think that that is the situation of most academics. I mean they kind of think that they are the ones that are defining society.
DAVID: Yeah, their problem goes the other way.
FRANCIS: Yeah. I mean their problem is arrogance, you know, the fact that they think they're so important. And I don’t think that there are very many academics who feel that no one is paying attention, people look down on me because I am an academic, or that they completely… I am invisible. It's that sense of victimization and neglect that really drives identity politics that's really absent. So that's the only sense in which I think this cosmopolitanism is really not an identity in the sense of the other ones.
DAVID: One of the complications with the education divide is that it cuts across the age divide. So Brexit revealed that the two fundamental divisions in British society were generational and educational, and that those were bigger—in that vote—than class or gender or income. And age is sometimes a proxy for education because… true in this country, to a slightly less extent, I think in the States… but 50 years ago, basically, almost no one went to university, and now we're getting close to 50 percent. So if you're 65 or 70 and you voted for Brexit, you didn't go to university, but you're also 65 or 70. Is generational politics also in any sense an identity politics? Because that's the one I struggle to fit into this framework. Are the young and the old divided by identity issues?
FRANCIS: I suspect that that's not probably the most helpful way to think about this because very few people identify with their age core. Maybe Millennials kind of think of themselves as a group that has special problems that are different from people that are older than them and younger them.
DAVID: But it's more often non-millennials complaining about millennials. I mean it’s one of those identities that’s much more imposed from the outside, I think.
FRANCIS: In a way they would be justified in thinking of themselves as an identity group because I actually think that one of the biggest social conflicts we are heading towards is age based. Essentially all of the social services in modern democracies tend to go to old people, in terms of health care and retirement costs, pension payments, and so forth. And in many places this is really undermining education and the kinds of services that young people need. So actually there is a real intergenerational conflict there, but I think it's not seeped into people's consciousness. The one thing that you said I think though is absolutely right is that education is the single biggest social division that exists in our modern societies. You know there were two books written in the United States in the last decade, one of them was Charles Murray's book Coming Apart: The Future of White America, and the other was written by Robert Putnam, who's on the other side of the spectrum politically from him, called Our Kids, but they're basically looking at the same data. And what was remarkable is the extent to which it is education, class defined by education, that is the single biggest divide that is more important than gender than race than ethnicity. So among African-Americans, if you have a college education or more, you know, you're actually doing really well. If you are female and you have that education, you're doing really well. If you're Hispanic… So again the class thing has overridden these other identity markers but I actually think that we don’t worry enough about this growing chasm in our society that is really based on a social class and is what's driving a lot of the politics of resentment.
DAVID: [14:06] And looking forward, is the way out of this simply to expand educational opportunity? Because one of the ironies is that we've reached this point with certain age cohorts where we are sort of 50/50 societies—50 percent college or university educated and 50 percent not. And that is politically divisive. 50/50 is the most divided you can be. But as that generation ages and other generations come through with maybe, potentially at least, different kinds of educational opportunities, can you see that what looks like a stark division starts to get a little less stark?
FRANCIS: Well it would… I think certainly that's what a lot of Democrats are hoping in the United States is the case… Well, okay let's back up a little bit. So having a higher level of education is bound to be good for everybody, right? Especially given the job losses to low skilled workers as a result of automation and technological change. I think everybody recognizes that ultimately the best solution to that is to give people skills that are appropriate to this kind of technology-intensive world. So I do think that there will be a continuing emphasis on upgrading skills in education. And that over time is going to lead to a shift in voting patterns.
DAVID: And the hope always is that as people age they will retain—partly because this is about culture and identity—that they will retain political preferences rather than the more conventional view which is when they get a house and a mortgage and a job and a family… at the age of about 40 they flip.
FRANCIS: That's the hope.
DAVID: Do you buy it?
FRANCIS: Well yeah, I think that's an empirical question and you would have to look at it, whether it's a cohort, age cohort phenomenon, or simply a result of where you stand in the age hierarchy because there are a lot of reasons for people becoming more conservative as they become more successful in life. I would hesitate to make predictions about how that's going to play out.
DAVID: There's a very small indicator of this in British politics in the last two general elections where in 2017 where Corbyn did—though he lost—he did so well. And initially it was thought because all these young people in university towns turned out to vote for him in droves. It turned out that wasn't the big shift. The big shift was the age at which people became conservative had gone dramatically up, and it was the sort of 35 to 45 cohort, who would traditionally have been expected to switch, who stayed Labour. And then there are lots of competing accounts about why that might be. Is it the result of austerity? These are people with young children; these are people worried about housing and jobs. Or is it an identity thing? I mean, it's an educational, cultural thing. We don’t know. But that in itself is significant, that 45, rather than, say 38, is now the age at which the term comes.
FRANCIS: And I suspect there are some issues where it actually won't matter what age group you're in. So for example attitudes towards gay marriage, that correlates really strongly with age. And in that case, I don’t really see people changing their views just because they're getting older because I think that's kind of a social value that's become very deeply embedded and there is no self interest in turning against gay marriage just because you're 50 years old. Whereas your attitude towards socialism or redistribution may change if you get a house and an income that can actually be taxed away, you'd have a self-interest in worrying about that.
DAVID: [17:36] One more question on the age divide—because something I've been increasingly preoccupied with is the thought that even since you wrote The End of History, so even in the last generation, the big shift is that older generations now literally outnumber younger generations. We've aged remarkably quickly. And it always used to be said, ‘If only young people would vote, they would win.’ And now if all the young people voted, and all the older people voted, the old people win.
FRANCIS: That's right.
DAVID: And that seems to me potentially a really really big shift in the history of democratic politics going all the way back. And given that some of these are really difficult material questions about pensions… and they’re distributive questions… does not have the potential… that’s the deep conflict that we're looking at here, which is those basic structural questions about distribution now favour the old in increasingly elderly societies. Democracy has an old people bias now.
FRANCIS: No it definitely does. And that's one that's going to get much more severe. The places where this is the most pronounced are in Asia where the fertility rates… Japan, Korea, Singapore… and in fact I've heard a number of Japanese policy people even suggest something like young people ought to have two votes, you know, for every single vote of a older person.
DAVID: Turning John Stuart Mill on his head. You stagger it towards experience, now you stagger it towards youth. But you have it in Europe, you have it in Italy, you have it in Greece. Southern Europe is suffering this kind of really rapid demographic shift.
FRANCIS: And I think that it's very hard to know what's going to happen with this because no society has experienced anything like this previously in history. There have been societies in which a lot of young men have been killed off in wars and others where you get a big population drop because of the plague or some infectious disease. That's kind of a onetime impact. You come back from it. But this one is a prominent one that is likely to get more as severe as biotechnology moves ahead and lives are even longer than they are now. This is something I actually worried a lot about in my book, Our Post-Human Future, because it seemed to me that it would be extremely difficult for societies to adjust to a shift in the age distribution that put... So Italy, in another generation, 50 percent of the population is going to be older than 65, which is historically unprecedented.
DAVID: We don’t know what happens because it's never it's never happened.
FRANCIS: Yeah, so you can imagine a lot of different scenarios, some of which are not very pleasant, because…
DAVID: Some of which are not very good for liberal democracy.
DAVID: [20:55] On a different tact, in the book you talk about Me Too as part of this wider phenomenon. I know some people will think that you're not really comparing like with like, to have a single account that includes sort of nationalist resentment in Eastern Europe and Me Too as it's playing out in North America. This is not the same kind of identity politics at all. Is it?
FRANCIS: Well it's not morally comparable at all because I think that Me Too is really driven by this desire for equal respect, whereas a lot of the backlash politics is really resentment at lost status and kind of an unjust targeting and blaming of foreigners or liberals or other malign forces for one’s situation. What I think is comparable is… well there's a couple of things that are comparable… psychological framing is what led me to make that comparison because I think structurally what identity means is you believe you have an inner source of dignity that that's not being adequately recognized, and the reason you’re drawn into politics is to get recognition for you, or more likely for you as a member of a particular marginalized group. There is a tendency once you frame it in identity terms for the group identification to rigidify and then turn in to something that demonizes people that are not members of the group. This is something… really a phenomenon on university campuses more than out in the rest of society. But just this whole rhetoric about white privilege, which you know is very common in university settings, that white people as a group simply because of their skin color are said to be privileged. And I think that's where you get unjust framing of the problem because it turns out if you think about inequality in the United States, a lot of white people are… you know it's an experience that's not the same as the woman that's under sexual assault or a black person that is discriminated against because of his or her skin color, but your membership in these large groups really does not explain or determine your life situation. So that's where I think there is also a comparability to these other, earlier identity claims. You think about nationalism, nationalism always begins with a claim that's just to some extent, right? So, Germans don't have their own country. They're not recognized, you know, as being equal to other countries in Europe and so therefore we have to in-gather them. But once that happens, it turns into a kind of chauvinism because you've spent so much time building solidarity within your national group, it then turns to hostility towards people that are not members of it. So I think the potential is there for that kind of evolution. But right now, absolutely, there is no moral comparability between a white nationalist and an advocate of men changing their behavior and attitudes towards women.
DAVID: I'm sure some people would think with Me Too or with Black Lives Matter, when you're talking about history of victimization, which includes quite clear acts of violence and oppression, that it's very hard to see what is gained..