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Identity Politics and the Crisis of Liberal Democracy

In 1989 the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama proclaimed the “end of history”, alluding to the long-term self-assertion of a liberal democratic order following the collapse of communist rule in Eastern Europe. On March 5 Fukuyama talked about how identity politics are threatening democracies today at the KörberForum in Hamburg.

Has the “end of history” been called off? Which elements of a democratic order are being questioned by identity politics and how do identity politics break with essential elements of modern democratic history? How can liberal democracies defend themselves against the rise of sentiments of exclusion and loss of identity, which are at the basis of identity politics?

In a conversation with Holger Stark, member of the chief editorial board of the weekly newspaper DIE ZEIT, political scientist Francis Fukuyama tackled these questions. The basis of the conversation was Fukuyama’s current book “Identity. The demand for dignity and the politics of resentment”. In this book, the American political scientist relates significant democratic and social developments of the 20th century to current threats, which liberal democracy is exposed to by identity politics from the left and the right.

The core of his argument is that the time in which mainly economic factors shaped the development of democratic communities has come to an end. Instead, an increasing number of people in more and more fragmented societies are sharing the feeling of exclusion and identity loss. This feeling has given rise to populists of different kinds all over the world. Francis Fukuyama argues for a strong national identity and against the fragmentation of society into ever-smaller groups. However, this national identity should not be based on ethnicity. “Equal dignity for all” is an important instrument in the fight for social justice. 

During the conversation, which was organised by the Körber-Stiftung in cooperation with the publisher Hoffman und Campe and the weekly newspaper DIE ZEIT, it became clear just how much the current crisis of liberal democracy is not only linked to challenges arising from globalisation, but also to historical developments in the post-war era of the US and Europe. 

The tensions between populism, power and liberal democracy in the past and present will be one of the focal topics at this year’s Körber History Forum, which will take place on 13 – 14 May in Berlin. 

Find a video of the conversation (in English, following a short introduction in German) here.

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