Nicholas DIMA, PhD*
Rezumat. Liderii politici şi în special candidaţii care aspiră la diferite posturi publice sunt preocupaţi până la obsesie de analize şi sondaje de opinie care să le asigure victoria electorală. Întrebările de bază ale sondajelor sunt: După ce criterii votează alegătorii? Ce urmăresc diferite grupuri sociale? Cât de importante sunt componentele economice, etnice sau culturale? Analizele sunt complexe şi răspunsurile nu sunt deloc simple. În ultimii ani, politologul Francis Fukuyama şi alţi analişti contemporani au încercat să dezlege aceste enigme.
Cuvinte cheie: Thymos, Isothymia, Megalothymia, Dignity, Progressivism, Correctness
Fukuyama is a prolific American writer of Japanese origin who wrote several books on the evolution of politics. The titles of his works speak volumes: The Origins of Political Order, Human Nature and Social Order, The End of History, or America at a Crossroads. In his endeavor he is trying to understand man’s nature and social organi-zation, to discern present political trends, and to offer some ideas about the future.
His latest book is titled Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018). The book copes with the current political trends and starts with the exploration of the human soul. The author combines a number of disciplines from psychology and philosophy to sociology and political systems. This is a new stage in trying to understand the link between individual behavior and social organization in the era of globalization and democracy. The foregone conclusion is that in a world of huge diversity in which each individual wants to express his own identity, there is little left in common to hold the society together. The result is that democracies can no longer unite everybody resulting in polarization, confusion and the uncertainty.
Fukuyama begins his study by explaining the meaning of some old Greek words that are still used in psychology: Thymos, for example, is the part of the soul that craves recognition and dignity; Isothymia means equal recognition for others; and Megalothymia is the desire by some people to be recognized as superior. People crave all of them. The desire for recognition, for instance, takes many forms from craving for fame and riches to pursuing political ambition…
From a political point of view, the current Western systems are driven by two forces: conservatism, expressing old nationalism and religion, and liberal democracy, defined somehow vaguely and in rather utopian terms. Each of these trends gathers many small groups and individuals, but too many times they have little in common. Thus, today’s world of diversity and multiculturalism no longer fits the traditional religious beliefs or classical Marxist trends. One important conclusion is that human psychology is very complex and defies any model. From an economic standpoint, as an example, people are more than consumers and seek more than material goods; they want personal recognition. In fact, some writers began to introduce in their thinking the old dichotomy between the material and spiritual sides of man. At long last, it is admitted that the innermost identity of any person is spiritual.
People want to be recognized for their inner worth and for what they really are! Question are: Who are we? What is a human being? Who am I? Answering is not an easy task. Our inner ‘persona’ is like a body covered by many layers of ‘cloth.’ Alle-gorically speaking there are winter cloths; there are light autumn and summer cloths; and there are… skimpy trunks and bikinis. They represent various necessities, are functional, or are simply ornamental items. Accordingly, people have strict material needs, as well as desires, dreams and aspirations. Humans express themselves differently at different levels.
Economically, people identify with similar social groups. Politically, they identify with those that have similar ideals. Culturally, they identify primarily with their ethnic kin and more intimately with their family and clan. Current diversity, however, prevents the possibility of forming governing majorities. Who are we then and what do we have in common?
Traditionally, Christianity shed light on this subject, but the modern world has separated the church from politics and now is searching for universal values. What are those values and who or what is defining them? Is it nature, nurture, or both of them? Looking for answers, Fukuyama cites ideas from Rousseau, Luther, Kant, Freud, Huntington and others, but finding the right answer is elusive. There is a consensus though that personal dignity is best served by an ideal democratic system, but where is that ideal? Also, it is often forgotten that democracy is a rather elusive concept. What does political democracy mean without economic opportunities?
The debate about the meaning of democracy is often discussed by journalists and political analysts in the United States, especially around elections. Recently, some journalists criticized both the Republican and Democrat parties for dividing the electorate mechanically and by appealing for their votes accordingly. Minorities, for example, such as black or Hispanic Americans, do not always vote for the left-leaning Democrat party as many politicians expect, while many white people do not vote automatically for the Republicans. Some of them vote their consciousness and this is more difficult to understand and to address.
During the 2020 presidential election, for example, the Republicans expected to win Arizona and Nevada, two states with sizeable Hispanic minorities. The job market had improved in recent years and the economy was doing well. Thus, the Republicans expected to win the Hispanics, but they lost most of their votes. It is obvious that once people cover their basic economic needs, they go deeper and search their souls. And the general perception is that the needs of the Hispanic Americans are better served by the Democrats. Thus, ethnicity and nationality often bypass economic interests in politics.
Old-fashioned nationalism and traditional religion are two important forces that continue to shape today’s politics. Religion may be on the retreat, but nationalism and spirituality, as opposed to atheistic globalization, are on the rise. It is worth remembe-ring that Karl Ritter, a German scientist of the 19th Century, thought that a divine will created the earth as a school for man to evolve from barbarism to spiritual greatness. Yet, how much have we, individuals and nations, evolved?
The new world appears to be moved by a search for personal identity, individual dignity and social status. We all want to be recognized and respected. At the same time, collective identity is still expressed at a national level and is driven by nationalism, religion and by other cultural traits. That also implies an old trap: We versus Them! This trap often implies conflict, violence and even war. The recent dismemberment of former Yugoslavia is a case in point. Can our modern world avoid this trap?
Trying to better understand the relationship between individuals and politics, Fukuyama cites a study done recently in California. The poll asked: how best could people be represented in politics? According to many respondents each human being has an innate worth. Expressing this inner self is the goal of all men. But are all men good? The same study admits that some people are cruel, violent, dishonest and socially irresponsible. Should the society esteem such individuals? Should such individuals be allowed to develop and express their destructive capabilities? What universal values should we then adopt? And the confrontation between the old right and the new left is still on.
Conservatives cling to church, religion and spirituality. Secular societies and atheists invoke the idea of human rights. Nothing wrong with such rights, but human rights is a kind of new religion without any God and is promoted by the left. In the contemporary climate the new left has changed its tactics. It moved from economic class struggle to cultural struggle and from old Marxism to the newly-invented term of progressivism. Yet, the new trend rejects all together the traditional values of the West and it assails continuously Christianity. In this regard, the new left has actually reversed Christian moral values. And the left also found a new tool named Political Correctness…
On the other hand, the internationalists also argue that national identities are obstacles to global cooperation and need to be replaced. Question is how to replace them and by what other values? It is worth reminding that the old USSR tried for seven decades to create a Soviet identity, but it failed. No wonder! It took centuries or millennia to forge a nation. It will take a long time to undo it.
Diversity adds spice to the world, but current narrowing identities and ever growing diversity threaten collective action and social life. This trend is most visible now in Western Europe and the United States. The American sociologist Samuel Huntington named one of his books: Who are we? And he answers that America was traditionally defined as a people sharing religion, ethnicity, language, and commitment to principles of democracy. However, the current centrifugal forces are reducing America to the last two creeds: English language and democracy. What kind of America will there be if the present trends continue?
Fukuyama also indulges into a good theoretical debate about Europe, but offers no real solution. In the long run Europe may acquire a new identity, but it is far from reaching it. Europeans may agree on common principles of government, but unlike America, they do not share a common language and different nationalities are deeply rooted in their native lands. And in addition, the left does not want to acknowledge the only one thing that all Europeans share: Christianity. Given the large number of foreign immigrants, little wonder many Europeans are back to nationalism.
In concluding, trying to define and to combine individual aspirations and political trends is like entering a forest where one can see and analyze every tree and every branch, but can no longer see the forest. And the forest is the nation. It is our language, our culture, our shared values; it is what keeps us together. Through nation-states we have a workable world order. The idea of merging humanity into a collective human race is utopian. For now as individuals, we can be many things, but above all we are: Americans, Romanians, Germans …
* Nicholas Dima, PhD, Retired Professor, USA