Liberalism and Its Discontents

Francis Fukuyama

My review 2022-10-30

A pretty good text on the decline of liberalism in world politics in recent years. Many of the problems are related to the unintentional effects of policies that have been called liberal, sometimes accurately, sometimes not. Fukuyama defines liberalism as arguing "for the limitation of the powers of government through law and ultimately constitutions, creating institutions protecting the rights of individuals..." Fukuyama criticizes neoliberalism as an economic liberalism that has increased inequality and directly or indirectly caused many of the issues besetting liberalism today. He points out that the threats to liberal democracy comes in different ways from both the left and the right.

Fukuyama discusses the issues of equality, dignity, individualism, diversity and pluralism, and the ways these simultaneously reinforce and conflict with one another. He is refreshingly candid about the difficulties involved in maintaining a society that balances these values. He is scathing about the neoconservatism of Patrick Deneen, Yoram Hazony and others. He expertly analyses the various aspects of identity politics. His comments on post-modern thinking by Michel Foucault and others illuminates the connections with both sides of the current so-called culture wars. The discussion of national identity acknowledges the dangers of nationalism but also recognizes that "national identity is a social construct, and it can be shaped to support rather than undermine liberal values." He thinks liberals should be more proud of national identity when it refers to an open society.

His conclusions for a defense of a liberal society include stating a number of liberal principles, which I do not discuss here; that would require at least an entire essay. The final word in Fukyama's book goes to the value of moderation, a value espoused by the ancient Greeks, among others. The quest for the totality of some value in politics may be most fundamental error of our age.