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.
DAVID: Can I ask you on that education question how you would frame this in the terms of your book, which is about identity and identity politics. Because we discovered it with Brexit, we discovered it with the election of Trump, that education, particularly college or university education, has now become one of the big political dividing lines. Is that identity politics? And if it is, what are the identities that are being competed over here between the college educated and the non-college educated.
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 by a framework that includes within it those people whose identity comes from being the perpetrator of acts of violence and oppression, and that, as it were, identity doesn't seem to capture the fundamental moral differences, as you say, which is that for some of the victims of this, this is a history not just of not being recognized, but of being abused. And abuse and recognition are…
FRANCIS: Yeah, definitely. No, I mean the reason that these movements have evolved is that in a liberal society where in theory or treating people as individuals and judging them as individuals, you still actually treat them as members of groups. That's what prejudice is, it’s to look at somebody's skin colour or gender and make assumptions about who they are and how you're going to treat them. And I think what's happened is that in response those groups themselves have kind of adopted that kind of group thinking about themselves—that because I'm a member of this group, I am liable to the same treatment. And it's true in large respects, but it tends to rigidify to a belief that it really is determinative and that if you are a member of this group, you are either uniformly underprivileged or privileged. And that, in a sense, contradicts one of the fundamental premises of a liberal society, which is that we are in fact individuals that are capable of determining our own views and so forth.
DAVID: [25:46] What did you think watching the Kavanaugh hearings—I assume you watched them? Some of the coverage of that… I count the number of articles I've read that are called something like ‘Campus politics comes to Washington,’ or ‘comes to Congress.’ Is that what you thought you saw?
FRANCIS: That's actually a helpful illustration of this. There are a lot of women that watched Dr. Ford testify and their view was, believe the woman.
DAVID: And a lot of men…
FRANCIS: A lot of men thought that as well. There is a good reason why you would adopt that position because women have not been taken seriously when they have been subject of sexual assault. So there is a case to be made for presumption on behalf of a woman that makes that kind of accusation. On the other hand, that's an example, I think, of identity kind of overriding the willingness to actually examine the specific individual case as to whether that accusation is proper or justified by evidence and that sort of thing. What was really striking was that the people who were the proponents of Kavanaugh didn't see that at all. All they saw was a man who had been unfairly accused, who was upstanding, a good family man, upholding the values that they cherish that was being slandered by someone for a simple partisan purpose. And I think that what's distressing about that is that is there is no kind of middle ground between those positions where, you know, you'd actually say, ‘Well, what are the conditions for appointing a Supreme Court justice’ and so forth. People were lining up according to these prior assumptions they had that were, I think, identity based.
DAVID: Your book ends with an account of how we can get past some of these things with forms of identity, including national identity, that might provide that middle ground. But when you look at the contemporary United States, the last couple of months, do you really…
FRANCIS: We’re far from that.
DAVID: Yeah, I mean, what kind of idea of the nation in the current climate would bridge a divide where, as you say, it's not just that people disagree, there is just a deep lack of capacity for seeing the other side at all. It's absolutely a gulf of perspective and understanding.
FRANCIS: [28:05] Well I still think that there is a role for leadership and human agency in here. I think that we've had a lot of politicians, beginning with our president, who have staked their careers on actually making the situation worse by inflaming all of these identity feelings of resentment. Trump's case, you know he's basically a racist that wants to make white people feel threatened, and so he's pushing in exactly the wrong direction. But you don't have to have that kind of politics. You know, that's what Abraham Lincoln did during the Civil War: He wanted to create a new sense of national identity that wasn't based on race. A lot of his rhetoric was tilted towards that kind of sense of a new birth of freedom, that we Americans are now going to have to think of ourselves in different ways. I think right now the bigger threat is definitely from the right. A lot of Trump supporters actually want to drag the country back towards a ethnic definition of what it means to be an American. So I think that there is room for somebody that could stand up and say, ‘Actually no, that's wrong.’ I mean, we actually do believe in this creedal identity, where being American means commitment to certain basic political values and it really has nothing to do with your skin color or who your parents were.’
DAVID: Was Obama not that politician? Why did Obama not get more traction with that message?
FRANCIS: He was. I think that unfortunately there is probably enough underlying racism that he wasn't believed by a lot of the conservative audience that should have been getting that message. It's very distressing to have to admit that. But actually he wasn't the beginning of a post-racial America. I actually think that resentment of seeing a black man in the White House created something of the opposite. But I do think that it's still possible—not just possible, but it's kind of necessary in the future—that you know… for example I think the bigger choice, strategic choice is actually going to be on the Democrats rather than on the right. They've got this big strategic decision whether to double down on their existing identity groups and try to win elections by mobilizing African Americans, women, the LGBT community and so forth, or whether they try to reclaim some of those white working class voters that have been defecting over the years steadily to the Republican Party. And they can do that in terms of a lot of their symbolic actions, for example patriotism. I think one of the unfortunate things is that the Republicans, they've been doing this for some time, they have been the ones that have been trying to monopolize the idea of patriotism. And I think as a Democrat you don't have to let them do that. You can say, we can be proud of our country. And frankly, I mean that's the tendency of a lot of the identitarians on the left is to say well actually our country has got this terrible record of racism and sexism and patriarchy, and you know we don't have anything to be proud of. In fact, that was an issue they came up with, I think it was Andrew Cuomo. Some Democratic politicians said ‘Actually I’m not proud to be an American.’
DAVID: America was never great… isn’t that what he said?
FRANCIS: That's right.
DAVID: Never mind make it great again it was never great. He did back track about six hours…
FRANCIS: But this is not the way forward.
DAVID: But is it either/or? Because you slightly couched it as an either/or that Democrats have to make a choice. This is another...
FRANCIS: They will inevitably have to turn out voters by appealing to those identities. I don’t think you can avoid that but I do think that you can supplement it and balance it with a sense of larger symbols that can frame you know the revival of a single national identity.
DAVID: Because again with Obama, the Obama coalition was that, in a way, that bridge. And the problem was not that people turned out in droves for Trump, because they didn't—turnout was down, it was because Hillary did not attract the Obama coalition. If she had, she would be president.
FRANCIS: [32:17] Yeah…
DAVID: Young African-American men and young women didn't vote for her.
FRANCIS: Part of the reason that she didn't do as well as Obama is that people actually associated her with a certain kind of divisive identity politics in a way that they didn't associate Obama. For example, I mean, there was this very strong stance on her part and among a lot of her most fervent supporters is that she should be elected because she is a woman. And there's this whole subtext within the Democratic Party that she should have been elected back in 2008 but somehow this black guy got in there and stole the election from her. So now the next time around it was her turn to be elected.
DAVID: When you think it's your turn in Democratic politics that's never a good look.
FRANCIS: That's not… that's not good. Basically it's an identity assertion, that simply because I am a woman, I deserve to be the next president of the United States. And so I think that Obama never really made any comparable claim as a black person, you know, that it's now the turn of a black person to be president. In fact he tried to play down race very very strongly in his campaign. But it was much closer to the surface in Hillary's campaign and I think people voted against her as much as they voted for Trump in many respects.
DAVID: Another choice that Democrats face, which has been captured recently as, it's between ‘When they go low we go high,’ and ‘When they go low, we hit them where it hurts’… and it's… this is one of the genuine dilemmas of this this age of politics that we're in, which is when you're confronting Trump or whoever it is, do you fight fire with fire, or not?
FRANCIS: Yeah. I think it would be a disaster to go low when he goes low.
DAVID: Well no one can go lower than him.
FRANCIS: You’re never going to win that contest, right?
DAVID: But it is one of the conclusions that many Democrats have drawn from the Kavanaugh hearings, that they just out toughed us.
FRANCIS: Yeah, I think that if you look back to the Republican primaries, some of Trump's competitors actually tried to go low, and they just ended up looking foolish. Like
DAVID: But the ones who didn't go low also… I mean they all ended up looking foolish.
FRANCIS: Yeah, but, you know, I think you have to look actually a little bit beyond what it takes to just win the next election. You have to think actually about governing, right? And if you win by a scorched earth campaign where you demonize your opponents and you actually increase the amount of hatred and division and then you inherit the presidency… how are you going to actually be able to turn that around and reunite everybody after you've gone low in that particular sense? So I just don't think that that's a long-term, healthy political strategy.[35:02]
DAVID: You don't talk much in the book about the digital revolution and your point, which I completely agree with, is that this is a much longer story and a much deeper story than that. But there is… a lot of people do believe that this has been turbocharged by social media. One way in which maybe it has relates to what you just said, which is it's much harder in these fights, in this climate of instant communication to, as it were, lose the battle in order to win the war. No battle can ever be lost in this climate. That is part of what's driving this, that we don’t just wait for the next election. We've kind of, having lost today's battle, we've got to win tomorrow's social media contest because it's a permanent contest. And that kind of strategic thinking that you call for seems harder than ever in this communication age.
FRANCIS: You know the rise of digital media, it's not just that, it's many other things. So the unfiltered nature of the Internet has really destroyed the factual basis for Americans actually agreeing on a lot of basic things, and I think it's unfortunately going to get worse before it gets better. I mean if you look at this emerging technology of deep fakes, where you can post videos of people apparently making speeches that they didn't make or saying things that they actually never said… There will be a general decline in the authoritativeness of simple factual information because there’s a lot of bad actors that are deliberately trying to promote distrust in what you see and hear. It’s not just Putin, you know, the echo chamber effect is also another one that’s suited to identity politics because you can find across the Internet those people that believe your particular crackpot theory. These are all big problems that we are going to face. I kind of resist this idea that this is the end of democracy, simply because a lot of earlier communications technologies posed similar kinds of challenges. The printing press did this, radio did this, television. And I think eventually the society kind of figures out how to either regulate it, or, you know, right now I think what you need is the return of adult supervision to the Internet. Maybe the Internet platforms themselves will feel under pressure to do this. Maybe people will regain a kind of sense of why it was important to have more traditional media that acted as a gatekeeper. I'm not sure really what the answer is, but I do think that this is one of the biggest challenges that we have to solve right now.
DAVID: In The End of History And the Last Man, democracy on your account, liberal democracy, has two things going for it: It provides recognition and dignity and it provides peace and prosperity. Basically, it's a problem solving device and it's dignity enhancing device. And in this age where, increasingly, problems seem to be either so technically complex that they stand outside of democratic politics, or so globalized and internationally interconnected that no nation state can deal with it… something I've been thinking for a while is that the real challenge is those two things, which are still there, are coming apart. So the challenge for liberal democracy is that the problem solving side of politics is becoming more technocratic, and the dignity enhancing side of politics is becoming more vocal, for want of a better word. And it's the gulf between them, as it were, your 1992 story—it's not that it's wrong, it's just that the two sides of liberal democracy are no longer the two sides of the same thing now. Is that fair?
FRANCIS: No that's absolutely right. I mean, I think that what we've seen over the past decade is that the technocratic requirements of modern governance are really, increasingly incompatible with the expectations of democratic publics. I think the clearest case of this was the financial crisis back in 2008, where you had a bunch of technocrats like Bernanke and Paulson who understood, for example, the necessity of bailing out these large banks. But the possibility of communicating why this was necessary to ordinary voters that were under water because they lost their house and they couldn't pay their mortgages—it's almost impossible to do. And I think that set up the conditions for the rise of a kind of popul… I mean Trump himself was criticizing these big banks, and the impact Steve Bannon, I think if you read him carefully, he was actually quite perceptive in understanding that this was really the beginnings of this whole populist movement that he's hoping to lead. And I'm not really sure how you solve that because you have to have this kind of technocratic input. The answer is not to politicize these institutions because that's going to lead to really bad policy making. But on the other hand, you cannot let the technocrats run things because it just is so out of kilter with the expectations of democratic publics to actually participate to a greater and greater degree. I think this is actually kind of a hidden problem in modern democracy because the reformers that have tried to fix democracy have all pushed in a single direction, which was to more political participation. And I think that that's actually at the root of a lot of our problems right now. So, for example, popular primaries and referenda were manifestations of this urge, both of which have had destructive effects on our politics. Part of the reason the Tea Party is so powerful is because of popular primaries. Most voters just don't care to vote in a primary, and so who votes? The activists, and activists are more extreme than the average voter. Referenda—I don’t need to tell you that this is sometimes not such a great idea. I think that actually the solution right now, given some of these problems that have been revealed, is to try to roll some of this back. But doing that is a loser.
DAVID: And it should be said that Obama, for all his skills, he never managed to explain why he had to keep Bernanke and Geithner in post. That challenge of making technocracy democratically acceptable, I think, was beyond him too. Two more questions if I may. I've just come back from Denmark, where I’ve been talking about the fate of democracy and using your line, or the line that you popularized, that getting to Denmark is, in a sense, the goal of one account of social and political development. And Danes like hearing that, understandably. But Danes like other Scandinavians are really anxious about the state of their democracy, not least because what you described in this book is being played out there too. And I said to them, and I wrote this in a book a few years ago, that in a sense the big question is not why states fail to get to Denmark—we've studied that a lot. But what would it be for Denmark to fail? That’s the big unanswered question. Are you worried about Denmark?
FRANCIS: [42:00] There are real reasons to worry about it. I think that maintaining the kind of high quality social democracy that they've created actually depended completely on their ethnic homogeneity. It's much easier to support high levels of redistribution if you think this is all within a large family. And that's what Denmark looked like. It was one of the least diverse country is in all of Europe. It also helps to be as small as they are. But that's now been challenged by immigration from the Middle East and other parts of the world there are culturally very different. And that's what's led to the rise of the Danish People's Party and this backlash movement against it. And so it's going to be a very very interesting test for them of whether they can actually integrate those newcomers to accept the kind of Danish values that has made their society possible. And the trouble with a country like Denmark is that the culture that binds them together is actually a pretty thick one. I was at a conference on national identity when I was a visiting professor at a Danish university, and there was an American woman who had lived there for 10 years, and said, ‘The Danes will never accept me as one of them because I don’t know which order to eat the dried fish in.’ And so you see that there is just a lot of barriers to really making newcomers feel a part of society. So that’s, I think, what they need to worry about.
DAVID: And it's also an ageing society. It's actually, it's an older society… in terms of just median age, it's older than Britain. So if Denmark fails, because people often think America is the flagship, but on your account, we should be worried about Denmark too. Last question, which is again to go back to The End of History, but also how it connects to now—so I've always been haunted by the image you have at the end of that book that people don’t tend to talk about much, but you said, right at the end of The End of History and The Last Man that you can think of democracy… We’re all kind of pulling in roughly to the same town at different times and at different paces but on the same journey, but it's not the end of the journey and that we may look around and decide that we could be somewhere better and pack our stuff up again and set off for somewhere new. Are we doing that now? I mean, is this… so a lot of this is traditionally couched in democracy is failing because it's kind of falling back, it's backsliding, something it should have left behind. I think a lot of this is new for the reasons we talked about. Should we be more optimistic that some of this is the sort of birthing pains of a of an attempt to actually do that thing you described in that book? Which is to say that this isn't where we have to wind up. We can we can go somewhere else.
DAVID: I'm trying to be the optimisit here.
FRANCIS: I'm not sure that that's actually such an optimistic scenario because there’s a lot of alternatives that would actually make us worse off.
DAVID: Sure, but that’s the price of heading off into the unknown.
FRANCIS: Yeah. Actually some of it is not so unknown. I mean, I think one thing that strikes me about the more progressive parts of the Left in both Britain and the United States is that they’re actually returning to a lot of ideas that were tried earlier and really didn't work very well. So, I’m not sure that’s really a great advantage. I actually would like to see something like you describe…
DAVID: Something more experimental and more… I mean I think the future is so open, and all our democratic anxiety is framed in terms of the past. Like you say, it could be, if we if we had someone new, who knows, right? But it doesn't have to be what we know from our previous historical experience.
FRANCIS: That's right. So if somebody can actually rise to the challenge, for example, of automation, that would be a tremendous boon for the future. And obviously that kind of world is going to look really, really different from anything we've experienced previously.
DAVID: Francis’ book is out now, and some of the things I was talking to him about there are the themes of my book, which I have talked about a bit on this podcast before, How Democracy Ends, but we'll tweet the link to the lecture I gave on that. And it's also true if you want to hear that book that the audio version with me reading it is also available now. Next week, Helen and Chris will be back. Before that we're putting out a special episode this Sunday, a conversation with Ramachandra Guha talking about Gandhi. Do join us for that. My name is David Runciman and we've been talking politics.