Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Looking at a Distorted Mirror

Written by: on March 23, 2020

Francis Fukuyama is one of my favourite writers in the world of Identity and socio-economic thinking; which, of course, means other people can’t stand his thinking at all. One Irish writer refers to him and an “intellectual Piñata”.[1] Fukuyama became prominent at the end of the 1980s because he displayed a degree of prescience regarding the collapse of communism and the rise of liberal democracy. What made him stand out, was his rather grand claim that liberal democracy would be ubiquitous or omnipresent – all other models had been tried and failed, so, in economic Darwinism, the strongest survived.[2] Perhaps the reason Fukuyama is so respected generally, is that he is something of a Chameleon. Though he is known as an American Democrat, he often leans toward neoconservatism, which is why I have found his perspectives helpful in my thesis on Identity Politics, especially when trying to grasp the nuances of specific partisan positions.

Fukuyama’s latest offering, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, was probably written to address the issues that have erupted in the Trumpian era. It’s a fascinating read because of the way he handles identity politically and personally. For Fukuyama, politics and personal identity are practically indivisible. For Fukuyama, this inseparability comes about precisely because political categories should be naturally produced. For example, a person may choose to become a Christian or join a political-ideological group. However, that same person cannot choose to be a native American, black Christian or a New Zealand Maori. [3] A person is, by nature, gay, Nigerian, British, Malaysian Muslim, or member of the educated middle-class. For Fukuyama, it is only those who are, through ‘nature’ and not ‘choice’, members of a group that can claim the undeniable rights of equal opportunities, treatment and unhindered contribution within democratic governance. However, modern sociologists, beginning with Max Weber, disagree.[4] Fukuyama’s position is a fundamental model of cultural/ethnic construction, but also a convenient as he only acknowledges an objective formation of culture and ethnicity. Professor of Education, Dr Stephen May, claims this kind of thinking ignores the more formative yet subjective aspects of ethnicity and group identity. Belonging is not merely natural. Belonging requires a ‘learned’ language, tradition, and shared story in which multiples of different people may participate.[5] So, it is this political tension between objective and subjective identity formation that underpins and confuses the conflict between historic capitalist economics (the Right) and the more recent identity political reinterpretation of economic socialism (the Left).[6]

Where Fukuyama is helpful, is his unpacking of the political origins of Identitarianism and its roots in neo-liberal economics and left wings catastrophic adoption of it in the late ’70s and early 80’s – once representatives of the Working Class, they essentially became highly educated and disconnected from their roots. Fukuyama suggests it was always going to happen within a globalised framework. Once the economic battle had been lost, the Left began harnessing the voices of minority groups within a globalised, cosmopolitan environment. It started as a positive and new way ahead for left-wing politics but was soon hijacked by the right in the ’90s as they too represented other identity groups – and the chaos began. Simple political and economic ideologies fragmented into minority splinter groups which have become smaller and smaller over time.

Like it or hate is, Identity politics is here to stay. The challenge, like all challenges, is to decide what to do with it. For example, Christians can create a new identity polity for themselves and fervently clamour for their collective rights. Alternatively, they can accept identity politics for what it is, an attempt to make the world a better place. If we take it to be just that, rather than fight against it, we can work with it. As with all things new, the chaos and mess of early discovery and adaptation may, in time and with care, produce a political gift that keeps giving in the decades to come. There is much to learn.

So, what does it mean in Lock Down and the fear of apocalypse? It’s interesting to note that last week’s media discussions about impending Climate disaster and identity political programmes have been completely replaced with an unfolding and imminent global catastrophe – both economically and physically; and it won’t be over any time soon. The secondary economic, social and political consequences are astronomical, and the simple act of living well is going to be at the forefront of the global mind. Death and ill-health have a habit of reconfirming our mortality and realigning what is most important. What I find interesting (is that the right word?) or concerning is how the ethic of self-interest trumps everything, especially when we are isolated from each other. Fukuyama and other economic observers are concerned that our behaviour is driven by survival and social ethics. The less contact we have with one another over time, the more the former trumps the latter. I guess that’s why the writer to the Hebrews said, “do not give up meeting together….” (Heb 10:25). It is a time such as this that creative Gospel Leadership is paramount – certainly in my context anyway.


[1] Vic Duggan (last), “Identity Review: Struggling to Make Sense of the Age of Trump,” The Irish Times, accessed March 24, 2020, https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/identity-review-struggling-to-make-sense-of-the-age-of-trump-1.3704399.

[2] Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Maxwell Macmillan, 1992). 52f

[3] Ibid. 109f

[4] Max Weber, “Economy and Society,” ed. G. Roth and C. Wittich, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968). 398

[5] Stephen May, Language and Minority Rights : Ethnicity, Nationalism and the Politics of Language (New York: Routledge, 2012). 28-28

[6] Ibid. 55-57

About the Author

Digby Wilkinson

I am currently the Vicar of the Tawa Anglican Church in Wellington, New Zealand. I have only been in this role since February 2018. Prior to this appointment, I was the Dean of the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, which made me the senior priest of the diocese working alongside the Bishop. I guess from an American perspective this makes me look decidedly Episcopalian, however my ministry background and training was among the Baptists. Consequently, I have been serving as pastor/priest for nearly thirty years. My wife Jane also trained for ministry, and has spent the last decade spiritually directing and supervising church leaders from different denominations. We have three grown children.

2 responses to “Looking at a Distorted Mirror”

  1. I had a strong feeling you’d take a liking to Fukuyama’s material since, if I’m correct, this is right up your dissertation interest. I liked and enjoyed the book as well.

    You mentioned that Christians can (denoting ability) work with identity politics; or they can create their own. Please give me example of what you mean by both.

  2. Jenn Burnett says:

    I appreciate your read on this Digby. I wonder how much Fukuyama’s hypothesis that liberal democracy would be the ‘end of history’ was based on an assumption of growing stability in terms of health and environment? I also appreciate your comment that “Alternatively, [Christians] can accept identity politics for what it is, an attempt to make the world a better place. If we take it to be just that, rather than fight against it, we can work with it.” I think there is much value in the work of identity politics to offer voice to the marginalized but am troubled when it is elevated above the gospel in the church. I know that is a bit oversimplified as the gospel is in part the task of raising up the marginalized, but it is when that work happens to the exclusion of Christ that I become troubled. How might one lead that dance well? Bless you my friend!

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