Exclusive interview with Professor Professor Rodney Bruce Hall
Rodney Bruce Hall is Professor of International Relations in the Department of Government and Public Administration at the University of Macau. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Pennsylvania, an M.S. in Physics from Miami University of Ohio, and a B.S. in Physics from the University of Iowa.
Professor Hall is the author of Central Banking as Global Governance: Constructing Financial Credibility (Cambridge University Press, 2008) and National Collective Identity: Social Constructs and International Systems (Columbia University Press, 1999), and co-editor of The Emergence of Private Authority in Global Governance (Cambridge University Press, 2002), as well as a Festschrift for Friedrich V. Kratochwil with Palgrave.
His most recent book is the edited volume: Reducing Armed Violence with NGO Governance (Routledge, 2014). Professor Hall has also authored numerous book chapters and articles in journals including Global Society, Harvard International Review, International Organization, International Political Sociology, International Relations, International Studies Quarterly, the Journal of Contemporary Politics, the Journal of International Relations and Development, Security Studies, St. Antony’s International Review, and the French Journals L’Economie politique and Alternatives Economiques.
Prior to arriving at the University of Macau, Professor Hall taught at the University of Pennsylvania, Brown University and the University of Iowa in the United States, and most recently taught for 10 years at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. He has served on the editorial boards of International Studies Quarterly and Oxford Development Studies. He currently serves on the editorial board of the journal Rising Powers in Global Governance, and the International Advisory Board of Review of International Political Economy.
Liberalism has ignored the issue of identity, believing that identity is not an important issue in politics, but rather a matter of economic welfare policy for citizens, and if governments can resolve people's economic welfare, then the problem of identity does not matter. What is your assessment of this?
I find the question to contain factual errors as I understand liberalism. First we need to distinguish between political and economic liberalism. The French Enlightenment philosophes explored and advocated a doctrine of political liberalism and individual freedom. Here read Montesqiueu, Rousseau, Voltaire, Condorcet, d’Alambert, Diderot. The Scottish Enlightenment philosophes explored and advocated a doctrine of economic liberalism, capitalism and the advantages of private property. Here read Hume, Smith, Bentham, Mill, Ricardo. The fusion of these schools of thought we tend to reduce to the phrase “liberal democracies” as they tend to be liberal in both the political and economic sense, and tend to spawn democratic republics, and non-authoritarian capitalist economic systems.
Fukuyama has often expressed frustration that a lot of confusion regarding these concepts comes from a misreading, or perhaps failure to read the later chapters of his 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man, where he expressed concerns whether liberal democracies can accommodate an innate human desire for recognition of their self-proscribed identities.
I find that Fukuyama is a lot like Marx and Weber in this context. Everyone cites all of them, but no one reads them. I read Fukuyama’s concern as that while he acknowledges and celebrates the fact that liberal democracy can deliver both prosperity and peace, those blessings might not be enough for some people, who may insist on public recognition of a particularistic form of identity important to them. These can include gender, ethnicity, culture, sexual preference, and lately in the West even transgendered identities.
Fukuyama, in my reading, argues that liberal democracies require some form of “creedal” identity that serves as a basis for a coherent society with a common civic values and a common future. In the context of Western liberal societies can rarely be based on a shared religious or sacral creed, because religious belief tends to be a private matter in ethnically and religiously diverse societies. But a shared civic creed is required for “we” to become and remain “us.”
In the United States this has always come from a shared history, a shared allegiance to a brilliantly designed and durable constitution, and a sense of civic nationalism based upon these, and shared sacrifice in meeting external threats, rather than based elsewhere on a sense of shared ethnicity, culture, or language, as Benedict Anderson has argued. I would argue that the enormous domestic peace and prosperity that liberal democratic republics generate simply gives quite spoiled denizens of such nations, largely free from anxiety about physical or dire economic insecurity, the luxury of indulging in the more parochial forms of identity politics. I have no fear for the Republic on the basis of these identity spats. None of these parochial identities enjoy any transnational salience.
At present in human history, at least in the West, no form of collective identity has trumped “national collective identity.” I wrote a book published in 1999 by Columbia University Press by that title explaining this, and the reasons why. In 1914, the socialists marched. They put on their uniforms and went to the front with everyone else. When facing an external threat, Americans (and Europeans) have always left politics at the water’s edge. I don’t see how gender, or ethnic, or any other form of minority identity is going to change this in such wealthy societies.
Francis Fukuyama, best known as the author of The End of History and the Last Man, now says that identity movements have threatened the liberal democracy system in the world. This theory holds: Although the phenomenon of “identity politics” first emerged in the Left, it was more powerful on the right than can be seen in Donald Trump's election and British exit from the European Union. Why Fukuyama is worried about Trump and Brexit’s emergence and views them as damaging to liberal democracy? Indeed, why is Fukuyama worried about liberal democracy being harmed by identity politics?
A: I don’t happen to agree with Fukuyama if he truly believes that populist victories in U.S. and U.K. political contests damage or even threaten liberal democracy. I think that Fukuyama and many others simply don’t like particular recent results of election and plebiscite processes that functioned quite effectively as both liberal and democratic, and rendered a verdict from common working people that many political, media and academic elites don’t like.
In democratic societies it is customary to respect the “rule of law” by respecting the results of elections and plebiscites. A competent political strategist might argue that the way to avoid more electoral defeat is to learn to address the concerns of people who did not vote for the array of elites presented to them by the politicos, rather than denigrate them as bigots and mental incompetents who know not what they do.
A competent social scientist will be curious about the social and economic, domestic and international sources of large-scale populist social and political upheaval. This should be so particularly when those supporting populist political change are among the vulnerable, rather than the elite members of Western society. Excoriating them for their failure to share elite visions of a defensible social and economic order that they feel is not working for them is not social scientific analysis of the sources of their grievances. It is more akin discursively to the ancient practice on the battlefield of bayonetting the wounded. I submit that this is a tawdry practice, from which we can learn nothing. Let us instead analyze this social phenomenon, and learn its sources.
I can’t help notice that there seem to be two Fukuyamas, the one whose books I read and the one who speaks to audiences about what his books say. I tend to rely on the chap who wrote the books. When we write there is not one there to interrupt us. When Fukuyama writes, he seems to wave his hands at fears about nationalist lurches to the far right, while reserving most of his criticism, to my reading, of the fractious identity politics of the left. It is fractious to the extent that it tends to hyphenate our “Americanism.”
Fukuyama seeks to address the shortcomings and failures of liberal democracy. For example, liberal institutions such as NATO do not have a good status and Trump does not value it such as World Trade Organization. Why is Liberal Democracy not working properly and having a crisis?
I fear that to answer coherently I will have to reformulate everything written and implied in this question. First, it is simply a factual error to argue that NATO is a liberal institution. It is a military alliance among liberal states, a collective security arrangement whose purpose is to deter external aggression against any member, and to destroy the armed forces of any external aggressor should deterrence fail. Second, I would argue it is also a factual error to assert that the current US administration does not value NATO.
The US maintains troops in forward positions in the Baltic States, Poland, Romania and elsewhere. Any force invading these countries with military force cannot avoid killing forward deployed American troops. If you do that, you are automatically and instantly at war with the United States. That has not worked out well for most people who have tried it.
The WTO is not valued largely because Americans and Europeans both believe China has gamed the dispute resolution courts, packing it with representatives of countries hostile to Western interests or beholden to China. The WTO cannot work properly under these conditions, so the current debate in Washington is whether to try to eject China from the WTO, or whether the U.S. should simply leave the WTO, and hope to bring Europe with it. Since Washington puts little faith in Chinese assurances, remaining in the WTO with China remaining as well does not appear to be a viable option.
Neither can I take seriously any talk of a “crisis of liberalism” or “crisis of liberal democracy.” Normally such an assertion comes from academics attempting to drum up “the next big thing to talk about,” similar to “the end of history,” or Western policy wonks irritated that their advice is being cut out of the decision making process by populist governments. Otherwise such shocking phrases come from various mouthpieces for “illiberal” governments, people who either speak for, or owe their positions to illiberal governments, who are engaging in wishful thinking.
I think the rise of populist movements, especially populist movements featuring a nationalist message, connotes a crisis of multilateralism, a crisis of supra-nationalism and another crisis of multiculturalism in the West. I think most social and political analysts, including Fukuyama, would profit more by assessing how political leaders might mitigate economic and cultural anxieties expressed by populist movements in the West, rather than bemoan them or express alarm. Where is it written that the democratic judgements of the public must deliver the socio-economic preferences of elites?
The neoliberal global order as well as the European Union are both elite driven projects. Their consequences have been quite harsh for working people in the West. The Bretton Woods economic regime put together after the war to restore a liberal economic order was, per John Ruggie’s famous formulation, an “embedded liberalism.” Following Karl Polanyi Ruggie noted it was a compromise between the requirement of a liberal economic and trading order and a need to provide domestic employment and wage protection for national citizens.
That “embedded order” is now well gone, replaced with a much harsher neoliberal order that exposes Western workers to the harshest consequences of a hyper-liberalized global economy. Liberal elites in the U.S. want an open southern border. Populists and conservatives argue that this is because they don’t like what they would have to pay for labor without immigration of unskilled labor, and they rely on immigrant votes once the immigrants gain voting rights, to remain in power.
Meanwhile the EU has imposed harsh austerity on European debtor nations, the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) countries, trenching out just enough credit from a troika of the IMF, European Council, and EFSF (European Financial Stability Fund) to ensure other EU countries don’t pick up the tab for these debts. It’s been a holocaust for young people in these countries, and resulted in a significant brain drain of the best educated out of the country, and high youth unemployment for the rest. Since Germany, with the help of France, bullied the rest of the EU to admit a couple of million Syrian refugees to Europe, cultural anxiety and discomfort has been added to economic anxiety for people who feel culturally confronted in their own communities. They want limits on immigration by people whom they feel despise their European culture and values, even while living off of the produce of their taxes.
What many working people regard to be excessive Hispanic immigration into the U.S. has generated similar cultural disorientation? What some scholars have called “progressive neoliberals” (Wall Street, Silicon Valley, Hollywood types) have pushed the neoliberal agenda, which has enriched people like themselves. National elites, particularly of the center left, have scooped up their campaign contribution cash and implemented the agenda. This has left working people in the West alone with the consequences for their employment, wages, and as Fukuyama in his newest book quite presciently identifies, their social standing and sense of self-dignity. Working people want their government to look out for their interests first, and this entails an aversion to multilateral decision making.
These combined crises of multilateralism, supra-nationalism and multiculturalism are all three crises in elite driven projects in the West, and are crises that neoliberal and “progressive neoliberal” elites have brought upon themselves. Populist results of democratic election constitute functioning democracy in action, not a crisis of democracy, nor of liberalism per se. Nationalist populism is only a “crisis” for people who have lost power to populists, and people in the media and among the intelligentsia whose policies the populists have discarded.
Is liberal democracy able to address the issue of identity politics and consequently identity movements?
Yes, and it can do so quite simply. First, by heeding the voice of the public and providing those who have felt ignored what they request, particularly decently paid domestic employment and protection of this employment and its wages. Providing them with the blessings of peace might also be helpful.
In this context, it is possible that Fukuyama set aside his neocon credentials when he saw the catastrophe of instability that the Second Gulf War created, as well as the barbarism that filled the resulting power vacuum. Any realistic appraisal of US energy needs suggests that the U.S. has limited need for access to Middle East oil. With the advent of new technologies, the U.S. could be energy self-sufficient, particularly as the U.S. auto industry moves rapidly toward electric vehicle production.
Propping up regional oil magnates is a poor use of the lives of the sons of working American families who bear the brunt of the sacrifices to act in the region militarily. The United States has no compelling national interest in toppling the genocidal regime that rules what is left of Syria. The United States suffers no compelling loss of strategic position when it redeploys troops that are quickly replaced by Russian troops who proudly move into position to defend the squalid little dictatorship in Damascus that today largely rules over a vast graveyard.
Putinism in no way threaten liberal democracy. Those outside of Russia do not need a vozhd (papa figure), and do not respond well to those who wish to so posture. Contemporary Russia is organized, and functions, more like a syndicate than a state. Mafia’s do not beckon the global masses to their leadership. Without any discernable ideological program that can appeal to citizens of democratic republics, and with a rapidly declining population, Putin’s Russia is more a gadfly, generating minor annoyances, than a serious threat to the West.
What these demands add up to are the peace and prosperity that liberal democracy is supposed to provide to its citizens. Working people in the West have indicated that they do not believe that it was being provided by the political classes, so they voted for populists who promised to provide it. In a liberal democracy the people are sovereign, and they ultimately going to get what they ask for. Their leaders are their servants. Woe visits any politician who does not believe that.
Not long ago, Fukuyama, in an interview with New Statesman, revisited the hypothesis of "The End of History and the Last Man" because of some of the weaknesses of liberal democracy, such as a weakness in the creation of a common identity, the world needed socialism to return. Is Fukuyama's talk about the return of socialism?
More wishful-thinking, but by whom I could not say.I don’t have a twitter account.While I have been privileged in my life to meet and to know many people who are brilliant scholars and prescient thinkers, I have never met anyone whose thoughts I would wish to receive 24 hours a day seven days a week, on any topic.But for those who “twitter” I found a “tweet” by Fukuyama stating clearly about the New Statesman interview, on 21 October 2018, at 1:21 a.m. for those to whom it matters…“Just to clarify, what I said was that left-wing populism ought to have made a comeback after the 2008 crisis, but what we got instead was right-wing identity politics. I am in favor of social protections, not socialism.”
Fukuyama was a student of the conservative University of Chicago scholar Alan Bloom, and is steeped in the study of ancient Greek and historical Western political theory.These are the thinkers whom the multiculturalist left in the West dismiss as “DWEMs” (dead white European males).People trained as Fukuyama has been trained do not end up embracing socialism.I think Fukuyama’s point, now that I have quoted him properly for his intent, is that had the center left in the West not completely abandoned Western workers to the damaging gales of neoliberal economics, then they would not have been in their turn abandoned by the working class voters in favor of populist political entrepreneurs.Fukuyama appears to have expected to see a leftward populist movement in response to the harsh consequences for Western workers of the 2008 financial crisis, (welfarism perhaps) rather than a rightward populist movement.
Yet in his latest book Fukuyama does spend some time analyzing the cultural anxiety arising among Western workers from years of “official multiculturalism” which should give him some clues as to why the populism that we see today is a conservative move to the right, rather than a radical move to the left.He speaks clearly to the “limits of multiculturalism” in the EU, and the importance of the distinction between human rights that we accord to immigrants with asylum claims, and citizen’s rights.Fukuyama also speaks clearly to the “politics of resentment” attending the relegation of the Western working class to the status of a sub-culture, and the consequences.
People want the dignity of employment that pays a living wage, not handouts.Receipt of welfare is still grounds for disrespect in the United States.Fukuyama intones “Having a job conveys not just resources, but recognition by the rest of society that one is doing something socially valuable.Someone paid for doing nothing has no basis for pride…” (Fukuyama 2018; 84).Fukuyama seems to me to see clearly the reasons the populism we witness is conservative rather than radical in nature.But again, when I read Fukuyama I see the conservative economic liberal trained by Bloom and influenced by Strauss.When he speaks in public, I see the Stanford professor carefully choosing his words to avoid egregious violations of the speech codes inflicted by the left in the U.S. academy.Francis Fukuyama “the socialist” is quite a stretch from any realistic appraisal of his thought.
Social protection does not require hand-outs, let alone “socialism” in a dynamic liberal capitalist society.I would be very surprised if Fukuyama, if pressed, would not agree with Winston Churchill’s quip, so long ago. “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of its blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of its miseries.”
What is your solution to the issue of identity politics and issues such as nationalist movements and extremism, and so on?
I don’t share concerns that populist politics harbors any black plague of nationalist extremism or fascism. Such arguments entail a misreading of the present round of populism, and a serious misreading. American politics has historically been visited with bouts of populism in the past. William Jennings Bryant ran a populist campaign running on a Democratic ticket for President three times in 1896, 1900 and 1908 on issues dear to the hearts of American farmers such as abolishing the deflationary gold standard. He lost three times. Theodore Roosevelt after serving as a Republican Part President for two terms, split the Republican Party forming a dissident and highly populist Bull Moose Party and stood for election under that standard in the 1912 election. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and appeal to every man was nothing if not a populist.
The constitution still functions unimpaired and the people are sovereign. It is frankly unclear to me how calling on their government to protect their employment and wages, and to defend American borders is in anyway extremist. The Beijing University economist Michael Pettis has recently argued that the trade disputes we see dominating US diplomacy were inevitable so long as global economic imbalances resulting from neo-mercantilist policies by some states continue. British antipathy to the EU was ultimately unsurprising given the disproportionate burden that Britain has born from English speaking EU migrants, and the largely unsuccessful social consequences of official British multiculturalism.
I would not be surprised to see U.S. identity politics calm down quite a lot after the 2020 election cycle. Clearly identity politics has been nurtured and embraced by US political parties on the left as campaign issues. To this is added unrealistic and unaffordable promises of giving away anything from free medical care to abolishing student loans. Democratic candidates on the left are fading in support as primary elections near, in favor of much more moderate candidates. I would not be surprised to see a rational response on the left in response to more conclusive evidence that identity politics is a loser in garnishing votes. At this writing Moody’s Analytics, whom has correctly called every election for the past 50 years or more, is predicting Donald Trump will be returned to office in a landslide.