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Nationalism 2.0: The Far Right's Dark Powers Of Storytelling

From France to Poland, the far-right draws people in with plot lines that offer fast and easy answers but no long-term solutions.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini stirs his crowd in Caserta.
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini stirs his crowd in Caserta.
Alberto Mario Banti


When was nationalism reborn? Everything began, in a sense, in 1979, with the rise of Margaret Thatcher in the UK and the imposition of neoliberalism as a political-economic approach. Because to understand the reasons for the emergence of what we might call "Nationalism 2.0," we first have to concentrate on the long-term effects of neoliberal policies.

Available data tells us that neoliberal policies have caused a noticeable increase in inequality within the various countries that adopted them. With the rise of inequality, numerous other signs of social distress have also grown. In countries where inequality is greater, social mobility is much lower, meaning it is more difficult for the child of a poor family to improve his or her social or economic status. Also, where inequality is greater, crime is also more prevalent, health services are worse, and illnesses, both mental and physical, are more widespread.

That's not to say that there's a direct causal relationship. Greater inequality isn't, in and of itself, the cause of social problems. What happens in such cases, rather, is that rising inequality results from economic policies that reduce public spending and, therefore, also spending on social services, making the quality of these services worse. As a result, poorer families have access to fewer tools for social assistance, their living conditions worsen, and the causes of psychological or physical distress increase.

With the rise of inequality, numerous other signs of social distress have also grown.

Those in difficulty need answers, and they find them where political storytelling is simpler and more plausible. The main center-left parties in Europe have a different storytelling approach and, once in power, tend to accept the fundamental principles of neoliberalism: privatization, deregulation, cuts in public spending, and limited fiscal pressure — particularly on high incomes.

Moreover, the symbolic narrative they offer (for example: "We open our arms to those who need reception and come from disadvantaged countries') sounds decidedly counterintuitive to all those who have low incomes, modest levels of education and not particularly complex cognitive resources, and who react by saying: "How? And why don't you think of us before all these "others?""

What's at stake here is not so much the ethical or sociological foundation of such a reaction, but the fact that this type of reaction is common to a large number of people. This applies as much to people in Torre Maura or Casal Bruciato, in Italy, as it does to residents of depressed neighborhoods in London, Manchester or Birmingham.

These same people, who reject the storytelling of the center-left parties, turn instead to the persuasive storytelling offered by populist parties. The latter build a narrative entirely based on the logic of difference, on the identification of an enemy, of a scapegoat on which to pour frustrations and anxieties. Their story is simple: Those to blame for our misfortunes are the international finance system (maybe Jewish), national political castes, the technocrats of the European Union, and migration.

The Nationalism 2.0 message goes on to say that migrants, at any rate, are the ones who constitute a threat to prosperity, because they are bearers of cultures and religious identities that are completely foreign to ours. Therefore, if we recover national sovereignty, we will be able to carry out policies to support the people. Italians first. French first. We defend Hungarian culture. We defend Polish identity. And let us do it in the name of ethnic, religious and cultural differences that separate us from our enemies.

Those in difficulty need answers.

Here it is, the storytelling of right-wing populist movements. It is simple, easily understandable, and psychologically satisfying, even when it does not at all set the premises for policies that are truly effective from an economic and social point of view. And because of its easy comprehensibility, it attracts weak layers of the population.

But it is clear that it is also a storytelling full of implications. The first, and most important, is the resumption of a dialogue with the memorial archive of nationalism from the 18th and 19th centuries, even in its most extreme forms. Hence the re-emergence of the idea that the nation is a bio-political community, born of a history that is cultural, but also biological — of blood and lineage.

From this assumption comes the idea that one must defend not only national sovereignty, but the conception of the nation as a community founded on ius sanguinis (from Latin for right of blood, it is a principle of law by which nationality is determined by blood and not by place of birth): We are Italian (or French, British, Hungarian, etc.) not because we can choose to be Italian, but because we were born within the national community. And it's this idea that brings us back to the darkest moments of European history.

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Shame On The García Márquez Heirs — Cashing In On The "Scraps" Of A Legend

A decision to publish a sketchy manuscript as a posthumous novel by the late Gabriel García Márquez would have horrified Colombia's Nobel laureate, given his painstaking devotion to the precision of the written word.

Photo of a window with a sticker of the face of Gabriel Garcia Marquez with butterfly notes at Guadalajara's International Book Fair.

Poster of Gabriel Garcia Marquez at Guadalajara's International Book Fair.

Juan David Torres Duarte


BOGOTÁ — When a writer dies, there are several ways of administering the literary estate, depending on the ambitions of the heirs. One is to exercise a millimetric check on any use or edition of the author's works, in the manner of James Joyce's nephew, Stephen, who inherited his literary rights. He refused to let even academic papers quote from Joyce's landmark novel, Ulysses.

Or, you continue to publish the works, making small additions to their corpus, as with Italo Calvino, Samuel Beckett and Clarice Lispector, or none at all, which will probably happen with Milan Kundera and Cormac McCarthy.

Another way is to seek out every scrap of paper the author left and every little word that was jotted down — on a piece of cloth, say — and drip-feed them to publishers every two to three years with great pomp and publicity, to revive the writer's renown.

This has happened with the Argentine Julio Cortázar (who seems to have sold more books dead than alive), the French author Albert Camus (now with 200 volumes of personal and unfinished works) and with the Chilean author Roberto Bolaño. The latter's posthumous oeuvre is so abundant I am starting to wonder if his heirs haven't hired a ghost writer — typing and smoking away in some bedsit in Barcelona — to churn out "newly discovered" works.

Which group, I wonder, will our late, great novelist Gabriel García Márquez fit into?

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