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.
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.

Keeping it simple before the Brexit referendum — Photo: David Holt London

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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La Sagrada Familia Delayed Again — Blame COVID-19 This Time

Hopes were dashed by local officials to see the completion of the iconic Barcelona church in 2026, in time for the 100th anniversary of the death of its renowned architect Antoni Guadí.

Work on La Sagrada Familia has been delayed because of the pandemic

By most accounts, it's currently the longest-running construction project in the world. And now, the completion of work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882, is going to take even longer.

Barcelona-based daily El Periodico daily reports that work on the church, which began as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. But a press conference Tuesday, Sep. 21 confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin).

El Periódico - 09/22/2021

El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world.

One tower after the other… Slowly but surely, La Sagrada Familia has been growing bigger and higher before Barcelonians and visitors' eager eyes for nearly 140 years. However, all will have to be a bit more patient before they see the famous architectural project finally completed. During Tuesday's press conference, general director of the Construction Board of the Sagrada Familia, Xavier Martínez, and the architect director, Jordi Faulí, had some good and bad news to share.

As feared, La Sagrada Familia's completion date has been delayed. Because of the pandemic, the halt put on the works in early March when Spain went into a national lockdown. So the hopes are dashed of the 2026 inauguration in what would have been the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death.

Although he excluded new predictions of completion until post-COVID normalcy is restored - no earlier than 2024 -, Martínez says: "Finishing in 2030, rather than being a realistic forecast, would be an illusion, starting the construction process will not be easy," reports La Vanguardia.

But what's a few more years when you already have waited 139, after all? However delayed, the construction will reach another milestone very soon with the completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years and the second tallest spire of the complex. It will be crowned by a 12-pointed star which will be illuminated on December 8, Immaculate Conception Day.

Next would be the completion of the Evangelist Lucas tower and eventually, the tower of Jesus Christ, the most prominent of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated 13.5 meters wide "great cross." It will be made of glass and porcelain stoneware to reflect daylight and will be illuminated at night and project rays of light.

La Sagrada Familia through the years

La Sagrada Familia, 1889 - wikipedia

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