Policy Briefs

C. Bastasin: Secular Divergence – Explaining Nationalism in Europe

The doctrine of nationalism, hinging on a primacy of the cultural, civic or ethnic unit of one nation vis-à-vis other nations or other peoples, will continue eroding Europe’s integration until its hidden cause is recognized and addressed. In order to do so, we must acknowledge a new powerful and pervasive factor of social and political change: divergence, within countries, sectors, jobs, or local communities.

The popularity of the nationalist rhetoric should not be underestimated. Nationalist parties present themselves as a response to the damages inflicted by globalization in terms of impoverishment and inequality. The rhetoric claiming that borders must be closed is simple and attractive. In fact, empirical evidence does not confirm a direct relation between open borders and impoverishment in Europe; there is also no univocal relation between economic inequality or stagnation and the rise of consensus for nationalist, or anti-European, parties. Finally, inequality seems to have increased more within countries than between them. None of the reasons underpinning the claims for closing borders seems watertight.

In this paper, I will offer a different explanation of the increasing unease in European societies leading to the popularity of nationalism: the development of two persistent social dynamics, the first making one part of society fear its irreversible decline and the second making another part of society willing to protect their increasing economic well-being. This is what I call “secular divergence”, affecting states, local communities, jobs or individuals.

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