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Does ‘Retrotopia’ Explain the Rise of the Radical Right?

Authors Andreas Önnerfors
Published in Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right
Issue 2019-01-04
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Literature, History of Ideas, and Religion
Language en
Keywords Retrotopia, melancholy, political radicalization
Subject categories Political Science, Other Humanities


To paraphrase Freud, ‘Immigration to Europe and its discontents’ would represent a fitting title for a much-needed study in the contemporary political climate, with the potential to outline a political psychology, even what one might call a political pathology, of Europe and the Europeans today. Parochialism, xenophobia and ‘welfare nostalgia’ now prevail, and have led to increasing support for right-wing populist parties across the continent. Part of its recent political pathology is an irrational longing for ‘the past as the future’, or ‘retrotopia’, in the words of Zygmunt Bauman (1925-2017), also the title of his last, posthumously published book. Propelled by a dismantling of the previously solid and predictable modern welfare state, placed in the maelstrom of liquid modern neo-liberal self-realization in a state of unpredictable risk and the decoupling of power and politics due to globalization, Bauman argues in Retrotopia (2017) that larger and larger segments of Western electorates, or more ambiguously ‘the people’, share a sense of being left behind, abandoned, ignored (not ‘listened to’) and made redundant. This demise is blamed on internal traditional political elites, the ‘mainstream media’ and foreign foes, narratives frequently saturated with elaborate theories of conspiracy and high treason. Furthermore, people flock to tribal mentalities, encapsulating societal discourse within mutually exclusive and mutually hostile filter bubbles and echo chambers. To this toxic mix are added a dramatic privatization of violence, stimulating copycat behavior and an almost insurmountable and increasing cleavage between rich and poor. The only way out is to restore a civilized order of the discourse. Humanity faces an existential situation of choice: either joining hands or common graves.

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