In a recent post, I explored the radically dehumanizing nature of globalization and the rise of what C.S. Lewis called the conditioner class. Through a process known as disembedding, globalization hollows out and erodes a culture’s traditions, customs, and religions, all the while conditioning the population to rely on the expertise of a class of technocrats for their highest happiness.
The Brexit Blowback
However, what we’ve been seeing all over the world of late is a massive blowback against these disembedding processes of globalization and its secular aristocracy. I don’t think there’s any more explicit, stark example of this worldwide blowback against the forces of globalization than the recent Brexit vote in Great Britain. With the so-called ‘Brexit’ referendum, the UK voted to leave the European Union, and as such, the EU lost one of its most important member nations. Almost immediately, there were calls from France, Italy, and the Netherlands to hold similar referenda, jeopardizing the entire EU experiment.
There are a number of scholars who interpret the Brexit as part of a wider trend among the various nations of the world, and that trend is a turn towards nationalism and the political right. And while there are various reasons for this, it seems to be mainly fueled by a backlash against globalism and the erosion of cultural and national identity.
And what we are finding is that in the face of threats to localized identity markers, people assert their national symbols and sovereignty as mechanisms of resistance against globalizing dynamics. We see that at even local levels in our backyard as it were: it seems everywhere a mall is put up, a farmers market is not far away; fast food chains are countered with slogans encouraging us to “buy local.”
And this ‘buying local’ has larger nationalist and indeed separatist sentiments. From Bosnia to Chechnya, Rwanda and Barundi, from South Sudan to Scotland, populations have been turning increasingly inward for civic and cultural identity.
Nationalism and Re-traditionalization
Now, an important development within these nationalist tendencies is a process called re-traditionalization. Now, remember in our last session together how we explored the ways in which globalization challenges the traditions and customs, the religions and languages of local cultures with translocal, consumer based, pragmatic, lifestyle values; think for example the way alternative lifestyles are flaunted in our music, and movies, and television. And globalization knows no frontiers, so it tends to render border irrelevant and thereby fosters mass levels of immigration. And so these lifestyle values and mass immigration tend to be resisted with a counter-cultural blowback. In the face of threats to localized identity markers, people assert their historic religiosity, their shared faith, kinship, and national symbols as mechanisms of resistance against globalizing dynamics.
So this is what we would call re-traditionalization. When are traditions are threatened into extinction, they tend to go through a revival, a renaissance, a recommitment among populations, and I think that’s what we are seeing to an extent with England and the Brexit.
Now, few nations exemplify this connection between a resurgent nationalism and a revived religious tradition than the Russian Federation.
Obviously Russia is a complex culture, but what I find so fascinating is that after 70 years of atheistic communism, the Russian Orthodox Church is going through a mass revival. This has been the conclusion of a number of studies examining attitudes towards the church and Christianity among Russians.
I’m thinking in particular of Russian scholar John Anderson who has explored how Russia’s nationalist turn has created a common space for the church and state in Russia to work together towards common interests, chief of which is resisting of what they see as the civilizational suicide of LGBT activism and feminism, the various lifestyle values that snuff out traditional religious life.
So, in many respects, particularly from a Christian vantage point, this resurgent nationalism within the Western world may in fact mean a return to traditional Christian conception of life. This is because globalization entails its own futility; as we have found with the attempt to bring liberal democracy to the Middle East, few are willing to die for the mall, but they will die for the mosque; they don’t die for emancipatory politics, feminism, and LGBT rights. But the willingness to die for land, people, custom, language, and religions is seemingly universal. Though a formidable challenger, globalization appears to have no chance of overcoming such innate fidelities.
And so, this is the mass traditionalist nationalist blowback against globalization that we are seeing all over the world.
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