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The habits of the heart: substantive democracy after the European elections


Nationalism is a way of deflecting discontent towards a convenient scapegoat, the ‘other’ – an immigrant or Europe. It is a way of mobilizing political support while avoiding any commitment to address the underlying causes of discontent; that’s why it is often described as populism. Xenophobia and euroscepticism can never offer any constructive solutions.

On the contrary the more the nationalist rhetoric succeeds the more our problems multiply and the more we blame the ‘other’. There is a long and alarming history of deflecting democratic demands by the appeal of nationalism, of which the First World War is perhaps the most poignant reminder. In more recent times it is worth noting that sectarian conflicts in both Bosnia and Syria were and are ways of responding to, diverting and suppressing democratic movements. In Ukraine, what was a nation-wide protest against corruption and for human rights is rapidly being reframed as a conflict between ‘eastern’ Russians and ‘European’ Ukrainians.


So what is the nature of the underlying discontent? It is a huge frustration and lack of trust in the political class. Despite our right to vote and publicly protest, there is a widespread sense of powerlessness , a feeling that whatever we say or do makes no difference, that established parties are all the same and voting is largely irrelevant.

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