The Politics of Nostalgia

An external observer of the farce in the USA called the ‘elections’ on the last couple of occasions can’t help noticing a politics of nostalgia. Each candidate offers a slightly different version of restoring a slipping greatness, tapping into a widespread sense that the mythical ‘golden age’ is in the past.  It also shows up in terms of a closing of the mind and borders. While once foreigners were welcomed and wanted to come, now they are viewed with suspicion and shunned. A small gesture, a stare, a muttered comment – these operate at an everyday level. More noticeably, visa requirements become tighter and the mood is one of threat: all these swarms wanting to overrun the borders and steal what little wealth is left. You see it in the USA, but also in Western Europe. There, ‘customs’ officers and police on many borders now check trains and cars, targetting people whose skin happens not to be white. The open borders of the EU are rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Once dominant countries never seem to be able to decline with grace; instead they do so angrily.

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2 thoughts on “The Politics of Nostalgia

  1. Eh, I’m not so convinced of this. Anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S. was so strong from roughly 1929 to 1965 that only a few (mostly Northern and Western) Europeans were let in, while Chinese immigrants were explicitly banned for decades. And you don’t think Reagan or Nixon engaged in nostalgia? It was the name of their game. I’m not that you aren’t right, only that it’s nothing new in the U.S.

    1. Agreed. It’s more characteristic of conservative politics, which ideally would prefer it if nothing changed, but has been constrained to accept moderate ‘reform’. Yet there is a difference, since now nearly everyone gives voice to the sense that the best is in the past. And when that happens, decline has already set in.

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