The rapid progress of technology has hastened the pace of human society, giving a new meaning for ‘speed’. Since it emphasises a quantitative impact on the mind rather than a qualitative one, speed develops a need for instant, where everything loses value, significance.
People emphasise reason while being more emotional than ever – as emotions are nowadays utterly facilitated by digital means. ‘Instantaneity’, as Ben Agger names it (2004), stays at the core of this process, emphasising immediate impact while putting reason aside.
In this context, one may argue that phenomena like globalisation, consumerism, virtual environment and social media – all coated in a digital, technological carcass – can shape new identities or put the existing ones to a test.
Following this logic, one of the factors that materialise this state of play is a dissolution of boundaries which eventually erodes the Self. At the same time, the core identity, which defines the Self, reflects an inherent need to belong and includes national attachments that can manifest within the political sphere as well. In other words, a national identity.
From a psycho-social perspective, this can explain why Europe (or the whole world, for that matter, by extrapolating) is facing a socio-political crisis. More precisely, why the European society finds itself in a delicate impasse, with inside roots, in the psyche, and outside fruits, illustrated by colliding manifestations of identity.
Therefore, to analyse political clashes or emerging political currents, one should first observe the social phenomena that are causing them and, most importantly, the psychological mechanisms that stand at the very base of their evolution.
Over the last few decades, culture shifted its object towards larger publics and expanded its comprehension, hence its social reach (Williams, 1958). However, by doing so, the object of culture was inherently vulgarised – to a point that made Ben Agger affirm, for instance, that no one reads the Classics anymore, as they became too difficult to read.
Corroborated by a fast evolution of technology, communication channels, mass media and mass entertainment, this has determined an apparent change of paradigm, in the sense that quantity has replaced quality in many everyday pieces of information which we send or receive.
Accordingly, the emphasis is laid on a superficial impact, since an enormous amount of information means less time for assimilating it properly. The outcome of this course of events, as it was described by Ben Agger (2004), appears to encourage people to think less and just receive signals, messages, influences without filtering them at all.
At the same time, the universality of modern information is gradually creating trends or patterns of thought and behaviour which lead to an inherent dissolution of boundaries. Hence this can be the fundament of a ‘global village’ (McLuhan, 1962), a postmodern era.
By deteriorating the inner structure of individuals, the social crisis which was mentioned above is consequently causing regress for large groups as well. In this case, one possible outcome is an increase in support and loyalty for symbols, for a leader, for a providential ruler (Volkan, 2004).
The attachment of a large group towards their nation, faith and historical values can reveal a strong national identity. Accordingly, a political leader who would tailor his/her discourse to these elements would naturally win the support and respect of that specific large group. It’s a logical, defensive and justified reaction. In post-modernity, this explains the re-emergence of nationalist movements and their opposition to the New Left, which they perceive as profoundly Marxist, in the pejorative sense of the word.
Across the Old Continent, nationalism enjoys its rebirth and even gets seats in national parliaments. Take Hungary, for instance, which has a coherent nationalist Government led by Viktor Orban. Throughout the last decade, Orban and his party, FIDESZ, have dominated the polls by coalescing a majority of the Hungarian society against the West, against Western banks and billionaires, which turned Hungary into a model of applied right-wing nationalism, at least in the eyes of Westerners.
The Hungarian premier has come with an approach that functions as a ‘defensive shield’ in front of an outer peril or enemies represented by phenomena which can dilute the Hungarian essence. The reason why his solution was embraced by a majority of Hungarians might be that it resonates with their inner psychological reaction to what they perceive as threatening for their core identity.
What’s more to it is that the attitude of the EU regarding Hungarian politics can be interpreted as unjust as well, with exactly the contrary effect for Hungarians. By launching disciplinary proceedings against Hungary, the European Union has proven itself once again as a potential aggressor in their eyes, a heartless coloniser, so to speak.
This adversity or antithesis splits the European society – for instance, imagine a conservative, nationalist, right-wing populist leader delivering a speech where he condemns liberal democracies. Within hours, his speech gets into the public opinion’s attention through a multitude of media channels and on social media.
Even if the speech can be reported in different nuances by different media actors, most of the left-wing supporters of liberal democracies will probably take an adverse stand, going that far to affirm that even democracy might be at danger in a country ruled by right-wing leaders.
This fact already creates an issue – on the one hand, there is a certain polarisation and on the other hand, the controversy makes the supporters of that particular right-wing leader feel more entitled to their position, which becomes more just in these conditions.
Indeed, nationalist leaders may consolidate countries or nations, as their style strengthens their position. From a psychoanalytical perspective, the rise of nationalism in Europe might as well be a sign of large-group regression, as people give up on their role and engage themselves in full support for one leader (Volkan, 2004). However, from a wider psycho-social angle, one can argue that nationalism and right-wing populism are a natural reaction to the postmodern development of human society.
In this context, if a segment of the society focuses more on its inner elements and chooses national identity as an antidote to an inorganic universality, then a comeback to national identity benefits the psyche, the self. Furthermore, if democracy is to be improved, then maybe strong national identities are necessary, as a first step, to adapt nationalism to postmodernity and further steer citizens towards a functional democracy (Richards, 2017).
Social polarisation which reflects in politics is not a new phenomenon, as it can be observed in Europe since the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation or since the French Revolution and Restoration. The main difference is the coat – this time a digital one.
It is, therefore, important to understand the inner, psychological mechanisms and processes which determine the shape of the outer world, as old values and identities are useful, even required for achieving a socio-political equilibrium.