Nathan Clarke urges respect and reflection surrounding the dangers of nationalism and far-right populism, arguing that we must work towards peace in Europe
The First World War was a conflict born out of nationalism and, one-hundred years on, nationalism is on the rise again. The centenary of World War One should have offered us a chance to reflect on the dangers of nationalism and far-right populism. French President Emmanuel Macron felt compelled to warn Europe of its old demons resurfacing. In a poignant address, he warned of the dangers of nationalism, urged for peace in the face of populism and a reinstatement of moral values across Europe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated these claims and warned Europe of the dangers of ‘nationalistic arrogance.’
Macron and Merkel are right to be concerned. Over the past decade the far-right have been on the rise throughout Europe, sending shockwaves through mainstream politics. In Austria and Hungary (two countries pivotal in the outbreak of the Great War) the far-right have made significant gains through the promotion of eurosceptism. Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands have enjoyed great electoral success in recent years through Islamophobia, with Wilders going so far as to label Islam a ‘fascist ideology’; exploiting the cultural disorientation brought about by decades of globalisation.
The election of Donald Trump (a self-proclaimed nationalist) and the Brexit vote have served as catalysts for these causes, giving voters a sense of belief that populist nationalism can succeed in giving power back to the people.
These groups share many things in common. They are opponents to globalisation, multiculturalism and immigration. They are all europsceptic, seeing the European Union as a grave threat to their national security, trading on fear and economic uncertainty. Far-right nationalists have placed sovereignty above the needs of international cooperation and threaten to, as French historian Buisson argues, reject the post-war consensuses of democracy and inclusivity.
This is a new form of nationalism: one which is different, yet equally dangerous, to the type which brought about the First World War. Nationalism has become more inward looking, more isolationist, less militarised and more articulate. Their main focus is not on building an empire, but on the protection of their sovereignty. They are not at war with each other, but at war with the system. They aim to dismantle the European Union, reverse globalisation and restrict continental integration. This poses as much of a threat, if not more, to European peace.
The EU was founded to combat aggressive nationalism. Those who seek its demise display ignorance to its role in maintaining continental peace over the last 60 years. The European Union won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 for ‘the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe’ and being instrumental in ‘transforming most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace.’ This is a fact so overlooked by eurosceptics who fail to grapple with our troubled history and gamble with our collective peace. Even Boris Johnson, a prominent campaigner for Brexit, recognised how the EU was ‘born of the highest motives- to keep peace in Europe.’ Macron’s recent proposal for an EU army is perhaps slightly provocative and ambitious; but undoubtedly acts as a deterrent and reminds us all of our collective duty as EU citizens to protect our continents peace.
The EU has been vital in blurring borders, ensuring mutually beneficial trade networks and tolerant attitudes towards minority groups. All this has been thrown up into the air by this new style nationalism. A nationalism born of hatred, not of a particular country, but of an ideology.
Peace is never inevitable. Our generation has been privileged in that we have not experienced major continental warfare first-hand. But this should never be taken for granted. This new form of patriotic nationalism threatens the very foundations of our society. By promoting a country’s own interest first, nationalists simultaneously weaken collective security. The far-right are no longer hate-filled yobs using violence to attract media attention, they are sophisticated, articulate people, gaining much support from a population that feels alienated and threatened by an the enemy within.
The left should be worried. They must work tirelessly to engage these voters in a way which prevents them from succumbing to hate-filled, reactionary politics.
So in remembrance of the First World War, let’s show some real respect and take time to reflect. Let’s ensure these toxic forces which led men and women into war a hundred years ago do not do the same to those of our generation. Let’s all work towards a peaceful, inclusive and tolerant Europe; one which values peace above all else.