The modern world’s relationship to time is broken – and it’s fuelling the rise of the far right


To truly understand populism, we have to take the long view. In the 1960s, populist parties won, on average, 5.4% of the vote in Europe, while today, following the European Parliament elections on 9 June, more than 20% of the electorate trusts them with their vote.

Not all populists are right wing, and indeed some populist parties fall on the left of the political spectrum, including La France Insoumise and the German Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance. However, in today’s political landscape those making an impact are right wing populist parties, who place the nation front and centre, and pillory, scapegoat and discriminate against “others” defined in ethnic, national, social or religious terms.

Representatives from ultra-nationalist parties – such as the French National Rally, Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the Spanish Vox – have become significant forces in the Strasbourg parliament. The far right came top of the polls in France, Italy, Austria and Hungary, and second in Germany, Poland and the Netherlands.

Read more:
EU parliament election sees shaken centre hold – but far right now has chances to show its strength

With these parties calling to return sovereignty to individual states, the consequences could be existential for the European Union and, potentially, humanity, given the urgent political need to slow and reverse climate change.

While the the economic crisis of 2008 and the migratory crisis of 2015 marked turning points for populism in Europe, neither can fully account for how deeply it has become rooted in the continent’s politics. There are, however, long term structural explanations which are closely linked to our relationship with time.

An accelerating world

Our world today moves at breakneck speed. We live in an era of same day delivery, of fast food and fast fashion. We listen to voice messages and podcasts at double speed, and the slightest doubt or curiosity is instantly satisfied by a quick search on our phones, bypassing any need for personal interaction or moments of uncertainty. Technology has made impatience the norm.

The same goes for the economy, which is governed by instantaneous decisions from stock markets on Wall Street, or in London or Shanghai. Even in households or at work, contingency and transience reign supreme. Wherever we look, the principle that time is money rules, and this has accelerated the pace of our lives.

Read more:
The frantic pace of modern life is damaging our sense of time, but nature can help us heal — new study

Populists exploit our broken relationship with time

Right wing populism takes advantage of the fact that democracy is slow by definition, and therefore increasingly unable to swiftly address people’s most urgent concerns. No other ideological current has recognised the extent to which our slow democratic politics is out of sync with the fast, even instantaneous, pace of our economies and societies, and exploiting this gap in the electoral market has paid huge dividends for them.

For decades, opinion polls such as the European Values Survey have been sending worrying, yet unheeded, signals for the future of liberal democracy. More and more voters agree that a strong leader who does not have to worry about parliament and elections is a good way to govern a country, and far right voters agree most strongly with this authoritarian drift. The younger generation’s favourable view of “strongman” leaders adds another layer of concern about the future of democracy.

In a world where patience is an increasingly rare virtue, and political systems lag behind, what right wing populists offer is politics built around haste, simplicity and shortcuts.

This is exemplified by a raft of blunt and impractical fast track solutions. To stem migratory flows they speak of closing borders or “repatriating” migrants. Domestic and gender violence are, they argue, made up. In countries with peripheral nationalist movements, such as Spain, they promise to prohibit “secessionist” parties outright, a measure explicitly included in far right party Vox’s manifesto.

Read more:
Emigration: The hidden catalyst behind the rise of the radical right in Europe’s depopulating regions

The late Spanish author Almudena Grandes saw this link between the Far Right and time all too clearly – in her posthumous 2022 dystopian novel Todo va a mejorar (Everything will get better) the populist party is called “Movimiento Ciudadano ¡Soluciones Ya!” (“Citizens’ Movement, Solutions Now!”). The party’s promise of instant solutions and the refusal to even call itself a “party” – instead presenting itself as an alternative to politics – are two key elements of this ideological family that Grandes singled out.

A referendum on everything

Many far right governments hold regular national referendums, notably Hungary’s “national consultations”, and similar measures in Poland when it was governed by Law and Justice. This is a measure to “popularise democracy” that populist right-wing parties include in their electoral programmes.

In Germany, many advocate for holding plebiscites according to the “Swiss model”. Marine Le Pen proposes calling an annual “great referendum” if she becomes president of France – a “revolution of proximity” that would allow the “people” to control government decisions. In Spain, Vox appeals to article 92 of the Spanish Constitution, which opens the door to holding votes on immigration, gender violence laws or the outlawing of pro-independence parties.

It is no coincidence that the issues subject to such plebiscites are always controversial or inflammatory – Hungary’s “consultations” have been criticised for asking biased, leading questions, and for not publishing their results.

By doing away with deliberation, a cornerstone of liberal democratic politics, right wing populism seems to have found the key to success in our fast paced society. For an increasingly large number of voters, time to think or reflect seems to be nothing more than a hindrance to effective decision making, and it is this line of thought that is swelling the ranks of the far right.

Reversing this democratic regression is one of the greatest, most pressing challenges of our age, and any remedy will have to speed up political decision making processes without undermining the values that underpin democracy.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *