There is, at present, an observable raise in populist movements around the world. From Europe and Russia to the United States and Australia, people seem to be asking for a change in political discourse.
In a paper presented for the Australian National University, Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart analyze two popular theories surrounding the reason behind the spike in populist movements, the economic inequality perspective, and, the cultural backlash thesis.
The first deals with the possibility that the changes occurring in postindustrial societies transform the workforce to such a degree that the gap between those who gain and those who lose from the market widens greatly and produces anger and frustration. The advances in technology, wide spread automation, the rise of the knowledge economy and so on, create a miserable situation, leading its victims to naturally look for someone to blame. As such, they find leaders who are able to express their frustrations.
However, in order for the theory to stand, Norris and Inglehart argue, we would have to have seen those on social welfare, and most of the underprivileged, voting for populist leaders. This, however, was not the case, especially in the election of Donald Trump in the US, seen by many as one of the most unexpected populist lead events. While some elements of the poor voted in this manner, most on welfare did not. At the same time, the paper notes “populist parties have also arisen in several of the most egalitarian European societies, with cradle-to-grave welfare states, containing some of the best educated and most secure populations in the world, exemplified by Sweden and Denmark.” While there may be a case to be made for this theory, it is quite a weak one, hence the second thesis seems to come out as the more credible.
The cultural backlash hypothesis proposes that progressive changes in society have left some, of a more traditionalist mindset behind, and unable to adapt to the new social changes such as LGBT rights, same sex marriage, gender fluidity, changing refugee and immigration rules etc. Hence, they are fighting against these transformations.
Norris and Inglehart believe “these retro policies appeal deeply to those intolerant of progressive values – but this is a shrinking sector swimming against the tide of generational value change in the American electorate.” There are many voices claiming the same thing about Europe, and, foreseeing a growing generational gap which will lead to disturbances in society, changing the way politics is made.
But there might be a more complex psychological, emotional, and, ultimately, spiritual component which some analyzing the situation are currently not considering.
Firstly, what does it mean preserve tradition? Does it mean one should oppose anything new? Does it mean to be closed minded or plagued with all the phobias and isms with which political correctness could endow a person?
What tradition comes down to is good sense, self-control, and, identity. It is not meant to destroy the new but to preserve those parts of millennial wisdom which have proven the most effective at keeping together a healthy and balanced social and personal life. It is not meant to fight against the rights of others but rather to preserve its own. Of course, extremism is to be found here just as everywhere else, but such views betray a lack of balance and are not part of the present discussion.
It has been argued in the past that religion itself would die out and that the future will be a secular one. And there are still those who see the future in this light. This has not happened. Human beings are ritualistic, religious creatures, so, whether they believe in a God above or the ultimate power of their own intellects, they hold some things sacred. It is an intricate and indispensable part of our being
It is true that what we are witnessing in terms of support for unlikely candidates and outcomes is a form of cultural backlash. And no, it is not a long-term solution, or even, necessarily always a well-advised idea. However, it also is not the swan song of a dying generation.
Travelling through different countries and continents one might catch a glimpse of what many seem to be ignoring. This majority, older generation, has children, friends, and, students. They write and speak their mind. They have the means to leave a legacy. At the same time, as the so called progressive mentality becomes more mainstream, traditionalist thought becomes a counter culture, the potential rebellious, shocking choice of a new young generation. One can therefore understand that such mentality is not reserved for the old. It is for the old to pass on to the young.
And if one does not care for tradition as a child, still, if it is tied to any dear recollections, they most will certainly miss it by the time their youth’s busy days come to an end. Just as our own memories of grandmother’s cooking, the smell of the Christmas tree, the safety of mother’s embrace, give our own lives security and a cyclic, ritualistic essence, so too does tradition give society a purposeful, cyclical pattern. Once we have lost those whom we love, the only place to encounter them again in this life is our memory. So, by recreating their habits, we not only find comfort in loving what they loved or doing what they did, we try, in a deeper sense, to become them.
Therefore, even where there is no ritual, it is created. Was Saturday morning pancake morning when you were a child? It will probably keep on being pancake morning when you are a parent. Why? Because you want to recreate that feeling for both yourself and your child. That is the heart of tradition, connecting to one’s identity. This is why it cannot die. There is much psychology and spirituality to be discussed with regard to the subject. It would take perhaps endless volumes to even scratch the surface.
Of course, traditions can change. Yet, there is something to be said about the ones which have not done so for millennia. Might there be something there about which we simply do not know enough? Might there be some wisdom there worth exploring? The curiosity of the human spirit is endless, and the temptation to explore such questions irresistible, so there will always be those looking for answers.
How about religious practices? Is there perhaps a reason why in a secular Europe, and around the world, Islam is one of the fastest growing religions? What about Christianity’s survival and growth worldwide, especially in places such as post-communist Europe, where it thrives, or China and other countries with atheist regimes? Is there, perhaps, something which secular society is missing, something that heralds not only the perpetuity of tradition but also the ephemeralness of secularism?