Quote of the day: Dangerous political nostalgia


A resurgent far right is gaining power not just in the U.S. but in other nations as well, promising a return to a past golden age.

Samuel Earle, freelance writer and recent masters graduate from the London School of Economics, writes about the dangers of that nostalgia in an essay for Jacobin:

On the surface, conjuring up a happier past may seem benign. But much of today’s nostalgia comes with its own set of noxious side effects. The bonds between those who belong to the remembered time are strengthened — they all feel at home — while for those who do not, their separation becomes all the more pronounced.

Only through the marginalization of others — foreigners, immigrants, LGBTQ people, all those who “don’t belong” — can the reactionary nostalgists turn their remembered past into a site of empowerment. To turn back the clock, others must be turned out. With little else to latch on to, excluding others makes their past feel all the more precious, a thing that can truly be claimed as their own.

This is the dark irony beneath the nativist’s angry refrain to the immigrant “Go back to where you came from”: it is the xenophobe who, more than anyone, wants to go back to where they came from — to an imagined, pure point of origin, a moment in history where their country was a homogenous mass. The racist, like all great nostalgists, is homesick for a home they never had.

This nostalgia, and its dark underbelly, will be a difficult beast to reckon with. While the future can be fought over and the present is there to take or leave, the past can be — may always be — whatever we want it to be.

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