Antidotes to Brexit and Nationalist Populism: Social Europe and Transformative Change

  • Abstract:

    Through the lens of Foucault and his notion of hegemonic power and the habitus of twenty first century Britain we can understand and witness in the Brexit debate the subtle manipulation of public thought on identity and nationhood to further an agenda premised on achieving a new neoliberal order and the consolidation of power by existing economic, cultural and political elites. To understand but also challenge Brexit warrants a deep socio-economic analysis of the structure of society (critical consciousness) and the need for transformative change. The marketization of society and the faltering of neoliberalism, especially in the wake of the financial crisis in 2008, are central phenomena in the resurgence of nationalism in the Brexit debate. Brexit nationalism though is a sham rebellion which in effect wraps the flag around an even more neoliberal worldview and which will undermine further, perhaps irrevocably, what Polanyi described as the ‘The Double Movement’ the push for social protection against laissez-fair marketization. An effective counter-foil to nationalist populism can only emerge if the vision of European supra-nationalism and cosmopolitanism is rekindled through the introduction of radical and participatory forms of democracy at the national and European level and a Europe wide ‘New Deal’ which stimulates growth and wealth redistribution (Social Europe). A key thinker and point of reference in this discussion will be Jürgen Habermas. According to Habermas the European Project in a political sense should rest upon ‘Constitutional patriotism’ an attachment to frameworks protecting human rights and democratic citizenships, a key dynamic in this strategy is deliberative democracy which can facilitate communicative action and new social movements, creating consensus and mutual understanding. The presentation will seek to outline a vision of a rekindled European Project and the antidote to Brexit and populism. The presentation will draw upon my forthcoming book Britain and Europe at a Crossroads: The Politics of Anxiety and the Future of Radical Democracy (Policy Press)