Neo-nationalism refers to a political ideology that emphasizes the importance of a strong and homogeneous nation-state, often with an emphasis on cultural or ethnic identity. It is a modern iteration of traditional nationalism that has evolved in response to contemporary social, economic, and political trends. Neo-nationalism has seemingly produced abundant anxieties in contemporary trends and will likely do so in the emerging world.
Democratic backsliding, an already existing phenomenon of democracy’s plummet, is projected to be accelerating with the further rise of Neo Nationalism across the globe.
Democracies have recently begun to fray because of the activities of democratically elected far-right leaders who utilize dissatisfaction with the functioning of democratic institutions to demolish customary restrictions on their authority. Since the Cold War’s conclusion, this has been the most common type of backsliding, with democratically elected governments being responsible for slightly more than half of all incidents. Post-Cold War period, four out of every five democratic breakdowns have been launched from within nations with at least $1,000 in per capita GDP. Nearly two-thirds of these were brought about by populist politicians. Since the 2010s, the globe has become more authoritarian, with one-quarter of the world’s population living under democratically regressive hybrid regimes by the 2020s. Over the previous decade, there has been a dramatic decrease in the total number of democracies, as well as a fall in the strength and eminence of those that have survived. In highly defective countries as shown in the map below, public officials, often with great popular backing, are vigorously aligning themselves against existing democratic institutions and procedures that they see as inept, corrupted, or unproductive. Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt write in their book How Democracies Die, “Democracy no longer ends with a bang—in a revolution or military coup—but with a whimper: the slow, steady weakening of critical institutions, such as the judiciary and the press, and the gradual erosion of long-standing political norms”.
Neo Nationalism and Technology
According to a famous historian, Yuval Noah Harari, we are entering a world where there are three consequential emerging concerns: ecological deterioration, nuclear proliferation, and the development of information technology. The pace at which technology is developing is alarming for mankind. Emerging technologies are in the constant service of neo-nationalist leaders. In Russia, China, and many illiberal democracies, modern technologies provide avenues for tracking and punishing dissent, disseminating propaganda and disinformation, and deliberate measures to undermine established democracies—what is known as sharp power.
The most detrimental result of technology penetrating into the political assemblies of Neo Nationalist states, movements, and leaders is Surveillance.
Despite its efforts to create a cult of the reverse, Xi’s China has advanced both strategically and technologically. The state has forced firewalls controlling admittance to sites and severe guidelines on what can be talked about. The 1989 occasions in Tiananmen Square are forbidden to the web and conversation in China. So is the mass imprisonment of ethnic Muslim Uighurs, again part of a nationalist push for conformity.
Such repression is obvious, but other tactics are more nuanced and innovative. Beijing has created a Social Credit System that uses data sources such as artificial intelligence, IoT, and facial recognition technology to assign a score (Social Credit) to each person based on their social and political conformist conduct, with the prospect of fines and even jail time for those who deviate. In this way, Xi keeps a close eye on its residents’ personal life and controls their social conduct, invading their privacy and independence. In Moscow, Putin is also exploring and experimenting with this.
Integrating emerging and more traditional means of monitoring, such as encouraging individuals to report on one other’s widely defined subversive activities, might result in imprisonment or loss of employment. It’s not so much the proportion of academics, civil rights attorneys, and other pro-democracy activists imprisoned as it is the message it conveys to instill fear and foster political adherence in China, progressively in Hong Kong, or abroad. Self-censorship is one goal. And it works, especially when practiced over time.
For the sake of order in society, nationalist leaders are using social media platforms and AI technologies to keep a closer eye on the activities of political opponents and dissidents. China with its Social Credit System, monitoring police stations around the world (100 have been reported), and India with its digital authoritarianism which forced Twitter to give Modi access to observe and control the activities of anti-government entities are some real-time applications of technological surveillance by neo-nationalist leaders.
Internet Containment: A Manifestation of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave
Neo nationalism appears to be an ideology antithesis to globalization but in essence, this very concept has benefitted most from the globalized world.
We live in a post-truth world, where concepts which appeal to our emotions and beliefs are more influential in shaping our collective opinion than objective truths and logical positivism. Nativist populist leaders are able to spread conspiracy theories, misinformation, and propaganda via the burgeoning role of technology in our society much further than ever before. Not only this, we are entering into a world of Artificial intelligence, Big Data, and the Internet of Things (IoT): communication technologies that are used viciously to shape public opinions. With the use of Artificial intelligence, populist leaders can shape our opinion by controlling the algorithms of our social media which not only influence what product to choose, and which dress to buy but also whom to vote for. This watershed moment in the role of technology in the assistance of neo-nationalist leaders was unleashed first in 2018 when Donald Trump used Facebook algorithms to influence people to vote for him which proved successful.
Likewise, compatriots Putin and Xi, with the use of Information technology, are ever stronger as they are rapidly and effectively feeding propaganda and misinformation to their domestic audience while keeping them detached from the global web which they call ‘Cyber Sovereignty.’ Accordingly, the same trajectory of controlling the internet landscape and molding public opinion by populist leaders with their neo-nationalist statures can be seen unambiguously all over the world. This consolidating process of narrative attacks, information containment, misinformation, and strongly controlled opinion are manifestations of Plato’s cave of darkness taking us back to pre-modern times; the world is getting more and more vulnerable not at the hands of theologists but technology occupied Neo Nationalist Leaders.
Neo Nationalism and the Emerging world order
Neo-nationalism is greatly defining our times. Populists, neo-nationalists, and right-wing extremists are attracting and extracting attention. With this burgeoning inclination towards neo-nationalism, the world is entering a multipolar world.
The future appears gloomy with the penetration of neo-nationalism, as it will likely increase polarization in the world system, political and economic bloc formation, cultural xenophobia, ethnocentrism, and a deeper divide of ‘Us’ vs. ‘Them’ in the international system.
The blocs are steadily unleashing, the balance of power is shifting towards far-right and neo-nationalists, liberalism with its tenets of globalization and democracy is withering, and the concept of centralization of power is resurrecting under the influence of XI and Putin’s globally assertive statures, and consequentially are the major driving factors of the projected multipolar world.
Neo-nationalism is seeping into the international order world, weakening the liberal norms and assemblies patronized by Russia and China. It is the cyclical history of world politics that we keep going back to the same point, which manifests that today, in post-modern times, the role of cultural essentialism and religion is resurrecting again, similar to pre-modern times. In order to contain the menaces of Neo Nationalism and its spreading phenomena, it is imperative to bring structural reforms to consolidate democracy within, strengthen the democratic institutions, and shape the political cultures in a way that can extract maximum benefits from the contemporary neoliberal of the world.
The author is a sophomore at the National Defence University, Islamabad. And a Researcher at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad (ISSI). She has a keen interest in foreign policy analysis, geopolitics, and concepts of the emerging world (particularly climate change and technological advancement). She tweets @AyeshaZee_