The best way to view the current populist moment is as a delayed response to the top-down cultural revolution that occurred in the Seventies. In that decade, new attitudes towards marriage, family life, relations between the sexes, the role of the nation and the meaning of citizenship came to be codified in many Western societies. By the beginning of the Eighties, new forms of cultural authority had been established by the political elites.
This so-called cultural turn is often attributed to the influence of ‘Cultural Marxists’ burrowing away in universities. But this analysis overlooks something important – that the cultural turn took place right under the noses of Thatcher and Reagan. It was in their era that the new post-Sixties cultural values were institutionalised by Anglo-American cultural elites.
In retrospect, it seems clear that the anti-traditional cultural turn that occurred under the watch of the Thatcher / Reagan political order was an attempt by Western political elites to establish a new foundation to their authority. Most strikingly, the emergent cultural oligarchy perceived themselves as mediators and gatekeepers in a globalised world where public life is impacted on by issues and problems that supposedly transcend the nation state and national control.
They devoted much energy to de-nationalising public life, and delegitimising the attitudes and values held by citizens. This was the era when the dogma that there is no alternative to globalisation really took hold. The belittlement of sovereignty – both national sovereignty and popular sovereignty – was a central task of the new cultural establishment. In a very short period of time, many people found that their long-held belief in the values of community, nation and family was being dismissed as outdated, irrelevant and even prejudiced.
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