Into the past : nationalism and heritage in the neoliberal age
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This thesis examines the ideological nexus of nationalism and heritage under the social conditions of neoliberalism. The investigation aims to demonstrate how neoliberal economics stimulate the irrationalism manifest in nationalist idealisation of the past. The institutionalisation of national heritage was originally a rational function of the modern state, symbolic of its political and cultural authority. With neoliberal erosion of the productive economy and public institutions, heritage and nostalgia proliferate today in all areas of social life. It is argued that this represents a social pathology linked to the neoliberal state’s inability to construct a future-orientated national project. These conditions enhance the appeal of irrational nationalist and regionalist ideologies idealising the past as a source of cultural purity. Unable to achieve social cohesion, the neoliberal state promotes multiculturalism, encouraging minorities to embrace essentialist identity politics that parallel the nativism of right-wing nationalists and regionalists. This phenomenon is contextualised within the general crisis of progressive modernisation in Western societies that has accompanied neoliberalisation and globalisation. A new theory of activist heritage is advanced to describe autonomous, politicised heritage that appropriates forms and practices from the state heritage sector. Using this concept, the politics of irrational nationalism and regionalism are explored through fieldwork, including participant observation, interviews and photography. The interaction of state and activist heritage is considered at the Wewelsburg 1933-1945 Memorial Museum in Germany wherein neofascists have re-signified Nazi material culture, reactivating it within contemporary political narratives. The activist heritage of Israeli Zionism, Irish Republicanism and Ulster Loyalism is analysed through studies of museums, heritage centres, archaeological sites, exhibitions, monuments and historical re-enactments. These illustrate how activist heritage represents a political strategy within irrational ideologies that interpret the past as the ethical model for the future. This work contends that irrational nationalism fundamentally challenges the Enlightenment’s assertion of reason over faith, and culture over nature, by superimposing pre-modern ideas upon the structure of modernity. An ideological product of the Enlightenment, the nation state remains the only political unit within which a rational command of time and space is possible, and thus the only viable basis for progressive modernity.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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