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The restorationist impulse: why we hanker for the old ways

Rodney Tiffen writes in The Conversation (28.7.17) about recent media and academic attention focused on the widespread resurgence of populism. The author points out that ‘restorationism’ – an appeal to an imagined ‘better’ past – in Western democracies is a subset of this phenomenon.

‘The children come home from school to be greeted by their mother, who is wearing an apron. They then go off to play with their neighbourhood friends, from families very like their own. After dinner, and after husband and wife have cheerfully washed and dried the dishes together, they all sit around the family TV watching ‘Father Knows Best’.

‘This image of stability, security and contentment is only slightly more ridiculous than the nostalgic illusions sometimes peddled by politicians and media. Right-wing populist politicians increasingly invoke an imaginary past, one that is selective at best.

‘The two most important and successful slogans of 2016 – Donald Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ and Brexit’s ‘Take Back Control’ – both appeal to moving from an unsatisfactory present back to a romantically remembered past. It is wrong to cast these sentiments as conservative. Their proponents are not champions of the status quo, but rather want to overthrow it.

‘Conservatism at its best is prudent, celebrating the wisdom of the institutions and traditions that have come down to us, cautious about the possible unintended consequences of far-reaching change. It can easily ossify into inertia and complacency. But it is a very different sentiment from the angry renunciation of existing society.’

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