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Radicalism and indifference

Memory transmission, political formation and modernization in Hungary and Europe

Domonkos Sik

Most theories of radicalization focus on the birth of antidemocratic ideas, semantics, behavior patterns and organizations. However, such focus is one-sided: radicalization is as much about the forgetting of historical lessons and the weakening of a democratic consensus, as the spreading of populist ideas. A case study of public and private processes of memory transmission in Hungary reveals how the ambiguous relation to modernization affects political formation: the failures provoke populist reactions, while the successes result in political indifference. The combination of these two political cultures creates a dangerous compound including both the opportunity for the birth of antidemocratic semantics and their ignorance. The author analyzes the potential of such «incubation of radicalism» on a European survey.


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Radicalism is inseparable from modernity. The same transformations which ena- bled the emergence of democratic forms of social integration based on the prin- ciples of rationality and justice also enabled the emergence of totalitarianisms. In this sense, emancipation and radicalism have been opposing potentials of modernization throughout the history of European countries. In times of great transformations, such as economic or political crises, the shadow of totalitarianism has regularly reappeared and challenged Europe. The most recent crises testing Europe’s democracies are the financial crisis of 2008, whose aftershock can still be sensed and the refugee crisis of 2015, whose consequences are yet to be known. They have shown that in its present form Europe has difficulties of finding effective, yet legitimate, solutions to the challenges of the globalizing world: the strengthen- ing of populist, antidemocratic and EU-skeptical voices indicates not only institu- tional dysfunctions but also unsettled tensions of collective identity. Accordingly, the stability of the European democratic consensus does not seem to be as secure as before. Once again, the question concerning the potential emergence of antidemo- cratic tendencies has to be posed from the perspective of the current characteristics of modernity. This question indicates the broadest theoretical context of the book, which aims to understand how an antidemocratic political culture may emerge in a late modern democratic institutional setting. The notion of political culture refers to those atti- tudes, emotions and habits which ground the interpretation of political process and orient formal and informal political behavior in a...

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