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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 and indifference: patterns of political culture in Europe


The parallel emergence of radicalism and indifference in the post-transition Hun- gary is on the one hand an example of how the distorted perception of modernity could undermine memory transmission and political formation. In this sense, it highlights the antidemocratic transformation of a political culture in a specific social historical constellation. On the other hand, Hungary’s example has general conclusions: it shows how radicalism may emerge in a democratic institutional setting if pathologies are ignored. Most theories of radicalization focus on the birth of the radicals, i.e. the birth of antidemocratic ideas, semantics, behavior patterns and organizations. However, such focus is one-sided, as it cannot grasp the broader context of radicalization, that is, the interactions between radicalizing and non-radical social actors. This context is particularly important in the 21st century Europe, whose anti-totalitarian political identity is based on the memory of World War II, the Holocaust and Communism. In this constellation radicaliza- tion is as much about forgetting the historical lessons of the 20th century and the consequent weakening of the antiradical consensus as it is about the spreading of radical populist ideas. If this consensus weakens, i.e. the understanding of the his- torical lessons of totalitarian systems are replaced by indifference and negligence, then antidemocratic ideas, semantics, behavior patterns and organizations may freely emerge, while democratic principles lose their weight and are talked down by demagogue voices. If the stakes of democracy are forgotten, there is nothing that could prevent the spreading of antidemocratic interpretations of the past and...

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