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Start Towards a Common Sense Europe? (Part I)
16 May 2019

Towards a Common Sense Europe? (Part I)

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Post-2008 Crisis Context & the Cultural Narratives of Common Sense

The 2008 financial crisis has been a turning point in the socio-political construction of the European Union as it tested the very foundational principles that gave birth to this supranational entity: aims of solidarity, economic interdependence and conflict resolution among states by means of policy-making (Castells, 2017). However, the 2008 aftermath and the solutions applied to the financial crisis challenges have engendered a new social configuration where inequality and fear have been triggering a wave of discontent capitalized by extremist political realizations which, in many cases, undermine the very principles that forged the European Union.

In short, the foundational narrative of the European Union as a common space for sharing, re-distributing and peace-keeping, has been progressively displaced by a post-2008 cultural narrative based on isolationism, symbolic and material capital accumulation and revival of tribal modes of entering into conflict with the Other: the State, the migrant, the refugee, the woman, the intellectual, in other words, any subject or collective that can be blamed for the problems of the tribe (Valdivia, 2018).

This new mode of thinking has succeeded at reducing the complexity of our global challenges to a one-dimensional discursive practice labelled as common sense. Before the technocratic language employed by the European Union to communicate with the citizens, national-populists have managed to deploy an anti-intellectual narrative where expertise has been transferred from the hands of a few ones to the realm of the general public. In this vein, common sense seems as an instinct possessed by any citizen. For national-populists, experts are redundant and are not qualified to defeat the instinct of common sense.

This socio-political attitude has already been studied by psychologists under the name of the Dunning-Kruger effect: “Psychological phenomenon wherein our lack of ability causes us to vastly overestimate our actual skill” (McIntyre, 2018: 173). Following the nationalist-populist line of reasoning, in the new common sense narrative, the cultural imaginary of Europe is transformed into a set of binary oppositions which share metonymic and synecdochical properties: Nation (epitomizing the lost Arcadia of the welfare state) vs European Union (demonized as the non-natural intellectualist, globalist and technocratic apparatus of control); the people (as a natural community) vs the elite (as a de-naturalized disruptor of the welfare state by means of appropriation and oppression); the common sense (the natural instinct and reason) vs. the expert judgement (the unreasonable de-naturalized work of the elite). In this regard, the post-2008 populist cultural narrative has produced a new self-representational paradoxical paradigm in which, thanks to common sense, we are all experts.

Populist storytelling has shaken the foundations of the European Union

Challenging Traditional Conceptions of Europe?

Recently, in April 2019, Matteo Salvini (Home Minister of Italy) hosted a forum in Milan with the intention of uniting in its diversity the different nationalist-populist movements which are gaining momentum in Europe (The Economist, 8th April 2019). The title of this conference was Towards a common sense Europe. People rise up. This meeting had the strategic purpose of attempting to join forces with like-minded national-populists in the advent of the new European elections between the 23 and 26 of May. The title of this forum is already very telling about the cultural rhetorics of the national-populist narrative which aims to empower again national citizens now framed as experts naturally exercising their common sense, a common sense that has been neglected by the European elite.

This is a fallacy based on the structural misperception that the nations have no voice in Europe, which is false on the one hand as the decisions of the Council are taken by the state-members, and, on the other, under the assumption that the people (defined in the national-populist narrative as a natural community) knows what is best for them as a self-regulatory body in perfect harmony within the limit of the natural community (the nation).

Despite this could be perceived as a way to challenge the traditional conceptions that sustain the raison d’être of the European Union, actually what Salvini and other national-populist have successfully articulated is to empty the symbolic capital of the foundational European narrative and re-signify its principles by renewing key-terms such as democracy, freedom or Europe, among others. The alleged anti-Europeism of the national-populists movement is nothing but a cultural and rhetorical strategy to activate certain political attitudes among voters. These apparently anti-establishment proponents are only concerned with how they can secure their hegemonic position in the system by aesthetically framing themselves as outsiders. To be continued.

Pablo Valdivia

Chair European Culture & Literature

Judith Jansma

Proffessor, University of Groningen


Works cited

Castells, M. et al. (2017). Europe’s Crises. London: Wiley.

McIntyre, L. (2018). Post-Truth. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

The Economist (8th April 2019). “Mateo Salvini tries to unite Europe’s nationalists”.

Valdivia, P. (2018). “Ten years on from the Crisis: writing the future of Europe”.

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