The Return of Paranoid Nationalism

“We are going to ensure that the Netherlands belong to the Dutch again,” promised a triumphant Geert Wilders after the unexpected PVV victory in the 2023 elections. It is tempting to dismiss such statements as an expression of gut feeling, of unthinking xenophobia. But the ideas expressed by Wilders are based on a coherent world view, an ideology. In this lecture, Annelien de Dijn will argue that this ideology can best be described as paranoid nationalism.

Nationalists strive first and foremost for national self-determination, as in Wilders’ promise to “give power back to the Dutch.” But the PVV’s nationalism is no ordinary nationalism. It has paranoid features, because it sees the survival of the nation threatened by all kinds of imaginary enemies, both internal and external. In Wilders’ worldview, the Dutch Muslim community is a fifth column that collaborates with foreign powers and organizations that seek the downfall of the Netherlands.

Wilders is not alone with his ideas. The ideology of parties such as the Vlaams Belang, Rassemblement National, or the FPÖ – parties that are usually described as radical right – is also based on paranoid nationalism. This ideology, which has deep roots in European political culture, must be taken seriously if we want to understand the electoral success of these parties. Rather than vague feelings of dissatisfaction with the elite or economic malaise, De Dijn will suggest that it is the appeal of this worldview that makes people vote for parties such as the PVV. The radical right can therefore only be countered with a coherent counter-narrative.

Following De Dijn’s lecture, Tamar de Waal and Matthijs Rooduijn will give a response to her insights. Matthijs Lok will chair the session as well as moderate the ensuing discussion. The programme will be introduced by Nik de Boer, who will say a few things about the launch of the Platform for Democratic Resilience that hosts the lecture.

Over de sprekers

Annelien de Dijn is Professor of Modern Political History and chair of the Political History Department at Utrecht University. Her research focuses on the history of political thought in Europe and in the United States from 1700 to the present day. De Dijn’s first book, French Political Thought, Montesquieu to Tocqueville: Liberty in a Levelled Society was published by Cambridge University Press in 2008. Her second book, Freedom: An Unruly History (Harvard University Press), explores the changing meaning of Herodotus’ freedom to the present.

Matthijs Lok is a Senior Lecturer in modern European History at the Department of European Studies of the University of Amsterdam. His specialisation is the political, cultural and intellectual history of modern Europe in a global context since the eighteenth century, in particular topics on the intersection of history, politics, philosophy and memory. His main interest concerns the role of ideas in political change and ‘counter-narratives’ of political modernity and globlisation. In 2023 his latest book, Europe Against Revolution, came out with Oxford University Press.

Tamar de Waal is Associate Professor in legal theory at the Amsterdam Law School of the University of Amsterdam. She is director of the Amsterdam Honours College of Law. She also writes the In Den Haag-column in De Groene Amsterdammer (triweekly). She is also editorial board member of the journal Beleid & Maatschappij. She specializes in citizenship, the constitutional democratic state and its values, civic education, immigrant ‘integration’ policies and interdisciplinairy legal research methods.

Matthijs Rooduijn is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Amsterdam. His research focuses on the political manifestations of in-group/out-group thinking. More specifically, he studies populist and radical left and right parties and their voters. How do these parties behave and why and under which circumstances do citizens vote for these parties? And how do the attitudes of these (and other) voters take shape?

Nik de Boer (moderator) is Associate Professor in Constitutional Law at the Amsterdam Law School. His research focuses on democratic backsliding and democratic questions about the legal architecture of the financial system. Earlier research primarily concerned the role of constitutional courts in the EU. His first book, Judging European Democracy, was recently published by Oxford University Press and offers a systematic analysis of how we should assess the democratic legitimacy of the national constitutional courts’ review of European law.

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