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Those Were The Days…

Believe it or not! Nostalgia is one of the driving forces behind the resurrection of ultra-nationalism in contemporary world. Interestingly, the love for the past is not necessarily based on the glorious period of history or on pleasant experience. Many in the First World believe that they used to live a happy life five decades ago. However, the indictors of economic development tell us a different story altogether. Perhaps, it would be wrong to say that those days were excellent, if we judge that period with other parameters, such as education, health and the standard of living etc. The common people used to suffer a lot those days not only in the developing world, but also in the First World. Majority of the people used to live rough, tough and uncertain lives 50 years ago. Most importantly, the concept of democracy was not so popular at that time. So, we try to portray the image of glorious past (regarding a state or a nation) with the help of some historical events, like a victory in a particular war.

The Persistence of Memory (1931) by Salvador Dalí

Those, who are in favour of Brexit, still believe that Britain should emerge as the most powerful nation once again. They also believe that Britain had enjoyed the status of ‘the most powerful nation’ in the past. This concept was developed in the Victorian or Edwardian era and has no implication in the modern world. It’s also a fact that people of different classes didn’t enjoy their lives in Victorian Britain. However, this illusive concept of superiority has encouraged Britons to vote for Brexit, as they believe that they could get back their aristocracy only by leaving the European Union. As per a survey conducted in 2014, 59% of Britons are proud of the British Empire and a third of them think that it would have been great, had the Empire exist. Many Russians, too, are of the opinion that the Soviet era was great! Also, President Donald Trump is saying that he will take the US back to the top. There will be a disaster if everyone wants to get back the glorious position on the basis of the imaginary past.

During an international conference a couple of years ago, an American Political Scientist told the audience that the US was no more at the top of the world and it would be important for his country to get back the glorious position. An Indian sociologist, who was also present there, asked the political scientist whether there was any guaranty that the US would lead the world again… The Indian’s statement shocked the American, who never thought that a person could question the US’ superiority! For any American, it’s natural that the US will lead the world. That is what is being highlighted by Hollywood movies, books and TV channels on a regular basis.
Before Karl Marx, a number of socialist thinkers used to dream of a fictional state where there would be no divisions between the have and the have nots. However, the German philosopher strongly criticised them and called them Utopian socialists. Marx and Engels repeatedly explained why their ‘Socialism’ was ‘scientific‘, and not ‘Utopian’. It is to be noted that the Utopian thinkers, too, were very much popular at that time. However, the concept of modern ‘Ram Rajya’ is not utopia….it’s ‘retrotopia’…

In his publication ‘Retrotopia‘, Polish sociologist and philosopher Zygmunt Bauman said that uncertainty regarding jobs and earnings, increasing inequality in the society etc. created a desire among the people to return to an imaginary past, thus, taking them to a narrow communal position.
Literature or philosophy didn’t give birth to the term Nostalgia. It derived from two Greek words – nostos (return home) and algos (pain) – in the 17th Century. So, the actual meaning of nostalgia is ‘acute homesickness’. It was basically a medical term at that time, as the doctors used to consider nostalgia as a mental illness. Later, the word got a new meaning: considering the past as an ideal. There is nothing new in diving in nostalgia and it is not unusual. Still, there are some people in India who believe that the British colonialism or the Nehru era was far better! We can consider this mindset as nostalgia at personal level. However, some contemporary rulers design nostalgia in a well planned manner only to provoke ultra-nationalism. This is dangerous!

If we can establish that “we were the best in the past”, then we can easily cover up our present mistakes. Such a move also allows us to do the wrong. The idea of nostalgia is fine at personal level. But, it’s dangerous, if nostalgia influences the politics.

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