“We’re falling off the centrifuge!” This is how many people increasingly feel in the Western civilization and why they have been casting votes for political parties and movements undermining democracy and space for civil society. While presenting itself as highly emotional movement, there is ample evidence to believe it is not irrational.
Pluralist democracy cannot survive without a solid center of society. Such a space functions as a center if different worldviews can and do safely co-habit there and meaningfully collaborate on resolving common challenges. Maintaining such an integrated or integral societal space – key for civil society – requires a mindset among leaders capable of including and transcending not only various identities, specializations or ideologies, but also various stages of mental and cultural evolution present within both individuals and societal groups.
This think piece is asking two questions: why has there been so strong an onset to this “populist backlash” against solidarity, equality, civil and minority rights, environmental responsibility and various forms of pluralism so fast and across so many countries and what might the NGOs advocating progressive policies do to address its deeper causes in the longer term?
The simultaneous rise of conservative, populist and extremist forces across the West is hard to explain in either left-and-right terms or in purely socio-demographic categories. Much research suggests there are important psychological and cultural factors at play, too. The paper therefore attempts to synthesize bits and pieces of wisdom from some of the brightest minds of contemporary sociology, psychology, anthropology, economics, history and other disciplines so as to reframe our approach: from centrifugal towards more centripetal.
Clearly more research and debate is needed. And the space for civil society needs to be defended vigorously everywhere in the West in the short term. Yet, a few new strategic directions are offered in conclusion for the progressive policy NGOs to consider in the longer term such as a grand bargain – protect the weakest by placing a stronger focus on all those who are just slightly better off (but feel miserable) - and more facilitation and networking across themes, sectors and groups of society.