On the morning of June 24, the world awoke to a changed Europe. With the so-called ‘Brexit’ referendum, the UK voted to leave the European Union, and as such, the EU lost one of its most important member nations. Almost immediately, there were calls from France, Italy, and the Netherlands to hold similar referenda, jeopardizing the entire EU experiment.
While a number of scholars and commentators have interpreted the Brexit as indicative of the wave of nationalism that has swept Europe and much of the world, many have missed the significance of this wave for a resurgent conservative traditionalism in the West.
It is most certainly the case that the world is going through a radical realignment along nationalist and provincialist lines. From Bosnia to Chechnya, Rwanda, and Barundi, from South Sudan to Scotland, populations have been turning increasingly inward for civic and cultural identity.
But within these balkanizing tendencies is a process called re-traditionalization. Because globalization challenges the traditions and customs, religions, and languages of local cultures, it tends to be resisted with a counter-cultural blowback. In the face of threats to localized identity markers, people assert their religiosity, kinship, and national symbols as mechanisms of resistance against globalizing dynamics.
Few nations exemplify this connection between a resurgent nationalism and a revived religious tradition than the Russian Federation. There has been a self-conscious distancing from globalism by Russia, drawing inspiration instead from the ideals of a neo-Byzantium, what U.S. Naval War College professor John R. Schindler calls a “Third Rome” ideology, which involves “a powerful admixture of Orthodoxy, ethnic mysticism, and Slavophile tendencies that has deep resonance in Russian history.” From this admixture, Russia has emerged, in the words of a recent article, as “Europe’s most God-believing nation.”
And with this national revival comes a re-embracing of traditional moral values. Along with India, Islamic and African nations, Russians have publically and legislatively rejected what they consider the civilizational suicide of LGBT activism and feminism. Even many Eastern-European countries that feel threatened by Russia’s recent militarism, such as Georgia and Moldova, consider globalized secular values far more threatening.
Indeed, the current rise of nationalism throughout Europe is concomitant with a growing religious conservatism. In Europe, immigration ironically is making the continent more religiously conservative, not less; in fact, London and Paris are some of the most religiously dense areas within their respective populations. Since 1970, charismatic Christians in Europe have expanded steadily at a rate of 4 percent per year, in step with Muslim growth. Currently, Laestadian Lutherans in Finland and Holland’s Orthodox Calvinists have a fertility advantage over their wider secular populations of 4:1 and 2:1 respectively.
It is true that British national allegiances have yet to exemplify anything remotely akin to a Christian revival; indeed, church attendance in the UK has long been on the decline. Nevertheless, there seems to be a decline to this decline. Most people in the UK still think of themselves as Christian, and immigrants from Africa and Eastern Europe, Catholic Poles in particular, have made Britain more, not less, religious. There has been an increase in evangelical church attendance, all the while Islamic birthrates in the UK are dropping to under three children per woman. All of this suggests that the Christian tradition remains a significant factor within British cultural identity and will only increase in the coming years if nationalist trends continue.
And continue they will. We should not regard this resurgent nationalism a temporary political fad. This is because globalization entails its own futility; as we have found with the attempt to bring liberal democracy to the Middle East, few are willing to die for emancipatory politics, feminism, and LGBT rights. But the willingness to die for land, people, custom, language, and religions is seemingly universal. Though a formidable challenger, globalization appears to have no chance of overcoming such innate fidelities.
And so, it is certainly the case that the Brexit signifies the rise of nationalism in Europe, but it also suggests the inexorable revival of traditional values and norms. And while there are a number of current cultural peculiarities and paradoxes indicative of a stubborn secularism throughout the West, we can expect social and cultural trends to resolve such inconsistencies in favor of traditional beliefs and practices.
A renewed Christian Europe may not be so far away.