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The Temporal Construction of Nation in New Populisms

Democracy
National Identity
Nationalism
Political Theory
Populism
Hakki Tas
German Institute of Global And Area Studies
Hakki Tas
German Institute of Global And Area Studies

Abstract

Far from the Post-Cold War prediction of liberal democracy’s inevitable triumph, a direct conflict between liberal and democratic values informs current political developments. Throughout the world, populist leaders claiming to be the political embodiment of the volonté générale reap electoral advantages by attacking liberal values and institutions. While academic scholarship represents a continuous attempt to reveal the economic and cultural drivers of new populist movements, this paper focuses instead on the neglected narrative dimension. Inspired by the populists’ salient urge to recalibrate and locate contingent developments within a larger temporal order and establish historical continuity, it dwells on the chronopolitics of populism and calls for a systematic treatment of time in these movements. Such an inquiry will afford an alternative reading from which to engage with and critique the resilience and magnitude of populism. In this manner, this study attempts to unravel how nationhood is fashioned in new populisms by temporal markers and affective registers. It is based on two premises: first, a re-definition of the nation lies at the heart of populist discourses, more pronouncedly in right-wing variations. Second, the nation is primarily a temporal construction invested by the overarching master narrative of a linear national timeline. This paper thus argues that current populisms employ a shared temporal template that accounts for a particular national subjectivity through a set of timing and sequencing of events complemented by affective stimuli. Wrapped in a politics of hope and despair, this template invigorates hate, pride, anger, resentment, self-pity, vulnerability, and aspirations across different time segments. It ultimately demands a vigilant modality through a specific interpretation of the past and future that signals ineffable emergency and crisis in the present. The populist mystification of time not only performs an epistemic function by reducing uncertainty and providing simple answers to complex political and social realities, it also cultivates an emotional capital that leaves rational calculation redundant. Using an interdisciplinary perspective, this paper first outlines the temporal underpinnings of the politics of nationhood. Through various references to the political repertoires of current populisms, it then sketches out their shared template, which narrates the past, present, and future in a particular way. Thereafter, it examines the temporal template with a particular focus on contemporary Turkey, which is considered a paradigmatic case of new populisms. The case study illustrates how longing for the glorious Ottoman past and the utopia of ‘New Turkey’ work in concert with a narrative of perpetual victimhood and liberation war rhetoric, as well as how they all contribute to vigilantism and a fear-invoked sense of urgency in the present. This requires an in-depth analysis of primary and secondary sources to discover the main patterns of creating the new national timeline as prescribed by Turkish populism. The paper concludes with a discussion of the political implications of the populist temporal template and invites a new perspective on populism that considers the nativist element within the politics of nationhood.