Poland’s Independence Day and authoritarianism

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By Benjamin Solomon, Staff Writer

On November 11, Poland celebrated its 99th Independence Day. Poland achieved sovereignty in the aftermath of World War I in which its neighbors shrunk. But this was not the main story of the day. Instead, far-right, nationalist rallies dominated the capital of Warsaw.

Among those carrying the Polish flag, there were groups carrying Catholic symbols but also many white supremacist symbols. There were chants against Islam and signs against homosexuality. This kind of free speech is getting more and more common.

The world is experiencing a rise in nationalism, and behind it, a rise in authoritarianism. The US, the UK, and many other democratic countries have taken a sharp turn from politics of globalization to more regressive, internally focused concerns. What drives this change? Why do people seem to suddenly care about the racial or religious make-up of their peers?

It is important to first note that this is a conservative ideology. These authoritarians across the globe are concerned with keeping their place at the top of society. This is why they are pushing back against modern progressive culture.

The past century has seen bitterly-fought expansion of rights for women, non-whites, homosexuals, and minority religions in many countries. Some people react negatively to this because they view the world as a zero-sum game.

If someone else is gaining, I must be losing, they think. Acceptance of others is a challenge to the white male hegemony that has dominated society.

That’s why these individuals view Islam as a threat to their Christian values, or gay marriage as a threat to their values. If they are getting more popular, my views must be on the way out. Progressives likely stand opposed to the zero-sum-game idea, in the belief that someone doesn’t have to lose for someone else to gain.

The trend of progress leads to increasing push-back. This is the result of whites or men or Christians being told that they aren’t the apex of society, that others are their equals and they have to deal with it. Some will inevitably reject this and work against it.

Values aren’t the sole motivation for an authoritarian, though. The economic factor is a factor that is gaining prominence in explaining the rise in white nationalism in the US. For example, the phrase “economically anxious” has been used to describe many members of the alt-right.

The economic factor is important because keeping material needs satisfied is one of the crucial parts of keeping people content. If people feel they are missing something necessary to daily life, they will start to mobilize against something or someone they believe to be the cause of their misfortune.

Globalization since the end of the Cold War has upset the status quo in in most countries, both developing or already developed. Change in patterns of trade have put whole industries of people out of work. This period saw a rise in migration and increase of immigrants as a percentage of US population, for example.

People without jobs or who are underemployed will naturally blame immigrants, or foreign trade, or gender-equality regulations (among other things) for this. Thus, they begin to target their dissent against these groups who have recently gained some measure of equality.

Authoritarians end up blaming their fellow average Joes for things that are out of both groups’ control. That’s why there’s resistance to globalization, to equal rights, and to diversity. What else are people going to do? Rally against the capitalist system itself?

Photo Courtesy: VOA News

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