Nostalgia is on the rise in Europe – and it needn’t be a bad thing | Julian Baggini

We can’t return to the past, no matter what populist politicians promise. But we can learn from it to build a better future

There’s a lot of truth in the old joke that nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. The word itself has a sense that has been largely lost. Its original 17th-century coinage was as a kind of mental illness, a homesickness suffered by soldiers on foreign campaigns. Only lately did it morph into a warm, indulgent enjoyment of how things used to be.

Now nostalgia seems to be changing once again, turning into a different kind of pathology, one that infects not individuals but society. Bertelsmann Stiftung, a German foundation, has conducted a poll in Europe’s five largest nations and found that two thirds of Europeans believe that the world used to be a better place. These nostalgic Europeans are generally more rightwing and much more critical of immigration. The report claims that their discontent is being exploited by populists to “fuel dissatisfaction with the political system and distrust of mainstream political elites”.

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