Staunton, Oct. 4 – Many people are talking about a new Middle Ages, but few have considered the implications of a neo-medieval world for ethno-national identities, but Magarita Fabrikant says this shift may be profound, leading not to a society of multiculturalism and hybrid identities but to one based on the search for smaller groups of unconditional “friends.”
The Higher School of Economics scholar says that this could be the result of “attempts to abandon the complex, labor-intensive and increasingly far from objectively predetermined definition of nations” and a turn to a search for groups of “’friends’ in the unconditional sense of the term which does not require reflection” (liberal.ru/authors-projects/kakova-naczionalnost-novogo-srednevekovya).
The paradox of this desire to turn away from a constantly examined sense of what the nation is – Ernst Renan’s “daily plebiscite” – is that it can be achieved “only in a very stable environment which provides a predetermined community of meanings” but that behind it is “the nostalgic desire for simplicity given the constantly changing environment of modernity.”
As a result, Fabrikant says, “the search for ‘friends’ is carried out by modern methods, that is, by efforts to recognize a community by explicit criteria of similarity. And such efforts are like those used to form a team of like-minded people, exactly the opposite of what those pursuing this goal say they want.
What this means when it comes to national identities, she continues, is this: “’the new Middle Ages’ will involve pressure from two opposing sides. On the one hand, there will be a requirement to make explicit what groups have in common, instead of working according to their collective imagination.
And on the other, this will mean that instead of greater permeability of borders as happens in moves toward multi-culturalism, the logical consequence will be an effort to define the external borders of these communities more rigidly, stressing the opposition of “us” and “them.”
In the nature of things, Fabrikant concludes, “there will inevitably be more “outsiders” in this vision of the world,” something that will increase rather than decrease conflict. And it will also be true that it will be easier for members of neo-medieval groups to leave or be expelled from them because others will decide they do not fit the criteria of membership.
It will also, although the HSE scholar does not address this issue here, more difficult for outsiders to be incorporated into the in group, reducing chances for assimilation and stability within any society except under conditions of the harshest forms of modern authoritarianism. Indeed, a neo-medieval vision of identity may be crafted to justify precisely that.