To whirl or to waltz? In another context, young people today face a similar choice to that of Kemal Atatürk, founder of modern Turkey, as he learned the ways of the West at a preparatory military school in Salonika over a hundred years ago. As told by Todd Buchholz in his analysis of how nations rise and fall, the Asia Minor of the Ottoman Empire was a backward land, in stark contrast to the European powers with their industrial might and cosmopolitan capitals. The whirl was to revolve in Muslim prayer and Eastern mysticism, but Atatürk learned to dance.
Suppressed by the Ottomans, national identity was revived by Atatürk. After his heroic defence of Gallipoli, he liberated the Turks from a defunct caliphate. They became one, a proud people with promising prospects. While Turkey is now regressing to fundamental Islam, mass immigration from the Maghreb, Middle-East and Indian subcontinent has diluted the Judeo-Christian culture of Europe, and on current trends Germany, Sweden, France and Britain could have Muslim majorities by the end of this century. Yet rapid demographic change stirs little anxiety in educated younger people: they have plenty of worries, but an existential threat to their homeland is no big deal.
Patriotism has declined sharply in the younger segments of society. It has been replaced by narcissism, with a parallel shift from universal principles to identity politics. Paradoxically, the more that young people fixate on social media, the less they spend socialising. And the more virtue-signalling, the less respect they show for the views of their elders. Never has such a wide chasm emerged between young and old in British society, as demonstrated by the EU referendum. Parents may find it baffling that their grown-up children genuinely believe they have been deprived of their future by the Leave vote. But the EU represented a progressive internationalism more befitting of the mantra of equality and diversity than the conservative backwaters of Dorset or Dunstable, and ensured protection from our own democratic Parliament (less politely known as ‘Tory scum’).
According to a recent report, young women are unhappier than ever. Inevitably, Brexit was blamed, but studies have been showing an increase in mental health problems over a longer period of time, coinciding with Facebook, a new wave of feminism, and increasing emphasis on self. As Belinda Brown remarked on researchers’ conclusions, the message that life is toxic to the younger female generation is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If depression is reported as an epidemic, it becomes a likely fate: help is sought, and another case is added to medical records (and to pharmaceutical profits).
At university, a studious female majority rarely lets its hair down (and not just the growing proportion in hijab). Course fees are not the only factor in the desertion of the student’s union bar. This is an abstinent, and highly censorial cohort. The new Puritans on campus have encased themselves in political correctness, and a mere observation of fact by a lecturer can result in a verbal assault on Twitter or demands for disciplinary action. ‘This is our safe space’, cry the offended. Often universities acquiesce, hanging their employees out to dry.
Nowadays students eschew the waltz, favouring the whirl of their social bubble, where they hear views similar to their own and learn ever-more righteous absolutisms. Many are Corbynistas, adorning the badges of anti-this or that: the one per cent, Islamophobia, Israel, or Brexit. Radicalism won’t surprise anyone who has attended university since the 1960s, and political interest by students should be lauded. Instead of preparing young people for the real world, campus life is setting them up for culture shock. Populism is gaining momentum across the developed world – mostly in the opposite direction from the Corbynite version.
Nationalism is on the march again in Europe. As always, this is a double-edged sword. History repeatedly shows that crises bring unity, and sometimes scapegoating of others. British pride is perceived by students as the preserve of older people or of right-wing xenophobes (with much overlap). Yet the resurgent patriots across Europe are not limited to the greying generations, and much of their political beliefs are of statist left-wing disposition. Their manifesto for national salvation relies on firm government to protect industry, reduce immigration and nurture a distinct identity and heritage.
The Left has for too long disparaged patriotism, and the space it vacated has allowed extremists to take the language of nationhood: the Front National in France, for example. Nationalist fervour is understandably but erroneously associated with imperialism and war. But Atatürk did not invade Greece. His Turkish passion was a positive energy for national advancement. As the Pied Piper of Islington North leads his naïve middle-class followers to the abyss, we must hope for a new generation to take up the mantle of British pride – before it is too late. As our electorate has failed to stop the destruction of traditional norms and values, perhaps a ‘Young Turks 2.0’ will reclaim our nationhood from moral relativism. Can we find a meaningful, shared identity that includes all? Let’s choose the waltz over the whirl of the intelligentsia – or the ghetto.