In conceptualizing international relations, a growing portion of the discipline has been focused on analyzing societal trends and their impact on state policies as a whole. A large portion of contemporary international relations studies focuses on the complex dynamics brought on by ethnic nationalism and the surging rise of right-wing populism. Although each case study is marked by unique factors such as economic turmoil and ethnic makeup, the most fundamental method of categorizing society is a firm distinction between the in-group known collectively as “us” versus the out-group known collectively as “them”. The consequences of such a distinction are vast, leading to similar discourse emerging in various groups both within and across states. One of the most fervent talking points is known as the Great Replacement Theory, an oft-apocryphal ideology insisting on the demise of Western civilization by the hands of non-white immigrants. This article will provide a brief summary of the Great Replacement Theory and discuss the broader societal repercussions of such rhetoric.
Great Replacement Theory First popularized by French novelist Renaud Camus in his 2012 work Le Grand Remplacement, Great Replacement Theory is defined primarily by the notion that white European society is under existential threat by immigration (Azani et al., 2020). Specifically, “non-white/minority cultures are systematically replacing the ‘white race’” through waves of immigration and therefore creating a “white genocide” (Koblentz-Stenzler & Pack, 2021, p. 10). Through the arrival of new ethnic groups and the subsequent adulteration of white culture as a result, Great Replacement Theory offers an apocalypse for the white race. As such, calls to action are often persuasive and time-sensitive in an effort to reverse such demographic shifts. Combining aspects of conspiracism, dualism, and apocalypticism, the theory “call[s] for an uprising by the forces of good - [defined as] white, heterosexual men and women - against the forces of evil - [defined as] non-white races, Jews, homosexuals and ‘race traitors’” (Azani et al., 2020, p. 19). The world is therefore defined as a simplified battle for existence, dual forces of the white “us” opposing the non-white “them”.
Figure 1: Anti-migrant sentiment within the European Union remains strong.
As a theoretical framework to understanding social dynamics, Great Replacement Theory owes a portion of its existence to Social Identity Theory. First developed by Tajfel and Turner (1979), this theory argues that a person’s identity is inherently tied and often defined by which social groups they are a part of. By self-identifying with a particular group, the individual personalizes the favorable characteristics of their own in-group and compares other social groups based on their own identity. Therefore, those who subscribe to Great Replacement Theory define their own identities in staunch opposition to out-groups, dualizing their existence as a white European in comparison to the “other”.
Subsequent Consequences of Great Replacement Theory Although this area of study is still relatively new, there exists substantial data of the potential effects of such rhetoric on both individual and group behavior. By subscribing to a dualistic manner of thought, in which one defines their existence squarely in opposition to an “other” group, individual empathy and trust in others are lowered (Hein et al., 2015). A lowered sense of trust leads to increasingly polarized identities and nationalist policies, in which fragmented groups of society form cohesive political parties defined by their in-group status (Marchlewska et al., 2017).
Figure 2: The United States Capitol attack remains one of the most fervent examples of political polarization.
In fact, the Great Replacement Theory has evolved beyond its propagation in grassroots organizations and has found roots in nativist political parties internationally (Kaldor, 2021). Such rhetoric has been adopted into mainstream political discourse of parties such as France’s National Rally and Germany’s Alternative for Germany, right-wing populist parties who have seen considerable amount of success in both national and local elections.
Another influence of Great Replacement Theory on individual behavior is its influence on “lone wolf”-style acts of violence. The 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks was influenced by the gunman’s manifesto titled “The Great Replacement”, partly inspired by his travels throughout Europe (Jones & Harrington, 2020). Though still in its infancy, international terrorism studies is beginning to research how far-right individuals utilizing Great Replacement Theory as motivation for acts of violence can potentially fit the definition of terrorism.
Figure 3: Tributes left after the 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks.
Conclusions The increasing complexity of social group dynamics in an era of ever-growing global interconnectedness appears to be growing more strained. “As a growing phenomenon with transnational dimensions”, Great Replacement Theory has proven to be a common rhetoric shared amongst groups across the world (Theodorakis & Close, 2020, p. 6). By conceptualizing the in-group as an “us” with shared ethnoracial characteristics against the out-group “them” with different characteristics, this dual nature of existence serves as the base for the apocryphal future of the white race. As of currently, the study of Great Replacement politics and its existence firmly within transnational social dynamics is still developing. Although there exists some institutional frameworks and international regulations in the form of United Nations frameworks, a more nuanced focus on how states can interact with civil society is needed to further understand this phenomenon. Bibliographical References
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