Networking Populism: The Neoliberal Schism and the Transnational Origins of the Eurosceptic Thought Collective.

In the past decade, Eurosceptic national populism has posed one of the most significant challenges to European democracy. To better understand this ideology’s emergence, this project synthesises intellectual histories of national populism and neoliberalism with recent advances in the digital humanities. As David Armitage and Jo Guldi have argued, the increasing accessibility of software enables social scientists and historians to move beyond information overload towards improved data-driven analyses and more impactful visualisations.

Social Network Analysis (SNA) is a particularly promising tool for historians seeking to engage further with the digital humanities. Rooted in mathematical graph theory, SNA extracts data from sources and visualises them as graphs of individual points (nodes) connected by lines (edges). By employing these methods, network software can determine the most important nodes (or their “centrality”) and locate distinct clusters within the network (also known as “community detection”). Using SNA, this project systematically maps the individuals, organisations, ideologies, and intellectual traditions that coalesced to form a transnational network that this paper calls the “Eurosceptic Thought Collective”. This research examines the diachronic ideological stability of individuals and organisations within the network and asks how radical Eurosceptic concepts emerged and disseminated across it.

It is proposed that, through the 1990s and 2000s, this network catalysed support for Brexit by hybridising reactionary neoliberal Euroscepticism, immanent right-wing populism, and British nationalist traditions. British Euroscepticism was not an isolated, nativist ideological formation. Rather, it was a local expression of a transnational network of individuals and institutions that sought the secession of member-states from the EU to further encase global markets within a deregulated, low-tax network of spaces that Quinn Slobodian has called “the zone”.

These findings challenge the view that the 2016 Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump heralded the end of the neoliberal world order and the rejection of globalisation. Instead, it is increasingly evident that the alliance between national populism and neoliberalism has become a dominant feature of the early 21st century. A social network analysis of the historical roots of Euroscepticism in Britain helps better understand this syncretic ideology that continues to challenge European democracy.

Over the past five years, Sebastian Lowe has been studying the impact of Euroscepticism on British politics. Born in Lausanne and educated in Switzerland, Britain, and America, he graduated from Queen Mary University of London in 2015 with a Ba in History and Politics. After working in accounting and nuclear energy in the United States, he commenced an MSc in Empires, Colonialism and Globalisation at the London School of Economics. Subsequently, he pursued a doctorate at the University of Oxford, first attaining an MPhil from Wolfson College before starting his current DPhil studies at University College. His research aims to synthesise the digital humanities with modern political and intellectual history, specifically studying neoliberalism, nationalism, and populism.