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The EU's Cultural Identity as Envisioned by its Founding Fathers The EU's Cultural Identity as Envisioned by its Founding Fathers
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2013-02-03 11:16:45
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There is currently abroad a notion, recently published in Ovi, that the polity that constitutes the EU was conceived by its founding fathers as a very lose trading confederation for the purpose of avoiding a third world war and insure material progress and prosperity to the continent of Europe. It was, in other words a mere project for peace and prosperity requiring little surrender of nationalism and sovereignty but later it was misguidedly transformed into a meganation and the quest for political military power to better be able to confront other economic-military giants such as the US, China, Russia, India. Nothing wrong with the hope and the quest for perpetual peace and prosperity brought about by a robust economy, which in some way has been fulfilled, but I ask: is this notion as narrated true?

In this article I’d like to briefly explore this thorny issue and attempt an answer to the question focusing on the thought of four of the EU founding fathers, namely French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer Italian Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi, and Jean Monnet to determine if the above described notion is tenable or if, to the contrary, those founding fathers, all endowed with great political realism and vision, wished to give a soul to Europe so that it could reclaim its heritage and recognize itself. The article is a mere schematic outline of the issue as developed over a decade and then published in three books on the EU: A New Europe in Search of its Soul (2005), Europe Beyond the Euro (2012 in Ovi magazine bookstore) and Europa: an Idea and a Journey (2012). There is in fact another article in Ovi written in 2011 on the Christian values of the EU Founding Fathers.

As we examine the lives of those three founding fathers, let us keep in mind the rich symbolism of the simple historical fact that in 1951, before beginning the delicate negotiations leading to the adoption of the Treaty of Paris, those founding fathers met in a Benedictine monastery on the Rhine for meditation and prayer. St. Benedict, who established the first monastery in Western Europe at Monte Cassino, is in fact the patron saint of the whole continent of Europe. It was Schuman who once quipped “I never feel so European as when I enter a cathedral.”

But before we get ahead of ourselves let’s back pedal to 1940 when Schuman was arrested for acts of resistance and protestation at Nazi methods. He was interrogated by the Gestapo. Thanks to an honorable German he was saved from being sent to Dachau. Transferred as a personal prisoner of the vicious Nazi Gauleiter Joseph Buerckel, he escaped in 1942 and joined the French Resistance. After the war Schuman rose to great prominence. He was Minister of Finance, then briefly Prime Minister from 1947–1948 becoming Foreign Minister in the latter year. On May 9, 1950, seeking to remove the main causes of post-war Franco-German tension and adopting a scheme of Jean Monnet, Schuman invited the Germans to jointly manage their coal and steel industries. This formed the basis of the European Coal and Steel Community, which eventually evolved into the European Union. This became known as the Schuman Declaration, and to this day May 9 is designated Europe Day.

Schuman later served as Minister of Justice and first President of the European Parliamentary Assembly which bestowed on him by acclamation the title ‘Father of Europe’. The other who received the same honor was Jean Monnet. Celibate, modest and un-ostentatious, Schuman was an intensely religious man and was strongly influenced by the writings of Pope Pius XII, St. Thomas Aquinas and Jacques Maritain. He is presently a candidate for canonization or elevation to sainthood; a move beyond his striking personal qualities.

His vision for a united Europe was rooted not only in his experiences of two horrific world wars but in his faith and the social teaching of the Catholic Church. The new community was intended to be built on co-operation rather than cut-throat capitalistic entrepreneurial competition; one of the aims of the much-derided Common Agricultural Policy was to help the poorest agricultural workers in Europe; the key concepts from Catholic teaching of solidarity and subsidiarity are also written into European structures. Of course things often have not worked well: but much of this has been to do with rivalry among European nation states, the persistence of an ugly xenophobic type of natioanlism – and it was this rivalry that Schuman and the other founding fathers of the new Europe wanted to eliminate.

In the 92 years since Italy had became united, it has had for Premiers one Protestant, one Jew, several agnostics and many Freemasons, but never a practicing Catholic, until Alcide de Gasperi took office. Not until the birth (in 1910) of the political party now led by Alcide de Gasperi were Catholics of modern Italy free to participate in politics. This was due mainly to the estrangement between the newly formed Italy and the Vatican which felt that the new polity had usurped its temporal holdings in central Italy.  At the end of World War I however, a scholarly Sicilian priest named Luigi Sturzo persuaded Pope Benedict XV to let him form a political party of Catholic laymen. Don Luigi promised that he would resolutely avoid church control, and he kept his promise. Don Luigi Sturzo’s creation, the Popular Party, set out to bring Christian morality and principles into distinctly non-Christian Italian politics—”a center party of Christian inspiration and oriented toward the left,” he called it. In some way Don Sturzo can also be considered a founding father of the EU. Among his early and most promising recruits was a somber man named Alcide de Gasperi.

Like Schuman, De Gasperi came from a border region between Italy and Austria that experienced particularly acute suffering during the wars in Europe. This experience marked him for life, and his suffering helped him to form the conviction that: ‘the lesson that all Europeans can learn from their tumultuous past is that the future will not be built through force, nor through a desire to conquer, but by the patient application of the democratic method, the constructive spirit of agreement, and by respect for freedom.

His commitment to Europe was also rooted in his deep faith and guiding principles. A committed Christian, he opposed all forms of totalitarianism. As Chairman of the parliamentary group of the Italian People’s Party, he opposed the rise of the fascist party. In 1927 he was imprisoned for his participation in the Aventin movement. Sentenced to four years in jail, he was released after sixteen months when the Church intervened, but was then forced to withdraw from political life for fifteen years, and worked as a junior employee in the Vatican library. But from 1943 he was to occupy various ministerial positions, and continued to oppose unceasingly the powerful Italian Communist Party.

De Gasperi responded immediately to Schuman’s call, and worked closely with the latter and with Konrad Adenauer. The key to Adenauer’s conception of Christian democracy was the belief that democracy must be based on a “weltanschauung” – a worldview – that provides a complete account of the universe, man, and politics. Adenauer realized that part of the appeal of totalitarianism was the promise of a complete worldview, in contrast to democracy which was seen as a formal procedure that was neutral about outcomes or that simply managed the clash of competing interests. While communism and fascism offered complete worldviews, they were based on “atheistic materialism” which Adenauer steadfastly opposed for reducing the individual to a mere automaton of the state. As he saw it, politics was the struggle between competing weltanschauungen; and democracy could be firmly established in Germany only by possessing a worldview that could compete successfully with Marxism and Nazism. What it needed was a spiritual worldview to replace atheistic materialism and to prevent its own degeneration into egoistic materialism and social Darwinism a la Ayn Rand .

Fortunately, Adenauer argued, Western democracy had such a universal worldview in Christianity and more particularly in Catholicism. The etymology of the very word Catholic conveys universality. What is striking about Adenauer’s position is that he viewed the formation of the Christian Democratic Union in 1945 as a non-denominational party open to all people, while insisting on a platform that stated: “The Christian foundation of the Democratic Union is the absolutely necessary and decisive factor. We want to replace the materialistic ideology of National Socialism with a Christian view of the world…Only Christian precepts guarantee justice, order, moderation, the dignity and liberty of the individual and thus true and genuine democracy…We regard the lofty view that Christianity takes of human dignity, of the value of each single man, as the foundation and directive of our work in the political, economic, and cultural life of our people.” The puzzling feature of this statement is its mixture of non-denominationalism and explicit Christian foundations. The puzzle is deepened when we learn that Adenauer himself was a devout Catholic and former member of the Catholic Center Party – the party that was created in the 1870’s during Bismarck’s kulturkampf (culture war) against Catholicism and that continued through the Weimar Republic which the Center Party strongly supported. Moreover, Adenauer was deeply influenced by the social teachings of the Catholic Church expressed in papal encyclicals, especially Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum and Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno, which he read and studied while under Nazi house arrest in 1933. Adenauer discovered in them a “comprehensive and coherent program inspired by belief in an order willed by God which was perfectly practical in terms of modern society.”

To resolve the puzzle in Adenauer’s position, one must see that his affirmation of a Christian Democratic Union that was nondenominational – open to Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and secular people alike – was possible because it offered a moral vision to all people: the belief in the innate dignity of every human being as the basis of democratic equality and freedom, and the grounding of this principle on faith in God and the Western heritage of Christianity. Adenauer believed that all people could rally around this conception of human dignity and could accept its democratic implications as a common basis for sacred and secular outlooks. Nor was this hope confined to Adenauer. It became the crucial article of faith in modern Christianity, a faith that was more and more explicitly articulated by political leaders, churches and theologians in the course of the twentieth century. The crucial insight is that Christianity and liberal democracy are two sides of the same coin – the sacred and secular sides of a common conception of human dignity that is in principle accessible, via universal reason, to believers as well as nonbelievers, even if the ultimate source and foundation is Christian.

When we look at the history of European unity it is essential to remember what most of Europe looked like in the late 1940s. The Christian churches in Europe, and our Roman Catholic Church in particular as the largest church in Europe, was deeply engaged in relief efforts all over the continent – much of contemporary witness on behalf of the poorest people in the world, and on behalf of refugees, has its roots in the post-war years. It is also true that the depth of horror at the evil of war which is now a part of Catholic identity gets much of its inspiration from these years.

In addition, of course, there was the fear – indeed the expectation – that it was all going to start again, at least from March 1948. Europe was rapidly divided down the middle, an ‘iron curtain from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic’, as Churchill memorably put it. This fear led quickly to the formation of a military alliance, NATO, and to the further development of fearsome and immoral weapons of mass destruction, the fear also engendered a determination to secure democratic structures in the countries not occupied by the Soviet Union during the war, and a resolve that the western European democratic countries should co-operate and work together, and not get caught up once again in historical rivalries.

Unfortunately wars are always bound up with economic rivalry, and many historians see this as the heart of the problem between France and Germany. This was centered on what you need to make weapons of war – steel, and the coal you need to make steel. This was mined and made in an area over which the two countries had fought for a century, the Ruhr/Rhineland and Alsace-Lorraine. While much of this was devastated in the war, it needed to be reconstructed: would the rivalry resume? During the war some French politicians and statesmen had urged the creation of an enlarged state of Lorraine, distinct from Germany (and France).

Enter Jean Monet known as the ‘Father of Europe’ and declared the first (and only) ‘honorary citizen of Europe’ in 1976 (three years before his death at the age of 90), Jean Monnet was one of the most exceptional men of the 20th century. He was never an elected a politician – rather he was a fixer behind the scenes, an administrator – indeed this role has sometimes created a negative view of him. Monnet’s career shows how people behind the scenes often get things done. There is a lot more about Monnet’s life, but what is important is this: his experience of trying to solve enormous problems in enabling his country to fight a modern war showed him that what was necessary above all was the closest co-operation and integration of decision-making between allies.

Important to remember that Schuman was from Lorraine, the province constantly passed back and forth between France and Germany from 1870 to 1945. French by descent, he did not become a Frenchman until the end of the Great war, at the age of 32 – he had been a conscript in the German army. This man was on to become Foreign Minister and Prime Minister of France, and he understood the coal and steel which were produced in Lorraine and which had made it so desirable to both nations.

Adenauer, the post-war first leader of the of the new Federal Republic, was from the Rhineland – like Schuman, he had lived all his life in the shadow of Franco-German conflict. These two men, from neighboring areas which produced the same raw materials, were crucial in the rebuilding of post war Europe. Those economic considerations have given the false impression that they were uppermost on the mind of those four founding fathers. But that is misleading.

Another thing they shared was loyalty and commitment to the teaching of the Catholic Church which they considered universal and acceptable by reason, even by non-believers. They were well versed in philosophy. They were men who in the midst of war and conflict had tried in the 30s to pursue the Church’s vision, as enunciated by Pope Pius XI and others, of how society should be ordered. An example of how this became clear after the war is the place of trade unions in most mainland European states, reflecting Catholic teaching since Pope Leo XIII in the 1890s. Alcide De Gasperi was part of the same Christian Democrat tradition, encapsulated in the aspirations of Italy’s 1947 republican constitution (although Italian he was a German speaker and had grown up in the Austrian part of Italy). Part of the answer these serious Catholic politicians had to the menace of Communism after the war, which was particularly real in France and Italy, was to stress the need for co-operation in society, and of good welfare policies funded by taxation, in line with Catholic social teaching; in effect a mitigation of what a savage kind of hear-less capitalism bent on the accumulation of wealth, often accompanied by the exploitation of workers.

The first big fruit of this common view was the Schuman plan (named after him but essentially conceived by Monnet) in 1950. The reason we mark Europe Day each year on 9 May, is that it was on this day that it all began – France and Germany set up a joint ‘High Authority’ to run the base materials of their economies, the production, pricing and selling of coal and steel. They surrendered sovereignty and unbridled nationalism voluntarily in order to work together – the European Coal and Steel Community set up by 1952 and including Italy, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg was the fruit of this plan and vision. The subsequent development of the ECSC into the EEC by the time of the Treaty of Rome in 1958 is well documented.

We need to remember that the original vision aiming at a political union and common defense, faded so that the EEC began by being primarily economic – why is that? Because of national pride, the turbulence in France in the late1950s, and fear of any armed alliance involving Germany. So, it is not correct to say that the union was conceived as mere trading alliance with no political underpinning. The contrary is true, people all over Europe understood that they needed to give up a measure of what they prized most highly – independence and sovereignty, to find a new way of working together in the interests of peace and stability. Some, especially in England, which later joined the union, continued to resist this surrender of sovereignty, but I would suggest that in as much as it has been overcome is was due to the universal social teachings promoted by the Catholic Church and accepted and practiced by the four founding fathers we have examined; they remained the key players in the organization of the new polity.

In conclusion, in the difficult times the EU is currently undergoing when we hear much talk on the economy by bankers, economists and bureaucrats, while precious little is mentioned on cultural identity, when the center does not seem to hold very well, and the cart seems to have been placed before the horse, it is perhaps high time to return back to the future and ponder deeply the vision and the dream of the founding fathers of the EU, not to speak of its poets and philosophers, to determine if indeed such a union is worth preserving and fighting and even dying for, since not by bread alone does man live.

 


     
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Nikos Laios2013-02-03 12:39:50
A very good article that asks some very interesting questions. But firstly I would still coin the terminology of 'founding fathers' very losely,and as valid as their concerns were, the 'founding fathers' and their subsequent philosophies are not a sacrosanct infallible hieratic canon of belief, for we do not live in a static cannonical centralised society like ancient Egypt, we are free thinking Europeans; where the spirit of free inquiry, independance of will and thought were born. Indeed it can equally be stated that the EEC,EU is an an emanation of the dark shadow of the German psyche .The German psychologist C.G.JUNG in his book called "Essays on contemporary events", stated in his essay,"The fight with the shadow", that: " ...The marked tendency of the Western democracies to internal dissension is the very thing that could lead them into a more hopeful path.But I am afraid that this hope will be deferred by powers which still believe in the contrary process,in the destruction of the individual and the increase of the fiction we call the state." Jung then further states that: " ...the dangerous slope leading down to mass psychology begins with this plausible thinking in large numbers,in terms of powerful organisations where the individual dwindles to a mere cipher.Everything that exceeds a certain human size evokes equally inhuman powers in man's unconscious.Totalitarian demons are called forth,instead of the realisation that all that can really be accomplished is an infinitesimal step forward in a more moral nature of the individual." Therefore were the 'founding fathers incorrect in their hypothesis of a political union of Europe? Yes they were, were their beliefs infallible? No they are not. So long as we do not forget that the individual and the freedom of the dissension of the individual forms the basis of any nation state, then we will not forget that any centralisation of power or authority is not only odious,but antiquated. For indeed political scientists at present in arguing the merits of centralisation versus decentralisation vis-a-vis as the best methodology in governing a state, point to decentralisation as a more efficient and adaptive element of governance.So the EU in its present construct hurtling down the hill like a boulder to political union should be seriously reconsidered, if not stopped. For the barometer of this is in the increasing people's protests that are springing up across Europe.Cultural,social, and economic concerns can be managed without the necessity of political union,anything that entails giving up any of the hard fought liberties or freedoms that has made the individual the centre of European civilisation should be avoided at all cost.


Emanuel Paparella2013-02-03 15:01:09
Thank you Mr. Laios for these thoughtful and insightful comments which I respect and are to my mind are exemplary of how two interlocutors with good will and the use of reason can continue to carry on a sincere and passionate dialogue, in an attempt to convince each other, even when continuing to disagree, that is to say they can continue to disagree without becoming disagreeable by degrading the exchange to an ad hominem argument, the attack on an interlocutor’s person and character to discredit his ideas with which one is either unable or unwilling to deal. I suppose the key to remaining civil in any discussion of a hot issue is the ability to remain respectful of each other’s person and views. But then again, that is Ovi’s magazine’s approach to free speech to begin with and what keeps me and others like yourself contributing to it. I sincerely hope with the editors of the magazine that those kinds of positive dialogues keep on increasing and the negative diminish or even disappear.

On the issue itself, while I hear and understand what you are saying on the danger of a totalitarian approach to a political union which was meant to be a commercial trade union I persist in asking the question: does the center hold in the present EU or are centrifugal forces at work which will eventually bring it crashing down as the proverbial Sisyphus’s boulder to which you have alluded in your article? It appears that presently the EU is experiencing considerable difficulties in this regard if one were to judge merely by the separatist political movements going on in Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Scotland, Corsica, and various other places which I suspect are largely fueled by a xenophobic kind of nationalism parading as patriotism, as we have discussed recently in Ovi. Unless that is we see these movements as something positive, as a diffusion of a centralized totalitarian kind of power keeping a whole continent united under some sort of tyranny a la Hitler or Mussolini or Stalin or Mao. I understand the constant and present danger of tyranny and the shadow as Jung describes and coming from Jung, one of my favored authors, I tip my hat to it, as I do to the shadows described by Plato in his proverbial cave…, I also understand the dangers to individual inalienable rights but I would simply point out that as of now democracy remains one of the conditions for application and entrance into the EU, imperfect as such a democracy may be. In that sense the vision of the founding fathers has prevailed and has been more than fulfilled. Jefferson used to say that those who place the economy and material prosperity ahead of liberty deserve to lose both. One wonders if his prophecy is not being fulfilled in the West.

Another corollary question applicable to the West no matter which continent the West is found on is this: is Social Darwinism a la Ayn Rand a centripetal or a centrifugal force? In comparison democracy may appear dispersive, the worst of all possible systems (except for all the others Churchill quipped) militating against a strong center but I see democracy, as the founding fath and religion (independent from its spiritual value) as the EU founding founding fathers did also, as a better cultural glue and centripetal force than capitalistic laisse faire savage capitalism militating against the common good, concerned with the goods and all but contemptuous of the Good.
The issue as I see it, and as I believe the EU founding fathers saw it too, is not so much one of power and how to get more of it, a great preoccupation in China bent on overcoming the US as the number one global power, but one of cultural identity: on settling first what does it mean to be a European before doing the practical thing of construction a united Europe. Here is where I believe the founding fathers have much to teach us and we ought to remember them and ponder their wisdom.

There is one final point on which I believe we agree and may even be the necessary bridge between our disagreement and it is this: when Kant wrote his Critique of Practical Reason he did so as a European who happened to be a Lutheran Christian but he was not advocating a fit all confessional religion for all Europeans. Like the founding fathers, he was rather advocating an ethics that all, believers and non-believers alike, could reach with the use of unaided reason (pure reason as he called it to compare it with empirical experiential scientific reason)which all could practice because it is universal and based on freedom of choice as found in human nature. I wonder if Kant is widely read in China.


Nikos Laios2013-02-03 21:50:42
Mr.Paparella, I whole heartedly agree with many of the points you raise. Indeed, I see our varied approaches to the same issue as it were, looking upon but two of the facets of a multii-faceted diamond; the light might filtrate the the prism of these facets differently, but all facets in the end are valid, and are an equal and integral part of the whole truth. I propose as a start that humanism, probably one of the greatest accomplishments of the European mind, can becomes the fulcrum upon which the destiny of the peoples of Europe is based upon. As much as I see capitalism as a positive force that allows people to self-actualise via the addion of more free time in one's life; I do agree with your dislike of the 'brutal capitalism' that is espoused by varied groups out there, including the cold dispassionate and brutal 'Randism'. For capitalism, is only but the accountant's tool of economic management, and is a means to an end, and not the end itself - which some sadly see in capitalism as a pseudo-religion in itself. But through the fulcrum of Humanism, and the spirituality of the traditions of the Catholic,Orthodox,and Protestant movements - sprinkled with some Periclean,Rennaissance ,post enlightenment accomplishments, and through the giant strides in culture,psychology and philosophy made by Europe these last two hundred years - all these ingredients I'm sure can be combined and kneaded via the glue of humanism, to create the new mortar that we can use to build the foundation of a happy Europe. I Thank you for your satisfying exchange, and agree, that we Europeans need to create a new humanist utopia in a sense, in that through every intellectual vehicle both high and low; through mediums such as Ovi ,that many Europeans can start to share the reflections of their thoughts and perceptions, for a positive future of Europe can only be built through the positive participation of us all.......many thanks again Mr.Paparella for your wonderful article, and mind...


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