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A post-modern model for Europe?
by Prof. Francesco Tampoia
2007-03-26 10:27:49
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Europe is only to be found in the process of creating it. The true way to define Europe is to build Europe. [D. de Rougemont]

What is Postmodernism?

The manuals inform us that Postmodernism is a set of ideas, emerged since the mid-1980s as an area of academic study, hardly definable because it is a concept that appears in a wide variety of disciplines including art, architecture, music, literature, sociology, communications, fashion, technology, and now politics. It is also hard, too, to locate temporally or historically, because it's not clear when postmodernism begins.

The very ubiquity of the discourse on post-modern, its constant proliferation, its refusal to fade away, and its seeming longevity suggests that it is addressing current concerns in a useful way, that it illuminates salient present-day realities, that it resonates with shared experience, and that it is simply an ingrained part of the current critical lexicon that one has to come to terms with, one way or another.

Scholars are still now debating when exactly the modern period begins, and how to distinguish between what is modern and what is not. It seems like the modern period starts earlier and earlier every time historians look at it. Some historians trace elements of enlightenment thought back to the Renaissance or earlier, others insist to the importance of scientific revolution of Modern age. Generally speaking, the modern epoch is associated with the European Enlightenment, which begins roughly in the middle of the eighteenth century. But at the core of modern conception is the nineteenth and twentieth-century world of nation-states, political democracy, capitalism, urbanization, mass literacy, mass media, mass culture, rationality, anti-traditionalism, secularization, faith in science, large-scale industrial enterprise, individualism, enlightenment ideals and a public ideology in which liberal, progressive, humanitarian ideals are prominent.

F. Lyotard, the most theoretical of the post-moderns, with his renowned pamphlet La Condition post-moderne 1979, which opened the European debate on post-modernism, affirmed that post-modernity doesn’t replace or come after modernity, nor is it against modernity, or wants to portray the dissolution of the programs of modernity. The society in which we are living is not looking for a universal language, stable knowledge, as in the past. The present society can be considered a network of linguistic games, in which communication and the technologies of communication assume a prevailing role.

According to some scholars, modernism and postmodernism are cultural formations, which accompany particular stages of capitalism. It is possible outline three primary phases of capitalism which dictate particular cultural practices: a) the market capitalism, which occurred in the eighteenth through the late nineteenth centuries in Western Europe, England, and the United States, b) the monopoly capitalism, associated with electric and internal combustion motors, and with modernism, c) the multinational or consumer capitalism, the phase we're in now, associated with nuclear, electronic technologies and informatics, and correlated with postmodernism.

Postmodernism, as the definition of an entire social formation, or set of social/historical attitudes, contrasts on principle post-modernity with modernity. But historically speaking it clashes with modernity only after the European civil wars of the short century, as some historians call twentieth century. Conservative scholars judge the post-modern option in politics as a dangerous exit after the dramatic changes of the late '80s and early '90s, symbolized by the fall of Soviet Communism, and demand systemic theories for explanation and future direction. According to them, being the Post-modern theory incapable of delivering, it's better to look at the classical theorists of modernity. And, indeed, historically and theoretically the postmodernism seems clearly parasite towards modernism, something that the same postmodernists admit. Moreover, the conservatives declare war on post-modern political renunciations of systemic social theory, fragmentation, nihilism, apathy and inertia. Not by chance in Der philosophische Discurs der Moderne, dated 1985, Jürgen Habermas engaged a vigorous debate with French poststructuralist M. Foucault and F. Lyotard arguing that their radical rejection of any notion of foundations destroys the very possibility of social critique. More recently referring to Europe he said that is quite right to keep the road of deconstructing the modernity especially with regard to the instrumental reason, but it is not wise to abandon regulative and practical postulates for emancipation and support in advantage of federal plan.

Two approaches

I. On the different dynamics of integration the conceptual alternatives that dominate the social science debate on Europe can be divided and indicated by the conceptual pairings neo-federalism and inter-governmental voluntarism. The neo-federalism refers to dynamics that envisages the intentional establishment of a political order for all of Europe, oriented towards the fulfilment of shared values and standards. The inter-governmental voluntarism, instead, describes functionalist dynamics driven by national and sectorial interests or contractual compromise, wherein progress is made through cooperative tactical moves that cumulatively fulfil emergent functional necessities.

Habermas’ view is a sort of neo-federalist model that gives wings to imagination and which in the different national arenas unchains an ample, public and dramatic debate on common interests. So that a European integrated politics can enter into action, in his opinion, European citizens, only countermarked by a common passport, need to learn to recognize, beyond their national boundaries, each other as belonging to the same political community. The civic solidarity, till now limited to the national state must enlarge to that of citizens of Union so that, for example, France and Greek are ready to give themselves reciprocal guarantee. Habermas’ model in sum substantiates a mayor cohesion among the countries of the European Union, an enlarged basis of solidarity that aims at something like a European demos.

At this point the question arises: are we moving into a post-national era?

In a picture of globalization wherein the nation-state withdraws into itself as a sea urchin and is neither able to get back its former strength, nor to face the outside challenge by means of protectionist measures, it dissolves itself into the network of globalization. Although the nation-state generates the relations of trust and solidarity upon which democracy and the welfare state depend, on the economic point of view it is structurally a sub-optimal formation and less efficient than a common market, which provides for the comparatively unlimited exchange of all goods and services under uniform conditions. It is, too, politically sub-optimal because it tends to prioritize narrowly defined national interests over trans-national problems, even to the point of accepting the collective harm of military force. The rational solution would be to transfer political responsibilities from national to European governmental authorities, particularly in the areas of foreign affairs, security, law and monetary policy. But, even if this argument appears compelling on the surface, when put into practice it quickly runs up against fundamental facts of social life, and requires a rational method of resolving conflicts between local and global efficiency, or short-term and long-term efficiency.

From a juridical point of view we cannot speak of European citizenship and of European state. The treatise of Maastricht doesn't represent the foundation of a European state. It only recognizes the European Union as a society of states, ein Staateenverbund. It might be possible to use the expression European people in particular circumstances, for example at the times when we go to vote to elect the European parliamentarians.

Then another question arises: When does a collection of persons constitute an entity, a people, entitled to govern itself democratically?

The suggestion of a temporal order, which the people must somehow mature into readiness for democracy, has often been a staple of dictators and elites who think popular democracy should be postponed to some future time when the people are ready. At the same time this thesis is challenged by the other suggestion that democratic participation is itself the educative process, which potentially makes a people ever more ready, not only by developing democratic capacities, but also by developing democratic solidarities. In subsequent statements the same Habermas softening his preceding positions has admitted that there is no intrinsic reason why either nationalism, even nationalism with strong ethno-cultural components, or European constitutional patriotism could not flourish on a European scale.

So, the Habermasian notion of constitutional patriotism of Europeans for a New Europe remains ongoing, grounded in the future. The actual democratic deficit is not simply an institutional phenomenon, which concerns the limited powers of the European Parliament; it is also a deficit of the public sphere and of the formation of political will. The institutional manoeuvring is possible only if so far as institutional change goes hand in hand with real processes of creation of a European public sphere (see the referenda in France and Dutch). The fundamental issue becomes then one of a constituent process, a process that goes together with the formation of a common language.

What is the process, or the set of processes, that allow for the coming into being of these common media of communication, of this public sphere? In order to even start answering these questions, we have to evaluate the nexuses linking on the one hand the extended socio-economic and political processes of homogenisation and on the other hand several new or emerging social processes. To put it another way, in the absence of a common identity, the European Union is still now dependent on the existence of a pan-European public space. A European public space would be a realm in which trans-national values and principles can be defined, shaped and reshaped, and in which supranational political institutions can gain legitimacy.

About four years ago, an ambitious attempt was launched to discuss Europe's common future on a trans-national level. On 31 May 2003, seven European newspapers published articles by well-known intellectuals addressing the question "What is Europe?" Umberto Eco wrote in La Repubblica (Italy), Gianni Vattimo in La Stampa (Italy), Adolf Muschg in Neue Zürcher Zeitung (Switzerland), Richard Rorty in Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany) and Fernando Savater in El Pais (Spain). The article that turned out to be most momentous and widely discussed was written by Jürgen Habermas - who had initiated the entire project - and co-signed by Jacques Derrida. Both Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany) and La Libération (France) published the article. That the two most influential European intellectuals of recent decades took the pragmatic step of brushing aside their past differences and speaking in unison was a remarkable development in itself. The Habermas/Derrida article calling for “the rebirth of Europe" with "new responsibilities beyond all Eurocentrisms" was an example of substantive contemporary history, a kind of intervention, a performance manifesto that cried out for that which the text both is and conjures forth: a European discussion about Europe, a European public space.

Meanwhile a common European culture is emerging among the generation ranging from ages 15 to 40. Known as “Generation E” (or “the Nineties Generation”), it consists of college-educated young professionals who grew up in one part of Europe—Edinburgh, Madrid or Florence, for example—studied at universities in other parts of the continent—such as Oxford, Paris or Frankfurt—and are pursuing professional careers in still another section of Europe, as in Rome, Brussels or Dublin. See on the way the Erasmus Project EU programme.

II. In the controversial book “Why Europe Will run the 21st Century” by Mark Leonard, which I read as an approach different from Habermas, the author begins pondering in chiastic position the concepts of weakness of power and the power of weakness, ascribing to the Americans the strategy of power with the mark of weakness and to the Europeans the power of weakness. According to him the power of Europe is a new kind of power, a transformative power that works in the long term and is about reshaping the world rather than winning short term tussles. Later on Leonard adds “the fact that Europe does not have one leader, but rather a network of centres of power united by common policies and goals, means that it can expand to accommodate ever-greater numbers of countries without collapsing, and continue to provide its members with the benefits of being the largest market in the world”(p. 6).

Surely the classic models of geopolitics are beyond dispute, such as all the models built on the modern concept of politics and civilization, the classical national state, the classical confederation, the past way of thinking and doing politics. Leonard closing the Introduction to the book affirms that his aim “is to help cast off the oppressive yoke of pessimism that have enveloped our continent before it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Some critics, some eurosceptics today speak of European Union as a failure, others as a mirage, others more a journey with no final destination. But they don’t precisely remember the Schumann’s declaration dated on far 1950 in which the famous statesman wrote: <>”(p.12). But the most interesting reflection of Leonard seems to me this: “What Monnet created was a machine of political alchemy. Each country would follow its national interest, but once the different interests were put into the black box of European integration, a European project would emerge at the other end”(p.12).

The black box of European integration is a mixture of contradiction. What many thinkers have been looking for decades as identity, integration, sense of community, etc. is that Monnet’s genius was to develop by “a European invisible hand that allows an orderly European society to emerge from each country’s national interests”(p. 13). Later on Leonard writes “Ironically (the member states) have chosen to project their values to the European level in order to defend their interests at a national one. This creates a strange situation where nations have interest and no values and the EU has values but no interests”(p. 18-19). What, as a Platonic dualism, is very difficult to reconcile in practice. This view is confirmed by the subsequent statement “And because the EU is a network rather than a state, negotiation is not a part- time activity: it goes on every single day, around the clock”(p. 24).

Though I feel disposed to appreciate the Leonard model/not model, his pragmatic and empirical way, I cannot remain silent about some superficial and contradictory passages in the pamphlet. Leonard’s accent boxes him into an extreme instrumentalism. See, for instance the following “One lesson from the Iraq war is that Europeans can have greater influence if they develop a common position before a crisis erupts, as they have done towards Iran. However, we must recognize that the persistence of different views is a strength rather than a weakness, and that the EU’s structure is robust enough to accommodate disagreements of monumental proportions” (p.33). Quod erat demonstrandum.

Toward the conclusion

The post-World War II development of European integration has created a distinctively successful and dense network of institutions of governance beyond the nation-state. Highly institutionalized forms of shared sovereignty have penetrated into the fabric of the continent's polities and societies creating the potential for significant reconfigurations of both structures of power and senses of identity. The degree of integration achieved in Europe since the signing of the Treaty of Amsterdam in June 1997 bears out this thesis. Economically the EU functions as a confederation of states operating on an inter-governmental basis. The member states have created a unified, trans-national economic realm through a contractual transfer of jurisdictions. Economic and criminal justice authority has in part been ceded to Brussels, and the surrender of national currencies and monetary has been realizes in the euro-zone. For many this confederation of states joined by treaties appears an irreversible entity. Till now no member has exited.

And yet the nation-state remains an indispensable intermediary in European politics. The European civic duties, as they presently exist, can be executed only indirectly, through nation-state administrations, actions can be taken on the European stage only on the basis of nation-state empowerment of European authorities. The EU today can be characterized as a state in suspension between the inter-governmental and neo-federal models.

Quite a lot think of a constitution as a way of legitimating in order that the European citizens can exercise democratic control directly (and not through their national governments) over the representatives of European sovereignty (the Council, the Commission and the Court).

What kind of model for Europe? Maybe an empirical experiment that assumes the form of model in the inner type of post-modern federation? While it seems difficult to balance the institutions and the citizenship, to maintain stability and liberty, the network model could probably risks becoming an instrument into the hands of bureaucracy. Will the rising European Union born after the long season of modernity succeed in gaining politics and power, presently appearing divided and following different route?

In re-formulating and raising the main points of human existence and welfare it seems that Europe, despite the France and Dutch vetoes to the constitution, can’t help giving itself a kind of post-modern constitutional frame.

Prof. Francesco Tampoia
Bitonto (BA) Italy

F. Lyotard, La Condition postmoderne, 1979
J. Habermas, Der
philosophische Diskurs der Moderne, 1985
Mark Leonard, Why Europe Will run the 21st Century, Fourth Estate. London and New York 2005

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