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Two Forgotten Communities of the EU Cultural Identity 1/2
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2007-10-29 10:00:38
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"European liberty is founded on the antithesis of the secular world and
transcendence, science and faith, material technology and religion.”

--Karl Jaspers

There is little doubt that Europe finds itself at a paradoxical turning point. The rejection of the proposed Constitution is a mere symptom of a deeper malaise. Europe’s institutions have so far failed to generate what every political community needs in order to survive and grow: a feeling of belonging that goes beyond a, by now, parochial nationalism and the acknowledgment of a common purpose. This is another way of saying that it is not clear to the outside observer why Europeans wish to be together and what their shared vision and purpose might be.

The proposed Constitution reads like the language of accountants and bureaucrats rather than that of political visionaries and founding fathers that comprehend what is beautiful and what is ugly, what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is false. Now the very word constitution has been abandoned and we are back to a mere banal treaty. And here is the crux of the challenge, in my view. A vision is not born overnight. Community values and bonds evolve over a long period of common experiences with historical, and even mythological, experiences which give that experience the appearance of having evolved naturally and organically. In other words, only a vision can show the path leading to a collective or individual identity that European unification requires.

This short preamble leads to the urgent question: are there previous examples in European modern history of such community building at a continental level from which Europe could draw for inspiration? I see two such periods of community building:

1) Medieval Christianity culminating in the 13th century with a community united around a common faith, with Rome as its unifying power center. It should not be forgotten that St. Peter’s successors as Roman pontiffs oversaw a network of Church-run universities which educated cultural elites in one universal language (Latin) and a common curriculum. Even the churches had a common gothic or Romanesque style with a common calendar and liturgy. Aside from purely religious or confessional considerations, it cannot be denied that this medieval Christianity was by its own nature European.

2) The “Republic of Letters,” lasting from Petrarca and Erasmus till the Enlightenment. As vernacular languages displaced Latin, religious discourse gave way to observation and analysis with an unlimited faith of sort in reason and scientific progress. The word Renaissance literally means re-birth. What was reborn was Greco-Roman civilization, but it was not as a slavish imitation; rather it was as a synthesis with Christianity. A communication network was set up which allowed rapid dissemination of ideas and a common humanistic spirit; those ties were reinforced by travel so that it was natural for a Montesquieu to utter statements such as “Europe is just one nation made up of many.”

May those two communities function as key reference points for a genuine European identity? At first sight those two communities’ goals seem to be divergent: one belongs to the sacred and the other to the secular. They have at times been at loggerhead with each other beginning with the struggle for investitures in the medieval period. Many in the modern world consider them antithetical and mutually exclusive; a sort of contradictory essence of the European spirit. Yet, I’d like to suggest that the only hope for a genuine European cultural identity is the affirmation of both medieval Christianity as a community of faith and the modern era’s community of reason. A Thomas Aquinas, who saw no contradiction between faith and reason, could well indicate the way to harmonization of the two. He however considered imagination and the poetical as integral part of reason.

By that standard the preamble to the proposed, and failed, European Constitution is utterly inadequate. Initially the drafting Convention refused to even mention the Judeo-Christian heritage of Europe in the preamble and cited only the Enlightenment tradition. At the convention’s opening ceremony, the chairman of the Convention Valerie Giscard D’Estaing merely paid homage to the Greek pagan goddess Europa. Thus a thousand years of European heritage were effectively bracketed.

While a compromise was eventually devised that mentions a European spiritual heritage, its language and its message is weak and obscure. It was not too surprising for me, and I predicted a year ahead that such a kind of bureaucratic Constitution would be unable to bring the EU closer to its citizens. It failed to speak to them on why Europeans should have came together in the first place, why they are staying together and what exactly they want to do together. In other words, it failed to speak about Europe as an idea and provide a noble vision for all the people.


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Emanuel Paparella2007-10-29 11:47:35
A footnote on the editorial question on the cover: An even harsher and bleaker assessment than mine has been proffered by the editor in chief and president of Newropeans Franck Biancheri in an article (the first of a series) titled “Europe: la trahison des elites” 19 October 2007) in which Biancheri makes the point that what is being betrayed by these elites who have forgotten the ideals of the EU founding fathers and have written a constitution which they now call a mere treaty (to be discussed and approved among themselves bypassing the people and their demand for referendums)is democracy itself. Here is a relevant excerpt:

"Le Financial Times publiait hier les résultats d'un vaste sondage réalisé dans cinq états les plus peuplés de l'UE (Allemagne, France, Royaume-Uni, Italie et Espagne), rassemblant plus des deux-tiers de la population de l'UE. Ce sondage confirme de manière très claire, ce que n'importe quel Européen peut constater en discutant avec ses concitoyens : une très vaste majorité de citoyens européens (entre 63% et 76%) souhaite un référendum sur le projet de nouveau traité européen."

Jack2007-10-29 20:59:43
You are so right Emanuel. Unless there is a specific, common goal and purpose, there can only be confusion and division. How difficult even the U.S. States had over their Constitution over 200 years ago. States vs. States, North vs. South, bi-polar opposites in many ways. Even in this present day, there are significant differences in customs of the locals. To what is a compliment to some, is an insult to another. Little wonder Europe experiences difficulty in unifying many collective societies into one agreement (i.e. Constitution). Nicely stated in this article.

The purpose was made clear in time (independence) and the goal (Democracy)was absolutely stated, even in the Constitution (life, liberty). But as you said, it takes time for an indigenous culture's highly complex and intricate web of social beliefs, practices and customs to mesh with those of another. There remains even today, "North-South" and even "West-East"(coasts).

Emanuel Paparella2007-10-29 22:31:14
Indeed Jack, a constitution is a vision for the people, of the people, by the people, not a mere commercial bureacratic treaty to increase wealth and power. It is also a double edged sword: when the US founding fathers declared equality and inalienable rights for all but then did not honor those ideals to the fullest, the civil war was already predictable. The lesson that the EU could derive from that failure is that it is not wise to promise people what you do not intend to deliver, or in a true democracy power goes from the bottom up not the other way around. Unfortunately there isn't much of a viable transatlantic dialogue goins on at the moment. Solipsism is rampant and that is ominous in itself of what may lie ahead.

Emanuel Paparella2007-10-29 23:20:58

The above link will take interested readers to none other than the present intriguing view of the chief architect of the present treaty (the former Constitution):Giscard D'Estaing which supports both Biancheri and my view. Problem is that D'Estaing is not part of the solution but one of the elites of which Biancheri speaks and therefore part of the problem not part of the solution. He is the one who inagurated the Constitutional Convention with an invocation to the pagan goddess Europa. Indeed, things are more complicated than they appear.

Sand2007-10-29 23:48:25
Whatever the state of their spiritual, linguistic, monetary, or cultural solidarity might be, the fact that, for half a century England, France, Germany,Italy and Spain have not spent any time butchering each other seems a very satisfactory situation.

Emanuel Paparella2007-10-30 04:34:50
In the US, even with a common language, common currency and common culture, the disconnect between the ideals of the Constitution and the practice of slavery and maltreatment of the native Americans insured that some 80 years later we would proceed to butcher each other in a civil war. Perhaps Europe will be luckier with a nere treaty that does not provide any overarching vision and anchors its union on mere secular values but I for one remain skeptical. Some of my European friends tell me not to worry, that the new European, otherwise known as a Newropean, is genetically modified European, quite differend from the old warmongering European previous to 1951. I doubt that too but history will eventually render its verdict. The gods do return!

Sand2007-10-30 05:11:09
The gods. Of course. I was eating a pizza in a joint the other day when Zeus walked in. Pissed off. Hadn't worked in years. Offered to sell me a lightning bolt but I really didn't need one. I suggested he contact the US military. Might be useful in Iran if Mazda doesn't object.

Sand2007-10-30 08:34:08
It is somewhat disturbing to me that Paparella in his last comment seems to be unhappy that Europe has worked out a system for living in peace without re-establishing a set of obsolete superstitions. That would,it seems to me, to pushing adolescent romanticism beyond decent acceptance.

Emanuel Paparella2007-10-30 09:59:52
The trouble with rationalism and logical positivism is that it consistently fails to grasp the metaphorical and the poetical because it holds previous eras in contempt. In doing that it cheats itself and becomes clever by half. What is meant by “the gods return” is not meeting Zeus in a pizza joint in Cuercovado, Rio de Janeiro, to bash Catholicism, but a reference to the recurring cycles of history of which both Vico, the Catholic, and Santayana, the atheist, write extensively characterizing them as the era of the gods, the era of the heroes, and the era of men. In the last one there is the danger of losing the origins of reason which is not thought but language per se which produces thought as Noam Chomsky has well explored and taught us. Eventually, if man is to survive that kind of extreme unbalanced rationalism poetry returns (the first cycle), and reason is conceived holistically. Hence the gods return. The cycles are a spiral of concentric circles not a nihilistic Nietzschean closed circle of eternal return. Boudelaire had it on target: to remain human you need to conceive of poetic logic and poetic science and be poetical even in prose and in science (as Einstein was able to do). Hence The New Science. Talk to the gods about the New Science when they visit you. Do not chase them away.

Emanuel Paparella2007-10-30 10:11:21
On Europe, you are again listening to the voices in your head. If you had read and reflected a bit on my piece "The cart before the horse" or for that matter, were you to read my book on Europe (A New Europe in Search of its Soul)the only unhappiness you will find there is that Europe needs to go further to eliminate nationalism and xenophobia and remember its heritage and forge a viable cultural identity. In other words, it has to place the new wine in new bottles and rediscover its soul to preserve the commendable peace it has preserved so far. As Jefferson aptly put: eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.

Sand2007-10-30 20:44:23
Since you favor Jefferson you should agree with his statement:
In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.
-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814

Eero Nevalainen2007-10-30 21:55:21
You're forgetting one important experiment in such transcendental community-building: the Soviet Union. It failed.

I do not believe in manufactured identities, or that they are neccessarily always "better" than what they are supposed to replace simply by virtue of getting to name-call the other identities "parochial". Of course you can always try to pull the "new is better" argument, but it's false... it just means you feel people's identities are not "correct" in your own perception, and that they must change. It is, essentially, a form of intolerance, as whatever you want to replace the identity with is favoured based on simple chauvinism.

I believe that European cultural diversity should be tolerated and even cherished, and voluntary co-operation and exchange should be encouraged and facilitated. I am a bit of a "nationalist" in the sense that I very much appreciate my own Finnishness, but I am perfectly comfortable in the European-wide circles I also hang out in... nothing wrong with them, they're great, but yes, I do enjoy all the parochiality to its fullest extent when I get home -- and those who have a problem with it just feel threatened by me :-)

Swedish day is approaching btw, here in Finland we're again soon getting a great demonstration of exactly this kind of "my identity is better than your identity and you better comply or you're a hick" identity-manufacturing exercise.

Emanuel Paparella2007-10-30 23:39:24
"You should agree with this statement" [of Jefferson]

Not really, if we are to be true to Jefferson's own principles on free speech and freedom of religion. To do otherwise if to paradoxically go back to the Inquisition and the Grand Inquisitors, the hygienists of thinking and the intellectual pooper scoopers, protecting political correctness and orthodoxy and sending people to the stake. Jefferson also said this:
"As you say of yourself, I too am an Epicurian. I consider the genuine (not the imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in moral philosophy which Greece and Rome have left us.
-Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Short, Oct. 31, 1819

What Jefferson unfortunately failed to recognize was that the principle of inalienable rights did not come to him neither from Epicureanism nor Stoicism nor Greece nor Rome since both abetted slavery. It came from Christianity. Since he was an honest man and he was a deist and not an atheist as some claim, if pressed he would most probably have agreed.

Emanuel Paparella2007-10-30 23:47:40
Mr. Nevalained. You make an interesting and worthwhile point, and I concurr. Regionalism and diversity need to be not only tolerated but promoted if the EU has to have any hope of staying together. All the more why those universal values that can bring diverse people together ought to be identified and even spelled out in a visionary Constitution. To love Europe ought not mean that one loves Finland or England less if one was born in one of those countries. Even within a country, to love Italy ought not mean that I love Florence less if I was born in Florence. I dare say even within nationalism, which hopefully is now superseded in the EU, to love my country ought never mean that I need to hate the others. The best kind of patriotism is to so act that I do not dishonor my country.

Sand2007-10-31 05:27:21
What seems to be totally neglected in Paparella's concepts is that there are real economic forces which drive theoretical cultural concepts. He is continually mistaking the power of economy for abstract theory of what coheres communities. This is most obvious in the current developments in China wherein the violent development of the economy is totally undermining the totalitarian forces that previously stifled Chinese economic development. The peace in Europe rests on a strong economic interdependence of local national interests and takes precedence over the obviously decaying religious beliefs and to a great extent even national identities. Flowery declarations of international unity are mere decorations permitted by economic realities.

Sand2007-10-31 07:08:31
Even the most superficial examination of Jefferson's writing reveals an overwhelming disdain for religion's pervasive negative influence on government. The continual debasement of basic human drives for decency with the false claims that only by religion can humanity behave well is historically proven false by the despicable behavior of religious leaders and Jefferson was well aware of this in his continuous and forceful demands that religion be kept well away from government.

Emaunuel Paparella2007-11-01 05:12:15
And of course the main point of the comment that Jefferson did not derive his principle of inalienable rights either from Epicurianism not from Soticism since both Greeks and Romans approved of slavery, but from Christianity, is completely ignored. It does not happen to be a convenient truth.

Sand2007-11-01 06:06:10
As usual, Paparella, your comment is off the point and irrelevant.

Emanuel Paparella2007-11-01 11:31:41
But or course, anything that challenges one's misguided assumption is off the point and irrelevant. So much for rationality!

Sand2007-11-01 20:55:30
Paparella I have continually posed questions to you about the basis for your proposals which you find too embarrassing to answer directly. Your only recourse is to attack me personally and fabricate false appraisals of my character and insinuate I have sympathies with totalitarian institutions which has absolutely no basis in anything I have said. You have repeatedly had recourse only to tell me vaguely to read some authority or other and thereby avoided confronting my direct questions. My only conclusion must be that you cannot answer my questions and feel persecuted because I require an honest direct answer which you are helpless to supply.

Emanuel Paparella2007-11-02 12:01:38
Those are the paranoid voices in your head spaking. The adroitness in turning the table around is astonishing; but the shadow knows.

Sand2007-11-02 13:54:34
The Shadow? You mean "The weed of crime bears bitter fruit, crime does not pay, the Shadow knows - Hooheeehaahaahaa"? Do you wander the streets believing you are invisible? My goodness!! You are further gone than I suspected.

Emanuel Paparella2007-11-02 17:42:49
And of course you are Dr. Frankestein or the intellectual bully parading as "hygienist" who guards the gates of political correctness and sends the ones who don't conform to one's ideology to the insane asylum. But as Jung pointed out:the shadow knows even when it is projected...

Sand2007-11-02 17:57:40
The fragility of your argument is amply demonstrated by your characterizing me as a bully. If they had any strength they could easily counter the facts that I presented. Because I sneeze in your direction and blow away your nonsense I doubt I qualify as a bully. An examination of http://www.nous.org.uk/Jung2.html clearly indicates that Jung and you make a good pair as amusing weirdos.
May I address you as Lamont Cranston?

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