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The Greeks and Europe
by Prof. Francesco Tampoia
2010-05-06 08:38:29
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"Today there are no more Frenchmen, nor Germans, nor Spaniards, nor Englishmen. There are only Europeans”   G. G. Rousseau, 1772.

Some years ago, New York Times, Daniel Mendelsohn as usual in a fascinating review wrote: “We desperately need Greek plays. We need them when democracies are wobbly. I am living in a very wobbly democracy right now, whose Parliament has only just been recalled, and Commons may or may not have a vote about whether we go to war. Greece was a very new democratic nation, and a barbaric world was not very far behind them. They offered these plays as places of real debate. We can't really say the theater is a true place of debate anymore, but these plays remind us of what it could be “. We may add the same as regards democracy, science, arts and philosophy that have all thoroughly made us Europeans indebted to ancient Greeks.

Let us remind that Europe is born in Greece, that the birth certificate of Europe is Greek, and European unity is essentially Greek. But, what we owe to Greece, following the poet and writer P. Valery, is much more; it is what has most profoundly distinguished us from the rest of humanity. To Greece we owe the discipline of the Mind, the extraordinary example of perfection in everything. To Greece we owe the method of thought that tends to relate all things to man, the complete man. To Greece we owe the concept of Man able to became for himself the system of reference to which all things must in the end relate, to develop all the parts of his being and maintain them in a harmony as clear and even as evident as possible. In sum, the concept of Man able to develop both body and mind, to defend himself against its excesses and its reveries, those of its products which are vague and purely imaginary, by means of scrupulous criticism and minute analysis of its judgments, the rational separation of its functions, and the regulation of its forms, to develop science as we have it, a relatively perfect model had to be established, a first work had to be set up as an Ideal, representing every form of precision, every proof, every beauty, every solidity, and which should once for all define the very concept of science as a pure construct, free of every consideration but the edifice itself.

That said, let us go to present Greece and new Europe.

In a recent article on the economic Greek crisis, seeing that of this also we have to discuss, Franck Biancheri, President of Newropeans, rightly observed that ‘these questions are typically the kind of issues which should be discussed within a Eurozone Economic Governance body, as proposed five years ago by Newropeans*, not when a crisis erupts, but rather on a regular basis; not in a non-Eurozone newspaper, but rather within specific Eurozone institutions. Not in a national parliament but rather at a European summit. Otherwise these declarations are just making the debate more obscure and therefore immediately becoming tools in the hands of speculators… A key problem with national politicians, who like Mrs Merkel and Mrs Lagarde, are only trying to please their own political constituencies, to score points in public within the tough task of creating a reaction to the Greek crisis without having anything prepared in advance, neither the proper Eurozone governing body to invent it. Therefore, a first constraint that a Eurozone politician should self-impose these days is to speak only to clarify, and to focus on the Eurozone citizens' information about the Greek case. Simple in appearance, but obviously difficult to apply!’ What Biancheri clearly has in mind is that the Greek crisis is the crisis of E.U. And, that the Greek case can be a disagreeable but at the same time valid test for the future of Europe.

In truth, from time we European intellectuals have held up that to fully legitimize the designation union what is needed is an essential requisite: a foundational pact by which being together, deciding together, acting together are assured not only when there is agreement but also when there is disagreement. Evidently the pact is not for a sort of bland, anonymous confederation, rather it is for a real union of states. In the past some mistakes have been made, see the project of Constitution that crushed ancient taboos, but altogether appeared prolix, not properly suitable for the historical moment. The current crisis depends on the economic crisis of national governments that unload their national difficulties on Europe. Hence, the Union which is born out of the crisis of national sovereignty is often utilized to hide one’s impotence and to prolong a feeling of self sufficiency. The sovereignty of the individual states is portrayed as intact and flourishing when it comes to agreeable aspects, while when it comes to the disagreeable aspects it is represented as the victim of a far-away and bullying bureaucracy. What allows this distorted use is the myth of a coincidence between state and nation which is still very strong. Yet, the national state, which is often impotent vis a vis the challenges which are stronger than itself, continues to be a source of administrative structures, cultural infrastructures immensurably stronger than the fragile Union. Only with imagination one can assert today that the Union transcends the individual national states.

What kind of Europe do we need, today? The way of history is clear and visible as the sun in this respect: the future of Europe is the achievement of a political Europe on the basis of communitarian principles.  Following this path J. Habermas put forward a project, a sort of neo-federalist model that gave wings to imagination and the different national arenas unchained an ample, public and dramatic debate on common interests (European space). The civic solidarity till now limited to the national must enlarge to that of citizens of Union so that the French and the Greek or the German and the Italian are ready to give themselves reciprocal guarantee. The Habermas’model in sum substantiated a mayor cohesion among the countries of European Union, an enlarged basis of solidarity that aim at something like a European demos.
Unfortunally, 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, and actions can be taken on the European stage only on the basis of nation-state empowerment of European authorities. So that the EU resembles a sort of union in suspension between the inter-governmental and neo-federal models.

Toward the end of his article Bianheri concludes so “As soon as the dust settles on the Greek case, in coming weeks, what will be left are two crucial truths of our world in crisis: the first truth is that countries which lived essentially in debt will be forced one after the other to go through a very critical situation as their economic model is terminated by the global crisis… the second that Eurozone leadership has to move fast from now on to create the required structure to manage the Eurozone, including a democratic process because the Greek crisis has attracted a very high level of scrutiny from its 300 million citizens. There are now 300 millions Eurolanders fed up by the inability of our leaders to anticipate the obvious: that one day, such a case will emerge. Sooner than many can think, the Eurozone citizens will call for a democratic governance of the Eurozone. Let's see who will anticipate correctly when that day will come?”

In closing, in order to re-formulate and raise the main points of European human existence and welfare as Biancheri wish, it seems to me that Europe cannot help giving itself a kind of post-modern constitutional frame grounded on ethical and cultural values, a kind of totally new, democratic  and cosmopolitan model. I like to wind down with some words by J. Derrida, “to be means to inherit, and we Europeans, in that Europeans, are called to fulfill a paradoxical responsibility, a responsibility for and to the specific tradition of responsibility that have been bequeathed to us, the one to which even Nietzsche was appealing to, the contradictory responsibility “to make ourselves the guardians of idea of Europe, to be faithfully responsible for this memory”.

In his pessimistic article, I approve in large part, Dr. Gerry Coulter puts the crucial question ‘Perhaps a banker or someone at the IMF could answer a question: How much, in Euros, at the end of it all, was European culture worth? Obviously, it deals with a rhetoric question, because European culture is unpriced.

 Francesco Tampoia

1) Francesco Tampoia, A post-modern model for Europe? In Ovimgazine 2007
2) Francesco Tampoia, Voyage to Syracuse: Europe, or the infinite task in Ovimagazine 2009
3) J. Derrida, The Other Heading- Reflections on Today’s Europe, Indiana University Press, 1992 Introduction, p. xlv-vi)
5) Francesco Tampoia, review of the book: R. Gasche, Europe, or the infinite task- A study of a philosophical concept- Stanford University Press, California 2009.

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Emanuel Paparella2010-05-06 11:04:16
The above is a thoughtful reflection on the European character which has its origins in the birth of tragedy in Greece, as Nietzsche reminded us. Indeed, Professor Tampoia is on target in starting his analysis of the European identity there. As Vico has well taught us, to forget one’s origins is to forget one’s identity and one’s very humanity. I would like to add a few brief observations on the same theme.

The same ancient Greeks as well as Vico have also taught us that what applies to the individual human being applies also to the collective or the polis: the macrocosm reflects the microcosm. So there are individual virtues and there are political virtues and they mirror each other. Grabbing power and holding on to it can be considered “virtue” only in a perverted Machiavellian sense, in a Berlusconi mode, it is certainly not virtue in a Greek or Vichian sense. It is the virtue of the hubristic sociopath (the Caligula and Nero type) proud of his competency in perpetrating his crimes and getting away with it. Vico says that when man arrive at that point of hubris the whole civilization goes mad and then the gods return and sanity too: man realizes that he is not a god dwelling on Mount Olympus with his abstractions. The return of the poetical is the silver lining, so to speak, but the tragedy of a grand civilization disintegrating and disappearing remains.
To the question Has Europe reaches that point of hubris once again one can answer with tomes of historical review or one can more modestly analyze the virtue of humility and the other side of the coin, the vice of arrogance in the individual, what Vico dubbed “la boria dei dotti” (the arrogance of the learned). Let's try the latter. (continued below)

Emanuel Paparella2010-05-06 11:05:15
The first thing one observes with the virtue of humility in fact, is that the disjunction between seeming and being is nearly essential, to an extent that would not be possible for most of the other virtues. To strive to appear to be humble, for whatever purposes, is an instant disqualifier for anyone who actually wants to be humble. We call those people hypocrites. A leader who consciously tries to appear humble, however, may be exhibiting something very different from humility and may be neglecting the particular form of self-sacrifice that is required from truly humble leaders. The leader who appears fixed and brazen may be the more fully humble, having sacrificed the desire to be known and admired and sympathized with in all his inner complexity. Here the persona of Berlusconi comes to mind. The man is more fixed on appearances than on the substance of virtue. The paradox of humility's outward and visible manifestation is like the one put forward by the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, who predicted that the "Knight of Faith," the man of supreme spiritual devotion, would look, in the eyes of the world, like nothing more than a tax collector. One can easily reverse this judgment, and posit that the one who strives to have the appearance of a Knight of Faith almost certainly is going to be anything but one.
So paradoxically, humility is the humus from which comes the remembrance of what and who we are in a Western world which springs from ancient Greece. Nietzsche and Machiavelli before him was wrong in thinking of it as a Christian virtue, the virtue of the losers and therefore an insult to a fully displayed human nature. The Oedipuses and Medeas and other great heroes and heroines of Greek tragedy (as well as those of Shakespearean tragedy) were always men and women who had exceeded their proper bounds, whose ambitions and vanities had inflated beyond the limits that are granted to humankind, and whose horrifying destruction had become a moral necessity. Such dramas taught their audiences something important; they had the paradoxical effect of restoring order to their souls and their cosmos. They have something similar to teach us today to the so called leaders strutting about on the global stage of history. I suspect that things will have to get worse before they get better in present day Greece and Europe. I think Vico would concur but he would also remind us of his “ricorso,” that the destruction precedes the return of the poetical within history, and that while man makes history, it is also true that history makes man. That recognition was something about which the ancients had no inkling but may be what is needed to save us from our hubris now.

Marco Andreacchio2010-05-08 05:11:36
Two friendly thorns for Prof. Tampoia:

(1) While your elegant essay in all fairness does not retrace Europe to Greek "tragedy," but to the dignity of Man as recognized by classical Greek philosophy, I would argue that it unfairly downplays the question of Nature as key to the classical understanding of Man (likewise, one might note that the original background to Polykleitos's "Spearbearer" was no "neutral" gray).

For Greek philosophy (not Plato's nemesis), God or the Nature of divinity remains the center and measure of all things--a center relatively to which Man is defined as participant (METHECHON). (Protagoras is hardly representative of the dignity of classical antiquity. On Renaissance Platonism's "humanism," see Post Scriptum, below).

(2) If you agree with Derrida's claim that "to be means to inherit" (so that man's very essence will be, let us say, "historically constituted"), then I ask if or where you might ever draw a line between piety and conformism. I also wonder if you would dismiss the classics (Aristotle, Juvenal and Dante, for starters) when they distinguish our own (propria) virtue as our own "nobility of will" (nobilitas animi), from the "virtue and treasure of antiquity" (virtus et divitie antique; cf. Dante, De Monarchia, Bk. II.3).

Best regards,
Marco Andreacchio

Post Scriptum (preemptive)

With Renaissance Platonic "humanism," the Renaissance Hero is "geometrical" measure of all particular things for every particular man, in the respect that the former serves as mediator between the "vulgate" and the Kosmos (ORDO NATURALIS; on the question of "center," see also N. Cusanus). For Leonardo and Michelangelo, there is a natural order (in the Greek sense of taxis physeos) that is by no means relative to our sensory faculties, our imagination, anyone's opinion/doxa, or any will--an order that is ostensibly "ideal" in the respect that it pertains to the essential forms of things. Art does not attempt to replace Nature as standard; rather, as participation in Nature, Art is man's incomplete attempt to draw the essential out of the material--a "heroic" attempt that, relatively to our senses (though not in itself, or in reality), must remain unfulfilled.

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