When philosophers write about politics – from Plato to the authors of the recently published Paris Statement – the outcome is not necessarily a proof wisdom. The Statement on “A Europe We Can believe In”, has been presented as a statement by conservative scholars and intellectuals. I found it  a distressing statement for at least three reasons:

First of all, the statement is a clear example of philosophical arrogance, rather than modesty after centuries of philosophical confusion. Condemnations are wildly spread around to unnamed abstract targets without even explaining what  is meant and who is to be blamed. The authors apparently consider themselves to be part of the true or real Europe against a so called false Europe. It is an easy way to condemn without explanation. 

It is based secondly on the well-known post- modern disease of organized forgetting. There is no historical perspective to the authors’ Europe they want to believe in, whatever that may be.

Third, the statement follows the fashion of EU bashing, currently a popular exercise among Euro sceptics, in their effort to steal votes from the so called populists. It is the easy way out: when you don’t understand what the problem is, you just look for a convenient abstract scape-goat.

The document sadly lacks wisdom and courage. As a practising catholic, who lived through the Second World War in his early youth, I am a convinced European, though neither a philosopher nor a conservative. I have written extensively on Europe and the post-war history of European unification. I may alert readers to my website and to my recently published “Footprints of the Twentieth Century” a five volume series of books (third edition) on the history of the Cold War, Western Cooperation, European Unification and International Law.

Contrary to the statement in paragraphs 2 and 3, there is no false, utopian or tyrannical Europe threatening us. The European Union today is founded on the profoundly Christian ideas of reconciliation, solidarity and unity as laid down in the Schuman Declaration of 9 May 1950 and practiced by Solidarnosc in Poland, through which Europe could be re-united after 1989. I am not arguing that the European Union is the perfect embodiment of those Christian ideas. It has many weaknesses, aberrations and problems we need to address – as I did in my fourth volume. Still, its very survival in our violent and divided world is due to Schuman and Solidarnosc.

Who imagines the EU to be a fulfilment of our civilization? Who are invincibly prejudiced against the past? And who are “bewitched by superstitions of inevitable progress”? Yes there are such people in Europe, just as there are political leaders and conservative philosophers who prefer to forget the past, when it does not suit them. We all cherish some things of the European past and erroneously call it the real or the true Europe. We all should be reminded by Romano Guardini that Europe can become a reality only when every European nation shall re-think its history and see its past in the light of the construction of tomorrow.  History is there to warn us that little can be taken for granted and how great the danger is of failure (From his acceptance speech on receiving the Praemium Erasmianum in 1962).

Let us be realistic as Christians on our human condition. We are all fallible human beings in the business of creating and sustaining fallible communities, nations, states and European institutions. None of them is perfect. In terms of the peaceful resolution of serious political conflicts, the European record is far better since European unification began, than in any previous era in her history.

Yes, we are confronted by superstitions of inevitable progress. I am very pleased that the authors of the Paris Statement use the term superstitions. They all find their origin in the philosophies of the Nineteenth Century, trying to replace Christ (Le Dieu-homme) who became man, by man who claims to be God (l’homme-dieu). We are all facing the consequences of “Le Drame de l’Humanisme Athée” the title of a book written by Henri de Lubac.  The irony of today’s superstitions is that they  follow in the footsteps of Marxism, Positivism, Darwinism, Nietzsche  and Freudianism – all of them profoundly atheistic. Just declaring that European public life should be re-secularized, is an empty slogan.

The belief in progress, though, is a profoundly Christian idea founded in Revelation. We Christians believe that we humans go somewhere and history is moving from Creation to the End of Times. The true idea of progress can be recognized by its faith in Christ the Saviour, by respect for the past and recognition of good and evil in the human condition. Today’s superstitions are the materialistic aberrations of the Christian idea of progress.

The superstitions with such  derivates as multiculturalism, relativism and nationalism can all be traced back to the Drama of atheistic humanism, and to the tragedies of the two World Wars in the twentieth century. I deliberately add nationalism and the two world wars. European unification was the post-war Christian response to nationalism (Schuman) and to atheistic communism (Solidarnosc). They were the peaceful revolts of Christian conscience against repression and domination by some of the superstitions referred to.

The revival of nationalism within the European Communities is the consequence of Gaullism in France, the admission of Britain in 1973 and the gradual abandoning of  the guiding principles of solidarity and unity thereafter. The transformation from Community to Union in the Maastricht Treaty on European Union in 1992, turned the supranational communities into a Union of States to be governed – much as de Gaulle had wanted – by Summit meetings.

So it is rather odd that the continental philosophers, underwriting the statement, buy the two concepts of Europe  produced by the Brexiteers: The contrast between a “false Europe”, apparently meaning the European Union, and the “true Europe”, meaning the Europe of sovereign nation states. The two concepts are the opposite of those Schuman had in mind. Schuman at least had the courage to go against the fashion, and the wisdom of humility in presenting his plan for Europe – two virtues sadly absent in the Paris Statement.

I also can observe that the use of the two concepts of Europe invented by the Brexiteers, are much in fashion today, in Poland, Hungary and in nationalist parties all over the European Union. Among the Brexiteers and nationalists elsewhere, I also found quite a few practicing Catholics and other Christians;  Quite surprising for me as an adherent to a universal, Catholic Church! There are two easy explanations for this fashion. The first is nostalgia to an idealized recent past; in the case of Britain it is called global Britain (nineteenth century Britain). The second is anxiety in an era of globalisation; with internet, free trade and open borders we no longer know who is in control. This latter anxiety is clearly discernible among the conservative intellectuals who wrote the Statement. The European Union is not easy to understand. Its decision-making is unclear and insufficiently transparent. It is an easy target for vilification. So the European Union – their false Europe – can and should be blamed for multiculturalism, empire-building, pseudo-religious universalism, an empire of money and a lot of other conservative nightmares.

Let us return for a moment to the true or real Europe of the conservative philosophers and the work of renewal the authors may have in mind.. Their true Europe has no founding idea or purpose (as Schuman’s Europe had). It blends nostalgia and anxiety in a potpourri  of allegations, without much historic insight. Nostalgic are the paragraphs on civic loyalty and democracy, on the nation-state as the hallmark of Europe and on the impact of Christianity. Anxiety is expressed towards a multi-cultural world, globalisation and the dark schemes of our so-called governing classes with respect to human rights, the destruction of the family, and the building of a new empire.

I do not share the nostalgia. The various concepts of the nation-state – an invention of the French Revolution and the nineteenth century – brought us the domination of a few greater nation-states in international relations, two World Wars, the Shoa, ethnic cleansing and nationalism. Civic loyalty and democracy are most recent developments made possible by the post-war alliance between the United States of America and the unification of  Western Europe.

The statement that “the true Europe has been marked by Christianity” is another sign of nostalgia to an idealized past. I dealt with this issue at some length in the first part of “European unification into the twenty-first century” (volume IV in the series) and in “Neither Justice nor Order” (volume V in the series). The best one can find in such a true Europe is rather difficult to discern properly. A true Christian is, like Christ he wants to follow, a sign of contradiction in the world. As Christopher Dawson (The making of Europe. An introduction to the history of European Unity) and Denis de Rougemont ( L’Amour et l’Occident) rightly argued, the true Europe is characterized by an ethical dualism between Christian virtues and pagan traditions that corresponds to the dualism of European culture. The study of European history  gives us just good reason to be graceful whenever and wherever Christian virtues prevailed, and to be modest where war and conflict predominated. The real Europe gives us no reason to be proud of our achievements.

The renewal announced in paragraph 24, followed by a new round of condemnations of the false Europe, finally falls flat in the very last sentence of paragraph 36: “Let us renew national sovereignty, and recover the dignity of a shared political responsibility for Europe’s future”. Such “renewal” is an invitation to us all to follow the good example of Brexit. As an aside in paragraph 27, the Statement gives these sovereign nations their Christian mark…. with which they all went to war with each just over a century ago.

Robert Schuman, Jean Monnet, Konrad Adenauer, Alcide de Gasperi understood what  Europe should become and avoid after the two world wars.

 The Paris Statement is a sad exercise of organized forgetting.

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Frans A.M. Alting von Geusau


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