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A Frenchie travelling the world...

02 February 2008

(Re)-thinking Europe

Dear readers,

I have just finished Edgar Morin's "Penser l'Europe" ("thinking Europe"), which is an excellent excuse for me to begin blogging again. The book will be also the opportunity for me to go a bit beyond and expose my own views on this important topic.

Edgar Morin is a French left wing philosopher and social anthropologist. His Mediterranean roots (born Edgar Nahoum in 1921, he is of Spanish and Sephardi Jewish origin) were soon hidden by his war name of Morin. Involved in the Spanish Civil War and later in the French Resistance, Morin was attracted by Marxism and was until his expulsion in 1951 a member of the French Communist Party. He is still today a known sympathizer of the center left "stream" of the French Socialist Party. More importantly, of course, he is a popular intellectual in France and even in Europe, respected by both right and left wing politicians for his open mind, immense culture and defining ideas.

It is interesting to know that Edgar Morin, as he admits himself in the book, was initially a strong opponent of the European idea but came later to recognize its vital importance. Converts are often the most enthusiastic missionaries, so it is no surprise that Edgar Morin has written this essay in an extremely convincing and didactic way.

The whole idea of the book is that Europe nearly died during the XXth century, mainly because of its internal tensions. Morin tries to understand what stands behind the European ideal (historically as well as nowadays) and why is it important to find it out. The tone is sometimes a bit precious, as Morin is often obsessed with semantics. But naming things is controlling them, by making them ours, so I guess he has a point in trying to be as precise as he can be. This aspect aside, the reading is pure pleasure. Morin manipulates concepts and ideas with ease and more importantly makes them understandable for people who don't have the same immense scientific and cultural background.

Morin sees Europe as an entity not really well defined from the geographical, cultural or ethnic point of view. He then tries to define what common points have developed and existed along History between the nations and other political organisations which have flowered on its space and which could have explained both the extraordinary expansion and global success of Europe and its terrible implosion and decadence during the XXth century. He finds them to be what he calls a "dialogic" between nihilism and creation, a permanent instability, source of progress as well as destruction. What he calls dialogic is the opposition between two ideas which are antagonistic without being contradictory or exclusive and as the same time complementary without being stable. He goes a bit further by explaining that it is this dialogic which has created the European Nation States and the modern democratic systems, but also the ideologies that have nearly destroyed Europe: Marxism and Fascism. This dialogic has also transformed Europe, both through its oppression of the rest of the world through the colonial system, and through its adoption and integration of other cultures in its own identity. Due to this, Europe has both spread its defining principles through the world and acquired a massive responsibility in doing it. The dialogic between cultures and civilization has made European civilization in some way compatible with all cultures.

This responsibility is the reason Edgar Morin wants a political Europe. He understands that to survive along these principles, Europe must be stronger (not in a military way, but in a softer, influential way) and united. Europe has hurt and changed the world all together, for better or for worse. But it now has to survive with it and in it. The Nation States have been created by the European dialogic and have been made redundant by it. We still have to invent something else to complete our cycle to the next stage, whatever it is. Otherwise, the nihilistic aspect of the dialogic will only destroy them, nothing will have been created to go beyond... Morin thinks that a Confederation (a bit along the Swiss model) could help us define what this next stage is.

But interestingly, at the end of the book, Morin gives clues. The point, according to him, is that there should not be any ideology. Europe has already created and destroyed all religions of earthly salvation. Europe has invented secularism and has proved that it is the only peaceful way to go. But it has not destroyed religions or ideologies. It has absorbed them and invented a system where all systems can coexist without facing annihilation. Our habit of facing the ultimate Void (and surviving it) has given us this amazing ability. Call it democracy if you want (though it is a tricky word to employ here, so much has it been misused), it does not matter. It is a way of handling public matters which solves the problem of power. No other system has done it. Of course, none is perfect either, and our democratic system could see many improvements. But Europe's mission, its new creation process, could be to defend it against the permanent entropy of the Void, and to propose it to the rest of the world that we infected with our own dialogic. Spreading democracy (what a terribly dangerous slogan) could become an ultimate goal for a future European Union.

The point that I would like to add to Morin's analysis is that it does not need to be disruptive. It does not need to be disruptive to the European States. They are going to disappear a way or another, swallowed by this new Void that is globalisation. They can understand that it is not too late for them to accept this kind of immortality. But more importantly, it does not need to be disruptive for the rest of the world. They can understand that Europe has now permanently abandoned any aggressive expansionism. What they can now also understand is that the system that we are offering (for free, so to say) is not exclusive of their own cultures or of their own contribution to civilization. It is the whole point of the democratic process that it is is not ethnocentric. It is not attacking any faith, any social system neither any form of expression. The democratic system only basis is that there should be a rule rather than chaos and that the rule does not need to be any heavier than needed to respect each group or individual. For this reason, it is the ultimate universal. The universal that includes all particularities.

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