Philosopher André Glucksmann: A Dark Vision of the Future of Europe

French philosopher André Glucksmann finds the situation in Europe "extremely unsettling." In a SPIEGEL interview, he discusses the failure of European intellectuals, how divisions could lead to an EU breakup or even hostilities, and why pursuing a United States of Europe is "the wrong goal."

Photo Gallery: André Glucksmann on Europe's Future Photos
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In France, André Glucksmann is one of the so-called New Philosophers, who turned away from their Marxist beginnings after 1968 and, motivated by Solzhenitsyn's "The Gulag Archipelago," wrote off Soviet-style totalitarianism. He is particularly well known in Germany for his two books "The Cook and the Cannibal" and "The Master Thinkers." His parents were Eastern European Jews and lived in Palestine and Germany before fleeing in 1937 to France, where Glucksmann was born in the same year. He published his autobiography, "A Child's Rage," in 2006. As someone who is deeply familiar with German philosophy and has taken a critical look at Heidegger since his university days, Glucksmann has sought to engage in intellectual dialogue with Germany. In his many papers and essays, the 75-year-old has defended the right to intervene in armed conflicts to protect civilians, has championed the Chechens and Georgians in the Caucasus, and has doggedly criticized the West for its tendency to close its eyes to the persistent presence of evil in the world.


SPIEGEL: Mr. Glucksmann, in light of the intellectual and existential experiences you had in the 20th century as an anti-totalitarian thinker, are you worried about Europe's future?

Glucksmann: I've never believed that all the dangers were averted after the end of fascism and communism. History doesn't come to a standstill. Europe didn't step out of (history) when the Iron Curtain disappeared, even if it has occasionally seemed to want to. Democracies tend to ignore or forget the tragic dimensions of history. In this sense, I would say: Yes, current developments are extremely unsettling.

SPIEGEL: Since its beginnings 60 years ago, the European community has almost always stumbled from one crisis to the next. Setbacks are part of its normal mode of operation.

Glucksmann: A sense of crisis characterizes the modern European era. From it, one can draw the general conclusion that Europe actually isn't a state or a community in the national sense, which grows together organically. It also can't be compared with the ancient Greek city-states, which, despite their differences and rivalries, formed a single cultural unit.

SPIEGEL: European countries are also bound by shared cultural aspects. Is there such a thing as a European spirit?

Glucksmann: European nations are not alike, which is why they can't be merged together. What unites them is not a community but a societal model. There is a European civilization and a Western way of thinking.

SPIEGEL: What are its features?

Glucksmann: Since the Greeks -- from Socrates to Plato to Aristotle -- Western philosophy has inherited two fundamental principles: Man is not the measure of all things, and he isn't immune to failure and evil. Nevertheless, he is responsible for himself, and for everything he does or refrains from doing. The adventure of mankind is an uninterrupted human creation. God is not part of it.

SPIEGEL: Fallibility and freedom. But are these fundamental aspects of European intellectual history not enough to create a permanent political union?

Glucksmann: Europe was never a national entity, not even in the Christian Middle Ages. Christianity always remained divided -- the Romans, the Greeks and later the Protestants. A European federal state or European confederation is a distant goal that is frozen in the abstraction of the term. I think pursuing it is the wrong goal.

SPIEGEL: Is the European Union chasing after a utopia in both political and historical terms?

Glucksmann: The EU's founding fathers liked to invoke the Carolingian myth, and an EU award was named after Charlemagne. But, after all, his grandchildren divided up his empire. Europe is a unity in its division or a division in its unity. Whichever way you put it, though, it's clearly not a community in terms of religion, language or morals.

SPIEGEL: And yet it exists. What does that lead you to conclude?

Glucksmann: The crisis of the European Union is a symptom of its civilization. It doesn't define itself based on its identity but, rather, on its otherness. A civilization isn't necessarily based on a common desire to achieve the best but, rather, on excluding and making the evil taboo. In historical terms, the European Union is a defensive reaction to horror.

SPIEGEL: A negatively defined entity that emerged out of the experience of two world wars?

Glucksmann: In the Middle Ages, the faithful prayed and sang in their litanies: "Lord, protect us from pestilence, hunger and war." This means that community exists not for good but against evil.

SPIEGEL: These days, many people cite the phrase "never another war" as Europe's raison d'être. Does this foundation still hold up now that the specter of war in Europe has dissipated?

Glucksmann: The Balkan wars in the former Yugoslavia and the murderous incendiary actions of the Russians in the Caucasus didn't happen that long ago. The European Union came together to oppose three evils: the memory of Hitler, the Holocaust, racism and extreme nationalism; Soviet communism in the Cold War; and, finally, colonialism, which some countries in the European community had to painfully abandon. These three evils gave rise to a common understanding of democracy, a civilizing central theme of Europe.

SPIEGEL: Is a new, unifying challenge what's missing today?

Glucksmann: It wouldn't be hard to find if Europe didn't act so heedlessly. In the early 1950s, the core of the union was the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the first supranational economic alliance in the area of heavy industry; (it was) Lorraine and the Ruhr area, the ECSC as a means of preventing war. As everyone knows, the counterpart today would be a European energy union. Instead, Germany decided to embark on its transition to renewable energy on its own, ignoring the European dimension. Everyone is negotiating individually with Russia for oil and gas, Germany signed an agreement to build the Baltic Sea pipeline despite the resistance of Poland and Ukraine, and Italy is involved in the South Stream pipeline through the Black Sea.

SPIEGEL: So each country is pursuing its own interests amid changing alliances and bilateral agreements that ignore the spirit of the European Union?

Glucksmann: (This is a) grim example of cacophony because it shows that the member states are no longer willing and able to form a united front against external threats and Europe's challenges in the globalized world. This touches on the nerve of the European civilization project, in which each person is supposed to be able to live for himself, and with which, however, everyone wants to survive together. And it makes things easy for Russia under (President Vladimir) Putin. Despite all the weakness of that giant of natural resources, its capacity to cause damage remains considerable and is something its president likes to use. Recklessness and forgetfulness create the conditions for new catastrophes in both the economy and politics.

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1. I agree with the 3 threats to the European Civilization but
Lenilena 08/23/2012
I also think that we may have a principle of hope - if we want to build a new structure...My generation who was born in Communism nurtured hopes for a free Europe which will include us, and we are not giving up that dream! We worked for it from 1989 to present and although in Romania mafia structures went against the Rechtsstaat, we won't dispare and we won't cease striving for a better free and just society. But last and not least let me thank you Sir for sharing your thoughts with us.
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