and Polyphony

Janie Pélabay

Kalypso Nicolaïdis

Justine Lacroix

‘Ni tout à fait la même,

ni tout à fait une autre’

(Marcel Proust, Albertine disparue)

Behold our Europes! Europe invented, possessed, reified in the core – Germany, France, Italy; Europe othered, appropriated, enlisted in its borderlands – Great Britain, Greece, Ireland, or Spain; Europe returned, revealed, defied in the East – Poland, the Czech Republic, or Romania; Europe imagined, revered, resented in the limes – Norway or Turkey. If this book tells one story, it is that Europe is debated, deconstructed, debunked, and demystified in thousands of different ways across Europe. And as they do so, European intellectuals from different traditions seem to disagree about an evanescent Europe, pas tout à fait la même, pas tout à fait une autre, across ideologies, national traditions, and disciplinary biases.

In this conclusion to European Stories, we seek to draw together common threads from the chapters presented in this volume, each analysing specific national debates. What do we find?

First, we conclude that the quest for a unique and unanimous ‘European narrative’ as an answer to the EU’s legitimacy challenge is a non‐starter. The pluralism that characterizes Europe’s cultures and politics, Europe’s socio‐economic systems, and Europe’s national bargains extends perhaps even more deeply to its intellectual traditions, thus giving rise to a ‘deep diversity’ of narratives about Europe and the EU.1 More importantly for our purposes, as (p.335) our national accounts make clear, this narrative diversity that animates intellectual debates, and beyond them the EU’s political life, should not be reduced to the mere juxtaposition of supposedly clear and homogeneous national narratives about Europe. This book makes a case for insisting that we must resist the tendency to ascribe specific European narratives to different national ‘collective selves’. In this volume, we find different focuses and cleavages, grounds for different fears and hopes, within each national debate about Europe; and despite the difficulty of translation between different intellectual ‘languages’ – as well as between our national languages literally speaking2 – we also find multiple echoes between these conversations that are woven into a polyphony of sorts, the European way.

In short, consistent with Liebert’s insightful notion of contentious European democracy,3 the chapters in this book tell us not only about the inner tensions within each national context, but also about a number of transverse cleavages and – still fragile – transnational narratives emerging from lines of contestation that cut across the boundaries between member states. Could it be their combination into a grand and extravagant polyphony that is the ultimate European story?

Intellectuals, of course, do not speak like politicians: their views on the EU tend to be shaped by a core of abstract and normative statements. This principles‐oriented approach is applied to what John Erik Fossum and Cathrine Holst qualify as the European experiment, that is, the EU apprehended as ‘a testing ground for ideas, principles, procedures, and institutional arrangements’.4 This is not to say that intellectuals’ views are not context‐dependent or historically framed: on the contrary, intellectual debates about the EU are significantly coloured by the discursive contents of each political culture, including longue durée frames of reference, from the birth of some European nations in the nineteenth century to the earlier foundational myths of ancient Greeks, Celtic times, or Ottoman grandeur.5 So much so that the reference to each specific national project may appear unrelenting and somewhat obsessive in the debate over a Europe that is supposed to transcend them. Yet the debates that we witness across Europe do not generally oppose one national project to another but highlight diverging visions inside each country on how the European project affects the nation and vice versa.

Which brings us to the normative front where we emerge from this intellectual journey. We find solid reasons to counter the idea that often refers to thick (p.336) consensus on representation of the polity as a necessity if the country is to hold together – or rather, the idea that this axiom necessarily applies to the EU construct. Instead, the concept of deep diversity6 allows for a plurality of equally acceptable ways of belonging and feeling allegiance to the political community, at least when the political entity at issue is the EU. Indeed, this ‘union of states and of peoples’, this ‘demoi‐cracy in the making’ (Nicolaïdis 2004a), rests on practices of interpretation and negotiation that reflect strong – yet reasonable – disagreements between its many component parts on the norms and goals that underpin the process of European integration. In the end, we believe that democratic life in the EU can only be enhanced by such a great variety of diverging and competing stories about Europe as a whole, and about its current institutional translation through the EU.

Our praise of narrative diversity, however, does not imply a denial of any common core. To be sure, European citizens, peoples, and member states do seem to share a certain inclination for reiterating their commitment to universal political principles and purposes – freedom, peace, the rule of law, prosperity, solidarity, fundamental rights, and social justice, for example (Garton Ash 2007c). These common principles are arguably the object of a ‘soft consensus’ within the EU. A similar kind of consensus is depicted by Juan Díez Medrano, who argues in the preceding chapter that political elites and ordinary citizens tend to converge in their stories about the EU, since they apprehend Europe in the same way, namely, as a market founded on democratic values.7

In our view, however, such a common core does not take us very far. The vague image of the EU as both ‘a market and a democratic club’ is too general to prevent the disagreements and cleavages identified in this volume. For the kind of pluralism that most of the authors emphasize when investigating their national landscape has to do with how various intellectuals translate a set of fundamental but abstract norms into the concrete workings of the EU polity. When it comes to offering an interpretation of the so‐called ‘shared values’ or giving an account of what ‘market democracy’ means in practice, narrative diversity prevails.

Far from convergent and consensual, the various ‘European stories’ which emerge from the intellectual debates considered in this volume thus provide deeply contrasting visions of what the Union is, or should be. There is of course the divide between the EU’s discontents and the EU’s cheerleaders. We might also simply contrast descriptive accounts of European integration which seem hardly compatible. Other visions again put forward normative propositions for the future EU that are grounded on conflicting expectations. And even where there is overwhelming support for the EU – as in Spain where Europe is (p.337) conceived as a ‘national project’,8 or in Germany where European integration has long appeared as ‘an unquestioned, or even unquestionable, good’9 – the intellectual debates about the EU act as a catalyst of disagreements, revealing profound axiological cleavages – notably with regard to political ideals inherited from modernity as will be discussed below, as well as the nature and scope of liberal democracy.

Unsurprisingly, intellectuals have found a wide selection of labels to designate the object of their scorn or desire that is ‘Europe’. Those who disapprove of EU membership tend to portray the Union as an artificial construct, since for them there is no European heritage, identity, or people, but only national ones; some go further and see the EU as an identity threat – to give a radical example, the civitas diaboli picture remobilized by some Polish Catholic conservatives;10 or as an ‘ethical hazard’ which in Noica’s view has replaced the ideology of state socialism; or, most succinctly, as a ‘giant supermarket’ exclusively focused on material goals.11 On the other side of the spectrum, Europhiles find a variety of labels to express their approval, from an established Western civilization to a moral ‘community of values’ consistent with the image of a humanist Europe,12 a legal community based on human rights, an ‘anchor for democratic consolidation’,13 a provider of social goods, or a normative power capable of transforming the world in its own image. One of the contributions of this book is to take us on a journey beneath the labels attached to the traditional Europhobe–Europhile debate.

The range of contentious issues in the deliberative space carved by our European intellectuals is huge. In this concluding chapter, we identify four types of debate which we believe constitute the main common threads that run through our chapters.14 In each case we specify the nature of the debate, the object of the debate, and what can be seen as the normative horizon of the debate, seen as a promise by some and contested by others. The first debate we call relational in that it focuses on the theme of identity, broadly understood, and on the implicit or explicit disagreements on whether, and how, mutual recognition is to be achieved both inside and outside the EU. The second debate, which is civilizational in nature, deals with the issue of progress as the contested promise of European modernity. The third debate is political, dealing (p.338) as it does with the core idea of integration – in other words, the challenge of ‘unity in diversity’ and the contested promise of liberal democracy. And with the fourth, definitional, debate we enter the controversy on the very nature of the European polity and the question of its finalité. Finally, with a view to clarifying what is theoretically and practically at stake in Europe’s narrative diversity, we contrast two competing modes for debating Europe, namely self‐clarification and public justification.

A relational debate: Identity and the contested promise of mutual recognition

Unsurprisingly, most of the chapters in this volume reveal the crucial importance of the reference to their own national project as the preferred prism through which many intellectuals tackle the EU. To be sure, this obsession does not contradict our central argument that there is no such thing as a French or Polish vision of Europe, since part of the national debate is precisely over this national referent, whether it is pertinent or not, and if it is pertinent what it implies: the national prism to discuss Europe can accommodate radically different ideas about Europe, about the national project, and about the relationship between the two.

More generally, whether national identity is seen as bolstered or denied intellectuals worry about how Europe affects it and how it affects Europe in return. But while we find such identity warriors across member states we also find their counterparts, intellectuals who worry that identity‐talk is generally dangerous, or at least misguided. Indeed, the debate – within and across borders – often pits those who seek to ground identity through othering against those who are more interested in mutual recognition between peoples, turning away from essentialist identity preoccupations. These identity debates, we find, are always relational in one way or another, whether the relation is to one’s neighbours, one’s past or some other ‘other’. Before we review these different angles, we start by embedding the national prism in a broader context.

From national to European: the mosaic of intellectual prisms

Again and again, Europe and its EU incarnation serve as a foil to the fate of each country in their respective domestic debating spaces (Díez Medrano 2003; Leerssen 2007). Certainly, the EU is discussed first and foremost not as an object in itself, but rather in terms of how it either reinforces or endangers the nation – or more precisely a specific national project and particular vision. In other words, the debate is less about the EU itself than about what the EU means for France, for Italy, for Poland – or for Britishness, Greekness, Germanness. The positive assessment expressed in the slogan ‘Europe is good for Ireland’ (p.339) illustrates the tendency to view the EU through the exclusive prism of national identity and interest. The same goes for those intellectuals in Poland or Germany who apprehend Europe as protecting the nation from its internal evils, or for the Europeanist views articulated in Spain and Greece that represent the EU as the best solution to the country’s problems. On the other side, we find the same reference framing intellectual visions of the likely negative effects of European integration on the nation. The various facets of these debates all revolve around a series of ‘relational’ questions: to what extent is the EU itself like ‘our country’ or antithetic to ‘our values’, ‘our story’, ‘our national project’? Can this new kid on the block, the EU, even perhaps allow us to reinvent the national? Or is the EU the conduit for the domination of ‘our country’ by bigger ones? In short, national debates about Europe do not generally start with the abstract notion of the nation‐state and its relations to Europe, but rather with the specific nation‐building project at hand, and – what is more – with contrasting interpretations of it.

Inescapable though it may seem, the nation is not the only prism through which intellectual debates on the EU are framed and articulated. In the chapters collected in this volume, we also find other ‘intellectual gates’ to discussing European integration which serve as ‘connecting points’ between the domestic sphere and the European level.15 These can be ‘regional’ narratives, like the ‘Nordic model’16 and the paradigmatic ‘Central Europe’ considered by Jan Křen as ‘a conceptual stage on the way to Europe as a whole’,17 or ‘cultural’ narratives, like Hellenism or Celtic heritage. Finally, there are narratives whose subject is ‘Europe’ as such – whether this term refers to a European ‘spirit’ or self or whether it designates a political project, a set of institutions and policies, or even a bureaucratic body also named ‘Brussels’.

Peripheral angst: Self‐assertion through recentring

From these intellectual prisms, the dichotomy ‘centre versus periphery’ emerges in full relief. To start with, references to nationhood are predominantly associated with Eurosceptical attitudes. In reaction to what the likes of Václav Klaus see as the denationalization of citizenship associated with the EU – and against their compatriots who support it – a brand of intellectuals found especially in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Ireland converge in championing their vision of nationhood in a defensive mode. The Polish debate on this issue is animated by the resurgent polarization between, on one hand, a homogenized (p.340) and essentialist vision of nationhood inspired by Roman Dmowski’s integral nationalism and, on the other, a multi‐ethnic vision inspired by Józef Piłsudski. As Mach and Góra show in their chapter, a post‐romantic speech now places ‘national uprising, messianism, martyrdom, the Christian crusade’ at the core of Polishness.18 Similar views on identity and nationality are widespread in the Czech Republic via Václav Klaus’ discourse which reactivates the pan‐Slavist and anti‐Western ideology inherited from the communist regime. Another variant of the defensive modecan be found in countries such as Greece, where Diamandouros’ culture of the underdog (Diamandouros 1997) leads to an ethnocentric exaggeration of both past glory and present misery, as discussed by Pagoulatos and Yataganas in this volume. In these debates, Europe is targeted by one camp as a cause of national demise and enlisted by the other as its remedy.

Indeed, if peripheral countries are often home to intellectuals who perceive the EU as a threat to the nation, they are also home to what we could call intellectual strategies of recentring: ‘our nation may be small but it is at the core’. This is the case of Irish or Greek claims to have played a vital role in moulding European culture: the struggle for leadership within the competitive market of cultural foundations and the assertion of a civilizational centrality reflects, on the narrative front, the institutional squabbles regarding state equality. In these two countries, the rhetoric of exceptionalism echoes the complex dialectic between senses of superiority and inferiority, as with the claim for Romania’s contribution to European integration as an effort to keep alive the ‘pre‐political spirit of Europe’.19 A similar version of the centre/periphery antagonism underlies Norwegian debates about EU membership, which reactivate structural socio‐cultural and territorial cleavages that strongly marked longue durée national memory in that country. As for regional prisms, the use of the concepts of Slavism, Central Europe, or even Central‐Europeanness in Poland and the Czech Republic serves as a remedy to the existential (much more than geopolitical) peripheral role ascribed to Eastern member states.

Arguably, many of the criticisms advanced by intellectuals ‘from the periphery’ are not targeted at Europe and the EU in general; rather, they express a reluctance to adhere to a hegemonic, ready‐made narrative of European integration. To put it differently, what is refused is a form of ‘Europeanization through imitation’. Europeanization – they argue – is a multi‐faceted process with many possible paths. Consequently, they urge the self‐confident laudators of ‘Europe’ in their own country to admit that their dominant view is controversial. Grounded on the memory of past domination or colonialism, or based on what the Turkish intellectual Ali Bulaç considered to be an ontological (p.341) incapacity in mainstream European circles of ‘acknowledging the truths of “Others” ’,20 such a claim finds growing support. This is particularly the case amongst intellectuals from the ‘new’ member states. An illustration of this is the Central European appeal for an expansion of European understanding launched by Marek A. Cichocki. In his view, the time is ripe to acknowledge that there was not just one ‘European Enlightenment’ from which we can derive practical conclusions for the European Union, and that the ‘predominantly Franco‐German narrative is no longer appropriate’. Hence he makes a case for the enrichment of the European narrative with a variety of different forms of the Enlightenment occurring side by side (Cichocki 2007).

It is now, of course, generally accepted that what Cichocki calls the Franco‐German narrative is of little relevance to the contemporary EU. Indeed, there are plenty of intellectuals on both sides who also fear that their national identity might be soluble in Europe. And often, support for the EU in France and Germany is also framed – just as in Ireland or Greece – by the conviction that the Union is simply a France or Germany writ large. Implicitly or explicitly, the argument goes, Europe is good because and when it is made in our image, or better still because it is of our making.

Neighbours and frères‐ennemis: from ‘them’ to ‘us’?

Peripheral angst is but one variant of a more general line of debate revolving around the relation to the Other, within or outside the EU. Here, the dividing line across countries pits those who are prone to adopt a rhetoric of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ against those who resist this logic. The ‘us’ language prevails in narratives which insist that EU member states are part of a larger ‘European we’. Conversely, when the relations between member states are viewed on the model of international relations or foreign affairs, the use of ‘us’ is reserved for the national community, while ‘them’ refers to the rest of the EU. As analysed in the chapter on Poland, the transition from ‘them’ to ‘us’ is typically made possible through a change in the perception of previous neighbours – Germany in the case at hand – from a threat to a possible cooperation partner, or even an ally, often with the help of the EU. But whether the frère‐ennemi turned partner transforms all other Europeans into members of a ‘we’ is open to debate.

When applied to ‘external’ Others, we of course find debates about Europe and Islam, be it within or outside its borders. But at least in the chapters that make up this book, this relational debate is mainly about the appropriate partnership between Europe and the United States. Some intellectuals argue in favour of a strong EU–US partnership – from Václav Havel or Timothy Garton Ash to the Italian pro‐Atlanticist shift identified by Mario Telò as a by‐product (p.342) of the ‘Berlusconian revolution’. In contrast, a ‘Mediterranean Europe’ has emerged as a possible anti‐imperialist EU, converging with the concerns expressed from within the British left by Perry Anderson – who deplores the lack of independence from the US – and by Tom Nairn, who feared that the suggestion of increasing European–American partnership would turn into a process of ‘self‐colonization’. The US, then, is the common topic of discussion around which European debate has constantly gravitated, even if Europeans passionately disagree on whether it is about a ‘we’ or a ‘them’.

A community of memory? Whose memories?

Ultimately, debates over identity tend to turn around memory and intellectuals’ relationships with the intertwined national and European pasts. Perhaps the past, loved or loathed, is the real other of Europe. Here, the fundamental cleavage is mainly between an apologetic approach to national history and a self‐critical thinking applied to collective memory. In Poland, for instance, many have advocated the ‘defalsification’ of a collective memory marked by decades of communism, and subsequently a critical rethinking of the national past in order to build a double identity, both national and European – or even a ‘European‐oriented’ new identity. But at the same time, our Polish chapter documents the weak propensity in Poland for recognizing the harm and historical injustice done to others, thus noting that Polish opinion seems to be devoid of any ‘post‐colonial complex’. And indeed, self‐criticism finds little room in an intellectual environment dominated by discourses warning against ‘nothingness’ and the ‘lack of memory foundations’.21

Such a tension between self‐reflection and apologia can be found in other national debates too. In Ireland, the experience of colonialism teaches that the European past is composed of national traditions which are capable of ‘barbarism’ as well as ‘beauty’. This is a crucial lesson if we are to learn from the negative aspects of national history and give impetus to mutual recognition. But, as argued by Hayward, this self‐critical attitude is far from predominant. Instead, a rather apologetic relation to the national ‘heritage’ tends to focus the debate towards ‘how best to reclaim Ireland’s past’, even at the risk of verging on an intoxication with such a mythical history.22This ‘hyperbolic’ sense of the past is arguably shared by a large number of Greek intellectuals, except that in their case – they claim – the national inheritance has benefited the whole of Europe, and indeed, the world.23 By contrast, the anti‐nationalist and pacifist narratives analysed by Mario Telò tend to encourage critical self‐appropriation of the past in Italy. This is all the more so in the case of Germany, where the (p.343)contribution to the construction of a united and peaceful Europe proceeds from a desire for ‘moral rehabilitation’ grounded on historical sin.

Finally, the dichotomy ‘continuity versus discontinuity’ appears in several European stories analysed in this book, with both perceptions usually coexisting for the same country depending on which history is referred to.24 Hence the gap between, on one hand, EU membership as an extension of the nation’s history – or more precisely of what is perceived and glorified as its most positive achievement – and, on the other, EU membership as a break with what is perceived as its most contemptible past (communism, fascism, collaboration, colonialism). For Italians, the EU vindicates their turning their back on Mussolini, while for the French it reverberates with memories of revolution and resistance. For Greece or Ireland, EU membership has been viewed by the mainstream as a means to free the nation from the colonial yoke, but at the same time as a reconnection with a more remote past. The ‘myth of continuity’ that George Pagoulatos and Xenophon Yataganas discern in Greek intellectuals’ visions of Europe may well reveal some anxieties about the future in general, and about the possible role of Greece within the EU in particular. We also see how historical rivalries throughout Europe are offered up to the altar of a project meant to remember and transcend them (France and Germany, France and Britain, Greece and Turkey, Poland and Germany, etc.). Alternatively, the EU may entrench elements of some traditional dominances (France, Italy), or it may help to enhance a country’s power on the continent (small states in general, post‐communist states). To sum up, all EU members use the EU in one way or another as a means of renegotiating their own history and the relationship between their respective histories. Just like national identities in general, patterns of continuity and discontinuity are thus constructed toEuropeanize national history to one’s national advantage.

Turning to the European prism, these national differences can of course be apprehended under an overarching tension when it comes to the past of Europe as a whole. Many intellectuals across member states tend to chime with the idea of the EU as a ‘community of memory’, a means of atonement for Europe’s cardinal sin, the transformation of two continent‐wide civil wars into world wars. Others, however, prefer to put a more positive emphasis on Europe’s Enlightenment heritage – a continuity argument – or conversely on its break with the various pasts of some of its member states – a discontinuity argument. Under the latter, ‘virgin birth’ understanding, the EU was designed on a blank slate and does not need to atone for the colonial legacies of the former metropolises in its midst. It is noteworthy, however, that the colonial pasts of some of the member states and the EU’s pattern of relations with previously colonized non‐European peoples is scarcely discussed by the intellectuals considered in (p.344) this volume. In this, they may simply reflect a general pattern of denial in European societies. The memory of European intellectuals, as well as European publics, is indeed selective.

To sum up, we have indicated here just some of the variants of the identity debates that readers will find scattered across the chapters of the book. It is remarkable, however, to note that underlying much of the argument around identity lies an almost universally shared sense of the exceptionalism of one’s national project, the conviction that one’s national history is not only unique but uniquely related – positively or negatively – to European history. Given the relatively (though increasingly less) closed nature of these national debates, it is even doubtful that we can observe an actual ‘clash of exceptionalisms’. Instead, we find a happy coexistence between similar yet contradictory claims to exceptional status, that are each oblivious to such ironies. It remains to be seen whether the alternative gates or prisms used by intellectuals to ‘enter’ debates around Europe will eventually diversify, leaving their patrie to compete with other frames for their musings about Europe.

A civilizational debate: Progress and the contested promise of European modernity

We can now turn from the range of particulars, each concerned with the fate of their own national project, to more generic transnational cleavages. As far back as we can go – i.e. six or seven centuries ago (see the discussion on emergence of intellectuals in the introduction to this volume as well as Francis Cheneval’s chapter) – ‘intellectuals’ in Europe have clashed around the issue of unification of the continent, and about whether such unification could in turn be seen as one version of the bigger question of what constitutes progress, however this may be defined in a given era and by a given author or group of authors. Is progress best served by forming smaller or larger political entities? Does it point in the direction of state sovereignty or continental unity? In our introduction, we referred to this longue durée discussion over the nature of progress as the first‐order debate that underpins the continuous pendulum between the national and supranational poles. At the end of our intellectual journey, we find that the EU is discussed as the embodiment of ‘European modernity’ and its promise of progress. The question as to whether this promise has been kept or broken is at the core of our intellectual debates, thus reminding us that progress is neither unequivocal nor irrevocable.

Modernity and its European nemesis

For many intellectuals, European integration has come to epitomize progress, whilst for others it is the most evident symptom of the ‘diseases’ caused by (p.345) modernity in the public domain. Almost all of our countries have seen modernity and its European nemesis alternatively celebrated and put on trial, although on different grounds and with different reference points.

Those who regard the process of modernization by and large through the lens of progress tend to define it broadly, notably through its extension to the requisites of social justice or to certain forms of egalitarianism or multiculturalism.25 The fact remains, however, that they tend to consider the ideals attached to the Enlightenment, political modernity, rationalism, secularism, and universalism to be self‐evident normative benchmarks for the European project. In this ‘Europeanist‐modernist’ perspective – widely represented in Spain and Italy – European integration is viewed as an obvious path towards democratization, social progress, and the implementation of modern values. But precisely because this diagnosis is presented as so unproblematic, it prompts concern among those who fear that a process of Europeanization unilaterally conducted in the name of ‘modernity’ will act as a straitjacket for many countries. Scholars in this vein resent the one‐size‐fits‐all, EU‐led hegemonic interpretation of ‘European modernity’.

These anxieties may take various forms. One of them opens a debate about the sources of the ‘modern European self’. In this debate, alternative sources – most noticeably Romanticism and Christianity – are invoked with a view to counterbalancing what is perceived as a dominant yet truncated picture of ‘Enlightened Europe’. The predominance of a European narrative embedded in the legacy of Western Enlightenment is especially contested by intellectuals from the post‐communist member states. Thus for instance, in the face of a universalistic rhetoric, ‘post‐romantic speeches’ and calls for the community’s distinctiveness have found a significant audience in Poland and the Czech Republic. To be sure, the dichotomy between universalism and particularism might appear too simplistic; but it clearly surfaces in intellectual debates on the EU.

The latter brings out another important aspect of modernity: secularism. On that subject, Polish pleas for the recognition of the Christian/Catholic sources of the ‘European ethos’ are paradigmatic. Behind this claim lie slightly different purposes: based on the concept of the ‘ante‐murale’ and supported by the discourse of ‘martyrdom’ and ‘Christian crusade’ as discussed above, some intellectuals exhort the Polish citizenry to engage in a double quest for moral integrity and cultural purity that tends to fuel a defensive and mistrustful attitude towards European integration; others encourage a more offensive attitude aiming to fulfil Poland’s mission of ‘bringing Christianity back to Europe’. (p.346) This narrative of the saviour bears striking similarities with de Valera’s speech on Ireland’s religious and spiritual task in Europe. This discourse, with Herderian undertones, presents the Irish people as having made a unique contribution to ‘European culture’ and therefore deserving of special recognition. The ‘Irish genius’ – the argument goes – lies in its capacity to protect Europe from the dangers, and the decadence, that stem from a public culture disconnected from any transcendent framework and perverted by consumerism and the pursuit of material goods.26 One might also refer to Greek ‘communitarian’ thinkers such as Yannaras, especially the members of the so‐called ‘neo‐Orthodox movement’, who promote a sense of ‘particularist loyalty’ to a ‘warm’ community shaped by the Greek‐Christian tradition and worldview.27

It is worth pointing out that the controversy over the religious ethos and telos of the EU has gained a wider audience not only at the societal level but also within European academia where secularism, multiculturalism, and the accommodation of religious differences have become widely debated.28 The debate mobilized and polarized large portions of public opinion around Europe, especially in Spain, Italy, Portugal, and France, where issues related to secularism are highly sensitive. Here, the divide is between secularism as a prerequisite for any political regime respectful of a plurality of comprehensive worldviews and secularism as a cause for the failure of Europe on the front of culture and civilization.

Universalism and secularism are thus two bones of contention that merge into a broader tendency which consists in appraising the EU in terms of the benefits and damages attributed to ‘European modernity’. To be sure, except for those who lament the loss of ‘organic solidarities’ and ‘holistic worldviews’,29 there are few intellectuals who explicitly contest the value attached to political modernity in general, and to the principles of liberal democracy in particular. Nevertheless, as we shall see, this does not preclude deep disagreements about the appropriate interpretation of these principles and their implementation within the EU. Moreover, emphasis put on progress in terms of freedom, education, or prosperity can coexist with a critical stance towards the consequences of modernization for public culture and democratic life in contemporary European societies.