‘Mind the gap’: Europe between country and cosmos
Let us grasp the idea that there are two commonwealths – the one, a vast and truly common state, which embraces alike gods and men, in which we look neither to this corner of the earth nor to that, but measure the bounds of our citizenship by the path of the sun; the other, the one to which we have been assigned by the accident of birth…. Some yield service to both commonwealths at the same time – to the greater and to the lesser – some only to the lesser, some only to the greater.
(Seneca 1958: 187–9, On Leisure IV.1, trans. Basore)
Seneca reminds us of a fundamental normative problem of political action, the problem of allegiance to the particular and bounded political community versus obedience to universal moral laws. The analysis of the endeavours of European intellectuals in this chapter will show that the underlying dichotomy between country and cosmos continues to pose a fundamental problem for intellectuals who aspire to give political meaning to Europe. In their effort to achieve an integrated or federated political Europe, be it supranational or transnational, intellectuals seem to get lost in between the two normative realms of country and cosmos. Their political conception of Europe, be it supranational or transnational, has to be defended against the allegation that it represents a ‘half way house’ (Nicolaïdis 2004a: 101). Intellectuals in Europe have indeed often shifted between the defence of allegiance to a bounded national polity on the one hand and a cosmopolitan creed pleading for a community of mankind on the other. Few have defended a distinct political realm of justice for Europe. And from both the nationalist and the cosmopolitan (p.32) point of view, Europe has appeared to some as a political non lieu, an imagined community, undone in the name of cosmopolitanism as soon as conceived by the idea of overcoming national sovereigntism.
We may qualify this statement. Cosmopolitanism, although embracing the world at large, was conceived in Eurocentric terms and amounted to European imperialism rationalized by universal validity claims (Cheneval2002; Pagden 2000). Patriotism was more transparent as it rejected the grand designs of European integration on the same grounds that it rejected cosmopolitanism, as a morally void synonym for imperialism, authoritarianism, and absolutism. In the debates opposing patriotism to cosmopolitanism, intellectuals either found strong grounds for legitimating their particular political community or for transcending it in the name of universal reason. For the latter, Europe was a transitional category, hard to pin down from any possible point of view, be it in hermeneutically oriented narratives or in normative conceptions.
In this chapter, I try to come to a deeper understanding of the idea of European political integration as it is defended by certain European intellectuals. I shall show that the political conception of Europe, presented in the introduction to this volume as an object of two debates opposing nationalism, supranationalism and transnationalism, not only has difficulties in being determined within these paradigms. European supranationalism and transnationalism both face difficulties also because some of their main arguments have strong cosmopolitan implications. The political conception of Europe is thus confronted with the hiatus between polity and cosmos and, seemingly, a loss in universalization. Some cosmopolitan intellectuals react to this difficulty by shifting back to the concept of sovereignty they tried to overcome. They plead for a European federal state and a closed supranational political community. With the Abbé de Saint‐Pierre and Jürgen Habermas, I present examples of this ambiguity from the Enlightenment period as well as from contemporary discussion.
Another group of European intellectuals, however, also minds the gap between the national and the global but offers a different, genuinely Kantian reading of the cosmopolitan position. Furthermore, some intellectuals of this strand conceive a theory of democracy detached from a fixation on a singular demos. For reasons that I shall explain in the next two sections, both groups can be considered European intellectuals. I shall also argue that the latter position has more coherence and moral truth. However, the condition of philosophical validity of a conception needs to be distinguished from a theory of historical realization. If the geopolitical scenario of ‘multi‐polarity without multilateralism’ (National Intelligence Council 2008: 81) imposes itself in the next couple of decades, European intellectuals will find it increasingly difficult to defend the third way of Europe as a decentred, open‐ended multilateral political process rather than a classic federal state in the making (or unmaking).
(p.33) The concept of the ‘intellectual’ will be analysed in further detail later. At this point, I will very briefly justify why Eurosceptic and anti‐European intellectuals, such as those for instance mentioned in the chapter on the French discussion by Justine Lacroix or the chapter on the debate in the Czech Republic, will not be treated in this chapter. While they are of course European intellectuals according to a geographical and contextual conception, their rejection of a political meaning of Europe and of European integration has the consequence that they avoid the problem under discussion here: for them it is clear that their (and anybody’s) country is the nation‐state of origin or adoption, and they argue that it is better for things to remain that way.
‘De nobis ipsis silemus’
Before the European intellectual’s problem with the hiatus between patriotism and cosmopolitanism is further addressed, the difficulty of defining the (European) intellectual and the role of the European intellectual in European integration needs further explanation. First, studies on intellectuals written by people considering themselves as intellectuals are always in danger of representing an exercise in irrelevant narcissism. Intellectuals like to present themselves as protagonists of revolutionary change, as reasonable legislators of humanity, as solitary prophets crying in the desert, as impartial judges of past and future generations, and so forth. No task, no idea seems lofty enough for their brilliant minds, moral integrity, and limitless imagination. In order to avoid vain self‐referential discourse in the treatment of this topic we could follow Mark Lilla (2001) and limit this chapter to a critique of the disastrous political role of many twentieth‐century European intellectuals – without forgetting their implants in the United States. In numbers far too great, directly or indirectly, by conviction or defeatism, by calculus or naïveté, intellectuals have contributed to the defence of totalitarian systems, mostly in the name of higher social standards and superior forms of civilization.1 Furthermore, and maybe happily so if we consider Lilla’s point, one cannot but admit to the fact that a large majority of twentieth‐century intellectuals have neglected the project of European integration – unlike many of their medieval, Renaissance, and Enlightenment counterparts, or even unlike many thinkers of the nineteenth century up until the First World War (Cheneval 2002).
But such negative and critical discourse on intellectuals, albeit necessary and cathartic, holds the danger of playing the role of the superior judge of intellectuals, made easy by the ex post point of view of any critique. Faced with this difficulty, it might be advisable to remember the very first phrase of Kant’s (p.34) Critique of Pure Reason. It is a quote from Francis Bacon’s preface to his Instauratio Magna: ‘About ourselves we shall remain silent when undertaking the task of science.’ According to one possible interpretation of this phrase, and leaving aside the hermeneutic history of reception of Kant’s transcendentalism, intellectuals (at least philosophers and scientists) should thus avoid mixing science with a discourse about themselves, be it as individuals or as a group.
However, Mark Lilla does not exclusively cast judgement on intellectuals of the past. In his opinion, contemporary intellectuals also fail to recognize the profound danger of the ‘politique du désespoir théologique’ or of the passion for political perfectionism.2 Lilla thinks that illiberal and deconstructivist intellectuals risk repeating the errors of the past. They give indirect or direct support to political theories with potentially totalitarian consequences. The reason for the potential ‘dérive totalitaire’ is a lack of clarity about the coercive nature of political authority and the inaccessibility of the political for any kind of religious or morally idealistic engineering that follows from this. Any theory about authoritative collective action will thus have to put a check on authority as much as it would like to define the political as realization of the best possible form of common good life, and therefore make it as powerful as possible. Even if one does not agree with the content of Lilla’s accusations – I think that he makes a very valuable point – the defence or accusation of passionate intellectuals engaging in critical discourse shows that making intellectuals a subject of critical reflection is an important part of political theory – at least of a political theory that tries to relate analytical political theory to historico‐hermeneutical reflection.
What is an intellectual?
As has been made clear in the introduction to this volume, a further difficulty of this subject matter stems from the somewhat elusive concept of the intellectual. The following paragraphs do not present a comprehensive conception of the intellectual. They simply add a few reflections to the thoughts offered in the introduction to this book. Following in the footsteps of Antonio Gramsci and Jacques Le Goff, we could adopt a sociological definition of intellectuals. Le Goff (1985) identifies intellectuals as a group of people emerging at the end of thirteenth‐century Europe who, protected by their status at the faculty of arts at the university, led a life of research, discussion, and writing in relative independence from direct secular or ecclesiastic political domination. Intellectuals are thus the product of institutional differentiation and secularization of society in general, and of the foundation of the university in particular. Antonio (p.35) Gramsci’s distinction between organic and critical intellectuals is in relation to this conception and finds an institutional grounding. The critical intellectual was thus born in the medieval faculty of arts, an institution that was increasingly emancipating itself from the primacy of theology at the end of the thirteenth century. Intellectuals thus ceased to be theologians with direct links to ecclesiastical hierarchy.
In contrast to the sociological position discussed above, Alain de Libéra has developed a metaphysical theory of the intellectual. He links the term ‘intellectual’ more directly to a theory of the intellect, and considers intellectuals as people defending an independent status of the intellect, not only with regard to political authority but also to the world of material causation in general. In his Penser au moyen âge (2001), Alain de Libéra considers intellectuals as philosophers who affirm the immaterial or independent nature of the intellect and who try to live according to theoretical or moral principles that are derived from reason alone. An intellectual is thus a person who affirms theoretical and moral truths that are independent from and superior to positive or causal proof.
The difference between the sociological conception of Le Goff and the metaphysical conception of de Libéra merits further analysis which cannot be provided in this chapter. The debate shows, however, that conceptualizing the intellectual implies far‐reaching philosophical choices. We can consider different degrees of radicalism and of self‐conceptions of intellectuals. The politically sensitive version of the intellectual is a person who makes a claim for the independence of intellectual analysis vis‐à‐vis political and historical realities. As shown by Lilla, political reality is structured in a such a way as to transform any idealistic religious or moral design of political power into authoritarianism or totalitarianism. Many intellectuals tend to fail to take into account the coercive nature of real political authority, a characteristic which often increases and becomes unchecked when directly linked to absolute truth and transcendent morality.
However, this inherent danger of political ‘theology’ and its various religious and secular manifestations is no reason to abandon intellectual aspirations in all things political. There is room and need for an intellectual attitude seeking reflexive equilibrium between mental experiments, rational calculus, empirically accessible hypotheses, and interpretative historical reflection of short and long durée. Workers of the mind who constantly enact such mental and discursive practices in public and in more protected spaces of academia can be called intellectuals. It is of little importance whether such figures are physicists, journalists, writers, philosophers, etc. Ideally, intellectuals are tireless seekers of better arguments and better proofs in open debates. They are responsible for historical memory and future generations. Their field of action was never limited to the university, although the existence of universities has considerably facilitated their existence and social reproduction. As figures like Dante Alighieri show, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries there were already(p.36) intellectuals with absolutely no links to the university. Not only was the cosmopolitan Dante a total autodidact, something he has in common with his patriotic Enlightenment counterpart Rousseau, he was also the first public intellectual defending European unity with philosophical arguments. For many centuries, the intellectual’s field of action was the exchange of arguments, interpretations, and normative social models in public spaces.
What is a European intellectual?
Another difficulty we are facing lies in the adjective ‘European’ that qualifies the intellectuals we are focusing on in this book and chapter. If we accept that intellectuals operate in public spheres, it seems difficult to claim the existence of ‘European’ intellectuals, at least in our times. Plenty of studies demonstrate the absence or fragmentation of a European public sphere. Second, Jeffrey Goldfarb’s Civility and Subversion: The Intellectual in Democratic Society shows that the habitus of public intellectuals is situated in the national public sphere (Goldfarb 1998). In an article under the title ‘The Role of Intellectuals in Twentieth‐Century Europe’ written as introduction to an edited volume on intellectuals, Jeremy Jennings affirms a similar idea: ‘Each of our countries…offers markedly different paradigms of the relationship of the state to nation and of the place of the intellectual within the process of state building and the creation of a broader public culture’ (Jennings 2000: 785).
As an exception confirming the rule, one could refer to Jürgen Habermas. He has recommended that the European Union adopt a constitution and that Europeans consider ‘constitutional patriotism’ as the centrepiece of European political identity. Constitutional patriotism would consist in a common acceptance of a number of principles that found the normative framework of the European Union’s institutions. European constitutional patriotism would replace national patriotism, at least a certain form of national patriotism characterized by identity struggles and ugly gestures of exclusion. Constitutional patriotism claims the normative advantage of being based on universally recognizable principles and of being free of discriminatory connotations on ethno‐national, cultural, and religious grounds.3
For the purpose of this chapter it is important to remember that the concept of constitutional patriotism was coined by Dolf Sternberger in the national context of Germany’s confrontation of its national‐socialist past (and, at the time, its socialist present of the GDR) and efforts towards intellectual rebuilding of a liberal nation.4Habermas himself first used the concept in this context (p.37) in order to determine the only form of patriotism possible after national‐socialism. The concept was developed to break with nationalistic passions and their manifestations in totalitarian regimes of left and right. Its adaptation to a European discourse thus seems more than adequate. But the problem is that constitutional patriotism has not enjoyed the same positive reception by a wider European public as it has in Germany. Other European nations, and the EU as a unit, form contexts of reception of this concept that differ from the German debate of the 1960s and 1970s in fundamental ways. Smaller countries of Eastern Europe who see themselves primarily as serial victims of imperialism, of German National Socialism, and of Soviet communism in the twentieth century will find their own value‐based patriotism quite legitimate. This might help in explaining why Habermas’ constitutional patriotism with cosmopolitan overtones has not found the same resonance in Europe at large as in post‐Second World War Germany (Lacroix 2004b: 145–89).
Does this mean that it would be wrong to consider Jürgen Habermas a European intellectual? After all, he tries to give public discourse a universal normative ground and European character, and reaches out to intellectuals in other European countries to further what he thinks is good for Europe (and the world). Habermas and similar intellectuals (any list of them would be incomplete and is therefore not given) should be considered Europeanintellectuals, but the counterarguments help us determine the concept more precisely. It is important not to use the concept of a European public sphere as sociological sine qua non for the definition and identification of the European intellectual. Although a European public sphere comparable to national public spheres does not exist, debates on Europe are part of many national public debates and national media arenas in Europe.
A culturally divided country such as Switzerland does not have a unified public sphere in the strict sense of the term, and yet is considered a solid liberal democracy (Tresch and Jochum 2005