Europe's roots...

Article published on Nov. 20, 2009
community published
Article published on Nov. 20, 2009
Europe’s marathon run Jean-François Rischard Former vice president of the World Bank How come the people of Europe, this small assemblage of tribes and territories at the fringe of much bigger regions, ended up reading from the same script and making such a remarkable contribution to humanity?
Over the years, I have sifted through many possible explanations, but the one that puts it all together for me is that of Europe’s association with the worldview of the Greeks. Emerging some 3,000 years ago, this view held that life down here on earth was pleasant, interesting, and worthy of study, whereas the gods up there were not to be taken too seriously – in contrast with the other, more ancient worldview that considers life on earth to be mostly wretched and at any rate inferior to the more perfect life in the divine paradise above or afterlife beyond. The point is that by espousing the new, boldly different worldview, the people of Europe extracted themselves from the older worldview’s human potentialsapping corollary: credulous populations kept in line by brutal strongmen occupying their position at the top of their respective hierarchies by dint of their supposed exclusive communication links with the divine upstairs. So the way I see it, Europe took in the oxygen of the genial Greeks’ worldview and ran with it across the centuries, working its way to eventually becoming the world’s beacon for precisely the opposites of credulity and brutal rule: the two big ideas of empirical enquiry and democracy. But millennia of incessant wars made this anything but a smooth marathon run: for long stretches of time, there were few runners left; and then Europe had to shake off two types of wars that kept slowing it down. For one, it had to snuff out a remnant of the other worldview – senseless wars around competing religious claims; it did this at some point through another big idea: the separation of church and state. Mostly, Europe had to put an end to its real bane: reckless wars around competing real estate claims. Since the three prior big ideas alone would not do the job, Europe made the possibility of such wars a nonissue by inventing a fourth big idea: that of Europe – the world’s first true and durable union of nation-states. And now, as we test the planet’s limits and must find new ways to solve burning global problems, maybe the time has come for the people of Europe to do an encore, and contribute the new worldview and big ideas that will carry humanity through its next 3,000 years.

Europe’s mystique

Katherine Marshall

Senior fellow at Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs

To love one’s homeland seems part of the human condition. This love has a special poignancy today, as we move, change, take off and land each day in a new place, each corner of the earth, every people and culture accessible to discovery. Breaking ties to inherited identities and the bonds of birthplace can be liberating and welcome. But there is a special and enduring European flavor to spatial love, anchored in physical space that breathes culture and history. We all feel a deep resonance in savoring the beauty of the Seine as the sun sets, and timeless barges pass under its bridges, strolling down Roman streets where past and present mingle, pausing in a Swiss village where the crisp green of vineyards contrasts with soaring mountains while peaceful cowbells peal a distinct if distant music, or feeling the energy on London’s bustling streets where red telephone booths and black taxis seem like timeless icons. Those dimensions of Europe belong to us all. But for Europeans, the love of Europe’s beauty goes beyond the sheer glory of the place and its meaning in history and culture. And that bond of spatial love seems to endure. A special European mystique involves place and culture, inextricably linked. If God created the earth with loving care, fashioning each curve and color, perhaps He or She lingered lovingly a bit longer over Europe, creating its contrasting and eternal beauties. Europe is about the physical space and the space seems bound to people, the place to history, and Europe to the indefinable magic of its diverse cultures. The ways in which identity and place, culture and destiny are linked, is plainly changing, but a special attachment and love of place seems a lasting part of what keeps Europe Europe and makes it different and distinct.

Contemporary Europe, a pioneer experience

Amin Maalouf

Novelist and journalist

From my perspective, the experience of contemporary Europe indicates to the whole of humanity the road to follow: leaving behind, little by little, accumulated hatred, territorial quarrels, age-old rivalries; allowing the sons and daughters of those who killed each other to hold hands and conceive the future together; thinking about organizing a life in common, for six nations, then for nine, 12 or 15, then for about 30; going beyond the diversity of cultures while never trying to do away with it, so that one day, from many ethnic homelands, an ethical homeland is born. Throughout history, every time a voice was heard saying that the different nations of the planet should reconcile, get closer to one another, manage their common space in solidarity, or imagine a future together, it was inevitably accused of naivety for daring to advocate such a utopia. The European Union offers us in fact the very example of a utopia that is materializing. It is, as a result, a pioneer experience, a plausible foreshadowing of what a reconciled humanity could be tomorrow, and proof that the most ambitious visions are not necessarily naive. That said, the endeavor is not without flaws. All those participating in it express doubts at times. I myself experience a certain impatience with it. I would like Europe to set an example of coexistence among her founding people as well as among the immigrants she takes in; I would like her to take much more care of her cultural dimension, to much better organize her linguistic diversity. I would like her to resist the temptation to become a “club” of Christian, white and rich nations, and to dare conceive herself as a model for all humans. And I would also like her to dare to build, on the institutional plan, one single democratic entity, a European equivalent to the United States of America, with the states endowed with a larger cultural specificity and concerned with protecting and promoting it, but with federal leaders elected on the same day throughout the whole continent, and whose authority is recognized by all, Yes, I worry about the excessive prudence I perceive, and about a certain moral myopia. But the reservations I express in no way diminish my faith in the exemplary value of the “laboratory” that the construction of Europe represents at the crucial stage in which humanity finds itself. Text selected by the author for Europe à la carte, excerpt from the book Le Dérèglement du monde, Grasset, 2009.