Since the Enlightenment, men of letters and culture, scientists, philosophers and artists from across Europe have made up a kind of supranational community of thinkers, exchanging and comparing ideas and engaging in heated debates all in an attempt to give rise on our continent to a concept of intellectual cosmopolitanism based on the ideals of equality and fraternity. If nowadays these ideals can be said to form the basis of the ongoing project of constructing a European space, it is precisely thanks to those intellectuals who, in the past, have dared to speak up for that which seemed absurd or unthinkable.
Nowadays this no longer appears to be the case. And yet we still have intellectuals - sociologists, university professors, politicians and philosophers. The problem is that they no longer seem to dare to voice their convictions, or perhaps it is because they are not allowed to. What is certain is that their role has been continually renegotiated: the modern day figure of the intellectual is crushed within the hegemonic and vice-like grip of politics and economics, a grip which leaves the thinker suffocated and paralysed, for intellectual ambition goes hand in hand with the idea of pursuing the collective good - something there seems to be no room for in today's world.
Dahrendorf, Soros and Ash? In intellectual retreat…
Intellectuals are undoubtedly constrained by this situation, but also by the way culture is disseminated, by "knowledge" itself, which nowadays seems to be reduced to one word: information. And it is precisely through the information media that the role of the intellectual must be re-evaluated. The reflections of 'thinkers' would noticeably enrich the news propagated by the mass media. Therefore it is vital that newspaper editors and TV producers give greater room to the opinions of cultural thinkers, above all on European issues. However, at the same time, intellectuals should not limit themselves to commenting on events but should dare to go further. And what subject lends itself better to avant-guarde daring than Europe? Europe is being created in a forward-thinking way and therefore intellectual input is necessary, as are reflections on the present situation which anticipate and have a bearing on how the process of constructing Europe will evolve in future.
Open any daily newspaper (and here the Italian case springs to my mind) and it is discouraging to note that interventions by intellectuals on Europe are extremely rare and that among those which do appear, the ones which are most deeply convinced of the importance of Europe give off an air of resignation - even among the most progressive of the daily newspapers from the wide-spectrum of Italian media, such as "La Repubblica". And yet discussions relating to Europe abound.
Unfortunately, however, articles by the likes of Garton Ash, Soros and Dahrendorf have nothing new to add. Today's intellectuals seems to lack purpose and imagination.
An example I would give is an article which appeared in "La Repubblica" on 12 July 2003 written collaboratively by Timothy Garton Ash, Michael Mertes and Dominique Moisi. In the aforementioned article under the title "The Club of Three that must give a future to Europe" the three renowned authors call for relations between France, Germany and Great Britain, much damaged by the war in Iraq, to be renegotiated as a practical means of creating a better future for the European Union. The article then persists with the idea, sadly only too close to the reality, that the only actors in this Europe are the nation states and, in particular, the "Big Three".
A young Europe in motion
But the intellectual must not stop at the reality of what he sees. Rather, he should imagine the diverse alternatives that exist beyond. He must draw attention to the fact that Europe as we know it today is not the only possible scenario and foster the dream that on our continent the will of the people as Europeans and not as inhabitants of old, self-interested nation states will one day count above all else. He must envisage that a job, an idea, or a vote of an Italian from Palermo will serve the whole of Europe in the same way as that of a Belgian from Antwerp, without there being a distinction between the two, because our priority should be to allow Europeans to feel European. All this should be the role of the European intellectual.
Unfortunately the intellectuals of our day no longer dare to take that step. That is why it is our generation which must make it our duty. And we have what it takes to do it. We are the ones who leave Spain and Italy and go to work in Paris and London, who take cheap flights to get us to Brussels or Dublin, who take part in the Erasmus scheme in Thessalonikka or Copenhagen and exchange email addresses with others from all corners of the continent. Because our generation would like to see a single, unified Europe we are seen by the others as prey to illusions and utopias.
But if there is one thing there is no need to be afraid of, it has to be giving voice to one's own dreams, since this is what opens our world to new possibilities. In "Perpetual Peace" Kant called for the gradual creation of a global federal republic. It is enough for us to dream that this may reach as far as the borders of Europe. Intellectuals, dream with us!