Europe: the cultural argument

The current mobilization of right-wing protests against immigration and acceptance of war refugees in Europe, stimulated by ignorance and distrust of politics and media, is fed by two interrelated sources which are generally left untouched by the political parties in favor of both the EU and a controlled immigration: national identity and cultural identity. Both are emotional in nature, and the reason that the traditional political parties and the gigantic organisational structure of the EU prefer to avoid to tackle these subjects, is that they (the organizations) are strongly rationalistic in nature, due to the bureaucratic challenges of the modern world which requires management skills above all else. Scale requires bureaucracy, and bureaucracy by its nature does not indulge in philosophical and cultural questions. Also the very different histories of the European nations forces collaborations to be rational, as to not tread on sensitive toes and muddle the waters with old resentments and suspicions. The tragedy of the EU is that it wants to be an overall structure unifying these different nations, and it sees – logically – rationality as the only way to transcend borders, appealing to common sense, concrete interests, intelligence and argument, instead of patriottic emotions which have created so much havoc in the continent’s past. So, a large territory of potential disruption has been left unploughed, where in these days the seeds of all those burried resentments and suspicions sprout into a fresh jungle of dangerous sentiments, where the progeny of fascism (laying dormant for decennia) are easy to detect (as can be seen in the ‘Völkisch’ appeal of movements like the German ‘Pegida’).

But the factor that can be seen as being shared by all European nations, is culture – in the anthropological sense of how people live and want to live, their values and customs. A network of values, defining European society, can easily be drawn-up, like the constitutional state, rule of law, freedom of expression and speech, equal rights, social responsibility and so on. At the core of these values can be found the humanism which has grown over the centuries, by trial and error, and through the various waves of emancipatory movements. Culture in the sense of art, is an embodiment of these values, a stylization, where the human condition and all its problems, are explored. This embodiment is emotional in nature, and thus forms an important instrument in the education of the emotions, which keeps civilization intact. If the traditional political parties in the European nations and the EU would give much more attention to culture in this sense, an identification with Europe as a unifying culture – across all borders – and thus, identification with the cultural values that transcend the historically-defined differences and form a fundament of unity under the pluralism of variety, would take the wind out of the sails of those rightwing parties whose influence can only be destructive. Obviously, education plays a crucial role here, and it has to be seen whether a better cultural awareness would prevent people from feeling threatened by a burka at the post office – but it is the only way to a safe, wealthy and free Europe where civilization can blossom.

European / Western culture (in the anthropological sense) is universalist – whatever the postmodernists try to claim in their self-defeating jargon. This means that this is a culture that can be chosen and adhered to, and in the same time can include culture-defining, emotional symbolism in day-to-day life, within the boundaries of civil society. The Europeanization of immigrants, which is already happening on a grand scale but not often hits the front pages, proves that there is no ground to fear that immigration would underminde Europe as a culture. The values which make Europe such a successful continent, are shared by every developed form of other cultures. So, there should be place of an Euro-Islam as there is for Catholicism, Protestantism, Jewry, Bhuddism, Atheism etc. etc. and all as a form of European culture. (Christianity stems from the Middle East, an eastern cultural context.) There should be European painters, architects, composers, of Turkish, Moroccan and Syrian descent, capable of feeling profoundly committed to the European cultural heritage which is still alive and kicking in the museums, concert halls, opera houses, galleries.

Culture – in the artistic sense – is the best means of creating a common comitment to the continent as a whole, including the cultural differences, and would be a strong antidote to the destructive, primitive emotional forces which show their ugly head in their quasi-decent disguise of ‘acceptable politics’. It will be clear that a new art, as presented by so many ‘established modern artists and composers’, who, like the populist angst mongers, have nothing to offer but primitive nihilism and destructive instincts, is entirely inadequate to this task. It is to be hoped that younger generations will explore the possibilities of an European art which has a real contribution to make to the civilization which has, in spite of its abberations, conquered the world: its positive, constructive values have universal meaning and thus, appeal for any human being longing for a life worth living.

The emotional experience of identity is not one thing, but a whole of pluralistic psychological / emotional elements that may contrast but together form the emotional fundament of the personality. Identity can consist of different layers with a different meaning in different contexts. Knowing and understanding the various cultures of Europe and their histories, and understanding the values which transcend the differences, can stretch national identity to a European identity, or form a layer of identity above the national one. Exercizing one’s cultural identity, like cultivating church or mosque visits, wearing a head scarf, visiting Italian opera in a nordic climate etc. etc., can be combined, or: balanced, with a European cultural identity. Mobilizing a European identity would need a grand narrative, not the type of which has been shown to be false, destructive and / or defective, but the one that has demonstrated to be viable, fruitful and constructive, and in such a narrative Europe’s cultural heritage should be at the centre as a repertoire of explorations of the human condition.

April 2016

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