Friday, February 24, 2012

How to Be a European (Union) Philosopher

by Santiago Zabala

New York Times

February 23, 2012

One of the motivations behind the creation of the European Union was to assist in the social, economic and individual flourishing of citizens and workers who actually felt European regardless of their birthplace or current residence. I’ve been told that I not only embody such citizenship — I was raised in Rome, Vienna and Geneva, studied philosophy in Turin and Berlin, and now work in Barcelona — but also present a model of a European Union philosopher (because I promote and teach continental philosophy). While as an E.U. citizen I’m delighted we are all allowed to reside in all these beautiful cities of the continent, as a philosopher I’m alarmed by the E.U.’s ongoing existential exclusions — that is, its forgetfulness of being. I’m not referring simply to a devaluation of the philosopher’s role in society, which is much more pronounced in other parts of the world, but rather something much more vital.

When we speak of being from the existential-hermeneutic point of view, as those interested in philosophy well know, we are not referring to the factual existence of things but rather to the force of the people, thinkers and artists who generated our history. Thus, each epoch can be alluded to in the name that great philosophers have given to being in their work — “act” in Aquinas Middle Ages, “absolute spirit” in Hegel’s modernity, or “trace” in Derrida’s postmodernity. It is between being and nothing. But being also denotes how our existence is hermeneutic, in other words, a distinctive interpretative project in search of autonomous life. We exist first and foremost as creatures who manage to question our own being and in this way project our lives. Without this distinctiveness we would not exist; that is, our lives would be reduced to a predetermined subordination to the dominant philosophical or political system.

The problem in 2012 is that E.U. policies are presented as if we have reached the end of history: after decades of war, Europe is finally united culturally, economically and soon also militarily. This, in the E.U. conception, is the best possible governance we could hope for. But as the ongoing protests throughout Europe point out, history has not ended: as citizens we continue to project our lives in ways that diverge from the Union’s neoliberal game plan. The fact that they are promoting technocratic governance does not imply that the nations of Europe are incapable of governing themselves but rather that they are being trammeled into compliance with the E.U. measures, classifications and rankings. But where do these rankings come from?


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