Monday, July 2, 2012

The Idea of Europe Needs to Catch Up With Reality

by Pankaj Mishra


July 2, 2012

Recently, against the sound of dominoes falling across the euro zone, I participated in a BBC radio discussion about the “Idea of Europe”: Specifically, could the notion of the continent as the home of democracy and reason survive the economic crises convulsing one country after another?

Oddly, my fellow participants, including Slavoj Zizek, who identified himself as a “radical leftist,” seemed to assume the existence of one “idea” of Europe -- as distinct from many ideas of Europe that include, in Asian eyes at least, imperialism as well as liberal democracy, racial and religious intolerance as well as individual liberties.

For what we think of Europe is shaped by our particular historical and political circumstances. The Indian economist Amartya Sen, among others, has argued convincingly for traditions of democracy and reason in non-Western societies.

The idea of Europe is periodically revised within the continent itself. Wishing to pin down Muslims as Europe’s unassimilable “other,” the former French president Nicolas Sarkozy claimed that France’s roots were “essentially Christian” -- as close to blasphemy as you can get in a country that purports to be the product of the secular Enlightenment.


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