The credo of national sovereignty, which brought so much progress to European states in the last century, is being broken at the frontiers of globalisation. Europeans feel threatened and believe that their national or regional identity is a safe haven. Rafael Guillermo Lopez Juarez discusses.
A few kilometres from Naples, on the island of Ventotene (Italy), three men committed to anti-fascist resistance – a liberal democrat, Ernesto Rossi, a communist, Altiero Spinelli, and a professor of philosophy, Eugenio Colorni – wrote together in 1941 a manifesto for a free and united Europe. Those were difficult times, as several megalomaniac nationalisms had led the continent to two world wars. These delusions of grandeur, which meant seeking autonomy through deflagration, made them victims of their own mistakes.
The three thinkers wanted Europe to transcend – reductive as they were – patriotic sentiments to observe the world with an open and enriching gaze. They defended that, although nations had the right and freedom to form independent States, whose ethnic, geographical, linguistic or historical characteristics were inherited and not chosen, it belonged to all free communities another right, of superior rank – the right to form structures whose foundations were the values that they themselves wanted to adopt. Since such structures would have been the result of their own choice, they asserted, individuals would have felt recognized in them and, consequently, would have been able to love them. This is the essence of the concept of constitutional patriotism.
The beautiful feeling of loving one’s homeland could have been spoiled again and used for perverse ends. The argument that a third European civil war would have been impossible because we all knew the consequences of barbarism was poor insofar as a first world war had not prevented a second. That is why Jürgen Habermas explained that the two initial objectives of a united Europe were neither harmony nor prosperity – the Union had to be forged to avoid the growth of a rugged Germany and thus avoid a new armed conflict. In other words, it was essential to extirpate from the states the capacity to become tyrannical powers.
Soon, however, other real and apparent motives for building Europe emerged. Political leaders stressed that the continent was coming together to promote economic growth through the creation of a common market, but what they really wanted was to overlap states in such a way that they could no longer be dissociated. This, they believed, would have made possible a human and social progress like no other in history. This, in turn, would have consolidated citizens’ support for the cause, without which, it was obvious, the federal project would have never been able to succeed. Thus, for fifty years since the 1958 Treaties of Rome, Europe gained notorious recognition and achieved its primary and secondary objectives.
Sharing freedom to safeguard it
Globalization changed everything. Suddenly, colossal challenges overwhelmed the capacity of the small European nations: climate change, epidemics, the arrival of new powers and even new threats became unmanageable challenges. Governments were frightened and their people started not knowing anymore who to blame. However, one thing seemed certain: Europeans suffered the fatality of having to adapt to external rules and norms that they did not control, that they did not want, with no other choice but to accept them. It was the end of freedom.
Never again a European nation would have had the privilege of influencing this new and complex world on its own. None would have been able to defend their own interests and values with relative success without the help of others. Europeans lost their freedom by insisting on remaining independent, but together, with a common destiny, they could regain it. That is how Europe became the condition of freedom. The European states had to unite in order to maintain their sovereignty, because even in cases where the interests of one and the other were at odds, it would have been better to settle differences at a negotiating table than on a battlefield.
A civic and democratic conception
But how was it possible to build a union of nations without the key and founding element that would have allowed it to germinate? A Constitution was necessary, but how unfortunate it was to see that for this Magna Carta of a united Europe to be legitimate, Jürgen Habermas argued, it had to emanate from a constituent people. From a constituted people. From a European people.
Was there such a thing? What was a European people? It sounded like a false question. What was a Spanish people, or a French people, more than a human construct? Habermas warned of the virtue of not confusing a nation of citizens with a community of destiny marked by a common culture, language and history. Such disorientation would have disregarded the voluntarist character of a civic nation whose collective identity did not exist but in total dependence on the democratic process that gave birth to it. The voluntarist character of the concerted decision, the desire to live together in a regime of chosen values, not imposed by a strong cultural identity, was what allowed the founding and legal act of the constitutional writing. That set of circumstances is what was called constitutional patriotism – the adherence to civic values that we Europeans grant ourselves, that define us above any other difference and that, consequently, link us to the rest of individuals who chose to take part in this common project.
According to Habermas, Germany, after the Second World War, had lost the possibility of basing its political identity on something other than universalist civic principles. National traditions, those historical narratives – such as the European narrative, which has existed for more than two thousand years – were suitable constructs that could only be considered from a critical and self-critical perspective. The philosopher argued that, in 1945, Germany could not have been reborn without evoking the idea of constitutional patriotism. And the consequence was Europe: No nation would have been able to rise up on the basis of national exaltation. Language, culture and history were to awaken in us a certain critical and self-critical affection, but our rules were to emerge from common values.
Intention, reason and love
Europe could provoke pride and affection to the extent that it was the result of our choice and our effort. What is more, such unity would not have been established only to create the new, the future, but above all to preserve what had been invented. The common European project would have come to preserve the great democratic achievements of the nation states beyond their own limits and weaknesses.
Therefore, If we appreciated our nations, we should have seen in Europe the ultimate way to save them. It was self-evident. Additionally, the German philosopher asked himself if it was possible to love by means of reason. The contract, he explained, was rational, it was a consequence of shared interest; but it was the proof of the harmony that citizens sought, of their voluntary social expression, stemming from free choice and, as such, capable of creating real bonds between individuals. Affection would have had its abode there, as nothing came out of pure rationality or passion.
Habermas went further and questioned whether it was possible to love Europe as such. The question, he decided, was misleading because, supposing it had been possible to answer affirmatively, surely it would not have been desirable to do so. According to the philosopher, no one should love it – this was not a valid objective because our national patriotism, turned into idolatry, had led us in the past to atrocious dramas. It was not, therefore, a question of whether we Europeans could love Europe, but rather that in any case we should not.
On the other hand, he explained, it was still desirable for us to have a certain attachment to this form of organisation, which was the result of our adherence to a series of values that we believed to be essential and to institutions, meaning the EU, which, because they respected those values, were fair. Europe would therefore become each and every one of us and our affection should be nothing more than the pride of being part of this common project chosen despite our differences. Differences that, even though defining us, they do not determine us.
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