Culture, Value and Identity as Elements in European Cohesion (i): Europe Shares a Common Culture
Dr. Garret FitzGerald (Former Prime Minister of Ireland) and J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)
The inhabitants of Europe share a common Christian culture that has bound its peoples together at a fundamental level. They shared a sense of a common European identity, reinforced by common external threats up to and including that of the Turkish Empire which as late as the end of the 17th Century brought the Polish King Jan Sobieski to the rescue of the siege of Vienna. Out of that common Christian heritage, there are many centuries that emerge as a distinctive European high culture of art, music, architecture, literature, and through the Enlightenment * philosophy and the basic concept of democracy.
The culture and linguistic complexity of Europe did not prove a barrier to disseminating the culture in our continent, especially after the 18th Century when Latin proved a common language for those engaged in culture including scientific activities. Indeed, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that it was in fact the competitive interaction between the minorities in the European subcultures that gave us such extraordinary intellectual vitality, which was the positive side in the otherwise conflictual nature of our complex heritage from out of the intensity of which came near to destroying European civilization in the first half of the 20th Century.
At that crucial moment with Europe physically devastated, morally and intellectually drained, and ready to be marginalized by the emergence of two dominate superpowers to its East and West, statesmen fortunately emerged with a vision of how Europe might be revived in a new, positive and peaceful manifestation that would repudiate the negative aspects of its history. They had a profound sense of a continuing potential of a European culture which had come so close to self-destruction and out of that post-Second World War chaos, these men created a European political entity which whilst preserving the cherished nation state drew the venom out of its nationalisms, setting that hitherto destructive ideology of nationalism flurrying within a new pander of the instructor.
The new Europe was to be and is today governed by the rule of law and substituted the former concept of war as the ultimate instrument of policy. Our generation have received from these statesmen a remarkable political inheritance and are now faced with a as yet unresolved political-cultural challenge given the powerful sense of national identity that we have also inherited from our past.
How do we make sure that this totally new political structure is imbued with a sufficient sense of a common cultural identity to survive and to prosper? Can we identify and then build upon common elements in our European heritage to provide an adequate political and cultural basis to sustain the new European political entity? At the level of high culture, a strong sense of our common heritage in literature, art, music and architecture exists.
The scientific endeavor certainly exists...But at the popular level, this sense is weak. It is often still distorted by nationalistic attitudes, mediated through the popular press and largely smothered by American popular culture. At the popular and popularist level there is an insufficient sense of a common European-ness to provide a basis for a pan-European democratic process. The simple fact is that most Europeans today lack a sense of European identity sufficient to provide an adequate democratic basis for the common political structure that we have had to construct in order to protect and advance our common interests.
It is not easy today to rebuild a sense of a common European identity. In simple terms, not enough people think of themselves as European to be politically engaged with Europe. Our people's sense of being part of a common European culture remains too weak to comfortably carry the weight of the political structure that has had to be established in order to protect and advance collectively in a globalized world a common interest of a multiplicity of thought and the diverging standards of a number of quite small political states. Amongst those small political states for instance are France, Germany, Britain, Spain, Italy and Poland, as well as countries like Ireland and Denmark. In political terms they are [all] small states, it is just that some of them are smaller.
* The Enlightenment was a European intellectual movement that reached its high point in the 18th Century. Enlightenment thinkers were believers in social progress and in the liberating possibilities of scientific and rational knowledge. They were often critical of existing societies and were also hostile toward religion, which they viewed as imprisoning and inhibiting human thought with superstition.
Profile: Garret FitzGerald
He served three times as Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach), heading two coalition governments, from July 1981 to February 1982, and from December 1982 to June 1987 as the seventh Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland. He earlier severed as Irish Foreign Minister.
He was born on 9 February 1926. After studying economics and law at University College Dublin, he lectured (1959-73) in political economy at his alma mater. He was first elected to the Irish parliament (Dail) in 1969 as a member of the Fine Gael. He was minister of foreign affairs (1973-77), then became party leader and subsequently prime minister in 1981 as a result of a coalition with the Labour party. Although defeated in early 1982, FitzGerald regained power later that year and was again prime minister from late 1982 to 1987, when election losses caused him to resign as party leader. A moderate nationalist, he was the driving force behind the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985.
He retired from parliament in 1992 and since then he has written a popular weekly column every Saturday in The Irish Times and been involved in many international activities. He came out of retirement to campaign for a yes vote in the second Nice Referendum, held in 2002.
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The above speech was made at Chatham House (Royal Institute for International Affairs) in London on 28 January 2005. It formed part of an event called Europe: United or Divided by Culture which was organized by The European Cultural Foundation (UK National Committee), the Chatham House European Programme and International Intelligence On Culture.
This is the first part of a four-part article. The second part can be found here.