André Glucksmann is one of the so-called New Philosophers, who turned away from their Marxist beginnings after 1968 and, motivated by Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, wrote off Soviet-style totalitarianism. This interview appeared in Spiegel online on August 23.
Spiegel: European countries are also bound by shared cultural aspects. Is there such a thing as a European spirit?
Glucksmann: European nations are not alike, which is why they can’t be merged together. What unites them is not a community but a societal model. There is a European civilization and a Western way of thinking.
Spiegel: What are its features?
Glucksmann: Since the Greeks – from Socrates to Plato to Aristotle – Western philosophy has inherited two fundamental principles: Man is not the measure of all things, and he isn’t immune to failure and evil. Nevertheless, he is responsible for himself, and for everything he does or refrains from doing. The adventure of mankind is an uninterrupted human creation. God is not part of it.
Spiegel: Fallibility and freedom. But are these fundamental aspects of European intellectual history not enough to create a permanent political union?
Glucksmann: Europe was never a national entity, not even in the Christian Middle Ages. Christianity always remained divided – the Romans, the Greeks and later the Protestants. A European federal state or European confederation is a distant goal that is frozen in the abstraction of the term. I think pursuing it is the wrong goal.
Spiegel: Is the European Union chasing after a utopia in both political and historical terms?
Glucksmann: The EU’s founding fathers liked to invoke the Carolingian myth, and an EU award was named after Charlemagne. But, after all, his grandchildren divided up his empire. Europe is a unity in its division or a division in its unity. Whichever way you put it, though, it’s clearly not a community in terms of religion, language or morals.
Spiegel: And yet it exists. What does that lead you to conclude?
Glucksmann: The crisis of the European Union is a symptom of its civilization. It doesn’t define itself based on its identity but, rather, on its otherness. A civilization isn’t necessarily based on a common desire to achieve the best but, rather, on excluding and making the evil taboo. In historical terms, the European Union is a defensive reaction to horror.
Spiegel: A negatively defined entity that emerged out of the experience of two world wars?
Glucksmann: In the Middle Ages, the faithful prayed and sang in their litanies: “Lord, protect us from pestilence, hunger and war.” This means that community exists not for good but against evil.
Spiegel: These days, many people cite the phrase “never another war” as Europe’s raison d’être. Does this foundation still hold up now that the specter of war in Europe has dissipated?
Glucksmann: The Balkan wars in the former Yugoslavia and the murderous incendiary actions of the Russians in the Caucasus didn’t happen that long ago. The European Union came together to oppose three evils: the memory of Hitler, the Holocaust, racism and extreme nationalism; Soviet communism in the Cold War; and, finally, colonialism, which some countries in the European community had to painfully abandon. These three evils gave rise to a common understanding of democracy, a civilizing central theme of Europe.