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If Europe Dont Like Itself

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Autor:   •  April 28, 2011  •  1,757 Words (8 Pages)  •  456 Views

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The optimism as regards the victory of the European element, which Arnold Toynbee was still able to uphold at the beginning of the sixties, looks strangely outdated today. “Of the 28 cultures we have identified … 18 are dead and nine out of the ten remainingвЂ"in fact all except our ownвЂ"show that they are already mortally wounded.” Who would still repeat these words today? And in general, what is our culture, what’s left of it? Is the civilization of technique and commerce spread victoriously throughout the world actually European culture? Or was this not perhaps rather born, in a post-European way, from the end of the ancient European cultures? I see here a paradoxical synchrony. The victory of the techno-secular post-European world; with the universalization of its model of life and of its way of thinking, is linked throughout the world, but especially in the strictly non-European worlds of Asia and Africa, to the impression that Europe’s world of values, its culture and its faith, that on which its identity is based, has reached the end and has actually already left the stage, that now the hour of other worlds’ values has arrived, of pre-Colombian America, of Islam, of Asian mysticism.

Europe, precisely in this its hour of maximum success, seems to have become empty inside, paralyzed in a certain sense by a crisis in its circulatory system, a crisis that puts its life at risk, resorting, as it were, to transplants that cannot but eliminate its identity. To this interior failure of its fundamental spiritual powers corresponds the fact that, even ethnically, Europe appears to be on the way out.

There is a strange lack of desire for a future. Children, who are the future, are seen as a threat for the present; the idea is that they take something away from our life. They are not felt as a hope, but rather as a limitation of the present. We are forced to make comparisons with the Roman Empire at the time of its decline: it still worked as a great historical framework, but in practice it was already living off those who would dissolve it, since it had no more vital energy.

With this point we have reached the problems of the present day. As regards the possible future of Europe, there are two opposite diagnoses. On one hand there is the thesis of Oswald Spengler, who believed he could define a kind of natural law for the great cultural expressions: there is a moment of birth, the gradual growth, the flourishing of a culture, then the on-come of weariness, old age and death. Spengler embroiders his thesis impressively, with documentation taken from the history of cultures, in which this law of natural evolution can be discerned. His thesis was that the West had reached its final epoch, which is moving inexorably towards the death of this cultural continent, despite all efforts to avert it. (…) This thesis, labelled as biologistic, found ardent opponents in the period between the two world wars, especially in Catholic circles. Arnold Toynbee, too, reacted against it in a striking way, with postulates that, of course, today find little hearing. Toynbee points out the difference between material-technical progress on one hand and real progress on the other, which he defines as spiritualization. He admits that the WestвЂ"the western worldвЂ"is in crisis, and he sees the cause for this in the decline from religion to the worship of technique, of nation, of militarism. Ultimately, for him, the crisis means secularism.

If we know the causes of the crisis, then we can find a way to cure it: the religious factor has to be reintroduced. In his view, part of this is “ the religious heritage of all cultures, but especially what is left of western Christianity.” He opposes the biologistic vision with a voluntaristic vision, which rests on the power of creative minorities and on exceptional individual personalities.

So the question is: is this diagnosis correct? And if so, is it within our power to reintroduce the religious moment, in a synthesis of residual Christianity and mankind’s religious heritage? In the end, the question between Spengler and Toynbee remains open, because we cannot see into the future. But independently of that, we must face up to the task of asking ourselves what the future can guarantee us, and what is able to keep alive the interior identity of Europe through all the historical metamorphoses. Or even more simply, what promises, for today and tomorrow, too, to impart human dignity and an existence that conforms to that dignity?(...)

Thus we are faced with the question: how are things to go ahead? In the violent turbulence of our time, is there a European identity that has a future and for which we can commit ourselves with our whole being? I am not prepared to enter into a detailed discussion on the future European Constitution. I would just like to indicate briefly the fundamental moral elements, which to my mind should not be missing.

The first element is the “unconditionality” with which human dignity and human rights must be presented as values that precede any jurisdiction on the part of the state. These basic rights are not created by the legislator, nor conferred on the citizens, “but rather exist in their own right, are always to be respected by the legislator, are given previously to him as values of a superior order.” This validity of human dignity, previous to every political action and to every political decision, refers back ultimately to the Creator: only He can establish values that are founded on the essence of man and that are intangible. That there be values that cannot be manipulated by anyone is the real, true guarantee of our freedom and of man’s greatness; Christian faith sees in this the mystery of the Creator and of the condition of the image of God that He conferred upon man.

Now, almost no one these days would directly deny the precedence of human dignity and basic human rights over all political decisions; the horrors of Nazism and its racist theories are still too recent. But in the concrete sphere of the so-called progress of medicine there are very real threats to these values:


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