>Soggy old toast in Café Europe


I used occasionally to buy Prospect magazine until (a few years ago) until its cover price rose to the best part of fiver. You can read the odd Prospect article for free online, although as this month’s issue shows, it’s sometimes best not to bother. Timothy Garton Ash argues for a new narrative of European identity based on any alien “defining other” such as Islam or the US (think discourse theorists and other academic thinkers on identity would have a problem with that, I think) on the grounds that the European project has lost its way since the end of the Cold Way.

His suggestion? A rather vague concoction of liberal values: freedom (spread of); peace (Europe no longer cockpit of world conflict); democracy (EU as promoter of); rule of law; prosperity (we are wealthier than our grandparents); solidarity (decent social-liberal compromises, not US style capitalism red in tooth and claw); diversity (not as boring as the US) and….wait for it, added self-criticism (we haven’t fully achieved any of the above but can improve). The above, explains, TGA, can be customized for national circumstances so there are multiple overlapping narrative.

I am sceptical that there was a “political narrative that sustained the post-war project of (west) European integration” even during Cold War unless we talking only of/to political elites and intelligentsias (usually the case with TGA). The more prevalent narratives, I suspect, were anti-communism, national interest and outright fear. More broadly, although it’s hard to disagree with TGA, his writing is frankly soggy as old toast. Basically, he seems to offer a kind of dilute Euro-Whig story and it’s hard to see his call for a re-thinking of European identity (opened up for discussion on a purpose designed website) to yield more than vague musings of the kind that already fill reams of column inches.

Francis Fukuyama has a piece on identity and migration in the same issue, which is better written and superficially more hard-headed, but offers a fairly familiar critique of (European) multi-culturalism: liberalism and liberal-democratic political systems were blind to the group claims and group identities (classes and ethnic groups) mainly because of highish levels of cultural cohesion. Some ethnic and religious groups that established themselves because of post-1945 migration barged into residual corporatist and consociation arrangements and – bolstered the multi-culturalism concept, which saw diversity as a kind of icing on the cake – started making demands incompatible with liberal values. The solution? Well, FF at first seems to suggest a kind liberal (secularist) revolution, which seems to imply a moving towards the US model (but hang on: isn’t the US more divided by “culture wars” driven by an assertive religious Right than Europe?) and – despite referring favourably to the German Christian Democrat notion of a Leitkultur (speedily dropped)- ducks the issue of whether this implies the imposition of a dominant national culture, rather than just some lightweight Garton Ash-eque narrative.

Can’t help feeling we face a starker choice between liberalism without strong unifying identities and a more conservative-national project reining in liberal freedoms.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply