Europe in Search of Europeans   /   Spring 2014   /    Europe In Search Of Europeans

Europe's Elusive Identity

Marcello Verga

The Council of Europe in its inaugural 1949 meeting; © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis.

If one wanted to find an element of true unity in Europe, it would have to be sought in the history of the culture.

A succession of tragic events extending from the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the bloodletting on the killing fields of World War I through the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet empire brought European governments and public opinion to the realization that it was necessary to reflect deeply upon Europe and its destiny and to arrive at a formula for some scheme of peaceful coexistence.

The idea of Europe, the French historian Marc Bloch wrote during the 1930s, was a kind of “notion of crisis, a notion of panic.” But from those “fears,” he added, “good Europeans can be born.” Writing in 1944, Bloch’s colleague Lucien Febvre observed that Europe could be—and indeed was—an idea of refuge for those who, in the aftermath of the destruction and disgrace of the world wars, still believed in a society respectful of human and civil rights and a peaceful system of nation-states. Hope for such refuge, at least among the well educated, lay in the prospect of finding in shared European “roots” a compelling reason for living together.

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