THR Web Features   /   February 6, 2014

The European Issues

Brianne Alcala

Harper's February 2014 cover

As we at The Hedgehog Review were putting the last touches on our upcoming spring issue,  Harper's magazine made its timely appearance in my mailbox. Its provocative cover: a Nazi-esque armband adorned with a euro symbol. The headline: "How Germany Reconquered Europe."

Harper's February 2014 cover

How indeed? I was particularly curious because our spring issue devotes several essays to the precarious and uncertain future of the European Union.

Harper's look at the subject takes the form of  a roundtable discussion among five  eminent scholars—"two Germans, a Frenchman, an Englishman, and an American."  The points made by these discussants are often as controversial as the cover. Economist  James K. Galbraith, the American voice, makes his views of the crisis crystal clear: "On the question of the effects of a crisis in the United States, let me offer a radically contrarian view: I'm looking forward to it. I'm absolutely looking forward to it, in all seriousness." ( His reason:  Ultimately, it will help the American economy rid itself of too-big-to-fail "zombie institutions" that should have failed after the 2008 financial collapse.)

The main questions circle the euro:  Will it survive? If so, in what form? If not, what will replace it? And how will America and the world be affected?

The consensus is that, yes, the euro will survive, at least for a time, and at least partially because the world—America, China, among others—want it to.

A goodly portion of the symposium addresses the next possible moves in the EU's game of transnational chess. veering for a moment into the divisive question of Europeanness. Do Greeks, Spaniards, Italians, Danes, and others view themselves as Europeans?

Ulrike Guérot, associate for Germany at the Open Society Initiative for Europe, argues yes:

We are not just talking economics here; there is a cultural, traditional, historical attachment. I traveled to Greece, Portgual, Spain, and Italy before coming here, and if you question these people, give them the option to leave the euro, they will say that being part of Europe is a sort of national raison d'état.

Emmanuel Todd, political scientist at the National Institute of Demographic Studies Paris, sees things quite differently:

The way our German friends talk about Europe is very strange to a Frenchman. From an ideological point of view, outside Germany, Europe is a dead concept. In France nobody believes in Europe.

This side disagreement piqued my interest, and not ony because it is a theme explored by several essays in our next issue.  Montserrat Guibernau, a professor of politics, begins her article  with the question--"Can there be a European identity?"—and goes on to define it as an "emergent 'nonemotional' identity."

Historian Marcello Verga weighs in with historical perspective, detailing the issues of identity that plagued the Council of Europe in the 1950s and remain live considerations today.

Political scientist Philippe Bénéton plays a variation on the topic in his discussion of Europe's attempt to move beyond the nation-state:

An agreement on the rules of the game does not suffice to make a strong society. Who would risk his life to defend procedures, either those of the political regime or those of the market? And can this agreement itself be solid if the members of the society have nothing in common? According to a more substantial definition, political society cannot be reduced to a mere association. In particular, it cannot be established successfully except in the kind of community that was forged in the modern era: the nation-state. Liberal democracy and the nation-state can be separated only at great risk.

That question of a transnational democracy emerges in the Harper's discussion as well:

Says Galbraith: "The idea of an integrated federal democracy in Europe seems to me to be an impossible hurdle at this stage. It's also, in my view, entirely unnecessary."

Guérot responds: "This is the line that really divides us here in this discussion. I don't want to believe that a politically integrated Europe is impossible before we have really tried. To me, political integration is really the project of today, tomorrow, and beyond."

One subject that is never broached in Harper's conversation: religion.

For that, readers should await the thoughts of our contributor Christian Joppke, who makes the case that Christianity, while the most likely contender, cannot serve as the foundation of a new pan-European identity, at least in any formal legal or institutional ways:

Yet when the European Union had a chance to define itself, in the preamble of its never-realized constitution, a reference to Europe’s Christian roots was refused, though not without a fight. All one finds in this document is an anemic acknowledgment of the “cultural, religious, and humanist traditions of Europe.” Even the U.S. Supreme Court, though heavily constrained by the separationist legacy of the First Amendment’s establishment clause that has no parallel anywhere in Europe, has recently moved toward a “recognition of the role of God in our Nation’s heritage,” a recognition that makes the European refusal appear all the more puzzling.

Readers whose interest has been whetted by the Harper's symposium should look forward to the Hedgehog's diverse delvings into Europe's current crisis.  All share our characteristic focus on the deeper cultural and philosophical  dimensions of the subject. Starting in March, look for the issue in your mailbox or in select Barnes & Noble bookstores.