DOSSIER: "I confini dell'Europa, cosa vuol dire essere in Europa?"
Florian DU PASQUIER: What are the frontiers of Europe?

If the frontiers of Europe exist it means that there is a certain delimited geographical space where we feel united by some of cultural similarity. The European project will not go any further unless we can clearly identify this cultural link which makes us feel European more than American or Westerners. This cultural link is all the more problematic that Europe is constituted of a multitude of different languages and people.

I think that if we want to understand this cultural link which makes us feel European, we have to look at its cultural history and particularly at the wave of Enlightenment which swept across Europe in the 18th Century. As far as I can see, and despite all our linguistic differences, Europe today is the outcome of this process of Enlightenment. There are of course many declinations, but the project of the Enlightenment is fundamentally a project of emancipation through reason. The British Enlightenment has been tainted by utilitarianism. The Scottish have produced Adam Smith and David Hume. The French have been in some ways much more radical in their revolution but it should also be remembered that the rational project started much earlier with Descartes. The Germans, to the despair of Marx, have been much more idealistic and have never objectified the revolution. This only a brief outlook of the national specificities of the Enlightenment, which in itself can be the base of a much wider debate.
Having suggested the cultural link of Europe as the Enlightenment, I would like to raise the question of whether the Enlightenment is a structurally complete project, and whether we still live in an age of Enlightenment and if so what it would mean today.

My first question is really to know if reason alone is enough to emancipate oneself, and in a second phase what being emancipated would then mean. Indeed many thinkers have thought about the Enlightenment as an alienating force, as a surrender to the cold forces of reason, as a disenchantement of the world.... the subject is itself the topic of thousands of pages to be found across the libraries of Europe. I sympathise to a large extent with such ideas. Indeed when I look at our systems of production I can not help but feel that we have become slave to our needs while trying to masterise rationally our surrounding nature. Addiction to drugs is throughout Europe depicted as a crime but it seems to me that we have become addicted to this rational project and mode of production which dictates our needs. The ideas is not new....but should not nevertheless be forgotten along the way.

To be or to have.....that is the question.


I find that the most powerful critique of the Enlightenment is that it destroys collective forms of meanings in the name of rational certitudes. In our world reason is the only acceptable form of knowledge. But it also follows that in the process we loose these collective meanings which gave value to our actions. If you add to this that the Europeans have gladly put God aside and left him in his churches, we should arrive almost logically at the conclusion that the Enlightenment has produced a meaningless world.... Luckily we still have football and consumption. I deplore this retreat of meaning, not because I would like to go back to the organic societies so well described by Durkheim, but because I wonder what it means to me be French when I seat in the tube in Paris next to a bunch of stressed Parisians. I wonder how and in what sense we share some meaning of life if we have not watched the same program the night before. Well, we speak the same language, so technically we could share our insights of what to be alive means. But my experience tells me that the most intense moment of this kind have been shared with people speaking some strange languages, at remote places on this planet. Does this means that the Enlightenment is a process which refuses such moments of collective meaning? Does it also imply that being enlightened means masterising the rationality of a language to the point of forgetting that we can simply empathise with the stranger? I raise those questions because we need to answer them when we stand in front of refugees begging and struggling through life. Reason demanded that we organised the state on a basis of welfare. But mathematical reason now tells us that we no longer can organise society along those principle of justice.

At this point the question which I ask myself is: too much or not enough Enlightenment?

I would like to suggest that pure liberalism, a doctrine closely associated with the Enlightenment, is a deadlock. It creates a society of atomised individuals which confront their respective interests within the democratic process. But it does not favour a renewal of engagement for society, and so in the long term destroys the idea of society itself. If you are not convinced, just remember Margareth Thatcher and her famous "there is no such thing as society." The American post 9/11 doctrine is another proof: it will not be forced to compromise with its liberties (except the civil rights of its citizens, but certainly not their right to consume). We find ourselves once again in a situation dear to Marx, where the liberty of some is paid by the misery of others. The trick is to make them believe in political liberty, while letting the carrot of consumption hang over their head.... I'll stop there before I'll get myself locked up in the concept of revolution. Material wealth and comfort must be attained for the majority of the participating world. And capitalism is the only driving force which can enable us to reach this stage. And yet, is it not troubling to find once again Marx arguing that communism (if one forgets this doubtful period of socialism) must come like a ready fruit to supersede capitalism. It really is a shame that he did not work with Nostradamus to tell us the date of communism.

Actually, I have criticised France enough. For is it not what a modern socialist state should look like? It has a social security (maybe not for long though), the best railway system ever, free education for all, and a national football team capable of making sing 60 millions people together. So is there anything wrong today? Well maybe that socialism in one country is only really possible at the price of a corresponding increase of productivity.... The question is to know how much more productive we can be. In the meantime we can thank our computers for their hard work and wonder if humanity is ready for all these new and coming scientific discoveries.

To finish, I remember when I was a kid in primary school, there were those who were lucky enough to have a their pockets full of sweets. Of course they shared.... but in such a way as to insure who was and who was not to be their friend. Let's be grown up and try to work out some fair principle of share and define justice at the same time. Let's go through the Enlightenment and try to be truly Enlightened.