A Janus specter is haunting Europe: its two thousand year ‘civilization’, and the challenge of re-imagining it.
The presence, on a relatively small piece of real estate of several dozen tribes, each with their own language and successive versions of history, guaranteed that they would often be at odds: over the centuries, under the watchful eye of God, kings fought over territory and religion.
Inevitably, kings having been replaced by media cutouts, Europe was faced with an assault on its carefully preserved monuments and richly tended cityscapes that the Enlightenment had not foreseen. Individuals who worship Mohamed instead of Christ are less likely to live out productive lives than enemies of kings who were condemned to exile or the guillotine — or even those who over-borrowed, ending in debtor’s prison.
Notwithstanding its geography featuring rivers and other natural boundaries, the Eurasian Peninsula, as I have been calling it for the last five years has been inclined toward competition and strife. In the early twentieth century, as ‘progress’ made fighting ever more attractive than cooperating, the various kings begged far flung descendants to intervene. Awed by royalty, which they had banished, Americans felt duty bound to help the ‘old countries’, seeing also the benefits to be derived. After putting things right, they hoped in vain that an overarching system would prevent new crises, but their ’grandfathers’ proved hopelessly senile, so they decided to exercise direct oversight.
Inevitably, the reverse colonization of Europe by the United States resulted in Europe’s participation in American wars against its own former colonies, it’s leaders failing to realize these would result in masses of racially and religiously ‘different’ people flocking to its shores. Europeans had created economic construct to avoid clashes, however without an overarching political system, decades of rule from Brussels could only exacerbate tribalism. (A recent report on France 24 showed that students benefitting from the Erasmus Exchange Program are the exception.)
Although it produced the best crop of thinkers since the Greeks, the Enlightenment scarcely reached the Eastern Europeans as they resisted the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Third Reich and Communism. Unsurprisingly, no sooner integrated into ‘the West’, they rejected it for failing to defend their Christian values, flirting with atheism in the name of individual rights.
France’s National Front, re-baptized by his daughter Marine as the less threatening National Rally, currently provides the street narrative of Western Europe’s hejira from a Popular Front against Hitler to a rejection of non-Caucasians. Less broadly known, however, starting with the 1968 Paris Spring, a previously left-dominated academia was penetrated by conservative thinkers. While the French-German citizen Daniel Cohen-Bendit was in the street, becoming famous, a group of academics headed by philosopher Alain de Benoist created the Research and Study Group for European Civilization”, GRECE, (the last word corresponding with the spelling of ‘Greece’.…)
The movement’s more recent sources were Christian traditionalist intellectuals who had supported the German-created Vichy government. Globalization having replaced modernity as generic evil, national traditionalists denounce what Vladimir Putin has identified as ‘the degeneration of the West’. In 2000, as the common currency, the EURO, and the Schengen visa-free area were being introduced without a political structure that could have managed them, GRECE drafted a manifesto that could just as well have come from the left, signaling the difficulty, even today of categorizing the trend.
“The French New Right upholds the cause of peoples, because one is only justified in defending one’s difference from others if one is also able to defend the difference of others. This means that the right to difference cannot be used to exclude others who are different. The French New Right respects ethnic groups, languages, and regional cultures, as well as native religions. It supports peoples struggling against Western imperialism. The diversity of the human species is a treasure, and ‘universal’, does not oppose difference, but recognizes it. For the New Right, the struggle against racism is not won by negating the concept of race, nor by blending all races into an undifferentiated whole, but by refusing both exclusion and assimilation: neither apartheid nor the melting pot, but acceptance of the other as Other in a perspective of mutual enrichment.”
Alas, this lofty declaration is not the last word when it comes to Europe’s latest affair with the right. Friendly to Le Pen, Italy’s populist government accuses Macron, who defeated her, of contributing to the immigration crisis by continuing its colonial behavior in Africa, while Macron accuses Rome of breaching diplomatic protocol by lending support to the Yellow Vests seeking his resignation. This unforeseen clash between two major European countries will not help Europe to modernize its Enlightenment heritage.
Deena Stryker is an international expert, author and journalist that has been at the forefront of international politics for over thirty years, exlusively for the online journal “New Eastern Outlook”.