Commentary. Even though in recent years Europe has been dominated by the political elements of the center-right, which aim to turn it into a unified force for ‘marketization,’ it has always cultivated within itself a plurality of influences and elements that are profoundly progressive.

A united Europe can still defeat the legacy of neoliberalism

The dramatic and whiplash-inducing developments of the Brexit situation prove yet again—if proof was ever needed—that the decisive fight for the world’s geopolitical balance over the coming months will take place in Europe, and this is why the next European elections will be of unparalleled importance. Europe is the place where the modern conception of politics—now under attack—was born, as an overarching perspective on a reality that didn’t need to be merely reflected, but changed.

Europe is also the place where it is possible to try to defeat the undermining of this conception, overcoming the poisoned legacy of neoliberalism, the contemporary depoliticization, leaderism and personalism as divisive and untamable modes of exercising power, the forced decline of intermediate bodies such as the trade unions, the nullifying of political parties as educational institutions and places of mediation and representation, the domination of the image and communication at the expense of thought and deliberation, and the drowning out of value-based and normative principles which have a universal scope.

It is imperative to face up to the irrepressible re-emergence of the “emotional sphere” as a constitutive feature of the present moment, a realm that is not being appropriately channeled, left unfiltered and uncontrolled, and which, as a result, sometimes finds violent ways of expression. In order to properly deal with the emotional factor, we should delineate a primarily ethical-cognitive territory, within which one can rebuild, for individual human beings, subjectivity, meaning and concrete answers. This is why, in order to “repoliticize the world,” what is needed in the first place is a “rehabilitation of the moral dimension,” seriously tackling the question of how to restore the ability to derive norms and obligations and restore the crucial importance of the issue of values, which has been ignored too much by liberal secularism. The latter, hoping to neutralize the destructive impulses of the religious wars, has confined value-related beliefs to an extrapolitical and non-public space, i.e. to the private sphere, effecting a sort of “privatization” which tied the perceived worth of these beliefs to their lack of political expression.

The repoliticization of the world can only happen starting with a repoliticization of the European continent. This, in turn, requires the reactivation of the extraordinary heritage of values ​​and norms contained in the idea of ​​Europe, whose origins and whose strategic resources have been relegated to mere “thought” and “philosophy.” The crucial issue, therefore, is not just the fact that the European ideal is inseparable from a paradigm of “fair globalization,” which cannot be abandoned without going down the road of protectionism and nationalism. Much more is at stake: we have both the opportunity and the need to retrace the sources of the values ​​of the European unification process, from which arose the plurality of ideas about what Europe itself means, which give it a “multiple face.”

Even though in recent years Europe has been dominated by the political elements of the center-right, which aim to turn it into a unified force for “marketization,” it has always cultivated within itself a plurality of influences and elements that are profoundly progressive, and which have led over time to extraordinary positive achievements, whose apex was the Charter of Fundamental Rights signed in Nice in 2000. Diverse lines of thought in terms of ideals and policy have always remained active in Europe, even if at various times one of them prevailed over the others, with the “dark side” having the upper hand since 2010, when the center of gravity of the global economic crisis shifted from the US to Europe and the Six Pact, Two Pact and Fiscal Compact were adopted.

The fact that the patrimony of values ​​underlying a united Europe has never disappeared—and that, when it was activated, it offered the basis for extraordinary mobilization and achievements in terms of civil maturity—should compel us today to work to rediscover and revive it. This patrimony can bring to life the development of the European process, viewed as an unfinished constitutional process, a term whose dual meaning is the source for its breadth of scope and power: “constitution” in the classical sense, i.e. a constitutional charter, as well as “constitution” in a broader sense, i.e. values ​​and normative structures. In modern constitutions, we always find, in a concentrated form, an extraordinarily important body of learning, both cognitive and normative in nature. This is what Walter Benjamin was talking about when he described the delicate task of overcoming the lawlessness with which violence destroys rights.

All revolutionary achievements are bodies of learning gained in the field of human emancipation, the extraordinary fruits of humanism. They cannot be realized in practice without the mature values ​​and norms that the constitutions carry with them. The values, rights and duties contained in the constitutions have, by definition, superabundant normative content, because they are structurally related to the dynamic scope of the collective project which is the only place where democracy can thrive, and, accordingly, they reproduce the same ambivalence which characterizes the evolution of a rights-based polity at the constitutional level.

Even today, constitutional formulations appear still largely indeterminate, and thus are amenable to interpretations and normative developments that may proceed in diametrically opposite directions. There are many structural gaps remaining, through which it is possible to channel instances of values that would ​​subvert the current order, marked by immutable distinctions between haves/have nots, just/unjust, true/false, equal/unequal, free/unfree. It is possible for a powerful constructive spirit to be channeled that would place the focus on environmental restoration, the critique of the supposed neutrality of science, the reinvention and creation of work, and the proper extent of economic democracy.

That would open the doors to a new world. One can say that all the revolutionary moments, together with their founding documents—from the 1075 Dictatus Papae to the Declaration of 1789—were all such key normative developments that cleared the path to a changed world. Western universalism has been realized starting from this revolutionary paradigm, thanks to Europe, which is the first civilization that has conceived of itself in dynamic terms and has thought of history as “permanent revolution.” Kant was truly the philosopher of the French Revolution, as he astutely hailed the new achievements as historical symbols of a normative path that was meant to be irreversible, marked by the fundamental features of universality, individuality, empowerment, equality and inclusion.

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