Brussels: between Athens and Jerusalem
We need more debate about the sustainability of our civilisation, about the new model of progress not limited to only material values
When the financial crisis broke in the Eurozone, the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk invoked the image of Crystal Palace, venue of the World Exhibition in London in 1851. In his view, the EU has often been perceived as a gigantic glasshouse of leisure in which citizens can give themselves up to worshipping, in joy mixed with hysteria, the cult of Baal which the 20th century has dubbed ‘consumerism’. The Treaties are supposed to guarantee the peace, while social security is there to guarantee that incomes will go up every year, whether or not justified by the work actually done. Living in a ‘crystal palace’ means that all decisions taken by individuals are devoid of meaning and people are free from any sense of responsibility.
In his annual speech on the state of the European Union to the European Parliament, José Barroso talked about the causes of the crisis and on the means needed to come out of it. From the list of causes he pointed out irresponsible practices in the financial sector, excessive public indebtedness and the lack of competitive spirit in some Member States. And to crown it all, the Eurozone comes along with its structural problems. He also put forward a list of practical proposals aimed at achieving success in plans for integration.
These proposals are under three headings: financial and economic problems, institutional problems, and the values upon which the planned European integration is based. According to the Commission President, we need a new vision of Europe, and it is the European values that will define Europe and fix both its specific role and its vocation in the world. However, the list of values cited by the European President is far too short: freedom, democracy, rule of law and solidarity. Clearly these are European values, but in themselves they are not enough to ensure the stability and sustainability of the “federation of nation states” which he is proposing.
While inviting all citizens to take part in the European debate, President Barroso has left out any mention of the Churches as partners in this dialogue. There is practically no trace of the topic of Europe’s cultural heritage, so that is probably the reason why his speech on this subject appears to be so superficial. Monetary questions, institutions and solidarity – all that is far too insubstantial to awaken any enthusiasm about Europe. We need more debate about the sustainability of our civilisation, about the new model of progress not limited to only material values, about the role of ethics in the economy – especially in the financial sector – and more generally we need to reflect on the new humanistic synthesis.
The financial and economic crisis in the Eurozone sends out a signal that history has once again stepped into a crystal palace. The world is, as always, susceptible to dynamic changes and never ceases presenting mankind with challenges. The Bible says: By the sweat of your brow you shall labour the earth and it will produce for you thorns and thistles. (Genesis 3, 18 :19) The fact that working until one’s brow is covered with sweat can lead to unwelcome results is a consequence of wandering too far away from God’s primary plan, a consequence that we call sin. In analysing the current crisis, we run the risk of focusing on the consequences of that sin and forgetting the very sin that caused the crisis. It might seem to us that in moving away from God we are not losing anything, either in the ability to understand social questions, or the essentials of economic development, or even the ability to organise the life of society. But the truth is that the disappearance of religious motivation on a massive scale does change perspectives when people are making choices in their daily lives. And all this leads directly to materialism, which is just as widespread throughout society at large as it is at the centre of elite circles.
International legal expert Joseph Weiler cracks jokes on the subject of the current approach to European problems, saying: “There’s too much Athens [road to revolution] and not enough Jerusalem [road to Rome].” At the time of crisis, it is important to find the point of balance between the politico-economic dimension and religion, between Athens and Jerusalem. The sustainability of European civilisation can only be assured by a new synthesis, based on proper anthropology.
Translated from the original text in French