9 June 2016 by Jessica Palmer
Review of Fabrice Amedeo’s Les fossoyeurs de l’Europe: Diabribe politique
Department of French and Italian
Brigham Young University
Fabrice Amedeo. Les fossoyeurs de l’Europe: Diatribe politique. Paris, Bourin éditeur, 2005.
Europe is terminally ill and its grave is being dug by politicians of a bygone era, out of touch, claims Fabrice Amedeo, with the dreams and aspirations of “young” Europeans. A recent graduate of Sciences-Po, Amedeo argues that Europe’s current crisis is attributable to leaders whose obsolete, nation-state mentality is preventing the creation of a political union more in tune with an emerging pan-European consciousness.
The abolition of mandatory military service, Erasmus scholarships, cheap travel and easy internet communications–these, asserts Amedeo, have all but dissolved national barriers and have created favorable conditions for a new “European” identity. But this identity, he goes on to argue, requires a reinvention of Europeanist politics and culture to sustain itself. If Europe’s young have recently become apathetic about politics it is not because they are uninterested, but because current politicians don’t know how to make young Europeans dream. Too much focus on business, institutions and bureaucratic procedures has created a “cultural deficit” and has stifled enthusiasm. In order to take Europe to the next level (which for Amedeo seems to mean a European super-state), older politicians need to step aside so that younger and bolder politicians can renew the European dream.
The principal thesis of this book, then, is that while European political unity is desirable and necessary, it must be founded on a European cultural unity whose potential only young, anti-national Europeans seem able to recognize and embrace.
What is this European culture? At one level it is purely commercial: “Everywhere in Europe we use the same products, the same brands, wear the same clothes, go see the same movies, read the same books. We have never been so close to each other” (18). But at another it is historical: The Europe(s) of Christendom, of medieval universities or of the Enlightenment were more united culturally, argues Amedeo, than the Europe of the nation-state. The Europe of today needs to reconnect with its (assumed) unity of the past. But because most of today’s politicians are still fixated on the nation-state and haunted by memories of world war, they tend to think of Europe in terms of national conflict, rivalry and mistrust. Europe’s youth, however, think differently: since they were born within the context of European construction and globalization, they tend to accept “Europe” as a fait accompli and consider the previous generation’s political vision as obsolete and crippling.
The subtitle of the book “a political diatribe” refers to the author’s blunt criticism of current politicians for all but extinguishing the “European dream” and for alienating today’s youth: “My generation has been dispossessed of Europe. The major political project of the 21st century is in the hands of a rear-guard completely lost in the face of the identitary, political, economic and geopolitical changes that affect our world. The political leaders are constructing a Europe that escapes us and that we do not want. They are responsible for this situation” (61). The “situation” to which the author refers is a feeling of helplessness in the face of a burgeoning and top-down bureaucracy. Amedeo dreams of “another Europe” that is more democratic, transparent and understandable—one that does not require a Ph.D. in European politics to understand it or to feel connected to it.
Why has Europe evolved in such a dissatisfying way? According to Amedeo’s diagnosis, the ever-increasing layers bureaucracy and procedure are rooted in a paradoxical desire to protect the idea of the nation-state while avoiding nationalist passion. Europe is creating a Ptolemaic political system – inventing new ideas and structures to account for every little anomaly – when what is need is a Copernican revolution. Another problem stems from the enlargement process: the addition of new nations, new cultures and mentalities merely compounds the complexity of decision making and throws into sharper relief the absurdities and non-democratic features of the existing political structure. As the bureaucratic apparatus grows and becomes more distant from the concerns of common people, the need for cultural unity become increasingly obvious. Yet the current politicians, claims Amedeo, seem unwilling or unable to address this issue.
The creation of the Euro might have been one way to galvanize youthful enthusiasm. But Amedeo considers the symbolism that politicians chose for the continent’s new currency as soulless and disconnected from historical or cultural substance. The Euro’s bland markings are just another example of timidity and inhibition. The European constitution was another failed opportunity. The author feels that more could have been done to promote the constitution as a symbol of common European culture and identity; the discussion of its value for all Europeans could have been communicated in clearer, simpler and more enthusiastic terms.
Hugh Seton-Watson once asked if European politics could exist without European culture. He believed that it could not: culture can exist without politics, but the reverse is not true. Amedeo expresses a similar idea: the economic and political model imagined by the E.U.’s founding fathers has exposed its limits : its lack of cultural foundations has led to a Europe that fails to arouse any affectivity or strong identification. Yet this is precisely what Europe needs: “Political Europe is the Europe of citizen participation, a carrier of ideas that go beyond national boundaries. Cultural Europe is rooted in the identitary foundation of peoples that compose it, in its history, heroes, films, books and instruction. These two dimensions need each other in order to exist and are two sides of the same Europe” (150).
Although Amedeo’s criticism of Europe’s lack of cultural foundations is at times compelling, his view of “European culture” is ultimately paradoxical: on the one hand, he argues that what unites Europe is its culture; yet, on the other, what Europe needs to be politically united is culture. Which is it? Either Europe has a common culture or it doesn’t. What the author seems to mean is that politicians need to be more strategic about how they use existing national culture for Europeanist ends: new historiographies, for example, must be developed so that earlier moments of (possible) European unity may be recovered in the present; national art needs to be transcoded into a Europeanist framework, etc. At another level, however, Amedeo seem to think that Europe should follow the strategies of the 19th-century nation-state and manufacture culture where it is lacking: “Our leaders . . . need to make us dream and give back to the European idea the force of a utopia. They need to add an aesthetic dimension to power. Because . . . politics is structured by an aesthetic and emotional dimension that, unfortunately, is too often ignored.” Europe, in other words, needs more European symbolism, rituals, cultural activities, memorials, holidays, sporting events, public displays of European flags, wider use of the anthem, etc. But at a more profound level, Europeans need early instruction in European languages, the facilitation of greater geographic mobility, better focus on European history and institutions in grade- and high school curriculums, the promotion of European arts and cinema, etc.
This second set of examples is more substantive and promising than the first, but the problem with Amedeo’s general idea of “European culture” is that looks a lot like top-down ideology rather than genuine cultural production organically nurtured from below. It is true that the nation-states were able to nationalize consciousness via the imposition of a national language, historiography and culture. But none of these options is truly possible in the European Union—no language will dominate (despite the putative prevalence of English) and there is no mandate or consensus on a Europeanist historiography. It is therefore unclear what cultural glue would be sufficiently strong to hold the various pieces of the European puzzle together in a way similar to the emergence of the nation-states. It is also unclear (assuming for a moment that Amedeo’s strategy eventually resulted in the creation of a pan-European identity) how Europe would avoid the disastrous mistakes of the nation-states. Is it possible to create a pan-European identity without people falling into a new kind of nationalism and its attendant problems? Amedeo is silent on this.
Admittedly, we are a long way from having to think through this issue. In fact, the major flaw of this book is that it vastly overestimates – based on the author’s own elite education and cosmopolitan experience – the emergence of a European-wide, transnational consciousness. He often invokes the Erasmus scholarship and the internet as forces that have broken through national barriers and that have generated a new European identity. But how many students relative to Europe’s overall population have studied abroad on an Erasmus scholarship? And how many Europeans who have studied abroad become sufficiently divorced from their home country to consider their principle pole of identification as European? Solid figures rather than personal opinion and anecdote would make this point more convincing. Statistically valid polling of working class and provincial youth, for example, would no doubt produce a very different picture from Amedeo’s.
A second weakness of the book is the author’s belief that youth and boldness trump age and experience. His entire view of European politics seems to be fueled by his animus against current-generation politicians for their lack of vision and courage. He offers a Manichean view of issues and therefore does not seriously examine his opposition’s positions. In this, I am reminded of Donald Rumsfeld’s crack about “old” and “new” Europe: Rumsfeld saw the Western Europe’s caution about entering the war Iraq as a sure sign of age and weariness whereas the willingness of some Central and Eastern European countries seemed more youthful and energetic. It later became clear that the Manichean values underlying this glib comparison (young/good, old/bad) did not provide a sound basis for judgment. Thus, whereas Amedeo’s impatience with current politicians leads him to interpret their actions as cowardly and ineffective, their gradualist approach may actually be animated by a political wisdom that comes with experience and age.
This book openly advertises itself as a “diatribe,” and it delivers on its promise. Yet the author, I believe, is often too dismissive of the enormous complexities that his political forefathers have faced in advancing the European cause. He seems unaware, for example, of how thorny an issue “European culture” has been and why most politicians have chosen to set it aside. Despite Amedeo’s own certainty about Europe’s pan-European identity and Europe’s current cultural needs, the author is basing his opinion on a narrow sliver of the European population – college-educated cosmopolitans. Forging ahead with his agenda would no doubt cause a backlash because the strategy is ultimately top-down and unrepresentative of a European majority. In this, Amedeo seems to be unwittingly repeating the very mistakes he criticizes in current politicians. That is, he offers solutions to Europe’s problems that are almost entirely conditioned by his own social class and historical generation.