The Demiurge of the European Union
The desire for peace and political unity in Europe after WWII can be seen as the action of the Platonist Demiurge, creator of the ideal state. But today it seems the Demiurge is in thrall to realpolitik, and realpolitik sets not nearly so straight a course. A Lithuanian philospher asks what historical necessity might mean in today’s EU.
According to Plato, Demiurge created the world according to eternal Ideas. This world is just a reflection of the real world. Our task is to discern in things the eternal, unchangeable Ideas. Before uniting with the body, the soul had already seen those unchangeable Ideas, in other words, got to know the Truth and the Good. Therefore, in this life within the soul in humans the great recall (remembering) should take place – or anamnesis – of what the soul had already known. Otherwise, we will be like those who live in a cave and see only shadows, like those who have never seen the sun and have never learned about this world in the light of the sun.1 By seeing only copies of the reflected shadows on walls of the play of things behind us and never things in their true light, we never learn the Truth. What can be ultimately grasped by the mind – remains unknown. The real Truth remains veiled.
Plato’s Demiurge created the world in such a way that it could be possible for the human mind to comprehend this world so that its great mystery would be attainable by thought. Being a consistent thinker, Plato thought that a republic – or Greek – should be ruled by philosophers, the men of wisdom – the men who have “recalled” the real and unchangeable Ideas.
Today, the myth of Demiurge sounds like a myth, and the idea of men of wisdom ruling a State sounds merely like a pleasant political utopia. Although we are accustomed to free democratic elections, we know that it is impossible to meet a saint in the parliament. There is no such a thing as an ideal ruler. There is no such a thing as an ideal party. Nevertheless, it does not mean that we should not create abstract, ideal models. A perfect realization of a perfect model in reality would be utopia, but this utopia is functional: it functions only as a guide in the gray political arena of everyday life in order to demonstrate unmistakably what our real ideals are. It does not matter that the ideals are often unreachable. They are as necessary as the needle of a political morality compass that indicates the degree of departure from the ideal.
In democratic countries there is “big” politics and “small” politics. The first refers to an abstract and ideal model of a liberal and democratic system, a model that has pretensions to be universal; the second is what is known as realpolitik – real politics without any sentimentality.
Under big politics one might find the US Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, the French Revolution, the Russian October Revolution, Lithuania’s Independence Declaration, and the collapse of the former Soviet Union as well as the fall of the Berlin Wall. The big politics are romantic. They are inspired and not from everyday life. Big politics are created when a new worldview becomes prevalent and there is the will to implement the new values into social life. A new vision of a new Lebensfï¿½hrung prompts the masses to change their attitude towards their political system and to treat it as an outdated one because their current social order is no longer satisfactory. Small politics reflects the everyday. It includes repeated elections in an old and well-known system, and the redundant and mesmerizing promises of the politicians. In small politics, new budgets are discussed and computed, amendments made, coalitions of opposing parties organized, and so on.
The abstract and ideal model of the political system is the prerogative of big politics. Soon, the gray and political life of everyday begins. Then, little by little, the universally declared ideals and rights become devalued. However, interestingly enough, in everyday life politicians support their rhetoric namely by making references to an ideal and abstract utopian model of democracy, constantly referring to its values. Politicians cannot implement those values in their political activities, since what is ideal cannot coincide with imperfect life forms.
Paradise cannot exist in political life. Political life presupposes a power hierarchy.
Therefore, political life by nature cannot be eternally peaceful as one might enjoy peace and security in Paradise. The hierarchy of power creates friction among parties and political structures. Thus, the Realpolitik by its very nature is quite different from a utopian ideal model of democracy where conflicts do not exist because big politics are always achieved through the consensus of the majority. However, the image-makers use such ideals for their “political customers” to make them more popular, thus treating those ideals as a means for populist purposes rather than as the ends of liberal goals. By creating the fictional image of its authority, the image-makers usually use the background of the ideal model, which in the Realpolitik has become dull. The political image-makers brighten and sharpen the colors of a politician/customer in such a way that he or she suddenly appears to be the most trustworthy of all the politicians in the field. A certain philosophy of political values is spread in order to manipulate public opinion.2
Nevertheless, the ideals of big politics are not forgotten. They are anchored in the Constitution. The gap between constitutional ideals and the Realpolitik in a democratic and liberal country can at any time be substantially minimized. Political anamnesis brings nations back to the homeland of the initial ideals.
It is time to ask what or who the Demiurge of the European Union is and according to what ideal Ideas the European Union was founded? In other words, what ideals of the big politics should we recall when in everyday life we sense that the small politics, in other words the Realpolitik, has moved too far astray from the course of the big politics? What sort of great political anamnesis could there be for the twenty-five EU members when doubts arise whether the preset course of the EU is still being followed?
The birth of the Demiurge of the EU was a consequence of World War II: ruins, corpses, the Holocaust, and the feeling of total meaninglessness. Ruins and rotten dead bodies on both sides of the front line let Europeans understand where their nationalistic ideals had led the Continent of Beethoven and Shakespeare. Europe simply no longer wanted war. Western European countries, at first uniting into the European Community, then into a Union without borders, became the Demiurge themselves. Security and peace became the ideal of the big politics on the Continent. British, French, Germans, Italians and others perceived that without unification you cannot be secure. Security and nationalistic ideals surrounded by controlled borders turned out to be an illusion and in practice an incongruous thing. It had become clear that the 19th century’s idealized ideology of progress and all things pertaining to that progress were easily crushed by the caterpillar tanks. This comprehension united western Europe. This unity in the name of common security in a political discourse was conceptualized as the eternal and unchangeable Idea.
At first glance, peace among nations in order to preserve the security of citizens seems a very obvious truth. So obvious that it is even hard to find words to talk about it. But what is obvious might be a mere optical illusion, just like Plato’s shadows that reflect things, deceiving cave men of the real nature of the things they supposedly see. Plato explained that the ones who see things reflected in shadows believe that they know what they see. Plato saw that one might be guided by his own wrong convictions. Something similar happened before World War Two – Europeans believed they knew what was right and what was evil. Unfortunately, till World War II, peace and civil security as political values were merely false convictions – the truth had not been mentally grasped. Only near the end of the war, were these social and political values conceived and internalized when the Continent was covered with the dead bodies of young men and the most beautiful of European old towns were destroyed by the leader of progress – aviation.
The situation is very Hegelian. Talking in terms of Hegel, we needed the thesis of peace and the anti-thesis of war in order to create the synthesis of European Unity. It follows that this unity was not pre-given but discovered as a political necessity. Hegel himself thought that the Spirit () can be reconciled with history only when there is an understanding that everything that happened and happens is the work of God.3 Therefore, for Hegel, everything that happens is sensible and rational.
Socrates, in the writings of Plato, stated that nobody acts in opposition to what he considers to be right. In other words, if you really understand to the very end what the right behavior is, you will not cause evil. The highest intellectual comprehension opens up the Truth. Then, the eternal and unchangeable Idea is recalled or remembered. Something similar happened to Europe after World War II – the continent of high culture encountereda grand massacre, and this face to face encounter was the breakthrough for the Socratic comprehension of the necessary, political law for Europe – unity. It was realized that unity is the only solution willing to create and build rather than turn the cathedrals and opera houses into debris.
Thus, today when we hear more and more disagreements and bureaucratic ambitions wrangling in Brussels for the mundane goals of small politics, and when we learn about the rebirth of nationalistic ideas or the birth of questionable new party leaders, it is no longer evident that the ideals of European big politics are still clear. What is evident in such cases is that there is still time for political anamnesis in Plato’s sense.
However, the lessons of World War II are a history the bitterness of which is softened by contemporary medical and technological advances as well as popular entertainment culture. Leisure-time pleasures along with the new culture of consumerism suppress the bitter lessons of the past or simply push them away to the shelves of a history section. Too much has been rebuilt and too much has been created for us to conceive today in a Socratic manner that such massive madness and self-destruction was real during World War II. The scope of massive insanity and cruelty has become more a matter of a theoretical interest that puts aside any real comprehension. Concentration camps have become museums, not an experience. True, museums of this type are necessary as we need a constant reminder of what a European is capable of. Let’s not say “Germans capable of”, since it was not only Germans who expressed their cruelty against Jews, but Polish, Lithuanians, Russians, and others who were capable of practicing atrocities.
Today, Europe is educated like never before, and via programmemes of expansion it builds new routes in order to level down the differences of the South and the North, the West and Central post-communist Europe. This effort was crowned with the symbolic meaning of the Olympic games in Athens in 2004 – where not so long ago the spirit of economic depression was hovering. An Olympic torch “enlightened” Greece – the cradle of the philosophical meanings of life. The Olympic games took place there, where Plato thought of Demiurge, his works of creation according to the eternal Ideas. The symbolic meaning attending the Olympics was possible namely because of the fundamental EU value – to unite conceptually and materially. “The Olympic fire is at home”, it was declared during the flamboyant opening in the Olympic stadium of Athens.
As said earlier, the contemporary glitter of well-being turns the nightmare of World War II into a historical truth which is very hard to grasp. By the same token, it is harder to grasp the very essential principle on which the unification of Europe is based. Perhaps this is the reason why during the first expansion to incorporate post- communist countries, one did not hear in the common discourse the fundamental idea of a united Europe. The emphasis was put on economic, in other words material motives. Economic wellbeing was used as an incentive for the new members to join the EU, since western Europe was willing to be the “provider”. The mass-media, both in Old Europe and New Europe, emphasized the results of the negotiations. The main axis, then, became negotiations based on economic interests and diplomatic skills, and the maneuvers, experience, and strategic position of the negotiators. In Lithuania at the time, one could overhear talks describing Polish politicians as showing self-respect and pride in the negotiations because they negotiated more aggressively than Lithuanians. This economically reduced realpolitik of the EU deposited the idea of the unity of the “big politics” down to the very bottom of a money sack. Of course, it was a natural process of this expansion. Negotiations had to be done with the pragmatic, long-term computing of advantages and disadvantages. However, while weighing the benefits, the political discourse of EU enlargement forgot to include the ideal model of the EU – unity as well as solidarity as the fundamental value. Perhaps it is a universal law – when two start counting each others gold, they completely forget the reason why this gold is being counted together.
After wise bureaucratic negotiations, there were emotional referendums. One after another: in Cyprus, in Estonia, in Poland, in Slovakia, in Lithuania, in Hungary and other countries. Demiurge could have only sat on a fluffy cloud and watched how the pro-European enlargement campaigns were selling the “pro” vote, barely connected to the remote ideals of the EU. The work of the image-makers was to create a discourse in the referendums which would bespeak with eloquence of the great chance to escape from the hard and low-paid work that was still bending post-communist backs. The EU could not say much about security as Lithuania and other new members had NATO security. Of course, Brussels could not offer much in terms of security. The EU, weak in foreign policy, flirting with Putin, was able to offer to the new members only an economic motivation. Needless to say, it was necessary to make clear who benefits from whom and when. The problem is that the dimension of economic benefits did not lift the spirit of the referendums up to the dimension of idealistic values and the referendums themselves remained on the level of the realpolitik, at least in Lithuania.
A part of the “new” Europeans voted Yes not even thinking about a united Europe’s political ideal. Some did it because of inertia, since the general mood was a pre-given Yes; others hoped for a better future for their grandchildren; and still others gave their positive vote because of cultural exchange programmes. There were those who simply succumbed to the work of image-makers and propaganda on television. Many Lithuanians, just like many other central Europeans, felt like they were told to do so. Few chose a united Europe for its political situation, and instead voted their pocketbooks.
In this case it does not matter whether the EU could survive without its new members or whether the New Europe would find a way to recover without the financial support of the Old Europe. Especially having in mind that even a partially divided Europe would most likely avoid war if it had a strong NATO infrastructure. From the present perspective, it is difficult to say. We may only guess. Here it is important to underline the thought that even at the moment of EU enlargement, Europeans had forgotten the very precondition of its existence as a political body.
Referendums did not go as smoothly as one might have expected. It was feared until the last minute that Poland, with its forty million population, might vote No. Such a lack of faith in the Polish people and some others, like the Czechs, meant that people treated their choice as a choice. However, the rhetoric of the enlargement campaign did not reflect this. On the contrary, membership was explained as a necessity. Indeed, if the enlargement campaign had emphasized a choice instead of a necessity, this strategy would hardly have been successful. Enlargement would probably have failed. An emphasis on economic and historical necessity prompted some politically conscious Central Europeans to realize their fate and not to resist it. However, is there a Hegel of today who can tell what historical necessity is?
Today we could hardly unequivocally agree that the Demiurge of the EU is creating a discourse which would emphasize historical necessity. It is emphasized, but also openly emphasized is the logic of an artificial political-economic-cultural EU construction. Ideology of choice may not always be in first place; however, the fact that an enormous variety of EU differences is more or less balanced and tuned, bespeaks of the most important choice – rational decisions.
Craig Calhoun, in a political essay “The Democratic Integration of Europe”,4 states that the choice of ideology overshadows the ideology of choice, as Europe today does not have the self-constitution which can be acquired by developing public communication. It is a neglected aspect of the EU integration programme. According to the author, self-constitution formation is a prerequisite for a collective choice. Calhoun believes that the formation of the EU was a matter of choice, but it was not the people who made the choice, but a political elite. The consequences are evident: it was not difficult to make people use the Euro currency, but it is hard to make them show genuine interest in the elections of the Parliament.
Emphasis on necessity sounds like an acknowledgement that everything that happens is unavoidable. But the necessity in Europe is fundamental – unity in the name of security and peace. How this security and peace should be implemented in everyday life is a matter of choice. The Demiurge of the EU started to unify Europe because this creator was persecuted by the nightmare of World War II experience. But the principle of necessity was conceived only on a metaphysical level, since this principle in small politics is often neglected or overlooked
Today, when the ideals of unity have become self-evident and taken for granted in the small politics, the Demiurge of the EU continues his creation work – after the first enlargement wave, negotiations with Turkey have been started. France took a clear stance: the membership of Turkey in the EU is not a necessity. Paris may choose at any time to suggest to end negotiations, which, as we know, would end within the period of ten to fifteen years anyway. In this case, the Demiurge of the EU is creating not according to the law of necessity but by the principle of choice, since expansion to Turkey and the Muslim world is not a necessity but a choice. On the other hand, it is not the only position of the EU. There is a parallel ideology that is concurrent: sometimes we hear that the final and ideal objective would be one Europe reaching the Ural mountains, all within the Eurozone. Hovering thoughts of this kind serve as an incentive to Ukraine as well. Supported by Lithuania and Poland during its Orange Revolution, it lives with the hope of one day starting negotiations for membership. Demanding justice and seeing value in democracy, Ukrainians despite the cold nights in Kiev went on the streets to protest against Yanukovich in order to support Yushenko. But this revolution was supported only by the post-communist central European countries, especially Lithuania and Poland, while Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Shrï¿½der remained silent. The two leaders of the EU were silent when a large part of eastern Europe was on the brink of civil war. This alone tells us how far away the Demiurge of the EU has drifted from the eternal value of peace and fear of war if this creator remains silent when once again human life is at stake. But the US was not silent, once again reminding Europeans that to their questions of life and death the soul of Nato answers – Washington. The Demiurge of the EU, unfortunately contrary to its ideals, did not support the Orange Revolution, which in its essence was nothing else but resistance to Moscow’s dictatorship.
Does this mean that the Demiurge of the EU merely plays with the feelings of people, but does not plan to incorporate Ukraine into one, unified Europe? Perhaps there is a game with the hopes and feelings of the Turks as well, since from the very beginning the Turks had to show resistance to Brussels’ attempt to give an exceptional status to the negotiations with Turkey – the status of uncertainty. Nevertheless, the idea of enlargement is vivid. There is a feeling of EU incompleteness – not because the EU cannot remain as it is, but because the EU limits and borders are not defined. The Demiurge of the EU simply does not know how big its yard is. It seems to understand that to accept Turkey, but not to accept Ukraine, would be unjust. But what else it understands is that after Ukraine’s entrance, the EU would have to open up to Russia as well. The EU would end with the Strait of Bering, which could be overcome by a built super bridge thanks to advanced engineering. This bridge would connect Alaska and Russia and that would be the culmination of globalization. This culmination would be the end of the EU. To what extent the Demiurge of the EU knows this, remains to be seen. But we have a warning from the Lithuanian politician Egidijus Vareikis in his book Dinozaurï¿½janti Europa (Europe Becoming A Dinosaur), where the author notes that dinosaurs are huge, but they have a very little brain.
The impression is that our Demiurge , on the day he was creating the EU, in the name of unity and security cared about one idea. He did not consider the geographic parameters within which this idea should be materialized. Neither was he aware of the exact scenario. Federation or a union of national states? Europe with Islam or without it? Europe with all Slavs or just with some?
Regardless of a lack of orientation and an absence of a clear definition of what is what and who is who, the Demiurge of the EU continued creating. Thus, naturally it became distracted and unfocused. Contradictions followed: offering negotiations to a Muslim country while at the same time Muslim headscarves are prohibited in public places; Christian (Catholic) members of Central Europe are accepted not only into the EU common economic zone, but cultural as well – however, Christian values are not mentioned in a new Constitution, regardless of the Christian metaphysical spirit in Beethoven’s Ninth symphony, which has become the anthem of the EU. Being surrounded by contradictions, we may naturally feel suspicious – the Demiurge of the EU continues creating without knowing whom it unifies with whom, and by doing so it merely is experimenting and lives in hope: “Whatever comes out of it should be all right for now.” It is quite contrary to what Jehovah did – he was creating purposefully and meaningfully, and on the Seventh day he rested and enjoyed his creation.
Can we enjoy watching today’s EU? Most likely the answer might be yes, albeit not rushing to close one’s eyes to the ugliness of contradictions at the expense of deep traditions. It is beautiful that the Old Europe is united with the New Europe, albeit the new one is just as old as the old one. It is beautiful that one Europe, which had experienced the atrocities of communism, can be together with the other one, which gave birth to liberalism and democracy as well as the culture of the university. But contradictions and a lack of certainty and clarity of a future plan, raise doubts whether this marriage will last for long. The chairman of the philosophy department at Ljubljana University, the social critic and poet Ales Debeljak, in his political essay Elusive Dreams5 writes that the EU destiny is ambiguous and gloomy. For a lack of better words, he quotes one of the most renowned of philosophers, Jacques Derrida, who regrets that the EU did not manage to foster “common feelings”, common “heart habits”, which could serve as guides to the realization of common dreams. Debeljak is worried that Europeanism does not have a collective heart and spirit and therefore has become pro forma. It is prescriptive, comes from above. This cultural critic and poet from Ljubljana suggests we not forget that the twentieth century showed that a European’s identity starts on a parochial level, and only later expands. To forget this, is to risk that we may end up nowhere, concludes the author.
Petya Kabakchieva in her political essay, “Eurolocal perspectives towards the
expresses her hope, fear, and trembling as she wonders whom the face of the EU will
resemble. Will it be recognizable? In other words, will this face be warm and human?
The words of European intellectuals resonate uncertainty since they can no longer grasp the essential pulse of the EU ideal model of the big politics. In this European home there is a lack of security. Missing the common warmth that springs from the fireplace of each community, doubting the authenticity of our own face, we experience fear and trembling. This is a paradox if we hold a view that Europe has been united in order to overcome such negative emotions. Thus, where does this political anxiety come from? Perhaps we no longer believe in the very possibility of being always unified?
One of the sources of anxiety could be that the Demiurge of the EU is creating without having a definite scenario. The EU paradigm of being in a state of constant restructuring, changes in terms of currency, borders, Constitution, religion, culture, effects one’s identity and forces one every ten years to rethink who is who and where. For instance, Germans not so long ago perceived themselves as a reunited nation. East Germans in this reunification viewed themselves differently than West Germans – the latter felt as though now they have to shake their wallets and give away as much as they can, whereas for the former it was a new opportunity. Soon afterwards, Germans had to perceive themselves as one of the most important payers to the EU budget, and to perceive themselves as members of an enlarged Europe all the way to the Russian border. Of course, identity changes may not effect all twenty-five members equally. It is rather a question to what extent, for example, Portuguese feel effected, especially in a village, by all the new changes – besides which, it is doubtful whether many of them know where Lithuania is.
Nevertheless, central European and, as we have seen, French intellectuals diagnose political anxiety and uncertainty as a general mood of European intellectuals. Not having final borders, constantly being open-minded to enlargement, forever being ready to accept new changes – while self-constitution has not yet crystallized – may suggest that the gap between an abstract utopian ideal model of the big politics – unity in the name of security and peace – and the realpolitik in everyday life, might in the future widen in a significant part of the newly constituted EU. Could the New Europe decrease this gap?
The New Europe may either decrease this gap or cause a split. Post-communist countries are happy in Nato, and when it comes to foreign policy concerning Russia, they want to have a say. Thus far there have been many disappointments. A part of the Old Europe is anti-American, whereas the New Europe is pro-American. If Ukraine ever becomes an EU member, it will be pro-American, too, for the above mentioned reasons. Turkey is also pro-American. Thus, the political split is already there. But central European countries may prevent a further split by taking the initiative to do what the largest countries are afraid to do, just as was the case with the Orange revolution in Kiev. It is important for central Europeans to speak louder when it comes to their values.
Whatever the EU will be tomorrow – with Turkey and Ukraine or without them – it is important for the EU to remain a cosy and warm home. The main criteria of a good home is clear – once you leave it, you want to come back. When you leave your home, you miss it and dream about it. Today, in Europe, one may easily get this feeling of warmth and coziness. The above mentioned political anxiety of the intellectuals can be overcome by optimism, since today’s Europe is more constructive than destructive. Southern Europe has just recovered from economic despair. This inspires the hope that central Europeans will recover soon too.
The essence of EU dynamics is the positive changes in various regions that are abundantly subsidized by EU tax payers. Fountains spring in those places where the land was dry and people were thirsty. The new members of the first enlargement can only be proud being in the great plan of the EU. By thinking along these sorts of political lines, it no longer becomes disquieting that the Demiurge of the EU has no decisive scenario. If Demiurge is rational today and we manage to make mostly rational choices, then, there are grounds to believe that in the future we will have a rational and humane scenario according to the needs of the day.
On the other hand, if Demiurge makes a mistake, it will mean that we – French, Belgians, Greeks, Austrians, Scottish, Danish, Italians, Polish, Estonians, Lithuanians, Scandinavians and others – made a mistake as well, either by being too quiet and passive on essential issues, or by willing too much at once. But if that does not happen, we will be proud of our creativity – political and cultural, economic and spiritual – since it was us who managed to built a sweet, though large, home for twenty-five members.
Then it will mean that the Demiurge of the EU is truly the creator of good will.
Plato, Republic, Vilnius: Pradai 2000.
See Leonidas Donskis, Autoritetas, tiesa ir vieï¿½oji nuomonï¿½ [Authority, Truth, and Public Opinion], Kulturos barai, 7, 2004
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Philosophy of History, Vilnius, Mintis, 1990, 472.
Craig Calhoun, The Democratic Integration of Europe, Social Science Research Council, 2004
Ales Debeljak. Elusive Common Dreams, www.eurozine.com/article/2001-08-28-debeljak-en.html
Petya Kabakchieva, "Eurolocal perspectives towards the EU", www.eurozine.com/article/2002-11-27-kabakchieva-en.html.
Published 22 June 2005
Original in Lithuanian
Translated by Kerry Shawn Keys
Contributed by Kulturos barai © Tomas Kavaliauskas, Kulturos barai EurozinePDF/PRINT