Rafael Argullol: Don’t let the European ideal die

El País 20 December 2011. Translated from the Spanish by Anton Baer.


Leaving aside the short-sightedness of our political leaders, one of the most depressing aspects of the recent disasters in Europe is the indifference of citizens towards events. Naturally, they worry about the social and economic setbacks that could affect them, but there are no signs that Europe is, for Europeans, anything more than a currency that has entered the danger zone.

Hence, while some people are wondering what the collapse of the euro would mean, nobody seems bothered about the consequences that the end of the European dream will have on our civilisation – the true catastrophe that, if no remedy is forthcoming, we are facing.

The sinking ship syndrome is already dominating European politics and, driven by fear, the fiercer types of nationalism are returning. The closer to the gutter the journalism echoing the discontent, the greater the accusations. The worst is that citizens, by contagion or on their own initiative, have started hurling condemnations at each other.

The ultimate cause of the current drift is the very poverty of the spiritual perspective that has enveloped the construction of Europe in the second half of the twentieth century. True, the process chalked up some fine successes, such as the dismantling of borders and the acceptance of a common currency, but the courage and creativity needed to draft a truly stirring scenario was always missing.

If from an economic perspective Europe did come by a new prosperity after the Second World War, culturally it continued to be a defeated power that had lost its former hegemony. Max Ernst painted beautifully well the European defeat in Europe “après le déluge”. Over the years, Europe has recovered materially but not spiritually, such that the shattered landscape painted by Ernst has taken on a new symbolism in the half century of the Cold War and domination by America, a period in which Europeans were submerged in a gradual ceding of their cultural ground that has seen them lose almost all signs of their identities.

The construction of Europe has appealed more to the wallet than to the conscience. It is true that in the first years there were still first-class statesmen about. When these began to dwindle in number, the fragility of the civilising impetus in the European project became evident. Advances in communication and trade did not mean a decisive strengthening of the future idea of Europe: Europeans began to travel from one end of the continent to the other, and students even began to transfer among the most widely distant universities.

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