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Start Ten years on from the crisis: writing the future of Europe (II)
03 December 2018

Ten years on from the crisis: writing the future of Europe (II)

Europe | Foreign Policy | International Relations | Politics | Populism
Estimated reading time Time 5 to read

As concluded in the previous article in this series, it is not too late for a change of pace: all that is required is audacity and political will. In my opinion, a purely economic and political response cannot work without conceptualizing the aesthetic and cognitive aspects that contribute to the re-tribalization fiction (Bartlett, 2018). One of the main institutional errors committed in Europe has been to avoid the huge aesthetic and emotional appeal of getting involved in the heroic and epic tales of revolutionary people standing up to the intimate enemy, self-representing themselves as the nuclear center of public life and self-proclaiming themselves as the driving force of historical processes (European Commission White Paper, 2017).

The tribalized theologization of the imagined community that citizens join physically or virtually creates a powerful cultural narrative allowing us to predict how people will react psychologically and emotionally (Barlett, 2018). It only takes a handful of the four master tropes -metaphors, synecdoches, metonymies and ironies- (Pujante, 2017) on which the German national-socialist movement is based to stir up the authoritarian populist inside us all (Wodak, 2015; Musolff, 2016a, 2016b, 2016c; 2017). Researchers studying social networks and political mobilization in terms of their psychological mechanisms have explained it clearly: we are all potential social actors who, in the right circumstances, can become actively engaged in the public sphere as populists, xenophobes, supremacists, nativists or authoritarians (Mudde 2017a, 2017b; Wodak, 2015; Rensmann, 2017). Some metaphors come back, for example the ‘other side’ steals from us, and others are revisited, like the ‘fortress nation-state” (Wodak, 2015; Rensmann, 2017).

This narrative works on other levels beyond the war of words between the Nation-State and European Union/Globalization. It also works within the nation-states themselves in which the old and new imagined communities make up their own convenient stories. There will always be a group who think that the welfare state has been snatched away by an outside force and that it is their mission -almost a religious crusade- to recover it.

All is not lost. We become part of those fictions we create to relate with the rest of the members of our society (Damasio, 2018; Lakoff, 1980a, 1980b, 1990, 1992; Valdivia, 2017a, 2017b). Our societies depend on the dark matter of the cultural narratives that we adopt. The situation requires audacity, talent and leadership in decision-making. The auditing of EU accounts must not be put off again and neither must the creation of specific measures to redistribute surpluses, but, above all, the national-supremacist fiction must be dismantled and replaced by another fundamental fiction where the metaphor of competition between member states, which has underpinned politics over the last twenty years, is replaced by metaphors of solidarity and justice (Wodak, 2015; Musolff, 2017; Valdivia, 2017b). As long as the proposed solutions are based on economic figures and technocratic references, Europe will continue to make mistakes. Creating a cultural narrative that includes and does not exclude (Sassen, 2014) while developing specific policies for social change around it is a difficult feat because -fundamentally and put succinctly- I believe there is an imperious need to build a new citizenship for Europe (Castells, 2018). That citizenship can only be achieved by stabilizing a set of conditions and guarantees -both material and symbolic- ranging from educating the people from a sentimental, moral and intellectual point of view through to creating a European passport and constitution that does not fail like the Lisbon treaty.

Values education is essential for the survival of the Union. Image: Borgen.

If we adopt the principle that when we stop educating citizens -thereby insisting on producing spreadsheet figures rather than focusing on humanistic training- our societies become more vulnerable to self-absorption in a new re-tribalized egocentrism (Barlett, 2018), only then will we understand the pressing need to create a new pan-European ‘Free Educational Institution’ formed by a kind of network of universities that bring together democratic principles of public service and empowerment of the people. Unfortunately, the Humanities have self-excluded themselves and have also been excluded from discussions over European social-economic and political-emotional structures (Cardoso et al., 2018). The paradigm of extremism these days is largely the result of the institutional neo-liberal approach to privatization of the here and now (Alston, 2017).

The Humanities need time. Educating citizens also takes time. Creating financialized consumers does not. Let us not be deceived. Strictly speaking nothing is inevitable in social, cultural and administrative engineering. We reap the consequences of making some decisions but not others. That is why a Europe with a future can only move forward with the solutions that were created by those same revamped institutions that caused the problem in the first place. Political-economic solutions will not succeed without addressing cultural and narrative imbalances. The institutions are not alone. The have a powerful ally to which they can turn to write a new democratic, constitutionalist, feminist and fair narrative for Europe: the new Humanities have risen and are here to help.


Pablo Valdivia

Director of the National School for Literary Studies of the Netherlands

University of Groningen (the Netherlands)




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