Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Cultural premises for a future European Constitution by Hatto Fischer





Athens / Brussels 9.9.2002


Cultural Premises


"The only self-understanding existing, is that there is no self-understanding" - Th.W. Adorno

"We have to find the places of silence before the lyrical protest covers them up." - Michel Foucault

"If everything is left to the economy, it will drive out life – that is why Europe needs a conscious cultural policy and authenticity to overcome alienation"

- Michael D. Higgins



It has always been an expression of culture, that politics ought to be discussed not merely as use of power, but in terms of philosophical ideas transformed by politics into perspectives for mankind. Clearly the latter orientation has nothing to do with the Machiavellian concept of governance. The latter leads merely to abuse of power and leaves any hierarchical ordering within the system unchallenged.

There can also be no true optimism if the European ‘discours’, as Jean Marc Ferry would name it, does not take into consideration that sad aspect of a failed enlightenment. Derrida spoke about this in his ‘Fichus’ when he received the Adorno prize in 2001. There he traces the meanings of such words as ‘menschliche Wuerde’ – ‘human dignity’ – and other signs of failures. In the final end he comes to the poetic expression of Paul Celan who admits that there are no witnesses for the witnesses. Translated into actual terms, things said are better left to the ’imaginary witness of philosophy’ (Adorno), in order to realise what is going on in reality.

Such reflections as those of Derrida are about the tradition of reception of philosophical ideas, may they be now from Hegel, Marx, Heidegger, Nietzsche or Freud. They have to do with the question why most of these ideas lead to war, if remained unchecked? There is the famous letter by Einstein asking Freud, if he had any answer to ‘aggression’? He meant more than aggression a violence which explodes in yet another war and causes countless sufferings, senseless deaths and damages the ‘human soul’ almost beyond redemption.

For Europe, the lessons after Two World Wars have been bitter, yet since Kosovo and Afghanistan – the latter especially after the 11th of September events in New York and Washington – the brink of war, as exemplified currently by the discussion about Iraq, has been provoked by acts labelled as 'terrorism'. These latest developments have made Europe discard cultural consensus as basic decision making principle. Instead unification is now attempted from outside by having a common threat to security. It is translated primarily into means to ensure a rapid Security Force and a common foreign policy position rather than preserving the lessons learned after 1945. Yet if one refrain may hold for all, then the one by Louis Armstrong singing about ‘rhythms saved well’. It matters what is passed by melodies of songs onto the next generations.

One of the biggest criticisms of the Soviet Union was that there existed no regulated transition of power from one general secretary to the next. That should caution any joint effort by the European Union to establish such power holders that are not subject to the democratic rule i.e. no American president may serve more than two terms. Consequently CIED would like to remind in the debate about the future European Constitution that the very transition of power requires the guarantee of cultural continuity by democratic expression of the free will of the people. Without such a cultural dimension, itself a measure of governance and thereby an expression of the very democratic spirit by which it is pursued, any European constitution would be meaningless.

By bringing in cultural reflections, it means that ‘details’ matter: the question of a child, the glance of a mother or just a tree in the street. For culture is about belonging to concrete places and time while in contact with history. That makes structures necessary to bring about ‘cultural adaptation’ of the old to the new.  This cannot be realised without acknowledging what existed already, but such cultural heritage is not merely material substance (buildings, art works, heritage), but fore mostly immaterial: meanings living on in the memories of people.

As the saying goes, ‘your home is what people remember of you’, democratic life depends upon a differentiated, in depth viewpoint of the others while all identities are open to be challenged by the others. These structures will guarantee the continuity of the cultural diversity in Europe, provided such reflections about European active citizenship make possible institutions leading to such political practice that these many identities make up Europe’s self-understanding and recognition thereof. That means the very core of European citizenship has to be based on tolerance of cultural differences while the plurality of meaning of such terms as ‘European citizenship’ should become a part of the Charta of Basic Rights, in order to guarantee cultural freedom of everyone.

Since the European Union acts so far in a legal space defined by treaties between Member States while the Charta of Basic Rights has constituted the European meaning of integration, there is a need to pose the question whether a new constitution is wanted or just a synthesis of the Charta of Basic Rights and of the Maastricht treaty? By wishing to retain legal binding powers of the member states as nation states on a federal principle, as advocated by the European Convention under the presidency of Giscard D’Estaing, it would mean the citizen would still be refrained within the national legal system and therefore without any opportunity to address grievances directly to the European Union. That would mean the progressive element of the Charta of Basic Rights would no longer act as counter-balance to the powers of the Nation States vis-à-vis the people they claim as being their citizens while allowed to define legally and otherwise their policies towards non-European citizens. That leaves such re-constitutional synthesis, or the constitutional treaty in the making by  the European Convention short of any reform needed to ensure that the European Union has the full democratic legitimisation by all citizens.

All this is to say most crucial for the future of Europe is the cultural freedom to express oneself. As Martin Jay has put it, there is a difference between ‘artistic freedom of expression’ and the ‘freedom of expression’ as political right. On stage a Shakespeare play can let the actor say: “I shall kill you”, while on the street, in the house or in Parliament, freedom of expression has to be matched by political responsibility.

The European Convention has not taken notice of this need to ensure that the Right for Artistic Freedom of Expression ought not to be confused with the Right to express an personal opinion in pubic. To avoid such a confusion while retaining a sense for both Rights, there is a need to define the responsibilities of individuals, organizations, member states and of Europe as a whole.

After all the entire set-up must subscribe to the continuous task of safeguarding life. Born to be free is not the same as being born on the wild side. Rather as the discussion with Israelis points out, citizenship there as anywhere else cannot be linked solely to the place of birth. The freedom to belong to people must be as universal as culturally refined in order to understand what linkages exist between social and political Rights with artistic values and the freedom of cultural expressions acting as a bridge between these two very different entities.

Indeed, if the dialectic of securalization has to have a meaning in future, then it must include culture and not only religion as element of freedom. The individual experiences such a freedom when there is no single determination of how the state organization ought to be run.

Governance by the people of the people must be a part of the sustainable development that fails otherwise, if Human Rights become an antagonistic element for Cultural or Religious beliefs. As was the case in Johannesburg during the summit on World Sustainable Development, such a dispute can effectively prevent any kind of international agreement.

If so the case, then the sanctuary of peace and authenticity will be lost in a world succumbing only to the rule of arbitrary use of power: a factor that caused the French Revolution. Simply said, people cannot stand one thing, and that is of not knowing how they are governed.

In that sense responsibility is linked to the Right to Know, including how security is defined and what governments may not classify as secret information when it comes to defining security threats leading to legitimisation of going to war.

That this kind of problematization is very much needed after the 11th of September, that has been very well understood in Europe, but unfortunately not found its way into the discussions at all political levels, including that of the Council of Europe, the European Commission and European Parliament. It would be expected, however, that the European Convention takes up this matter.

However, it is said that Giscard D’Estaing is inspired by the founding fathers of the American Constitution, but the situation then is not the same as faced now by Europe altogether. There is no urge to free Europe from the tutelage of Britain although the United Kingdom has shown a reluctance to join Europe fully out of a fear to give up then its parliamentary self-understanding of sovereignty prevailing since the Habus Corpus of the 15th century when Britain freed itself from the tutelage of the Pope. In other words, while in the past novel and new constitutions were linked to an act of revolt and emancipation, this cannot be the case for Europe as a whole.

Instead Europe has tried to draw lessons of the last two World Wars by doing everything to make possible the working together in order to live together – a question posed by Frederique Chabaud, coordinator of EFAH upon sensing the problems of European integration and enlargement when travelling back from Belgrade to Venice. Obviously the entry of the new Member States will entail many new challenges but also opportunities to bring about a constitutional innovation if handled wisely and with practical wisdom. For then not a king or an act of terrorism will throw the states into new and frantic relationships, but the cultural consensus will prevail as the single most important truth in the matter.

It reminds of the departure from dogmatism during the phase of the Enlightenment as expressed by the philosopher Kant who said if the other does not understand what I am trying to say, then surely I have not understood what I am trying to say. It would mean freeing the other from the guilt or blaming game for not reaching such an accord that would have the quality of a cultural consensus. It would allow cultural reflections upon the self-understanding proposed before ever trying to impose it upon others.

There is a need for Europe to reflect upon this, for its history is full of false impositions and wrong conclusions as to what the others can understand, what not. Ulrich Sonnemann had already defined Germany as the country of the ‘unbegrenzte Zumutbarkeit’ – the country with unlimited imposition upon the others. It has taken Germany within the European context quite a long time to realize it was following a wrong self-understanding while demanding too much of the other(s) to understand.  At the same time, the fear to give up more has let to a state of inflexibility when it comes to coping with change.

Since 1968 Germany is trying hard to attain within Europe some new role, but consistency in cultural terms comes only by freeing the cultural self-understanding from both the provincial and national forms of radicalism: a form of denial or negation of the others, if felt to be in the Right! Such automatic reflexes to law taken as being absolute despite excluding completely the other do not take any longer into account that the other is still a human being and has to be respected as such.

Derrida is, therefore, quite on the pulse when he reflects upon the term ‘Menschenwuerde’ – human dignity – that the German constitution attempts to safeguard, but is not able to do so because during the German re-unification the opportunity was missed to draw up finally such a constitution that is based on the cultural consensus of everyone and hence not imposed from above, but created truly out of the free spirit of everyone in the wish to recognise the others as human beings with equal Rights.

The missing element is thus not ‘dignity’, but rather the wrong kind of self-understanding still prevailing under conditions of impositions from above. The same mistake ought not to be repeated by the European Convention when it comes to drawing up the European constitution. There is no war, no necessity forcing the write-up of the constitution, justifying in any way an imposition from above and therefore a loss of true sovereignty. Rather Europe has the free will to create its own constitution according to the best possible knowledge as presented already during the preliminary hearings of the European Convention. Out of such debates in need of being opened up still further to reach out to everyone a cultural consensus with everyone in terms of everyone else can be created.

Only then will the future European constitution be something that can be sustained culturally over time. In such a constitution the people of Europe will recognise themselves as belonging to Europe without thereby making their borders absolute with regards to others.

Such a constitution will have to define responsibilities of the individual in terms of a variation of John F. Kennedy’s challenge, ‘don’t ask what Europe can do for you, rather answer what you can do for Europe’. If anything,

^ Top

« Cultural Diversity and Sustainability by Jesse Marsh | Cultural moralia by Hatto Fischer »