DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Glucksmann, in light of the intellectual and existential experiences you had in the 20th century as an anti-totalitarian thinker, are you worried about Europe’s future?
André Glucksmann: I’ve never believed that all the dangers were averted after the end of fascism and communism. History doesn’t come to a standstill. Europe didn’t step out of (history) when the Iron Curtain disappeared, even if it has occasionally seemed to want to. Democracies tend to ignore or forget the tragic dimensions of history. In this sense, I would say: Yes, current developments are extremely unsettling.
DER SPIEGEL: Since its beginnings 60 years ago, the European community has almost always stumbled from one crisis to the next. Setbacks are part of its normal mode of operation.
André Glucksmann: A sense of crisis characterizes the modern European era. From it, one can draw the general conclusion that Europe actually isn’t a state or a community in the national sense, which grows together organically. It also can’t be compared with the ancient Greek city-states, which, despite their differences and rivalries, formed a single cultural unit.
DER SPIEGEL: European countries are also bound by shared cultural aspects. Is there such a thing as a European spirit?
André Glucksmann: European nations are not alike, which is why they can’t be merged together. What unites them is not a community but a societal model. There is a European civilization and a Western way of thinking.
DER SPIEGEL: What are its features?
André Glucksmann: Since the Greeks — from Socrates to Plato to Aristotle — Western philosophy has inherited two fundamental principles: Man is not the measure of all things, and he isn’t immune to failure and evil. Nevertheless, he is responsible for himself, and for everything he does or refrains from doing. The adventure of mankind is an uninterrupted human creation. God is not part of it.
DER SPIEGEL: Fallibility and freedom. But are these fundamental aspects of European intellectual history not enough to create a permanent political union?
André Glucksmann: Europe was never a national entity, not even in the Christian Middle Ages. Christianity always remained divided — the Romans, the Greeks and later the Protestants. A European federal state or European confederation is a distant goal that is frozen in the abstraction of the term. I think pursuing it is the wrong goal […].
From Mao to NATO
French philosopher and essayist André Glucksmann (b. 1937) first rose to prominence as a Maoist activist in the wake of May 1968. However, with the 1975 publication of La Cuisinière et le mangeur d’hommes [The Stove and the Man Eater] and Les Maîtres penseurs in 1977 (translated as “Master Thinkers” in 1980), he changed political camps to denounce Soviet totalitarianism and its supporters in the West. Along with Bernard-Henri Lévy, he is one of the leading lights of the “nouveaux philosophes”, a French intellectual movement that broke with Marxism in the 1970s.
Having led a campaign in support the Vietnamese boat people, he later went on to defend NATO, the Gulf War, intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina, NATO air strikes against Serbia and the invasion of Iraq — arguing that all of these initiatives were necessary for the protection of human rights.
His opposition to Vladimir Putin and commitment to the cause of Chechen independence led him to give his support to Nicolas Sarkozy in the 2007 French presidential election — a choice that he later regretted in the light of continued French “indulgence” of Russia.