When, a decade ago, Slovenia was about to join the European Union, one of our Eurosceptics offered a sarcastic paraphrase of a Marx brothers joke about getting a lawyer: Do we, Slovenes, have troubles? Let us join the EU! We will have even more troubles, but we will have the EU to take care of them! This is how many Slovenes now perceive the EU: it brings some help, but it also brings new problems (regulations and fines, financial demands to help Greece, etc). So is the EU worth defending? The real question is, of course, which EU?
A century ago, Gilbert Keith Chesterton clearly deployed the fundamental deadlock of the critics of religion: “Men who begin to fight the church for the sake of freedom and humanity end by flinging away freedom and humanity if only they may fight the church … The secularists have not wrecked divine things; but the secularists have wrecked secular things, if that is any comfort to them.”The same holds true for the advocates of religion themselves. How many fanatical defenders of religion started out attacking secular culture and ended up forsaking any meaningful religious experience?
In a similar way, many liberal warriors are so eager to fight anti-democratic fundamentalism that they end up flinging away freedom and democracy themselves. If the “terrorists” are ready to wreck this world for love of another world, our warriors on terror are ready to wreck their own democratic world out of hatred for the Muslim other. Some of them love human dignity so much that they are even ready to legalise torture – the ultimate degradation of human dignity – to defend it.
‘The zealots are ready to forsake our Christian legacy’
And does the same not hold also for the recent rise of the defenders of Europe against the immigrant threat? In their zeal to protect the Judeo-Christian legacy, the new zealots are ready to forsake the true heart of the Christian legacy: that each individual has an immediate access to the universality of the Holy Spirit (or, today, of human rights and freedoms); that I can participate in this universal dimension directly, irrespective of my special place within the global social order. Christ’s “scandalous” words from Luke point in the direction of a universality which ignores every social hierarchy: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and his mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes even his own life – he cannot be my disciple” (14:26).
Family relations stand here for any particular ethnic or hierarchic social link that determines our place in the global order of things. The “hatred” enjoined by Christ is therefore not the opposite of Christian love, but its direct expression: it is love itself that enjoins us to “disconnect” from our organic community into which we were born, or, as St Paul put it, for a Christian, there are neither men nor women, neither Jews nor Greeks. No wonder that, for those fully identified with a particular way of life, the appearance of Christ was perceived as ridiculous or traumatic.
But the impasse of Europe reaches much deeper. The real problem is that the critics of the anti-immigrant wave, who should defend this precious core of the European legacy, instead tend to limit themselves to the endless ritual of confessing Europe’s own sins, of humbly accepting the limitations of the European legacy, and of celebrating the wealth of other cultures.
Our best lack conviction, our worst are full of hate
The famous lines from William Butler Yeats’s Second Coming render perfectly our present predicament: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” This is an excellent description of the current split between anaemic liberals and impassioned fundamentalists, Muslim as well as our own, Christian. “The best” are no longer able fully to engage, while “the worst” engage in racist, religious, sexist fanaticism. How can we break out of this deadlock?
A recent debate in Germany may indicate the way. Last October, the chancellor, Angela Merkel, declared at a meeting of young members of her conservative Christian Democratic Union: “This multicultural approach, saying that we simply live side by side and live happily with each other, has failed. Utterly failed.” With this, she was echoing the debate about Leitkultur (the dominant culture) from a couple of years ago, when conservatives insisted that every state was based on a predominant cultural space which the members of other cultures who live in the same space should respect.
Instead of bemoaning the newly emerging racist Europe, such statements announce, we should be self-critical, asking to what extent our own abstract multiculturalism contributed to this sad state of things. If all sides do not share or respect the same civility, then multiculturalism turns into legally regulated mutual ignorance or hatred. The conflict about multiculturalism already is one about Leitkultur: it is not a conflict between cultures, but between different visions of how different cultures can and should co-exist, about the rules and practices these cultures have to share if they are to co-exist.
Too tolerant, or not tolerant enough?
One should thus avoid getting caught in the liberal game of “how much tolerance can we afford”: should we tolerate it if they prevent their children going to state schools? If they force their women to dress in a certain way? If they arrange marriages or brutalise gay people? At this level, of course, we are never tolerant enough, or we are already too tolerant, neglecting the rights of women, gay people etc. The only way to break out of this deadlock is to propose and fight for a positive universal project shared by all participants. Struggles where “there are neither men nor women, neither Jews nor Greeks” are many, from ecology to the economy.
Some months ago, a small miracle happened in the occupied West Bank: Palestinian women who were demonstrating against the wall were joined by a group of Jewish lesbian women from Israel. The initial mutual mistrust was dispelled in the first confrontation with the Israeli soldiers guarding the wall, and a sublime solidarity developed, with a traditionally dressed Palestinian woman embracing a Jewish lesbian with spiked purple hair – a living symbol of what our struggle should be.
So, perhaps, the Slovenian Eurosceptic missed the point with his Marx brothers sarcasm. Instead of losing time with the costs and benefits analysis of our membership in the EU, we should focus on what the EU effectively stands for. Mostly, it acts as a regulator of global capitalist development; sometimes, it flirts with the conservative defence of its tradition. Both these paths lead to oblivion, to Europe’s marginalisation. The only way out of this debilitating deadlock is for Europe to resuscitate its legacy of radical and universal emancipation. The task is to move beyond mere tolerance of others to a positive emancipatory Leitkultur which can sustain authentic co-existence. Don’t just respect others, offer a common struggle, since our problems today are common.