In the US, the Founding Fathers occupy a near-sacred place in the national myth and national consciousness – a glorious pantheon of visionaries who helped guide the divided States to their destiny as a greater whole.
In Europe, bar in a few highly europhile circles, there is no such glory attached to those who first came up with the idea of the European Community – bar, perhaps, the old anti-federalist bogeyman of Jean Monnet. But even his will be an unfamiliar name to most Europeans – let alone Sicco Mansholt, Joseph Bech, Alcide de Gasperi, Paul-Henri Spaak, or Count Richard Nikolaus von Coudenhove-Kalergi. As for the man who arguably did more than anyone bar Monnet to promote the vision of a unified Europe? Well, Winston Churchill is more often than not used as a figurehead of British opponents of the EU, despite having been one of the most fervent early advocates of a federal European political union.
Of course, as the EU has never had to declare independence from anyone and has singularly failed to come up with a binding constitution, it lacks the obvious father figures of the United States. But nonetheless, behind the scenes countless intellectuals and politicians have contributed to the idea of what Europe is, and what the EU should be for. Bronislaw Geremek, who died last week, was undoubtledly one such – prompting French euroblog Nouvelle Europe to ponder (with apologies for my poor translation):
The death of Bronislaw Geremek has touched many Europeans. At once a great intellectual and a freedom fighter, he embodied many of the values of the continent… but another possible reading is: Could Europe be in mourning for a generation that has not found its replacements?
…The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 helped Europeans discover that behind the Iron Curtain the great intellectual figures had dreamed of Europe, a Europe of freedom, a Europe revived with a breath of fresh air… You can not really say that this generation is that of re-founding Fathers, but it was at least one that sparked an awareness in Europe of our responsibilities towards the other half of the continent. While many elites in the West had taken enlargement for granted (without ever questioning, nor explain it), while the people had not always understood why it was happening, these dissident intellectuals have been advocates of a genuine project for European civilization.
…Today, this generation of dissident europhiles is leaving us little by little to make room for politicians more accustomed to the mechanics of European negotiation… Yet the challenges are no smaller than those that confronted the founding fathers: global warming and globalization, instead of Europe on the international scene. But the ambitions are overall lessened – and Europe still awaits a new generation of truly determined Europeans.
As I mentioned a few weeks back, Jurgen Habermas is still making some fascinating and insightful contributions to the debate over Europe’s future – but it’s getting tricky to think of many more political theorists and public intellectuals whose work may be able to serve as a starting point for future reforms and development (something that’s been worrying me for a while, as I noted last year when Jean Baudrillard died). Who are the great current theorists? Who are the people who, in fifty years’ time, we will be pointing to as those who showed us the way? Are we really stuck with the mediocrities we’ve currently got running things, or is there a new generation just on the cusp of making its mark? If so, any chance of pointing them out to me?