Europe is in crisis. Europe is time and time again put in danger. David Cameron cynically brandishes the threat of organising a referendum in 2017 about the exit of his country from the European Union and the European Council of February next will no doubt be seized with the fall-out from this declaration. The buzz words for these Eurosceptics are the defence of national economic interests that the Brussels bureaucracy cannot apparently protect, the economic crisis, and insecurity. This Europe is not interesting – this is a fearful and demoralised Europe.
Observed from this angle, Europe is becoming the champion of populists who wave their little flags and sing the bawdy choruses of bucolic hymns of land and roots, linked to the fundamental essence of being born somewhere. The founding principles of Europe have nothing to do with these brash assumptions of national and regional affiliation. Europe is a very old idea that critically contains within it the capacity to shift identities, allowing it to open up to others.
Europe is reformed at the mercy of new social realities. Yet it precedes from a long process, firstly inspired by its Greek name, a name that means crossing and which evokes the great tragic myths of Sophocles. It was then reinforced through the centuries thanks to the contribution of Enlightenment thinkers like Rousseau, Diderot, Montesquieu, Nietzsche and Voltaire.
Europe changed after the Second World War by being based not upon the love of country and of race, but on the love of ideas, of tolerance, of democracy and of human rights. Finally, it is a symbol of the struggle and resistance against all forms of totalitarianism. It is the symbol of peace. This Europe is in danger and is exposed to populist discourse about origins and identity. To cope, we believe that resistance against these old demons can only be fully achieved by deepening our democratic practices in Europe, including strengthening the community method against the current predominance of European intergovernmentalism where the choices of the few are imposed upon the majority.
In addition, Europe should not only develop new institutional reforms, but must go beyond this by exploring other areas, including education and the promotion of a true humanistic culture. It must be remembered that the advent of new democratic practices also requires educational reforms.
Education as a tool for a new Europe
European education must therefore become a priority and be inspired by the values that guided those who themselves guided the genesis of Europe. For this, it is important to promote courses that take into account the history of this creation and the edifices intended by its founders Schuman, Adenauer, Churchill and Havel, and by its key thinkers Semprun and Hessel.
It is also important to remember that Europe of the post 1940-45 war years was born of a contract freely entered into upon power relations and the ties that bind us. Europe was born out of an act of will, of an act of understanding that decided to silence the clannish and ethnic spirit, and that of the mind and soul of the people (Volksgeist). It also engaged in favour of human rights and the primacy of the individual over those of the group. It stems from a passion for democracy and human rights.
Like this European vision, European pedagogical practices will need to be reformed to adopt these criteria of authority based upon the social contract. It will no longer refer to a dogmatic conception of authority, nor to a charismatic conception of commandment, but on a contractual conception of authority, of an educational philosophy based on contract and on social solidarity where the guiding principle is the guarantee and the promotion of the freedom of everyone. It is also about moving away from the pedagogy of the ‘model’ and of teaching empty mimicry and forming people into quantifiable things, to propose a pedagogy of the social contract and of the subject.
Europe has nothing to do with questions of identity; it is the locus of an a-communitarian community, which is both inorganic and insubstantial. It proposes a certain conception of coexistence founded on democratic values and on the respect of fundamental rights. This in no way means that we should deny the cultural, linguistic, and religious diversity that individuals hold since their early childhood. Every being has the right to respect for their history and Europe is diverse.
The question of ‘who am I?’ can also be considered by the additional question of us, of who we are and has to guarantee rights and freedoms to every individual to maintain links with their culture (be they linguistic or religious practices) but also the right to open up to other cultures. It is not therefore about assigning children to their communities and bolting them to their origins but is instead about offering children the opportunity to leave these cultural divides that forbid openness to others, that lock an individual into a culture and forbid them to love other cultures.
It is about offering school support measures that promote and support exchange, that abandon isolationism and that promote transculturalism and cultural diversity. It is about coming back to the essential, saying no to religious communitarianism and populism, but saying yes to the subject and to their autonomy. To saying no to the same sociological morality and conformity, but yes to singularity.
Finally, the 20th century was marked by the experience of totalitarianism (of Nazi, fascist and Bolshevik varieties). This deadly experience should lead us to question the educational systems that were and still are involved in this perverse dynamic. It raises the question of how to think about a European education capable of resisting the subversion of this totalitarian disease? This is the Europe that we wish to create, a Europe that also dares to think and develop a European education.
This article was originally published in La Libre.