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Lecture 11_European Identity(3)

Update June 2, 2020



  • Models of European Identity

  • What more than 30 years of Eurobarometer tells about European Identity (partially finished, ongoing analysis)


1. Summary of 'Models of European Identity'

Reading material: The following material is based on a paper Presented by Gerard Delanty to the 13th International Conference of Europeanists


Models of European Identity: 

Reconciling Universalism and Particularism

The paper offers an analysis of the four main conceptions of European identity, which can be termed: moral universalism, postnational universalism, cultural particularism and pragmatism. The first three of these models can be analysed in terms of an emphasis either on universalism or on particularism. In this paper it is argued that these three models suffer from an excessive concern with either 'thin' univeralistic conceptions of identity or with 'thick' particularistic identities and that the fourth possibility does not offer a satisfactory alternative. What is neglected in all four models is the potential for pluralization that is expressed in an alternative model of European identity. The paper offers a defense of this in terms of a pluralized cosmopolitan European identity.



European identity presents a dilemma: how can it be constructed in a way that does not reduce it to a minimal set of values (and which are not specifically European but 'Western' and or even universal) or make it 'thick' and thus exclusive of much that is de facto European in terms of actual practices of life.  Given the choice of a 'thin' versus a 'thick' definition of identity, it would appear that the former is more desirable.  Thick identities tend to be exclusive and often coded in terms of adversity. Thin identities on the whole do not stress divisive relations of self and other. The result however might be a culturally neutral kind of European identity that is not able to offer an alternative or resistance to thick form of identities, such as xenophobic and racist identities. The question, then, is can European identity be conceived in terms of a culturally thick identity that is also inclusive and having a capacity for pluralization? Another way of putting this is to find a way of avoiding --- or at least reconciling --- thick particularistic identities as well as thin universalistic ones. Especially in the context of the eastern enlargment of the European Union such considerations are very important at the present time.

There are four existing positions, which can be termed as follows: moral universalism, postnational universalism, cultural particularism and pragmatism. In the following analysis, I outline and critically assess the relative merits of each of these with respect to the problem of reconciling the dilemma of universalism versus particularism. Arguing that none of these models provides an adequate theorization of European identity, I argue for an alternative conception, which I call cosmopolitan. I put forward the argument that this model not only offers a theoretical alternative to the other models in reconciling universalism and particularism, but also corresponds to an empirical reality. The notion of cosmopolitanism that is used here makes explicit its dual components, the universal order of the 'cosmos' and the particular order of the 'polis'.  Cosmopolitanism, I argue, has a universalistic moment as well as a particularistic one. One of the tasks of a European identity is to express this double structure.


Model 1: Moral Universalism

The first model is a definition of European identity in terms of universal human values, such as those of human rights, humanitarianism or a notion of justice. In this conception, Europe is based on moral values, which in general can be associated with the liberal, democratic heritage of moral universalism. There is an implicit assumption in many debates on European integration that Europe is based on democratic values, respect for the person, toleration of difference and moderation in politics. Robert Schuman, for instance, saw one of the early treaties that led to the later EEC, The Treaty of Paris (1951), as a continuation of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789) (Burgess, 2000, p. 431). Another example of this understanding of Europe might be the vision of Europe in the Council of Europe, with its very broad conception of Europe. More recently the 'Charta of European Identity' expresses such a geneneral understanding of Europe as based on on the values of 'tolerance, humanity and fraternity' which became the foundation of democracy.  'The Charta' also looks to the 1950 Convention on Human Rights and the (1989) EC Charter of Fundamental Social Rights along with the wider notion of EU citizenship as the most important expressions of this universalistic kind of identity. This universalistic understanding of Europe is clearly popular with European Union representatives, as is clear from Romano Prodi recent book on Europe (Prodi, 2000).

In classical sociology, Max Weber's famous opening words to The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism are also representative of this universalistic view of Europe:
A product of modern European civilization, studying any problem of universal history, is bound to ask himself to what combination of circumstances the fact should be attributed than in western civilization, and in western civilization only, cultural phenomena have appeared which (as we like to think) lie in a line of development having universal significance (Weber, 1978 [1904/05], p. 13)

The advantages with this 'thin' definition of Europe are obvious: it is relatively flexible and compatible with national identities. But the problem with this model of European is that the values it appeals to are not specifically European. They are more 'western' than European, and are also in a sense genuinely universal in the sense of being found to varying degrees in all human cultures. This universalistic conception of the European has little cultural content or no explicit political content other than a general endorsement of liberal, democratic values. It is a weak model, based on a very thin concept of identity. This model of identity is not relevant to integration or pluralization since it is too general and does not take a specific institutional form. Moreover, it is open to the charge of being eurocentric, the view that universalistic ideas are those of European civilization (see Chakrabarty, 2000).


Model 2: European postnational Universalism

The   second  model is to  define  European  values  less in  universalistic   terms than in a qualified universalism, a particularization of the universal. In this view, European identity is expressed in political-juridical norms and institutions but in a way that never reduces them to the concrete institutional level. An example of this more critical view of Europe is Habermas's concept of 'constitutional patriotism' (Habermas, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001). While basically sharing the universalistic moral idea of human rights, it focuses identity on specific institutional and cognitive achievements of the European heritage, such as the constitution. Like the first model, it is also a fairly thin concept of identity, but one that adds to the purely moral, a legal dimension which gives it more substance. However, it is also culturally neutral, since the whole point of it is to neutralize culture. According to Habermas, culture, especially when it takes an ethnic or a particularistic form, is divisive.

The disadvantage with this is that it is also a minimal identity of form rather than of content in that it expresses only a common denominator. It cannot easily be transferred to the postcommunist societies, coming as it does from the constitutional tradition. It also presupposes relatively stable political structures and the absence of basic struggles of over cultural identity (Delanty, 1997a). Moreover, it cannot be so easly applied to the EU, since the constitutional tradition has been based on the nation-state and the EU is neither a state nor a nation, or even a nation-state. It is also questionable than a constitution can be a basis for collective identities. Yet, it clearly offers an alternative to purely institutional designs. Although this conception of European identity is focused on the constitution, it otherwise does not have a specific institutional dimension. For Habermas, a postnational identity also expresses the culture of critique and reflexivity that is inherent in modernity. It is also an explicitly universalistic position in the qualified sense of the universalism of critique and communication as opposed to substantive values. According to Habermas, only such a limited universalism is possible today, given the reality of multicultural and, in the German context, the discrediting of historical narratives of legitimation. Nevertheless, the main concern of constitutional patriotism in its original formulation is law, which Habermas sees as discursively shaped and thus linked to democracy. For this reason, this model of European identity can be linked to the 'civic' tradition, as opposed to the liberal or purely communitarian traditions.


Model 3: A European Cultural Particularism

The third model is a thick  cultural  identity in which universalism is  compromised   for particularism. While the first model is one based on morality, the second on law, this model is based on the primacy of culture. In this model, cultural heritage is the basis of European identity. Typically, as is illustrated in the European federalist tradition and in certain kinds of Euro-nationalism, identity is a matter of culture, and generally the 'high' culture of 'civilization' as opposed to the 'low' or popular culture, such as national and regional culture. Most of the famous philosophical and literary conceptions of European identity --- Max Scheler, Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl, Daniel de Rougement, T. S. Eliot, Paul Valery, Karl Jaspers - have appealed to this sense of Europe as the expression of a spiritual idea that underlying the diversity of Europe is a higher point of unity. Unlike the other conceptions of European identity this is clearly a thick identity. But it has many problems. To begin with there is the basic confusion of identity with an 'idea' or even with a 'collective representation'.

Defining European identity as one shaped by the Greek, Roman, (Latin) Christian culminating in the Enlightenment, results in an exclusive Europe, as the western, secular heritage. The place of Orthodox, Islamic traditions is uncertain, if not marginalized or excluded. This way of defining Europe has been very prevalent in the EU, which has a strong Catholic basis to it (see Holmes, 2000). It offers a thick cultural identity, but at a price. It is also one that is hardly relevant to the global popular cultures of Europe, and is also often anti-American. Until now it has been one of the cultural legitimations for the building of a 'Fortress Europe' and a central part of the official ideology of the elites of the EU.  It has been especially attractive to Euro-federalists, and reflects a communitarian conception of identity. The absence of culture is often taken to be a symptom of a crisis in values. Thus what is demanded is more culture, or rather a civilization notion of European culture, as in Husserl's essay 'Philosophy and the Crisis of European Humanity' (Husserl, 1965 [1935]).

There is some evidence to suggest that this idea of European identity as 'unity in diversity' is abating. The Declaration European identity of 1973, signed in Copenhagen by the then nine member states, referred to the 'diversity of  cultures' in the plural and to a 'common European civilization' based on a 'common heritage' and 'coverging' attitudes and ways of life. The declaration strongly emphasized the notion of 'Identity' with a capital 'I' as an official identity --- 'The European identity' - to define the political structure of the then EEC in its relation with the external world.   The idea of European 'civilization' is totally absent from the Maastricht treaty --- although there is some mention of a 'common cultural heritage' - and there has been no attempt to define a 'European Identity' comparable to the 1973 declaration. It would appear that nothing has been substituted in its place and as a result there is no means of reconcilling particularism and universalism in a new synthesis. Inadequate as it was --- an unambivalently functional and official identity - the notion of 'European civilization' served to provide a point of unity for the diversity of cultures and for the unity of high and low cultures. The notion of civilization has been seen as too ethnocentric and with resonances of cultural superiority, it has been dropped in favour of a general endorsement of 'cultures'. In saying that nothing has been substituted in place of this older notion of European civilization and its ideological conception of 'the European Identity', some qualification is necessary: the notion of 'European cultural identity' is coming more and more into focus, presenting a possible challenge to the notion of integration.


Model 4: A European People?: European Pragmatism

This model looks for the source of the specifically European in a distinctively European 'way of  life'. It differs from the cultural model in that is based less on the cultural than on the economic and social aspects of life. A certain pragmatism underlies it. Thus rather than look for the distinctively European on the level of high or elite culture, it is manifest in institutions and the practices of life, as well as in popular cultures . For instance the growth of internal tourism with Europe, the common market, the absence of border controls is often seen as opening up a space for stronger links between national cultures, and thus of a European identity. This kind of a popular Europe based on purely pragmatic concerns avoids the problems of universalism and particularism of the other models.  There is no commitment to a normative or purely moral sense of identity, which at the most may rest on symbolic cultural forms that do not require explicit commitment. It also suggests a thicker kind of identity that is to a degree pragmatic, defined in the actual practice of ways of life rather than in the normative appeal of an idea. The Euro might be one such example of something that can be gradually accomodated on the basis of partial continuity of ways of life and in the absence of complete disruption to established practices. In the coming years it will be an important symbolic marker of a collective identity that is otherwise pragmatic. Other expressions of a pragmatic people's Europe is democracy and civil society. In the absence of a European elite, comparable to national elites who have traditionally defined national identity, European identity is in a sense more democratic.

The disadvantage with this pragmatic 'people's Europe' as a model for European identity is that it lacks the critical transformative moment of the second model, and is too institutional. In many respects it is largely indistinguishable from global American culture, although there is a sense in which it might be compared to national identities in Europe in the post World War 11 period. There is no common Europe language, one of the major obstacles for a genuine European identity. Popular music, sport, tourism, the Euro, are possible expressions of this new kind of Europe, but it is one  that is largely shaped by consumer capitalism.  The model of integration in it is relatively low, though not as low as in the others, and it has not been based on a commitment to a social Europe as such. This 'people's Europe' in fact has very much the signs of a bureaucratic enterprise. In fact, a European identity is probably more likely to be found in the new Euro-elites than in the wider populace. However, as a concretely existing model of European identity it can hardly be denied.


The Limits of European Identity

Clearly Europe cannot be defined by territory. There are no clear geographical markers, especially on its eastern boundaries. Boundaries of west, centre and east have shifted many times in European history to make the exercise meaningless (Delanty, 1995a, 1996a; Fontana, 1995). The first and third models of European identity discussed in the foregoing analysis have presupposed a certain geographical reference point for Europe. In appealing to cultural models a problem of a different order is created: European identity becomes drawn into either universalistic or into particularistic codifications.

Is a European cultural identity possible that is thick enough to be a source of integration; or are all thick identities necessarily exclusive?  Many critics --- for instance Anthony Smith (1992, 1995), Grimm (1997) --- have come to the conclusion that there can be no European identity of any substance, save perhaps for the very minimal commitment to a common concern with morality, as in the first model. Varying from conservative to liberal á la carte views on collective identity, the general oppositional position is that Europe consists of a plurality of cultural forms and that a European identity is either impossible or must be no more than the recognition of diversity. Thus, even the liberal, pluralist position is ultimately one of particularism. In the republican varient of this --- represented by, for instance, J.G.A. Pocock (1997, 1999) --- an alternative reading of European history will only reveal different national models and not a unified European narrative.
Rejecting moral universalism and cultural particularism as inappropriate, the second model with its emphasis on law offers a possible alternative, but at the cost of being culturally too thin. The fourth model is more promising in that it is more inclusive than the others, but is not rooted in a thick identity that will make it inclusive enough to compete with nationalist models. Of these four models, in my view the second and the fourth are the most promising. The first is too universalistic and the third too particularistic.

In the following, my proposal is to combine the second and fourth models in the articulation of an alternative conception of European identity. What these models share is a certain kind of openness that is consistent with cultural pluralization and reflexivity as well as the avoidance of an affirmative stance. While this is more explicit in the postnational position, it is also potentially present in the pragmatic position. In both positions the preoccupation with either universalism and particularism is dimished, allowing for possible reconcillation. In Figure One below these positions and their attitudes to  Europe are summarized.
It can also be seen from the diagram that these models can be conceived in terms of their cultural forms as entailing a normative, symbolic, critical or pragmatic concept of Europe.

Figure 1  Models of European Identity


Towards an Alternative Conception of European Identity: European Cosmopolitanism

An alternative conception of European identity is one that addresses the cosmopolitan heritage in Europe. This is not essentialistic, as in the second model, but more hermeneutic. Rather than look for a common transEuropean cultural heritage that is shared, it might be made sense to define European identity in terms of its conflicts, traumas and fears which have ranged from religious conflict to class and national conflicts to a new era of multicultural conflicts over cultural rights and anti-globalization conflicts today (Cerutti, 1992; Eder, 2001; Schlesinger, 1992; Tarrow, 1995).
One of the features of European history has been the constant negotiation of difference; the existence of borderlands; the reinvention of the past (Balibar, 1998). To make a virtue out of this seems a viable solution to the problems that have beset European cultural identity (see Bodie, 1995). Culture need not be excluded in favour of a memory-less identity or one that is minimal to the point of being meaningless. An example of this reintroduction of a cosmopolitan culture, might be in the 'Europeanization' of the holocaust as a European memory and not a nationally specific one. As the holocaust loses its national particularity, it becomes more and more a European memory (see Levy and Sznaider, 2001; 2002). An example of this deterritorialzation and recodification of the holocaust as a European memory might be the Intergovermental Conference on the Holocaust in Stockholm in January 2000. As memory ceases to be sustained by particular social and national groups and becomes more and more mediated by culture under the conditions of globalization, it also becomes more open to new readings.  Other examples might be SOS against racism, the emergence of a European ecological consciousness and the formation of specifially European discourses that all take Europe as their reference point.

In this view, European identity is not an expression of a shared culture but a recognition of difference consisting of the ability to see the other within the self and oneself as other (Derrida, 1992; Gadamer, 1992; Ricouer, 1994). There is thus no reason why memory cannot be subject to the same contestation as other aspects of culture.

European identity is more one of 'polyvocality' than universalism or a common cultural heritage that has survived as a legitimating ideology. If it is to compete with nationalism and xenophobic sentiments, Europe needs cultural reference points, but not essentialistic ones. Thus rather than separate the cultural from the political, to see the political in the cultural should be the aim. In order for this to become a real alternative, it will need to be more than a soft-interculturalism with token cosmopolitan values. Education can play a role in this, as can popular culture and tourism. However the conception of collective identity that is suggested here is a strong one, entailing a commitment to strategies of anti-racism, the overcoming of symbolic forms of violence and the inclusion of marginal voices. This suggests a more discursive kind of identity, which might involve empowering marginal groups. In order to resist xenophobia, such discursive forms of identity building need to be devised. Looking at European identity in this way moves the debate beyond the level of symbolic realities to a more communicative conception of identity.

Such cultural encounters must be on local and national levels, and not exclusively on the transnational level. Cities are thus important cites of European identity (Delanty, 2000b, Sassateli, 2002). With the emergence of a European public sphere, a space already exists in which European identity corresponds to something real. There is an undeniably growing European public sphere, measured in terms of growing links, discourses, and transational spaces (Eder, 2000).

Despite the apparent resilience of nationalism in Europe today, the reality is that national identity is not a primary identity. It must compete with more and more identities. National cultures have become pluralized as a result of multiculturalism, migration, globalization, social movements, changes in the class structure and in gender relations. They are no longer homogeneous. They same applies to European identity, which cannot be conceived of as another version of nationalism just written larger. European identity must be seen as an expression of the growing reflexivity within European collective identities. This notion of cosmopolitan European identity can be seen too in terms of the second and forth models discussed above, that is as reflexive postnational consciousness and one that is embodied in the actual social practices of contemporary European societies.

With respect to the question of universalism and particularism, a cosmopolitan European identity can be conceptualized as an expression of the conflicts in European history. Where national identity is about the 'forgetting of history', European identity might be about memory, the remembering of history. It is also a cautious reminder of the dangers of identity. This suggests the possibility of making non-identity, a feature of all identity construction, be it personal or collective, becoming a more central aspect of identity. We need to rescue it and give it a more prominent place in European culture in order to protect European societies from the often violence logic of identity and the rule of the self. Rather than seeing the other as a kind of non-self, who needs to be subjugated, or even to seeing the self in the other, who must be eradicated, or cleansed, to use a contemporary metaphor, we need to see the other in the self, the self as constituted in relations of difference.



The argument is that an important dimension of Europeanization is that of cultural pluralization. Given the diversity and contestability of cultural identities, Europeanization is likely to succeed only if it creates an ethos of pluralization rather than one of cohesion. Only in this way can the dilemmas of universalism and particularism be reconciled. With the gradual enlargement of the European Union to include up to 27 members, only such a vision of European identity will be relevant to a very culturally diverse Europe. The mistake is to see identity as something that binds people together in a simple mechanistic way. Identities are based on the projects of social actors and entail conflicts of many kinds. Culture --- including historical memories --- is not just a resource in these struggles but is also actively produced in identity politics. For this reason, European identity must be conceived in terms of a more active model of culture. In this view, European identity is not an already existing identity, the property of the fiction of a 'European people', but a more diffuse and open ended process of cultural and institutional experimentation.





2. What more than 30 years of Eurobarometer tells about European Identity (partially finished, ongoing analysis)


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