Few days ago, the popular ‘Der Spiegel’ from Germany posted on its web site – also in the English language section – an interesting essay named ‘Viva la siesta. Should Southern Europe Really Be More German?’ Beyond its content, which makes an overview in principles of the acting lines of thinking in Germany regarding the euro crisis and its solutions, it is worth mentioning the author’s conclusion about the future of Europe: “Agamben’s popular call to defend Latin culture has a real background that would be foolish to ignore. Perhaps we should warm to the idea that the Spanish kings, in the days of the Fuggers, chose a solution that wasn’t half bad: They did not repay their debts.” He is right about the irresistible impulse to defend the Latin culture which is developing in Europe, as immediately demonstrated by the comments posted by readers from Spain, Portugal, Italy or France, who invite the German essayist to obtain more accurate information.
But who is Agamben ad what is this ‘popular call’ he mentions?
Giorgio Agamben is an Italian philosopher who, on March 15 this year, published an essay in ‘La Republica’, recently rerun by the French daily ‘Liberation’. Borrowing an idea that circulated in 1045 in the French ruling circles – the foreign policy ‘doctrine’, as he called it in a memo submitted to General De Gaulle, the head of the government at that time, the Russian-French philosopher A. Kojeve – Agamben presents in his essay the possibility that, in front of a Germany that dominates Europe today, ‘the Latin empire’ gets founded in the center of the continent in order to preserve the necessary balance of power. His theses are certainly a reiteration of those enounced by Kojeve. If the latter mentioned the fact that, faced with a protestant Germany, the catholic powers led by France – namely Spain and Italy – must form the ‘Latin empire’ in order to face both Germany and the Anglo-Saxon and Soviet empires, Agamben thinks differently. He affirms that: “Not only is there no sense in asking a Greek or an Italian to live like a German but even if this were possible, it would lead to the destruction of a cultural heritage that exists as a way of life. A political unit that prefers to ignore lifestyles is not only condemned not to last, but, as Europe has eloquently shown, it cannot even establish itself as such.” The current crisis thus reveals that uniformity at continental scale in economic terms will rapidly translate into a destruction of the traditional consecrated way of living of the southern states, not so wealthy economically, and the EU will thus disappear. In order to counter this alternative and maintain the EU it is thus necessary to create ‘the Latin empire’ with the purpose of resisting the uniformity-inducing pressure of the North and maintaining the identity of the South – the cultural one, in the first place – and thus the unity of the continent.
The readers’ comments – almost 500 of them recorded by ‘Presseurop’, which reruns the most popular articles offering them in 10 important European languages – give the measure of the realism of this idea of the Latin empire. The opinions go from one extreme to another – an Italian writes that this is a good idea “for the last century” because today “the world is radically different. Europe has no other destiny than the political and economic unity – , and a Spaniard says that “Necesitamos un nuevo Trajano /…/ para doblegar a los barbaros del norte.” Without going into details and trying to evaluate the respective comments as providing a real European opinion poll – which is not the case – I will stop at quoting few – I repeat, just few – of the ideas expressed by these readers regarding the ‘Latin empire.’
One can notice that the majority of comments are made in the mirror of the opinion that prevails in the respective member states with regard to the deep financial crisis of Europe, which showed that the wealth of Germany and of other Nordic states was necessary to save several European economies from running bankrupt. The Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese, for instance, do not hesitate to exonerate their own states and political elites for the situation at home, blaming it on other factors, like the cupidity of German and French banks – something that is often mentioned in the context. On the other hand, German posters answer to those who advocate the cultural identity of their societies – especially those from southern states – that this must not be done with someone else’s money (from Germany and other Nordic states). Some posters do not rule out the impossibility of reaching a political European unity given the wide cultural diversity – an argument often mentioned by Brit posters – based on the logical idea of historically inherited significant differences, hence difficult to overcome in a short time interval, the idea of a ‘Europe with several speeds’ – protestant, catholic, orthodox. The posters from southern states express their confidence in the capacity of their respective nations to overcome the present impasse, while those from the north – mostly Germans – are even advocating a division of Europe instead of a unity whose costs are sustained only be few. A significant number of readers consider the idea of a ‘Latin empire’ based on ethnicity as a racist idea and manifest their confidence that the European unity will be attained and will avoid such skidding. An English poster comments: “Europe has a cultural unity transcending the proposed new ‘imperial’ boundaries, which are frankly ludicrous. On the other hand, we /are/ seeing the return of old stereotypes—they are as silly today as they were in the past.” Another reader, also from England, writes: “Us vs. them mentality is not a true philosophy, Latin or otherwise.
The institutions in the EU need to both evolve and reform /…/.Since the idea of a new Latin empire is based on race it has to be placed along side other xenophobic political movements of the day, such as The Northern League in Italy and the Front National in France, both of which identify their home regions as culturally superior to others.” Meanwhile a French reader lashes out at such ideas: “By the way, this kind of messages shows enough how idiot it is to bring an ethnic argument to justify a political setting. We need democratic sovereignty and legitimate institutions, not a cultural mishmash between peoples supposed to share some common features from a very superficial point of view.”
As far as the future of the EU is concerned, a German affirms that “there is no miracle solution” to the present crisis. It is also our opinion that a joint European effort, transparent and visionary, meant to deal with the current challenges amplified by an unforgiving globalisation, will identify a solution that will preserve for the united Europe the role it deserves in the planetary evolution.