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Derridean Europe from Pakistan

Ruminations of Jacques Derrida (on Europe) understood by a Pakistani

The Idea of Europe has failed!

Europe has been engulfed politically and intellectually with one question –has the idea of Europe failed? One unified Idea of Europe was a consolation post WWII world and an achievement of “democratic world” post the fall of Berlin wall. But is it so… the Brexit conundrum shows there are more countries to follow Britain  in leaving EU.

Was a combined effort to use coal and steel an Idea of Europe? It was just that an economical deal but till there is a constant debate of ‘idea of Europe,’ falling apart before our eyes. The point is: it has always been an imposed idea of Europe through centuries. Europe is multiple identities says Guardian,

Let’s give up compressing Europe into a single story. Rather than clinging to nostalgic linear narratives that imply a pre-established unity (“one” heritage, “one” history, “one” memory), let’s recover memories that are polyphonic.

Europe deems itself an offspring of great civilization like Greece and Rome. And an idea of Europe finds a basis there. Does it?

Earlier Times to Late 16th Century

The idea of Europe has its unique scholarship. With books and programs dedicated in furthering it. But Europe cannot even be defined in a stationery border.  The malleability of Europe is mentioned by Herodotus who said that Europe cannot be distinguished by any borders, it is always hard to distinguish where Asia ends, Europe starts and Europe ends and where Africa starts.

But still, Greeks are the freest most emancipated people –for Herodotus- as they have to only abide by law while Asians have to abide by the rule of dictator. For Isocrates one is never a Hellene because of his race but because of education and his obedience to laws.

Aristotle thought that the goal of eudemonia can only be achieved by living like a Greek and Greece enacted “perfect communities” of individuals with distinct nature living in an auto governed place.

The European identity of us against them started from the very beginning with assimilation of Asian heritage. In Greek mythology Europa was a Phoenician woman kidnapped by God Zeus shaped as a bull; which was altered by Lacantius, into a story that Europa was an Asian woman abducted by Cretans travelling a bull ship.  Europeans are Asians’ enemy because they took away their woman. In response the Trojans kidnapped a European woman named Helen who was Menelaus’ spouse. This angered Menelaus brother Agamemnon who fought against Asians using huge army. This has set the tone for later civilizations which began with fights between Asia and Europe. After Trojans there was Europeans’ rivalry with Phoenicians then Ottoman Turks and now Europeans enmity with Russians is no secret.

Virgil related to the fight of Trojans and Troy and said that the Gods took sides in the war and they wanted it to finish. So Juno allowed the marriage of Asian woman and European man. And there came a new kind of offspring who was allowed to look like Latin while their Asian linkage would only be asserted by gods because the gods of Asians are actually the gods of all mankind.

Strabo talked highly of the Europeans who were diversified in nature and extolled in excellence of governance. According to this Greek Geographer there are two dominant forms one very peaceful and other warriors. He highlighted that peaceful people were a majority so they kept a balance.

Greeks ≠ Europeans

Although Husserl propagated that Europe rises from the philosophical bastions of Greece. There is evidence that Greece never thought so. Margaret Heller highlighted that in the times of Persian wars the Greeks considered themselves at the middle of two sides of the Asians (the polite barbarians) and Europeans (the harsh barbarians) and Greeks were on the middle. Aristotle articulated that the people who live in colder climates (Europeans) are brimming with spirit but they lack acumen and expertise. So they have no political institutions and this hinders them from ruling over the others. Asians are gifted with acumen and expertise but lack the spirit. They remain under constant subjection. On the other hand the Hellene race is mediatory as it is full of spirits and has required acumen and expertise. And if all Hellene live under one rule they eventually can rule the world.

Roman ≠ Europeans

Margaret Heller also raised the question, if Romans thought they were Europeans even though Romans started their base from parts near Greece and Rome essentially Europe but then they extended on all the shores of Mediterranean getting deep into Europe, Asia and Africa. In the most part, Rome was always the center and deep inside the country there were Barbarians especially in the European lands. She cited Geoffrey Barraclough’s quote which emphasized that the Romans who grew eastward of the Mediterranean dwell upon their eastern lands, which was exclusively non-European land. So it is quite inappropriate to call Roman Empire, a model of European coherence.

Can Idea of Europe be a Christian one?

Europe has been a predominant Christian continent for ages. It again has a connection with Asia as Jesus Christ was Asian. Samuel Purchas said that Asia did not help Christ although it was his birthplace and neither Africa where he took refuge. It was only Europe which did justice to Christ’s teachings and since has been Christendom. But Christianity itself shows a possible rupture in Christian Idea of Europe. We know that there are Greek and Russian churches which are orthodox Christian but they have never accepted to come under English papacy. And Greeks have remained for long under the Ottomans, so they retain Asian bindings. The orthodox Christians of Greece and Russia would hurt any possibility of combining the Europe under a single origin of Christianity.

17th Century to Late 19th Century

Although there are works wanting to establish a common European identity, technically there hasn’t been one unified European identity. And also in the sixteenth century the European countries were separate, fighting with each other and trying to make their own resources meet. The idea of Europe remains a philosophical one as Europe was engulfed in war among each other.  The uprising of peasants and working class against the clergy in France, England, Italy, Germany culminated in religious wars that engulfed Europe from 1560-1715.  Then came Dutch-Portuguese War (1588-1654); the fight was initiated by Dutch to gain colonies and access in Portuguese. Different European countries supported the main fighters extending the rivalry for half a century. In 1618 war was started by France and Sweden against the Holy Roman Emperors, the Hapsburg of Germany. Later all of the Europeans jumped into this war and this was called the Thirty Years war that ended in 1648. The Franco-Spanish War (1635-1659) was a result of French involvement in The Thirty Years War. Additionally, there have been various other wars too. The Napoleonic wars of France in which France fought with almost every other European nation occurred in 1799-1815. Europe has been divided.

But seventeenth century onward these European countries started to show their influence separately on other parts of the world. The colonization by British, French, Dutch and Spanish of Americas, Africa and South Asia developed a notion of European superiority over non-Europeans. Despite of the fact that Europe has been divided into smaller entities from 17th century till the end of 19th century, Europe has a whole has been able to swell about their greatness as Europeans because of the constant colonization of other territories and advancement in sciences. And this is the reason that in written and philosophical remains of the following epoch we find a ubiquitous impression of Idea of Europe.

Jacques Derrida tells us that idea of Europe has only been taken up in the modern metaphysics and not before that. It was also the times of scientific revolution and human progress. The very first instance of pan-European can be seen in Francis Bacon’s work when he used the phrase of “we Europeans” in 1623.

Montesquieu said that Europe except Spain was governed by custom; while whole of Asia and some areas of America and Africa were being run by dictators. Montesquieu envisioned a collective Europe under a civilized rule. Voltaire believed that whole of Europe is one supreme republic and all the countries are actually different states of that republic.

Hegel believed that Europe was the “center and end” of history. And history started from the eastern part of globe that is Asia. For him Mediterranean was the combining factor of the three sections of the world, where Europe was central to it. Other than being a geological, historical and political unit; Hegel regarded Europe as a philosophical idea, a conquest of spirit and raison d’être i.e. progressiveness.

Kant in Perpetual Peace a Philosophical Sketch outlined what EU today was proud of that  Europe’s several states are inkling to form a confederation in which there should be separate independent states, each bearing a republican charter of its own, having egalitarianism as basic notion they should have separate legislative, executive and representative body. Kant gave form to a supreme European entity, which again is in shambles within two centuries.

Friedrich Nietzsche delved upon the topic of Europeanism of Philosophy several times but he is also the one to pinpoint the intrinsic assumption of philosophers that Europe is the torch bearer of human freedom. In Beyond Good and Evil Nietzsche portrayed Europe as a projecting promontory of Asia which in difference from Asia’s ages old wisdom and spirituality represents itself with progress of man. Instead of Hegel’s triumph of spirit, Europe for Nietzsche showed desolation in search for lost origin and he saw his contemporary Europeans as animal in flock that were very obliging, “sickly and mediocre.” In his later works combined in The Will to Power, Nietzsche argued that radical nihilism was evident as one could see a depreciation of values of morality, humanity, goodness and education.

The nihilism diagnosed by Nietzsche was purely a European phenomenon but Heidegger feared that it might turn into a global phenomenon. Heidegger believed that although nihilism was grounded and intricate into specific European culture and individuals, it might flow over the other parts of globe through mainly technology.

Husserl proclaimed that Europe had a spiritual birth in the sixth and seventh century Greece among their learned men and culture. He linked the birth of idea of Europe to philosophy; and connected the concept of dawn and awakening to the style of Greek metaphysics towards the idea of Europe. He sought globalization as “spectacle of Europeanization.”

James Mill’s The History of British India also identifies a European “nation”; he also elucidates on characteristics of Hindus –the result of the colonization-acknowledging greatness of Europeans. So, colonization defined Europe’s supremacy in political arena and science and learning. It was the time when ‘man’ was considered supreme, and the enlightenment and humanism strengthened the belief that man is able to control his destiny.  Simultaneously, the Idea of Europe grew strong in this era. We have seen any such idea was extinct in the first epoch but it was only in the second period that thinkers philosophized upon a conception of a homogenized Europe. Additionally, the colonization of the major parts of the world by European powers lead to a conception that European man is greater than other races.

20th Century Onward

Scholarship on Idea of Europe changed from twentieth century onward as the later part of century saw decolonization, and the former colonies gaining independence. This led to a growing discourse on post colonization which unearthed the tactics been used by the colonizers who were Europeans over their non-European subjects. It also started showing the picture of Europeans from the perspective of former colonized.

Edward Said begins European Orientalism with the quote of Karl Marx that ‘they (orient) cannot represent themselves so they must be represented’. Europeans created the discourse on idea of Europe well to show the obvious. The orient serves as the basis of what the idea of Europe is superior to. Incidentally it was from times of renaissance that the orient appeared open to Europe’s reconstruction of it, as inferior and subject of Europe.

The discourse of orientalism is the manifesto of west’s power, domination, and ability to construct orient. By looking at Foucault’s theory of discourse over orientalism, we see that Europe has methodologically engaged in a system to create orientalism. An orient that is inferior to Europe. Orientalism is man made and constructed by the West. Orient is not a discourse about orient but it is the representation of West –that is Europe’s –hegemony.

Frantz Fanon surreptitiously articulated that third world has actually contrived the notions of Europe alongside emphasizing that third world is conceived by Europe. It is a vicious circle in which Europe or the west is always the victor and the third world loses.

An Idea of Europe is to establish what Europe has been greater to.


An idea of Europe hides in itself how great the European race is to especially us. And then Orhan Pamuk saying  that “Without the idea of Europe, freedom, women’s rights, democracy, egalitarianism is hard to defend in my part of the world.”

Because the European ideal is what we should aspire for.

If that ideal shatter so will be the chance of our greatness. But have we been great when the so called ideal was not so fragile?

Democracy has been failing our part of the world since the idea was thrown upon us. It’s been seventy years, do we still need to be sold on the idea of democracy that hasn’t worked for us still. With the world telling us that there isn’t democracy in Pamuk’s world or none in mine. We still need a European Idea that wasn’t ever there.




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