Notre-Dame Burning, or The Future of Europe

French President Emmanuel Macron was quick to pledge himself towards the rebuilding of the damaged part of the cathedral, changing the topic of a pre-planned speech he meant to hold on the subject of the yellow vests.

Reaction to this disaster was quick and widespread, with many eulogizing on the meaning and importance of the cathedral as a symbol of France and indeed for all of Europe. An artefact of medieval and Christian Europe, immortalized by Victor Hugo as both a national symbol in the Romantic spirit and as a commemoration of the past of a people and a country.

Such rifts in the continuity of a people’s fate have the potential of revealing insights into nature of the present. The tragic nature of this event was capable of briefly covering over the disharmony within France, particularly the disaffection aroused by the President and the direction in which he is taking the country. Instead the people are unified in a ritual of national mourning directed towards a commonly cherished past whose destruction is dramatically visualized before their eyes. But is Macron’s pledge to rebuild the cathedral also a pledge to reknit the fraying threads of national unity and disintegration of national tradition?

Europe’s Current Political Climate

The past half decade in Europe has been characterized by a number of political conflicts, notably the migrant crisis, Brexit accompanied by broader disharmony within the EU, the Greek government-debt crisis. Common are warnings about extremism from both the media and political establishment and criticisms about mismanagement from anti-establishment voices reflected in the election of “populist” governments and the aforementioned yellow vest moment. Similarly, there is talk of deep political polarization in the USA and concern that general partisanship is endangering discussion between opposing political factions which increasingly see each other as “communists”, “globalists” (or “Marxists”) and “fascists”.

What is lacking is any clear value by which to orient themselves and strive in the world. The EU official states their values to be the “respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law“. All of these values are either negative values or at very most values which intentionally lack an imperative. The two exceptions are the stated value of equality and the right to education as declared in the EU’s charter of fundamental human rights.

These exceptions must be qualified by the explanation that equality in this context means equal treatment by political, legal, and social institutions and the right to education is qualified within the charter with “due respect for democratic principles and the right of parents to ensure the education and teaching of their children in conformity with their religious, philosophical and pedagogical convictions shall be respected, in accordance with the national laws governing the exercise of such freedom and right”. There is in the latter statement intended a validation of democratic and parental self-determination.

In fact, all of these values are in some fashion or another intended to facilitate self-determination, as even rule of the law is intended to facilitate the freedom of self-determination in the sense of the classical formula as freedom to do what one wishes so long as it does not interfere with another’s freedom.

I have not outlined the values expressed by the EU for the sake of either censure or approval. Nonetheless I wish to illustrate the fact that they lack guidance on what ends one is to exercise one’s freedom in accomplishing. This is left entirely up to individuals in their daily affairs and nations through the established political process.

Returning to the symbol of Notre-Dame. The cathedral was not a representation of undefined self-determination, but very concrete values, whether they be the notion of beauty which guided the building’s formation or those of Christianity, which was indeed already a unifying mechanism for Europe throughout the middle ages, centred around the catholic church.

A guiding value need not be an authoritarian imperative. To assume so is to assume a false alternative. A guiding value may take the form of a common goal which may unite a divided people.

Macron has also been vocal in his calls for deeper integration in Europe centred around the idea of a common European army and greater alignment of national economic policies. These proposals are similarly misguided. Not because they are necessarily and inherently flawed, a question on which I will currently refrain from judgement, but because they entail the same lack of purpose from which Europe is currently suffering. Business, besides potentially giving one a livelihood, says nothing about what one is to do with that livelihood, and likewise existential defence says nothing about what to do with the existence which is sustained.

One may reason and argue as long as one wishes for the necessity of such policies for the continued existence of the European Union, but without clear and defined values, all such reasons could fall on deaf ears if those who would hear them are already motivated by values and goals in which the EU plays no or even an antagonistic role.

This is the existential issue with which Europe deals and, as I have taken previous steps to outline, has dealt with since the turn of the turn of the twentieth century.

If you would like to hear my opinion on how to build a way forward then please check out my post on The Central Importance of Beauty.


4 thoughts on “Notre-Dame Burning, or The Future of Europe

    • I am happy to discuss this with you. I’m not sure that a public forum is always the best place to be entirely candid about these things, not that I think they need necessarily controversial but some subjects are best had solely between those who understand them.

      Really all that thinkers need to know is in Homer, Plato, and Aristotle. One must be most careful with Plato of course because he sought to overturn the past order, but in doing so he was forced to reveal much of what went unsaid up until that time, albeit in an oblique manner. What is left unsaid by these philosophers can be gauged by regarding the social customs of Europe’s aristocracy until around the 17th century, with some circumspection and allowances for discontinuity.

      One of the greatest tasks is making conscious what has already known rather than devising new codes.

      The question of praxis is always fundamentally the most difficult, particularly for those whose minds awaken to what is going on and has been throughout history but find themselves still outside of the loop or even made mere passive observers by those who champion their cause but consider them not more than a resource to be organized and directed. If one combines this with peers who are either apathetic, unaware, or in denial of what is taking place then it is a difficult situation indeed.

      It is certainly not an insurmountable problem, but it certainly necessitates the association of conscious and determined individuals.

      The forces of our time are ripe for taking new forms, the only question is who will harness those forces and to what ends.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for the thoughtful response! Any such discussion in a public forum should be done, as we are attempting to do, with broad, inspiring terms for most, while directing those few who are able to act. I mean that a praxis / theory distinction, for us writers, can be a thing rather blurred.

        However, it is a necessary driving towards the future that — I am convinced — we must couch our communication in. Archao-futurism, I think, falls to this beast; we are indeed taking aspects from previous civilisations and compiling them into “bitesize pieces,” but at no point need we make this abundantly clear.

        As you say, modernity is producing for us such a blank slate, a flat, broad slab of wet concrete, and we must form it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I have been, in my writing (fiction, not online) been working through the place of awakened European man in the modern world. What I am trying to work out is the mode for a direct confrontation which is not pure folly.

        I agree with you wholeheartedly that the line between theory and praxis is hazy for writers. It has been one of the issues where those who I discuss my writing with can’t seem to understand, because I insist on a kind of realist-idealism.

        So far I have been using the tactic of esotericism, which has been very necessary within the university. I have used it also on my blog, discussing topics in a neutral ‘scientific’ manner rather than activating instinctive rejection in readers.

        The problem will always be, of course, that if we do not deal with the real world in a concrete manner then our acts will ultimately be ineffective. In addition to that, our knowing is always intimately tied with our doing and our being-in-the-world.

        I discussed the novel briefly with Mark Brahmin on his site. How it had been used in the past to undermine values, and how it is capable of a deep realism which has been effective in shaping people’s minds and orientation to the world as it is.

        Because the trajectory of Europe has been modern for so long, it is inevitable that our works would have to be in conflict with reigning institutions. I personally don’t see how we could compose something salutary where the victory is simply adapting to or gaining ascendancy in these institutions because they are already founded on modern values.

        I noticed not long after I discussed the novel with Brahmin, on a NPI Radix stream he said that he thought the novel was a good form to take because it has a low cost threshold. While I appreciate the form (of course because it is mine) I think that if his intention is for revolutionary ends then the best form would be things like artworks with slogans and inspirational songs. As I understand it, the novel should be more of an aristocratic form because it is capable of dealing dynamically with ideas and strategy with realistic models of the world.

        You are fortunate in England because the English already have a reverence for their past. I currently live in Sweden and unfortunately there is not a great appreciation of history here. I am not Swedish though. I was born in Canada, only second generation on my father’s side and decided to return to Europe.


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