This post is intended to explore and expand on my previous post discussing The European Tradition. I have also since writing it considered an important correction which should be made to some of the analysis in this post which I have detailed in the new post “Note of correction to “Cases for considering the European Tradition: Islam and America””
For this purpose, I am going to take two case studies to examine the potential and limitations of change in a tradition, in this case the European tradition.
There is much talk about the increasing presence of Islam in Europe. The question for this post is, can the presence of Islam contribute to the European tradition?
First, it must be stated that Islam is not part of the European tradition. Its origins are not European and its goals have not been to strengthen Europe. From that fact one can deduce that the incorporation of Islam into Europe is not in itself an addition to the European tradition but an addition of something foreign to that tradition. The story of Islam in Europe is rather part of a history of the Islamic tradition, as well as the traditions of any people who hold to that belief. If a European converts to Islam, they are joining another tradition. These are simple statements of facts.
The question is then, can Islam contribute to the European tradition? In order for Islam to contribute to the European tradition, it would have to do so on the grounds of that tradition, not in spite of those grounds or in opposition to them. Are there tenants of Islam which would strengthen the pre-existing goals and values of Europe without undermining their tradition? That is not a question which will be addressed in this post.
It might be worth considering the introduction of Christianity into Europe, which instigated a break with Greek and Roman religion and the basis of their values. The case of Rome is both complicated and illumining in this regard. Because of Rome’s nature as an expansionist empire, the region of Judea was incorporated into the Roman empire. While the provinces of Rome were generally not granted equal rights of citizenship, there was nonetheless a regional incorporation into the empire.
This is worth considering in relation to Islam in Europe today. One might be tempted to say that the incorporation of Muslim peoples into Europe today is equivalent of the incorporation spoken of above, and that the tenants of liberalism justify such an incorporation, but there are certain important differences. Most importantly is the difference of the incorporation of land into the Roman empire. The reason for this is that geography and tradition are intimately linked, in that not all policies can be effectively applied upon every location because the conditions which affect locations differ. This means that measures for social organization will differ in various locations as well as the ideas which contribute to effectively dealing with those conditions including value-systems.
Another important consideration is that Rome did not adopt Judaism but Christianity which later arose within the new boarders of the Roman empire. In addition, the developing Christianity was not simply a re-branding of Judaism for Rome but instead made reference to the new climate, including certain gospels of the New Testament being written in Greek, as well as Epistles to the Romans becoming part of the Christian gospels.
It should also be considered that after Christianity became the state religion of Rome, the empire fell within a hundred years. That means that the story of Christianity is intimately entwined with the fall of Rome and the origins of a new era in the West. It must also be considered that neither Rome nor other regions of pagan Europe adopted Christianity as a replacement for their current practices but rather transformed Christianity, evinced in Church iconography as well as its assimilation in Northern countries most clearly evinced in the Epic tradition with such examples as Beowulf and the Icelandic Sagas. Also, insofar as Europe was not unified before Charlemagne, one cannot even speak of a European tradition proper before the inception of Christianity but rather things like Germanic, Celtic, Icelandic, and so on.
I would like to round this post off by saying a few words about America, as it demonstrates an interesting case for thinking about the European condition. When answering the question, is the United States European? The answer must be ambivalent and somewhat equivocal. To be clear, I am speaking about the political entity of the united states and not the continent.
First, the origins of America was the colonization of European powers by European peoples. This is of primary importance. But when the United States declared independence from Britain, they were effectively severing important ties from Europe and its condition. This does not automatically qualify the United States as being non-European, because it could simply be a growth of the European idea. What it did do was increase the potential for America to become something non-European.
To explain, the declaration of independence as well as the constitution of the United States is founded in large part upon ideas which developed in Europe and by those with ancestry to Europe, but the act of independence made possible the development of new ideas upon the continent to be something which is not European, namely American. That means, by carving out the potential of a new trajectory, the Americans made it possible to become something other than European. To this must be added the difference of geography as well as the presence of other peoples on the continent, most importantly the natives of America. The natives have played a significant role in the development of American ideas, evinced clearly in foundational works of American literature such as The Last of the Mohicans. The case is the same with the significant presence of Africans in America, whose history and narratives have also played a significant role in the development of American consciousness. Most importantly, this was a consciousness which developed separately and as something other than that of Europe proper.
These considerations have been intended to aid the consideration of what tradition is and how it develops with particular focus on the European Tradition.