Edited By Bo Strath
During the closing decades of the twentieth century Europe emerged as one of the main points of reference in both the cultural and the political constructs of the global community. An obsession with the concept of European identity is readily discernible. This process of identity construction provokes critical questions which the book aims to address. At the same time the book explores the opportunities offered by the concept of Europe to see how it may be used in the construction of the future. The approach is one of both deconstruction and reconstruction.
The issue of Europe is closely related in the book to more general issues concerning the cultural construction of community. The book should therefore be seen as the companion of Myth and Memory in the Construction of Community, which is also published by PIE-Peter Lang in the series Multiple Europes.
The book appears within the framework of a research project on the cultural construction of community in modernisation processes in comparison. This project is a joint enterprise of the European University Institute in Florence and the Humboldt University in Berlin sponsored by the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Fund.
Chapter 2: The Discourse of Europe and the Search for a European Identity 67
67 CHAPTER 2 The Discourse of Europe and the Search for a European Identity Hayden WHITE The current “discourse of Europe” features an effort to “identify” a Europe that is good and noble, capable of serving as a spiritual basis for a new and (let us not fear the term) post-modernist economic system based on consumerism, multinational capitalism, and com- mitment to what is euphemistically called “the free market”. This quest for a Europe that is good and noble and therefore worthy to provide the ethos of a new kind of community (at once democratic and cultivated, both socialistic and capitalistic, Christian and humanistic, scientific and pious) is motivated in large part by the desire to redeem the Europe of the fathers from the onus of guilt born of an awareness that “Europe” had been responsible for the new forms of social violence spawned in the “rotten twentieth century” (Timothy Garten Ash’s term). In this sense, the current quest for Europe’s true “identity” is the manifestation in public discourse of an effort to invent a new identity for “Europe” but in such a way as to mask the slight of hand involved in pretending that Europe has been, if only secretly and in part, good and noble all along the course of its history. The term “identity” when applied to an entity as nebulous and unspecifiable as that seemingly indicated by the lexeme “Europe”, is of course a mystification. For “Europe” has never existed anywhere except in discourse, which is...
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