The spiritual reconstruction of Europe depends on its image of humanity!

In autumn 2019 I was invited to take part in a Europe salon in the Tyrolean Alpbach in June 2020 to discuss the “intellectual rearmament of Europe”. For technical reasons it soon became clear that I would not be able to participate in this salon, but on this occasion I wrote the essay presented here, which has become particularly topical due to the Corona crisis and which I would be happy to discuss. Here is the abstract:

Europe is suffering from the wrong image of man

Why the EU reform has to start “below”

“The rationalistic view of man, as it has dominated state and European legislation since the Enlightenment, is far too demanding and that is probably the main cause of European weakness. A contemporary view of man must include Consider innate weaknesses in the capacity for knowledge and solidarity as well as the peculiar striving for meaning in humans. What was previously seen as human weakness can, however, be turned to advantage under new global political circumstances; and thus the new image of man, with the emphasis on the principle of subsidiarity, leads to an upgrading of the regions and to ten political principles of a self-confident Europe. The bottom line is that the model of the Holy Roman Empire, which vanished in 1806, offers more future-oriented inspiration than the state art practiced in Washington and Beijing today. ”

Europe is suffering from the wrong image of man

Why the EU reform has to start “below”

A new EU Commission cannot hide the fact that Europe is in a deep crisis of meaning. The freedom from war and hunger is no longer enough to create the necessary solidarity. A breakup is needed, on a healthy root ground – with small pruning and grafting on some green it is not enough.

George Bernard Shaw has already discovered the root of the problem: The missing link between monkey and Homo sapiens has finally been found – we are humans!
I mean: With the rationalistic view of man from homo sapiens, which was created by idealists of the Enlightenment and is still the basis of state and European legislation, we cannot get any further: The following applies here: self-interest is a central means of control, all other values ​​are at best worth money ; there is excessive centralization and a delusion of uniformity; the various cultural influences and ties of man are trivialized; and despite the increasing flood of laws, the following still applies: ignorance of the law does not even protect against punishment in tax law. Today, however, we Europeans live in mass democracies and are supposed to cope with technological progress and globalization. In short, people feel overwhelmed and call for simple solutions that are even more wrong. In a nutshell: Politicians have to correct their image of human beings in such a way that they both correspond to the non-negotiable nature of humans and face the challenges of the 21st century. Such a picture is not entirely new, but it must now take into account:

he fact that Europe is in a deep crisis of meaning. The freedom from war and hunger is no longer enough to create the necessary solidarity. A breakup is needed, on a healthy root ground – with small pruning and grafting on some green it is not enough.

George Bernard Shaw has already discovered the root of the problem: The missing link between monkey and Homo sapiens has finally been found – we are humans!
I mean: With the rationalistic view of man from homo sapiens, which was created by idealists of the Enlightenment and is still the basis of state and European legislation, we cannot get any further: The following applies here: self-interest is a central means of control, all other values ​​are at best worth money ; there is excessive centralization and a delusion of uniformity; the various cultural influences and ties of man are trivialized; and despite the increasing flood of laws, the following still applies: ignorance of the law does not even protect against punishment in tax law. Today, however, we Europeans live in mass democracies and are supposed to cope with technological progress and globalization. In short, people feel overwhelmed and call for simple solutions that are even more wrong. In a nutshell: Politicians have to correct their image of human beings in such a way that they both correspond to the non-negotiable nature of humans and face the challenges of the 21st century. Such a picture is not entirely new, but it must now take into account:

1. Everyone looks for the meaning of life.

Viktor Frankl speaks of the urge for “self-transcendence”, that is, to “commit oneself” and strive for something that is “bigger” than the self[i] – which includes the formation of bonds. This quite spiritual aspect of the image of man is in line with the convincing basic thesis in Patrick J. Deneen’s “Why liberalism failed”[ii]: It fails because it starts from the individual’s full autonomy, for which everyone is not completely voluntary and immediately revocable binding would be contrary to nature and therefore would have to be ended. The idea of ​​the fully self-serving lone fighter of the Homo oeconomicus is the consequence and may historically be explained by the fact that the church insisted on ideological constraint at the turn of the modern age and was incapable of any tolerance. However, it is excessively wrong, because it corresponds to the human zo’on politikon’s aspiration to accept, even to seek, moderate pressure to enter into and maintain social and / or spiritual bonds.

2. Our cognitive ability is significantly weaker than reason suggests.

Because outside of paradise the fruit of comprehensive knowledge rarely grows – there the snake with eritis sicut Deus scientes bonum et malum promised omniscience and self-redemption. This fruit is most likely to ripen in the swarm intelligence of social space, i.e. from the holism that results from the continuous observation of all people in a manageable environment, namely from their verbal and non-verbal discourse and their interaction[iii]. In short, what only became clear in the course of technical progress: Without a clear overview, reliable knowledge is becoming increasingly difficult. Because the complexity of things, which increases exponentially with the size of the environment, also increases the susceptibility of human error to exponential growth, the expansion of beautiful ideas then fails due to careless mistakes or side effects, and responsible decisions are increasingly a matter of luck.[1]

3. Selfless cooperation is key:

biological evolution is based not only on Darwin’s principle of competition, but no less on selfless cooperation. This is how human cooperation is without self-interest in a manageable environment – and only there! – demonstrably more efficient than competition, because a person’s reputation for being cooperative triggers a positive snowball effect in their environment – and vice versa, the egoist’s image there also repels them. Without a clear overview, even the highest willingness to cooperate, solidarity and empathy melt like snow in late April – which is probably why there is a commandment to love one’s neighbor and not the most distant. For the latter, there is an ethical responsibility, but it cannot compensate for what is lost in helpfulness beyond the manageable; and because this is a very precious thing, Europe and large states should use it very sparingly! Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who has been considered a leading risk theorist since his classic “The Black Swan”, says: In theory it is possible to act both morally and universally – but unfortunately not in practice; “Because every time the“ we ”becomes a big club, the general level drops and everyone starts to fight only for their own interests. The abstract is far too abstract for us. ”Leopold Kohr, the philosopher of human measure, follows a similar image of man in his teaching about the“ academic inn ”when he attests to healthy people, based on the constant discourse with the people around him Doubt to want to act constructively rather than destructively.[v]

4. Commandment of sustainability:

Only recently raised awareness, in the interest of future generations it demands the careful use of the natural resources of the earth – including climate and biodiversity – but also in the interpersonal behavior an ethics directed towards the survival of the people.[vi]

5. Seek clarity everywhere:

It plays a major role in the elements of the human image mentioned here. Man seeks clarity because it enables him to have a holistic, rough understanding of everything that can be relevant for his autonomous decisions; Geographical proximity facilitates the holistic view of things and is therefore also an essential source of the principle of subsidiarity.

No question, if we take these elements of the human image really seriously, we have to make a lot of utopian changes in politics, literally making the bottom one the top one. But isn’t the rationalistic view of man the greater utopia? And above all: a mindless utopia? So let’s try to continue the path of the new image of man. On this basis, we should then make the selection, weighting and interpretation of the values or virtues on which the concrete action of human beings should be based.

Orientation towards Europe’s values

The aforementioned P.J.Denen believes that while liberalism, with the five values ​​of freedom, equality, justice, individual dignity and the rule of law, has made the right choice, the misconception of human beings has led to incorrect implementation of politics. It is the concept of freedom that is misunderstood in liberalism: today, as already stated, it emphasizes freedom from all attachments in a negative sense, while the classic, original understanding positively defines freedom for self-determination – including freedom in accordance with the Virtue teaching deliberately enter into ties or self-relativizations up to religious ties. For PJDeneen, the wrong emphasis on freedom of attachment in the US (and similarly in other Western countries) has led to a highly undemocratic polarization: the selfish elite secures all power with centralism and the institutions of the deep state, while the tie-free mass in Consumerism and sexism are silenced; Democracy only exists in name.
From the combination of the five values ​​he mentioned, other values ​​can be derived, such as tolerance and democracy from equality and dignity. From a European point of view, however, other values ​​must be emphasized separately: firstly, the value of respect for spiritual ties, which can convey valuable wisdom from the teachings of all high religions; on the other hand, and derived from the image of man, solidarity that goes beyond self-interest and the values ​​of subsidiarity associated with manageability.

However, all these values ​​are opposed to restrictions that result from the biological limits of human cognitive ability already described. These are:
– The requirement of maximum local attachment as the most important source of clarity.
– The requirement of human measure: after all, values ​​and the social ideas derived from them are ultimately only abstractions of concrete social experiences. As abstractions, they do help to overcome the small capacities of linguistic information resolution. Like algorithms, however, they are only probability calculations that bet that what could previously be reasonably abstracted from concrete will not strike again later. Not enough with this risk, know all values, ideologies and usually also all “big ideas” no self-limitation, therefore tend to fundamentalism. They can only be kept in measure in “encounter with the other” and saved from excess and thoughtless side effects.

Europe’s future lies in the worldwide lighthouse policy!
Regardless of what kind of person you are, the “old continent” no longer has the global political weight of the “good old days” before the world wars. Today, the few natural resources, a high standard of living with the highest production costs and the sharply shrinking share of the world population only allow the idea of ​​an independent Europe to survive if it is respected by the rest of the world as a mutually beneficial beacon of creativity – i.e. as a successful future laboratory.
Of course, on the way there, the political principles arising from its history and geography, as well as current global challenges, must be taken into account. In view of the prevailing resignation in Europe today, there is of course also a need for intellectual renewal that leads to sustainable future optimism – clearly readable from demographic data on starting a family. And this renewal can only succeed on the basis of a realistic image of man. All of this leads to three political principles

1. Europe lives from the free discourse of free people, the most important fruit of the Enlightenment.
2. Europe must be expanded from “below”. Because the attempt to “build Europe from above” has reached its limits, European dynamics must now come from “below” where manageability and solidarity are part of human nature.
3. Europe must commit itself to human measure. Because where good ideas are expanded beyond measure, ideologies emerge – like the ideology of climate panic recently – and a little later fundamentalist alternative religions that abolish free discourse.

These guiding principles can be implemented in ten thematic areas:

I On freedom of discourse:

(1) Off to a mental checkout! The weaknesses described in the rationalistic image of the Enlightenment not only have to be recognized, but – vice versa! – interpreted as strengths of a European identity. This applies particularly to the ability to gain knowledge and solidarity, which can only develop optimally within the framework of manageability. There is no need to restart here, both the values ​​of the Enlightenment and the political experience of Europe from peaceful and fruitful coexistence, despite many setbacks, represent indispensable intellectual capital of Europe. The maintenance of this capital and the implementation of what are seen as new strengths should, however, presuppose the ability of the mature citizen to have a discourse and dialogue, and this is not least an educational question. The first step on this path would be clarity about washed-out terms – what do you mean by justice and equality or does identity and fascism mean today? It is no less important to overcome the materialistic or anti-religious bias / resentment in science and the media. This includes the maintenance of the Judeo-Christian basis of the Enlightenment in a way that is also understandable for agnostics and enlightened Muslims.[vii] A part of it that is particularly topical today would be the early end of academic self-castration with the knife of political correctness. (e.g. Lothar Höbelt, Alice Schwarzer)
(2) Recognize the risks of information technology! The protection of our youth from the increasing stupidity due to the premature use of IT deserves the greatest attention – just as more self-confidence has to be developed towards the omnipotence fantasies, which are connected with artificial intelligence. Protection from the total surveillance state of Chinese origin and similar excesses of the octopuses in Silicon Valley is essential, especially where they manipulate our ability to draw attention through aggressive advertising. And last but not least, it is also about combating wild growth on social media, where fake news and shit storms flourish under the protection of anonymity.

II On Europe “from below”:

(3) Priority for regions! As early as 1941, Leopold Kohr warned[viii] that Europe’s large nation states would always be under the illusion that they were big enough to be able to lead Europe on their own; in fact, however, they fail and paralyze Europe’s integration. Europe’s shaping force must therefore come from the regions, which are aware of their small size and are therefore also ready for European solidarity. So only the regions of Europe can carry from the power to the lighthouse policy. As already stated, Europe’s future lies in being respected by the rest of the world as a mutually beneficial beacon of creativity. Because: because no other part of the world has such a dense cultural diversity in the narrowest, most geographically differentiated space; and because there is also a high level of global problem awareness; the creativity and energy necessary for such a lighthouse can be found in these manageable, historically grown regions. As an expression of democratic bottom-up attitudes, each region should therefore, in addition to the most extensive self-government, also be given the psychologically valuable right of secession and Europe should develop in a European confederation analogous to the Swiss Confederation. This can then appear very confidently to the outside.[ix]

(4) Cultural community Europe can not only be built with laws! One of the pillars beyond the law is the cultural common sense. Not only that this (after the Böckenförde dictum) creates the conditions for a liberal state system. With his elastic terms (also called “high ambiguity tolerance”[x], as in “beauty” and “decency”) and the question “are you one of us?” As the only sanction option he can overcome the polarization between the coercive force of law and chaotic arbitrariness has arisen; in doing so, it prevents legislation and bureaucracy that overflows with soft power; it allows the regions to be differentiated externally; and by focussing on internal cultural similarities, it promotes the integration of immigrants.[xi]

(5) Civil society Another pillar are NGOs of civil society, which are democratically constituted internally and are active at regional, state and European level: Because they have a full, comprehensive overview of their subject areas, they can in areas that lie outside the sovereign right, bring many advantages of the holistic of manageable regions “quasi-holistic” also at higher state or European levels.[xii]

(6) Improve the sandwich position of the nation states! In fact, they are too big for many problems and too small for a few. In order to remain efficient, they should transfer competencies to their regions as soon as possible, but also to a European level. This needs improved ability to act, especially in external relations, which probably requires strengthening the parliamentary level. This is primarily aimed at large nation states and their desire for selfish blockages of “more Europe”, but the regions should not be too big either – Leopold Kohr already saw the ideal size of a state entity at half a million, the maximum limit at ten million inhabitants![xiii] Of course, in the European context, national governments remain irreplaceable simply because the number of members of the Council of Ministers and similar councils must remain limited in the interest of their efficiency, not every one of which, possibly well over a hundred regions, can be directly represented there. National governments could take on a new role here by developing more and more into honest brokers between the regions and the European level: In line with existing EU law, national governments could not only represent their own, but also depending on the subject also appear for foreign regions where they trust them to assert their special interests – of course in connection with a flexible weighting of voting rights. It would be a means of turning the regions’ right of self-determination, which is necessary for bottom-up, into a psychologically important matter, even if it should actually only rarely be practiced – as is already the case in Liechtenstein, according to the state constitution, every municipality has full secession law has, but will probably never claim it.[xiv]

III. To human measure:

(7) Priority for resilience, i.e. the holistic ability to assert yourself! Even without war, it is very likely that Europe, with its increasingly complex – and thus vulnerable – technology will be hit by catastrophes such as long and large-scale blackouts. Every household should be able to get by without electricity, cell phone and water for at least a good week! Because the constant and linear pursuit of efficiency produces ever more terrible side effects and has to be put into perspective by the at least equivalent resilience principle: Without efficiency we starve, but without resilience, efficiency drives us against the wall.

(8) Sustainability in all things! This applies not only to the careful use of natural resources up to the profitable (!) Reconciliation of a flourishing economy with climate and environmental protection; but also the balance between intangible things: be it the tension between public security and human rights, between tolerance and identity; or be it the demographic responsibility of people and society.

(9) Globalization in moderation! In the globalized economy, we constantly experience excesses / excesses of the division of labor. The aim should be the comprehensive basic care of people from their respective region; while anything beyond that would be left to global competition. Because of the inevitable disasters as a consequence of the climate crisis, which can only be dealt with decentrally, the primary competence of agriculture, energy and primary education belongs in the regions![xv]

(10) Back to a stable currency! Humans also need a reliable measure of their value for material things. In addition, it seems to be part of human nature to want to create a home and retirement savings within manageable periods, which, in addition to a stable currency, also requires interest as a reward for not consuming. With today’s “fiat money” this is no longer possible; like the gold standard that was abandoned in the First World War, a stable currency should therefore be free from manipulation under sovereign law.[xvi]

Closing remarks

The overdue correction of the human image should make the advantages of the manageable space recognizable and thus usable: After all, the ability to recognize – including the spontaneous understanding of increasingly complex problems – as well as the willingness to cooperate and solidarity decrease beyond its limits. The Europe concept outlined here therefore has less similarities with the current government models of real or supposed superpowers and superpowers than with the Holy Roman Empire, which was dissolved in 1806 (which only enabled the culture of German Classicism – similar to the city-states in medieval Upper Italy and the ancient Greece). In principle, it comes very close to the model of little Switzerland. It can also be seen as an optimal combination of personality, solidarity and subsidiarity – it is no coincidence that these are the three pillars of Catholic social teaching.
Its implementation requires a radical rethink. From today’s perspective, it is not to be expected that such a spiritual reconstruction of Europe will take place quickly and top down, the temptation of the nation states in today’s EU to maintain their outstanding constitutional position is too strong. However, we will soon experience radical upheavals from the convergence of our civilization’s increasing vulnerability and the ever worse strikes of climate catastrophes, which centralism and globalization cannot control. Rescue by implementing the new image of man can only take place “from the bottom up”, therefore lies with the citizens of Europe. According to Erich Kästner, “There is nothing good unless you do it”, each of us can make important contributions to this,
– by asking each political project whether it is “human-friendly”;
– by engaging in neighborly and civil society activities, thereby refuting the power claim of the authority “coming from above”. This can start very modestly, for example by trying to give an honest compliment to three people every day outside the family. That would make us appear empathetic; and, as has already been said, such a reputation should trigger a snowball effect of solidarity.

Addendum: How long will the phenomenon of new re-nationalization last?

Easter 2020 was all about the corona crisis. It made us rediscover the feeling of closeness and thus reinforces both the new view of the human image and the consequent emphasis on the principle of resilience. However, the political implementation of my theses is threatened by the now obvious process of returning to the nation state. For the pan-European decision-making process is disappointing, and although local solidarity is receiving unbelievable encouragement, there is practically nothing to be felt below the nation states of political regionalism.

The reason for resorting to the nation state is probably that it can act effectively as the only institution in the current exceptional situation, in which the planning horizon is radically shortened. This is nothing new, because even in the constitution of old republican Rome, the senate was able to grant a dictator unlimited power in times of crisis – but only for a period of six months. There are good reasons for this time limitation: in a medium or long-term perspective, the inevitable, initially small mistakes of the dictators are solidified; and it is becoming increasingly important to weigh up the pros and cons of various options for action in a free discourse.

And so, on the one hand, the nation-state will still tend to overestimate itself at the European level and will not feel like the regions weak enough to fully submit to a European institution. In comparison to the regions, on the other hand, he will still lack the manageability as a prerequisite for a rooted discourse.

In history, there have always been “reactionary” restoration attempts, that is, the attempt to return to old models of success in politics that could not prove themselves in the wake of a crisis. However, these restorations have failed on a regular basis, as long as the reasons why these successful models came into crisis were not incorporated. This also applies to the new re-nationalization: As the term “glocalization” puts it, large nation states in particular have been in a quandary since globalization began; after all, they have become too small for quite a few Europe-wide and global problems, and for others – such as those relating to location or cultural identity – too big.

The corona crisis did not change this finding. So let’s not forget about Europe and let’s trust the new image of man and his resilience idea!

References:

[1] For understanding: Our cognitive ability first follows the two information systems that biological evolution has given us. On the one hand, it is the evolutionarily young, word-for-word – that is, digital – linguistic thinking; and on the other hand the much older, pictorial-analog thinking, which serves the holistic protection by unconsciously evaluating all perceptions that come in continuously through the senses and reporting only the most important things to the consciousness. Their interaction resembles a classic burglar duo: while the guard is standing there, the specialist can concentrate on door locks and wall safes. [1] Although the language system enables reason to soar, it has an extremely low capacity for information resolution; this forces abstractions from reality – a risky procedure if things that are reflected away later hit again. The pictorial system of the “guardian” can have a compensating effect with its millions of times more resolution capacity, but it is limited in location: projections beyond the “visual circle” are possible, but their reliability quickly diminishes with increasing distance and finally breaks off completely. However, as mentioned, help in securing abstractions can also be obtained from the social sphere. Its reliability depends, of course, on the fact that the relationships within a group of people, typically comprising a few dozen people, are not only dense but also representative of the entire range of topics dealt with. As a rule, both prerequisites will only exist in the “village” of manageable rooms – especially in supraregional areas, faulty abstractions will be difficult to identify.

[i] Viktor E. Frankl, „Der Wille zum Sinn“, Bern 1972, Verlag Hans Huber
[ii] Patrick J. Deneen “Warum der Liberalismus gescheitert ist”, Orig. 2018 New Haven, Yale University Press
[iii] Michael Breisky, „Menschliches Maß gegen Gier und Hass – small is beautifu im 21. Jahrhundert“, Wien 2018, bei Frank & Frei; Kapitel „Die Krücken der Vernunft“.
[iv] Martin A. Novak, „Kooperative Intelligenz- Das Erfolgsgeheimnis der Intelligenz“, München 2013 C.H.Beck; Orginal: „Super Cooperators, Altruism, Evolution and why we need each other to succeed“, New York 2011, Free Press
[v] Leopold Kohr, „Das Ende der Großen. Zurück zum menschlichen Maß“, Salzburg 2002, Otto Müller Verlag
[vi]  Hans Jonas, „das Prinzip Verantwortung“, 1979 /Suhrkamp TB 2003
[vii] vgl. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Reflections on  ‘The Strange Death of Europe’, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BY6UY2tn5Os
[viii] Leopold Kohr, Artikel „Disunion Now“ in Zeitschrift „Commonweal“, September 1941, New York, zitiert in Michael Breisky, „Groß ist ungeschickt- leopold Kohr im Zeitalter der Postglobalisierung“, Wien 2010, Passagnverlag
[ix] etwa gemäß Confoederatio Europea (CE), https://iem-europe.com/attachments/58/1537354178/
[x] Thomas Bauer, Essay Die Vereindeutigung der Welt. Über den Verlust an Mehrdeutigkeit und Vielfalt, 2018 Reclam Verlag
[xi] Michael Breisky, Essay „Böckenförde revisited: Gesetz und Gemeinsinn ergänzen sich wie hard power und soft power“, www.breisky.at.
[xii] Michael Breisky, „Menschliches Maß gegen Gier und Hass“ a.a.O; Kapitel „Nationalstaat und Zivilgesellschaft zwischen global und lokal – die zwei Säulen der Politik“
[xiii] Leopold Kohr, „Die überentwickelten Nationen“, Salzburg 2003i, Otto Müller Verlag
[xiv] Michael Breisky, Artikel „Wie sich Regionen mehr Gehör verschaffen könnten“ in „Die Presse“, Wien 16.11.2019
[xv] Michael Breisky, „Menschliches Maß gegen Gier und Hass“ a.a.O; Kapitel „Halbzeit“
[xvi] Saiffedean Ammous, „The Bitcoin Standard – the decentralized alternative to central banking“, Hoboken 2018, bei John Wiley & Sons

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