İoanna Kuçuradi

Bergamo, 23.11.2013

The very title of our Conference, i.e., “Becoming Europe”, and one of its subthemes, “Missing Europe”, in the way I dare understand them, express a problem which I tried  to bring on the agenda a couple of times during the past 15 years or so: the discrepancy between the “spritual Europe” (das Europa im geistigen Sinn) and “the emprical Europe”, to which Edmund Husserl had called our attention in the first half of the Twentieth Century. This discrepancy continues and has become  even more acute.

The “spiritual Europe” or:

L’ idée d’une Europe de la culture est un vieux rêve: un rêve, en fait, vieux comme l’Europe où, dès les origins de [ces] histoires, il est inscrit dans la réalité… Mais ce rêve, qui avait survécu à tant de crises, il a fallu l’éclosion des nationalismes, les grands conflits mondiaux, les camps, l’horreur, pour y metre une fin totale: Ensuite, lentement, on a tenté de reconstruire… On a commencé par ce qui semblait le plus facile, ou qui engageait le moins. On est parti du charbon et de l’acier, on était six; on est arrivé à la libre circulation des produits, à l’économie générale, au politique: on a été dix, douze. Et puis, on a voulu voir plus loin[i]

and to see, among other things, where Europe is going. Still, this seemed to many, totally unpredictable in the last decade of Twentieth Century. In Richard von Weizsäcker’s words (1991) :

Die Weltordnung ist in Bewegung, und was sie für das neue Jahrhundert hervorbringt bleibt offen. Dies gilt insbesondere für unseren Kontinent. Wir kennen das Europa noch nicht, das in diesen Jahrzehnten entsteht. Wird es bei allen Gegensätzen untereinander in den Augen der Welt ein Europa werden? Wird es ein Wirtschaftsraum? Welchen Nutzen wird es aus seiner kulturellen Vielfalt und Einheit ziehen können? Mit welchen politischen Interessen wird es vor die Welt treten? Zu welchen geistigen Impulsen und globalen Perspektiven wird es vordringen? Welchen Beitrag schliesslich zur Erkenntnis und Lösung der Weltprobleme wird es leisten?[ii]

asks  von Weizsäcker.

Reading the attempts to answer the question raised by Richard von Weizsäcker on Europe –on “empirical Europe”, which is no more seen as the omphalos of the earth, as it used to be–, among other points which call our attention is also the following: reflection focuses mainly on the present state of affairs in Europe, i.e., this reflection does not pay sufficient attention to the intellectual background of the present situation, to the ideas or conceptions underlying the changes in Europe within a global perspective.

More than one hundred years ago, a European, a European philosopher, Nietzsche, attempts to draw a picture of Europe of his age:

The waters of religion are ebbing, and leaving swamps or stagnant pools: the nations are drawing away in enmity again, and long to tear each other in pieces. The sciences blindly driving along, on a laisser faire system, without a common standard, are splitting up, and losing hold of every firm principle. The educated classes are being swept along in the contemptible struggle for wealth. Never was the world more worldly, never poorer in goodness and love[iii].

And he continues: what is called nation in Europe, is rather than a res nata, a res facta, or to put it more correctly, a res ficta et picta.

Owing to the morbid estrangement which the nationality-craze has induced and still induces among the nations who with the help of this craze are at present in power, and do not suspect to what extent the disintegrating policy they pursue must necessarily be only an interlude policy ─owing to all this, and much else that is altogether unmentionable at present, the most unmistakable signs that Europe wishes to be one, are now overlooked, or arbitrarily and falsely misinterpreted.[iv]

Many decades were to be spent, including the experience of two World Wars and the butting against what we now call “world problems”, until some European politicians became aware of this wish.

This artificial nationalism is as dangerous as was the artificial Catholicism, since it is, in its essence, a martial law violently imposed by the few upon the many, and needs cunning, lying and oppression in order to remain in esteem. It is not the interest of the many (of the people), as it is usually said, but before everything else the interest of certain prince-dynasties, as well as of certain trading classes and social classes that promotes this nationalism.[v]

 says the same philosopher. Did the endeavor to transgress nationalism and create one Europe during the past decades, prove to be, in fact, free from group interests? I strongly doubt. On the contrary we see an increase in racist nationalism.

Nietzsche, calls the attention of his contemporaries also to another fact, concerning the different situation in a few European countries and especially in Russia:

There the power to will has been long stored up and accumulated, there the will –uncertain whether to be negative or affirmative– waits threateningly… I do not say this as one who desires it; in my heart I should rather prefer the contrary –I mean such an increase in the threatening attitude of Russia, that Europe would have to make up its mind to become equally threatening, namely, to acquire one will, by means of a new caste to rule over the Continent, a persistent, dreadful will of its own, that can set its aims thousands of years ahead; so that the long spun-out comedy of its petty-stateism and its dynastic as well as its democratic many-willedness, might finally be brought to a close.[vi]

These predictions of Nietzsche, considered macroscopically, have become true to a great extent in the XXth century. But has Europe acquired, up to now, one will?So far as I can see, Europe, even at this moment, does not appear to posses one will. It has to shape it.

What we need now isknowledgeof what “spiritual Europe” is: i.e., knowledge of what European thinkers, philosophers and poets in the broad sense have contributed to the mainstream of world history, and knowledge of value and values; we need knowledge of the specificity and amount ofthiscontribution, compared with other contributions to this main­stream, as well as knowledge of the significance of this contribution for humanity as a whole.

Many people assume that ‘modernity’, equated with ‘rationality’, constitutes the “cultural identity” of Europe. Some ascribe value tothis‘modernity’, but some others negate this ‘value’ and claim that Europe has undergone a metamorphosis.

Still there is a trend in Europe, which develops parallel to similar endeavours within the United Nations: the attempt to develop common norms for Europe –to develop a common law. This can be apromisingat­tempt, if and only if it could be freed from some European idées fixes, which lead to the enforcement ofdiscrepantnorms, and if it is nourished by philoso­phical –epistemological and ethical– knowledge.

The “unity of Europe” –and not only of Europe– could be created as a unity of aspecial kind of basic normsp u t   a s   t h e  c o m m o n  g o a l , i.e., of norms which are deducednot fromthe existing (different) empirical conditions, butinthe existing conditions from the knowledge of the value of certain human potentialities, the products of which only a part of us enjoy.

This common goal, constituted of basic principles, of the kind of princi­ples that we call human rights –stillnotof all these principles that are considered at presentto be“human rights”–, could become the object of theonewill, of which Nietzsche spoke. Puttingthisgoal and carrying out its implications would also be a victory of spiritual Europe over empirical Europe.

Goals are, nevertheless, only points of orientation. In order that they de­termine practice, often another kind of principles, of more limited scope, are necessary. Such intermediary or historical principles, as I call them, constitute the “conditions of the possibility” of making determinant, in a given historical reality, the demands that basic human rights express. Secularism, for example, is such a historical principle.

Many acute problems faced, and to my mind the main handicaps in Europe, connected with the question of norms, are the prevailing conception of the so-called “fundamental freedoms” and the well-minded but very problematic demand for “equal respect to all cultures”, which lead to the enforcement of discrepant norms.

Europe, before any other continent, has to become able to avoid enforcing discrepant norms. For this, anew secularismseems to be needed in Europe: a secularism which prevents not only religious norms but cultural norms in general (including what is consid­ered good or bad in European culture) from determining the deduction of law; i.e., a secularism, which guaranties that cultural value judgement do not constitute the ma­jor premise in the deduction of law, so that clearly conceived human rights, can, directly or indirectly, play this role.

At this historical moment we live, which often reminds me of the turning point between the classical epoch and the Middle Ages, we need, and especially in education,enlightenment in the Kantian sense,i.e., enlightenment understoodnotas a historical period or as a world-view, but as “the courage to use one’s own intelligence”, to which I wish to add: in the light ofphilosophical value knowledge.

This is a knowledge, from which “universal ideas” and universal de­mands or principles are deduced –‘universal’ denoting here the speci­ficity of a kind of norms as norms: those which demand a treatment thatcan bedemandedforevery human being, andnottheir being accepted or valid glob­ally, sinceanynorm, independently of its quality as norm, can be made valid, by consensus, on global level.

The Europe of today is accused, from “inside” and “outside”, of using double standards. The Europe of tomorrow –that empirically unpredictable Europe– has to be shaped and reshaped in the light of such “universal ideas” and principles, conceptualized by philosophy, so that these ideas consti­tuteclearpoints of orientation, and do not remain mere words, about which only positive value judgments are floating around. Such a conceptualization is a prerequisite for deducing, at this historical moment, directly and indirectly fromthem–andnotat random or from any (valid) cultural norms– their implica­tions for action, uncompromisingly, i.e., beyond group interests. A fuzzy good will is not sufficient for that. The deadlocks, to which the so-called “fundamen­tal freedoms” now very often lead in Europe –and not only in “Europe–, can be considered as examples of this claim of mine.

I wish to give you a few examples of these deadlocks related to so-called “freedom of expression”, to which also freedom of opinion and freedom of thought are reduced.

*In a  Central European country (in Hungary), if I am not mistaken, in the first years of the  century, a law against hate speech, enforced by the parliament, was abrogated by the Constitutional Court, with the justification that it was violating the right to freedom of expression.

Prof. Frederick Schauer, when he deals with the impact of cultural value judgements in the “interpretation” of law, he says that “in the USA many people consider the instigation of racial hate not as crime, but as an issue of freedom of expression ( Profiles, Probabilities, Stereotypes, 227). And I ask: Do we want human rights in order to “protect” hate speech?

*Another example of the problem I mentioned is “the right to offend and the right not to be offended” mentioned on the cover of the June 2006 issue of Equal Voices, the News-letter of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, an institution of the  European Union, and now called Fundamental Rights Agency. In the same issue of Equal Voices. the Vice-President of the European Commission of that time, Franco Fratini, in an interview made with him says the following:

Let me be clear: even if European societies become multicultural, freedom of speech, as an essential part of Europe’s values and traditions, is simply not negotiable. Governments or other public authorities do not prescribe or authorise the opinions expressed by individuals, conversely, the opinions expressed by individuals engage these individuals, and only them. At the same time, freedom of speech cuts both ways: Freedom of speech is the basis not only of the possibility to publish an opinion, but also to criticise it. All this is an inherent trait of our contemprorary democratic European societies, and we have a duty to preserve it.

Coming now to the specific issue of racism, there are limits to freedom of expression that are defined and enforced by the law and the legal systems of the Council of European Union. These limits are set to protect other fundamental rights. In particular, Member States’ domestic legislation already prohibits ─albeit to more or less far-reaching extent─ racist and xenophobic behaviour and speech.

Let’s dispel a myth: there is no contradiction in simultaneously protecting people against racist speech and making sure that freedom of expression is and remains one of the key pillars upon which our societies, and the EU, are founded. How to do it precisely may not be an easy task, and I am the first one to admit that it requires careful consideration and in-depth discussion.

The way to do that, is first of all, an epistemic conceptualisation of relevant ideas and the clarification of the relevant concepts   ─and this is a typically philosophical job.

*Another example I wish to give you is the prohibition, in certain European countries, of the negation of Holocaust. If we approve the wide-spread understanding of freedom of expression, the questioning of this prohibition seems justified. The problem here (or what gives the impression that it is contradictory to freedom of expression) is the assumption that ‘freedom of expression” is a basic right. If freedom of expression is considered as a basic rights, consequently as a non-negotiable right, there is in fact, a contradiction. Yet if we have a clear  concept of human rights, as well as of freedom of thought and of freedom of opinion which both include their expression too, it is possible to see that there is no contradiction.

A clear concept of human rights ─i.e., philosophical knowledge of what they are,i.e., of what they demand─ constitutes a criterion. By using this criterion it is possible to judge whether a claimed right is really a basic human right.

I wish to submit to your attention, very shortly indeed, a conceptualization of the idea of human rights that I made ─a conceptualization supported also by the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which expresses the conception of human rights underlying it and which can be used as a criterion for basic rights.

This conception can be put  forth as follows: to be human (i.e., to be a species possessing certain potentialities and capacities), necessitates that each human being treats, and be treated by, other human beings in a certain way: each individual should treat, and be treated by, other individuals in a way he does not hinder the actualization of the potentialities which contribute the value of human being (its place in the world) or what we call human dignity. Every human being should be given the opportunity to actualize (as much as he or she can) these potentialities of the human being. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights aims at putting forward the main condition of the possibility of the actualization of these potentialities.

According to this understanding, every human right expresses a basic condition or a set of conditions deemed  normally necessary for the actualization of those human potentialities, whose value we know from history.

And now I wish to ask: Is the expression of racial hatred or of an offend a necessary condition for the actualization of a human potentiality, so that an individual should not be hindered from expressing his hatred or from offending someone?

If we take a look at the way freedoms are understood in general and at the way they are worded in international instrument, we see that the term ‘freedom’ there does not denote the necessity not to hinder individuals when they carry out activities by which they actualize the human potentialities I just mentioned; but it denotes the necessity that  individuals be not hindered when they carry out “things” which are assumed to be “good”, i.e., “things” about which positive value judgements prevail.

Yet, what  these “freedoms” demand is not that individuals be not hindered from doing something or from behaving in a certain way, but not to be hindered when they actualize certain potentialities  of the human being ─potentialities which are actualized and developed in a variety of ways which cannot fixed once and for all.  ‘Not to be hindered’ here means not to give damage to the basic and other rights of an individual when this individual, by carrying out such activities, does something which is in discordance with a prevailing taboo (e.g., when he brings knowledge which is in discordance with such  a taboo). Where social order and the administration of public  affairs are determined, and to the extend they are determined, by such demands, there the freedom that corresponds to that demand or right exists and to that extent it exists.

Bearers of basic rights  are individuals, while bearers of freedoms, which correspond to rights, are countries. In a country in which public order secures for all who live in that country  the conditions of the possibility to carry out activities which actualize and develop the potentialities of the human being, there the relevant freedom exists. Many of the problems we are faced with in connection with the freedom of expressions at present find their origin in the separation of this freedom from the “freedom of thought” and the “freedom of opinion”, as if it were an independent right of the individual.


In the light of the concept of human rights mentioned above, it is possible to formulate the demand that the right to freedom of thought ─separated from the rights of conscience and religion─ brings and which includes its expression as follows:

“Everyone has the right to bring  knowledge and ideas, how discrepant to the prevailing ones they might be. This right, put under the guarantee of law,  constitutes what we call “freedom of thought”, which guarantees that this right will be respected in the country in question; it guarantees that nobody   ─no authority or state organ, the judge, the police etc.─ will “touch” this individual, i.e., nobody will give damage to any of this individual’s other rights, because he has brought a new idea or knowledge, how much discrepant from the prevailing ones they might be and whatever its quality might be.”

Yet this quality becomes an important issue when we come to the question of teaching, spreading or propagating a given idea. At this point we come across to the problem of the limits of toleration in the arrangement and administration of public affairs.

Those who should not be “touched” or those who should be protected are the individuals who bring these ideas and knowledge. In fact the teaching and propaganda of certain ideas may be prohibited after their objective-epistemic evaluation. I propose two criteria for such a prohibition, i.e., two criteria to distinguish ideas and conceptions that should not be tolerated in the arrangements and administration of public affairs: If an idea or conception is a) contrary to knowledge on the same issue, or, b) if it is discrepant to clearly conceived human rights, the spread of this idea should not be tolarated.

Now, if we look at the prohibition to negate the Holocaust with such a criterion, I don’t see any problem in its prohibition: to claim that the Holocaust didn’t happen, when you can visit the museums of the concentration camps in Buchenwalt and Ausschwits and when so many witnesses  exist, i.e., to negate the Holocaust amounts to claim that a historical event did not happen. This is not only a lie told probably with a certain aim, but also it contradicts existing knowledge on this issue.

We have, in fact, to revise the prevailing fuzzy conception of freedoms including “free” market.

The Europe of tomorrow should be a Europe, where the sincereandenlightened will to protect basic human rights in the existing,empirically differ­entconditions becomes the ultimate “what for” of all endeavors –still not only the basic rights of Europeans, but of all human beings in the world. Human rights and some historical principles deduced from them are, by coincidence, whoever likes it or not, among the products of European thinking mainly, but they demand a certain treatment for (and from) every human being –a treat­ment that all human beings (even those who reject human rights as a Western product) aspire for.

Are we sufficiently courageous to shapesuch onewill, in other words: to put sin­cerely as the principal objective of our “national”, European and global policies the protection of clearly conceived human rights, i.e.,onlythe protection of human rights, and not their protectionamong other things,as it happens now? Are we sufficiently courageous “to use our own intelligence”, not for making better and better cal­culations of group interests, but for discovering, in each case we have to face, the implications of the clearly conceived human rights? And the European deci­sion-makers, are they sufficiently courageous to carry out what these implica­tions necessitate for practice, including the enlargement of the European Union? These are crucial questions. Political Europe has to settle accounts with itself, with the help of its intellectuals.

The “unity” of Europe shouldnot bea search for a new equi­librium of interests within Europe,nota unity of European interests to be pro­tected against the interests of other continents or “cultures” of the world,notan attempt to create a new “superpower”,nora new example of “eurocentricism” or “europeanism”; but a sincere project to create,by means of law and educa­tion,a Europe possessingonewill – the sincereandenlightened will to ever increasing protection of all kinds of basic human rights in the different existing conditions of the world.

This is why, I wish to make two concrete suggestions concerning the needs I have mentioned. One of them, concerning the need of clarifications of the concepts of human rights, is that the European Union develops a project in view to conceptualize the terms of human rights and justifies this conceptualization by showing its different consequences for practice and for the protection of human rights; and if this is satisfactory done, to revise its human rights instruments.

The other one concerns a different approach to the education of human rights. And this is to promote and expand what I call the philosophical-ethical education of human rights. This is an education focusing not on those whose rights will be protected, but on thosewho will protect human rights ─an education which aims at awaking in the trainees the sincere will to protect human rights and at equipping them with the necessary knowledge for this protection: with the conceptual knowledge of human rights and with knowledge of the way to find out their implications for legislation and action in the different existing condition of our world. We need to teach human rights first of all as ethical principles aiming at protecting human dignity and not only as law.

Europe has to keep true to its historical contingent main characteristic of having introduced in the mainstream of world history, among other ideas and ideas of varying qualities, the idea of human rights – ‘keeping true’ meaning here ‘finding and carrying out its implications’ on European space, as well as its implicationsforEurope, in view of an ever increasing protection of human rights on global level, thus becoming an example of a different –different from the now prevailing– conception of politics: an example of enlightened, ethical politics. Do you think that we can hope for such a development?

[i]Jean-Pierre Agremy, Préface, Europe sans rivage. De l’identité culturelle européenne, Paris, Albin Michel, 1988, p.11.

[ii]Axel R. Bunz, Klaus Faber, Michael Grüning, Peter Liebens (Hrsg.), Nachdenken über Europa I, Berlin 1992, p. 8.

[iii]Friedrich Nietzsche, “Schopenhauer as Educator”, Thoughts out of Season, part two, transl. by Adrian Collins, MA., The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, ed. by Dr. Oscar Levy, London, 1927, p. 135-136.

[iv]Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 256, trans. by Helen Zimmern, The Modern Library.

[v]Friedrich Nietzsche, Human All-too-Human, 475, op.cit.

[vi]Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 208, op.cit.