Monthly Archives: February 2014

What Public Universities Owe the Public

graduates

(Credit: iStockphoto.com)

A great deal has lately been made about the widening inequality in America and its various effects not only on the poor but on those struggling to remain in the middle class. Unlike aristocracies, modern liberal democracies are designed to avoid the rule of the few who have a monopoly on wealth and power. Yet modern democracies accept market economies that introduce disparities in wealth and power and the class differences that go with them. The challenge for such democracies is to allow for inequalities while constraining and mitigating their worst effects, at least to the extent that citizens from the various classes can see themselves as parties to a social contract underwriting the principle of a common good.

Our Constitution, our civil religion, and our republican traditions were all an attempt to articulate such a contract.  For all citizens, regardless of their class, to feel that they are in it together with citizens of other classes, there must be a reasonable belief in the possibility of social and economic mobility on the basis of effort, character, and ability. But this is not enough. In general, citizens of a stable modern democracy should be able to believe that their class position is a reasonable reflection of their efforts, character, and ability. It would be going too far to suggest, as did John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, that God ordained inequality of wealth and power so “that every man might have need of others, and hence they might be all knit more nearly together in the bonds of brotherly affection.” But ideally most citizens of a democratic commonwealth should feel at least minimal ties of affection—including a sense of gratitude and mutual obligation—with fellow citizens of all classes.

This kind of bond is the forgotten element in the American dream, and unfortunately, it is as forgotten in public higher education as in the institutions of wealth accumulation. The undeniable fact is that “the academic class,” the graduates, the faculty, and the administrators of public universities, are a privileged class of citizens. That being the case, what should less-advantaged citizens feel toward the academic class? Should those who are educationally, economically, and politically less advantaged have reasons to be grateful for the advantaged status of graduates, faculty, and administrators of prestigious public universities? And if the academic class of prestigious public universities is obligated to those less-advantaged educationally, economically, and politically, what is it that they owe them?

Unfortunately, and for a variety of reasons, public universities, especially the more prestigious ones, have lost any real sense of what their functions are as democratic institutions. Ask a postal worker what the U.S. Postal Service is for, a soldier what the U.S. military is for, a firefighter what the fire department is for, or a nurse what a public hospital is for, and you will get fairly straightforward answers. Ask a graduate, a faculty member, an administrator, or a board member of a prestigious public university what a public university is for in a modern liberal democracy and you will too often get little more than a string of clichés. Public universities lack any substantial sense of what their functions are as democratic institutions.  When a carpenter forgets what his hammer is for, it is time either to help him remember or to fire him. The same is true for administrators, faculty, and students at universities.

One of the functions of public universities is to provide access to quality education in order to facilitate social mobility and to mitigate the effects of class disparities. Given this, one would think that academic leaders would be centrally guided by the question, what kind of education should graduates be required to have before they get their degrees and the economic and political advantages that go with them? What kind of core curriculum should be required of public universities to ensure that they fulfill their proper role in a modern liberal democracy and therefore merit public support and funding? That these questions are not being asked in regard to curricular issues is symptomatic of the rudderless nature of public higher education, especially in regard to liberal arts education.

Of course, one of the public interests served by public universities is to provide job training in the professions. In doing so, public universities also serve to provide economically accessible opportunities for citizens to advance their private interests through career advancement. In this way, public universities are part of an effort to garner the best talent for the professions and to serve class mobility in a competitive economy of a democratic society. To serve these functions, public higher education must be of high quality and economically accessible to qualified students, regardless of their class background.

Another private interest served by public universities is more directly related to liberal arts education: namely, to provide economically accessible opportunities for citizens to enrich their lives through the study of the arts and sciences. The kind of class mobility essential to a modern democracy is not simply a matter of economic mobility but also of educational mobility, that is, the accessible journey from a limited exposure to the varieties of human experience, creativity, and inquiry to a life enriched by an expansive exposure to all of these things. Even those already economically advantaged may still hunger for a different kind of advancement that only a well-conceived liberal arts education can provide.

Wren Building at W&M

Woodcut of the College of William & Mary (Credit: The American Cyclopædia / Wikimedia Commons)

But something is still missing if we think that providing “opportunities” for citizens is the central function of a public university: namely, education for the responsibilities of citizenship. If economically accessible opportunities for training in the professions and opportunities for liberal arts education for personal enrichment were the only interests served by pubic universities, the curriculum could be determined by pure market considerations: that is, by whatever job training is needed and desired in the economy, and by whatever students and professors choose to think is personally enriching. But these are not the only interests served by public universities in a modern democracy, and it is a fatal mistake to think that they are more basic than the interest in educating responsible citizens.

The idea of the social contract envisioned by the Framers included the idea that the advantages of privilege come with the responsibility of citizenship and the education required for it. This should be the guiding thought in the overall design of a public university, especially in regard to the curriculum.

So, then, what do graduates of a public university have an obligation to know (and faculty to teach) before they are granted a degree that opens the doors to the privileges they will enjoy and the positions they will occupy? Some maintain that the central task of liberal arts education should focus on “critical thinking skills and creativity” rather than “content knowledge and memorization.” This is the current trend or fad, but the distinction between critical thinking and content knowledge is a canard, a cover for squishy curricula designed for the convenience of students, faculty, and administrators.

How can graduates think critically and responsibly about the relevance of historical knowledge to current issues facing our society when the curricula of their universities allow them to avoid studying American history beyond the high-school level? And what about the ability of such advantaged graduates to think critically about how Americans can relate to other people in the world, when they are allowed to avoid studying the world’s major religions and humanistic traditions? More basically, what about the ability of these graduates to understand our own form of government, the rule of law in America and its effects on everyone, when they are allowed to avoid studying the U.S. Constitution and the historical debates over the major cases in Supreme Court history? What about the ability of privileged graduates to think critically about the economic future of our society and the relationship between the government and the economy when they are allowed by their universities to avoid studying economics and the major schools of economic theory?

And shouldn’t less advantaged citizens, in return for their gratitude and regard, expect the graduates of public universities to have the critical thinking skills necessary to evaluate whether the government is investing well in science or whether global warming is scientific fact or hoax, to address concerns about the relationships between science and religion, and to discriminate between the sound use of statistical reasoning in social science and its misuse in political propaganda detrimental to the general welfare? If so, how could the curriculum of a public university allow students to avoid studying any “hard” laboratory science, any biology and natural selection, or any rigorous social science and statistics?

In general, how can university graduates be ignorant of these and other things and reliably have the ability to think critically regarding the public good and the social contract? Of course, there are students who take a deep interest in these subjects, but the issue is not about what students might take an interest in but about what privileged students have an obligation to learn and what privileged faculty have a responsibility to teach.

None of these questions inform discussion on curricula at most public universities, especially the more prestigious ones. The College of William and Mary in Virginia, where I taught for my entire career, just passed a new curriculum under which a student can graduate without ever taking a course in American history, the world’s religions, economics, government, philosophy, and (possibly) natural science. Instead, students choose courses from vaguely designed “domains” that have only a nominal connection to the kind of substantive courses that once made up a rigorous liberal education. The fact is that neither the old nor the new curriculum at William and Mary was designed to require graduates to have any of the content knowledge mentioned in the questions above or the critical skills that go with such knowledge. This is not the kind of public university Madison and Jefferson rightly had in mind as essential to democracy, and there is no sense in which it can be called progressive. There is no whitewashing the fact that a curriculum like that of the College of William and Mary, “the Alma Mater of a Nation,” turns a public university into a club for privileged faculty, administrators, and students. This is a pernicious abuse of privilege and academic freedom that exacerbates the decline in the humanities and only weakens the social contract.

Unfortunately, public light seldom shines in the darker recesses of academia. When government abandons public universities to the political world of private fundraising and university politics, it commercializes the curriculum, creates a class of itinerate administrators on their way up, feigns oversight through ineffectual boards, and abandons the needs of democracy at the altar of what privileged faculty members want to sell and what privileged students want to buy. If we care about our public universities, our social contract with each other, and our democracy, we must insist that this status quo does not serve the public interest. We, the public, must demand excellence in what matters most in education.

George W. Harris is Chancellor Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the College of William and Mary and the author of Reason’s Grief: An Essay on Tragedy and Value (Cambridge University Press, 2006 and 2012).

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A Peek at the Spring Issue

Hedgehog Review being printed

Our spring 2014 issue rolling off the presses.

Our spring issue is at the presses, due to arrive in mailboxes and bookstores in early March.

The focus this time around is Europe, and specifically how the European Union is addressing the challenges of identity, social cohesion, and political order in an increasingly global world. In his essay, for example, political theorist Philippe Bénéton questions whether a highly procedural arrangement, a kind of politics without real politics, can bring about a more perfect union binding the many constituent European nation-states.

“An agreement on the rules of the game does not suffice to make a strong society,” Bénéton writes. “Who would risk his life to defend procedures, either those of the political regime or those of the market? And can this agreement itself be solid if the members of the society have nothing in common?”

Here’s a preview of the table of contents for the curious. Look for select essays to appear in full on The Hedgehog Review website on Monday, March 3.

SPRING 2014
TABLE OF CONTENTS

NOTES AND COMMENTS
A new section devoted to tight commentary on timely issues.

Against Mastery
by Wilfred M. McClay

Lyndon Johnson’s War
by Jay Tolson

The Press in the Digital Age
by Joseph E. Davis

EUROPE: THE WAY AHEAD
Our spring theme

Europe and the New Democracy
by Philippe Bénéton

The European Experiment
by Zygmunt Bauman

The Strange but Necessary Suppression of Europe`s Christian Roots
by Christian Joppke

Ethnopolitics and the European Project
by Montserrat Guibernau

Generation Europe
by Petra Huyst

Europe’s Elusive Identity
by Marcello Verga

ESSAYS

Grappling with Evil in Our Time
by Paul Hollander

The Struggle for Hearts and Minds: America’s Culture War and the Decline of US Public Diplomacy
by Martha Bayles

In Me We Trust: Public Health, Personalized Medicine, and the Common Good
by Donna Dickenson

BOOK REVIEWS

Lila Abu-Lughod’s Do Muslim Women Need Saving?
Reviewed by Jeffrey Guhin

Thomas Pfaus’s Minding the Modern: Human Agency, Intellectual Traditions, and Responsible Knowledge
Reviewed by Steven Knepper

Jeremy Adelman’s Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman
Reviewed by Amitai Etzioni

Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky ‘s How Much is Enough? The Love of Money, and the Case for the Good Life
Reviewed by Eric Schliesser

SIGNIFIERS
A new section examining the meaning of a culturally significant word, phrase, image, or artifact.

Reinvent, Reinventing, Reinvention
by John P. Hewitt

 

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The American Tradition of Civil Religion

Philip Gorski's visit to UVA in winter 2014

Philip Gorski spoke at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in February 2014 as a guest of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.

Civil religion is a distinctly American tradition, a dynamic engagement with enduring principles and ideals set against two rival traditions. So contends Philip Gorksi, a professor of sociology at Yale University, whose recent talk at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, “Prophetic Republicanism: The Civil Religious Tradition in America History,” took up the subject of his forthcoming book. (The following quotes are taken from a written version of the talk.)

What precisely is civil religion? Gorski defines civil religion as a blend of prophetic religion (referring not to “the rapture” or “the apocalypse” but to a sense of God-given responsibility to a lawful and just society) and civic republicanism ( a “certain tradition in Western political thought” focused on the values of freedom, balance, virtue, etc.). For further clarity, he sets this evolving tradition of civil religion against two competing traditions: religious nationalism and liberal secularism.

He begins with religious nationalism:

On this reading, the United States is a chosen nation, chosen for its righteousness, the strong arm of the Lord, which he uses to punish evildoers. It is a very old tradition. I would argue that it goes all the way back to the Puritan crusades against the Native Americans. Nowadays, though, religious nationalism travels under the more innocuous sounding name of “American exceptionalism.”

Liberal secularism, on the other hand, has as its governing ideals “private pleasure and individual autonomy”:

As a self-conscious philosophical creed, though, liberal secularism does not really take hold until the late 19th century, with the rise of scientific materialism and laissez-faire economics. In the undiluted version of the liberal creed, there is really no such thing as an American project qua common good; just so many versions of the American Dream qua private prosperity. Nor is there any such thing as an American Republic; just so many private interests jostling with one another and for the attention of the median voter. Civic virtue is unnecessary, because free markets are sufficient to transform self-interest into collective goods.  Checks and balances are purely institutional and legal in form; and their sole purpose is to prevent government from restraining individual liberty.

Against these two traditions, Gorski then traces the evolution of America’s civil religion from the Puritans to the American Revolution to the Civil War and on through the Civil Rights era to Obama’s presidency. One highlight of that evolution was Martin Luther King Jr.’s contribution.:

What was King’s contribution to the civil-religious tradition? Firstly, and most obviously, it was homiletic. The progressive civil religion had mostly been a high church religion, a civil theology of, by and for America’s liberal Protestant elite. King translated their civil theology into a poetic register spoken in the prophetic rhythms of the black church. A second and perhaps less obvious contribution was synthetic. King was deeply conversant with many sources of the civil religious tradition. While he spoke in the cadences of the black church, he knew the writings of the founders, the speeches of Douglass and Lincoln, the writings of Dewey, Addams and Niebuhr. Indeed, his speeches can be read as a sort of civic catechism—and are used as such in our public schools today—which clothes our civic creed in narrative and metaphor.

To hear more thoughts about the history of civil religion and its future, watch a video of Professor Gorski’s talk at U.Va.

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There is Hope in Africa

Optimism may be waning in many parts of the world, but a report based on a recent global survey shows that high numbers of Africans believe that brighter days are ahead. Indeed, when asked about the state of the economy and prospects for their children, Africans come across as more positive than respondents in Europe and the Middle East. It seems they are even more sanguine than notoriously optimistic Americans. That optimism persists even while many Africans report difficulties affording food and deep concerns about the disparity between the rich and the poor in their countries.

Chart showing Africans' outlook for their children. Source: Pew Research Center

Source: Pew Research Center

The report draws on findings from a 39-nation survey conducted by the Pew Research Global Attitudes Project in 2013, and many of the details are fascinating. When those surveyed in Africa—from the eight countries of South Africa, Kenya, Senegal, Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt, and Tunisia—were asked about the economic situation of their countries, a median of 41 percent reported that they were in good shape compared with 15 percent of those surveyed in Europe and 27 percent in the Middle East.  (These compare with 52 percent in the surveyed Asian countries and 44 percent in Latin American ones. In the United States, just 33 percent surveyed viewed the economic conditions as “good.”)

Furthermore, when asked about the future of their children, a median of 50 percent of those in the surveyed  African countries predicted that their children will be better off. That contrasts with 31 percent in the Middle East and 26 percent in Europe. Those surveyed in Nigeria and Ghana were particularly optimistic, with about two-thirds reporting that they believe their children will be better off, even as half or more of those surveyed in these and other African countries noted that they have been unable to afford food for their families at times in the past year.

The rosy outlook of many Asians may seem somewhat unsurprising, given their countries’ rapid economic growth. But what are we to make of the optimism shown by those in Africa?

One potential explanation can be found in one of Pew’s own past surveys.

In Spirit and Power: A 10-Country Survey of Pentecostals, a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2006, researchers found that the fastest growing form of Christianity in the world is Prosperity Gospel Pentecostalism. They examined 10 countries with sizable representations of Pentecostals and other renewalists: the United States; Brazil, Chile, and Guatemala in Latin America; Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa in Africa; and India, the Philippines, and South Korea in Asia.

This form of Christianity teaches that God desires every believer who has enough faith to prosper in every way. The percentage of those who reported believing that “God grants material prosperity to all believers who have enough faith” was highest in Africa (83 percent in Kenya, 96 percent in Nigeria, and 80 percent in South Africa).

During my last research project, I spent two years going to services with Spanish-speaking immigrants in Prosperity Gospel Pentecostal churches across the United States. One of the core doctrines of Prosperity Gospel Pentecostalism is that God can miraculously bring wealth to individuals if they have enough faith.

I encountered entire communities who, despite their social and economic challenges, remained optimistic about their future primarily because having doubts is interpreted as a lack of faith, thereby displeasing God, who would, in turn, withhold prosperity. Even in seemingly hopeless situations, these Prosperity Gospel Pentecostals were confident that things would eventually turn out in their favor. I call this attitude relentless optimism, and I have seen it spread beyond spiritual matters. (I elaborated on “The Gospel of the American Dream” in the Hedgehog summer 2013 issue.) Prosperity Gospel Pentecostals are relentlessly optimistic about the outcomes of marital troubles, disobedient children, employment difficulties, even mechanical problems with their cars. When faced with each of these challenges, Pentecostals responded with their core belief: with enough faith, things would work out in their favor.

Thus, it is not surprising that continents with high percentages of Pentecostals are more likely to be optimistic about their economic future and the future of their children, regardless of their present difficulties.

This is not to suggest that prosperity gospel is the only reason for optimism in Africa. Yet the spread and prevalence of Prosperity Gospel ideology cannot be easily dismissed. It is an established global presence shaping cultures around the world. Given its vast reach and growing following, Prosperity Gospel Pentecostalism must be taken into consideration by anyone who is seeking to understand and explain global attitudes.

Tony Tian-Ren Lin is a research scholar specializing in the sociology of religion and culture at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.

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Winter Storm Pax and the Power of Names

Snowstorm

Credit: iStockphoto.com

As Winter Storm Pax pushes across the eastern United States this week, I find myself pondering the power of names.

In 2012, The Weather Channel, assisted by a Latin class at Bozeman High School in Bozeman, Montana,  started giving winter storms names taken from Roman history and mythology.  The practice has been somewhat controversial. Unlike the naming of hurricanes, the naming of winter storms is not supported by an official weather agency, and there appear to be no set criteria for determining what counts as a storm as opposed to a few flurries (although you can read about the attempt to establish such criteria here).

The naming of storms might seem like a small semantic issue; it changes nothing about the actual weather event. But I’d like to suggest that there are potentially significant effects of this new practice. Where once we might have said, “They are calling for 2 inches of snow tonight,” we can now exclaim, “Winter Storm Kronos is coming tonight!” These two statements reveal markedly different perceptions of the same phenomenon.

When we give something a name, we contribute to a process of reification. In this case, we take a weather pattern likely to produce snow and turn it into something perceived to have a life of its own. Another way of thinking about this might be to see naming a storm as a type of self-fulfilling prophecy. It is true that simply by giving a name to a storm we cannot alter the strength of a storm or how much snow falls. But we can manufacture some of the effects of a storm (regardless of its manifestation) by cancelling or delaying school and work, deploying city resources to pretreat our roads, or stocking up on supplies at the grocery store.

Why might simply giving a weather pattern a name result in such a different perception of the event and alter how we respond to it? Sociologists and cultural theorists offer a key insight into this process. Sociologist Émile Durkheim, phenomenologists, and, more recently, scholars of cognitive sociology all recognize that people process information and make sense of the world by sorting it into categories and schemas. Doing so speeds up our ability to analyze the world around us and facilitates action. Categories and schema act as shortcuts and allow us to bypass energy-intensive and time-consuming processes of making sense of each stimulus anew. We don’t have to assess each assemblage of wood and upholstery every time we happen upon one; rather, we see a chair, and we sit. Likewise, when we learn that a storm is approaching, we are primed toward a certain set of expectations and actions (such as closing schools or buying extra firewood).

There are two aspects of our own cultural context that might further exacerbate our perceived difference between named “Winter Storms” and generic snow showers. First, the list of names chosen for the 2013-2014 season—titles like Atlas, Maximus, and Xeni—are names that connote strength and might. Many of them are taken from Roman and Greek myths. These other-worldly labels differ significantly from typical (and somewhat benign) hurricane names like Larry, Erin, and Carl. Surely no one would tell you to brace for Winter Storm Titan if only a dusting of snow were expected.

Second, it matters that the new practice of naming snow phenomena was preceded by the practice of naming hurricanes. Hurricanes are destructive events. To be labeled a hurricane, storms must meet certain criteria (like dangerous wind speeds). Culturally, when we hear that Hurricane Jane is going to make landfall, we know that those in its path had better “batten down the hatches” or get out of the way. Likewise, when we hear that Cleon is expected to hit tomorrow morning, we are culturally primed to expect an event of a certain magnitude.

At this point, not all news agencies are making use of the new naming system, but I do wonder about the power that such names might have if the practice becomes widespread. Over time we might come to ignore the naming of these storms and to see it only as media hype. In that case, I wonder about the impact it could have on our perception of other, more deadly weather events. If we learn to shrug off the likes of Winter Storms Vulcan and Maximus, can our dismissal of the danger of Hurricane Teddy be far behind?

Claire Maiers is an associate fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture and a graduate student in sociology at the University of Virginia.

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Self-Knowledge in the Age of the Digital Panopticon

A short piece in the British thought journal Prospect, “Quantified Self: The Algorithm of Life,” reminds me once again that satire of the dystopian variety can barely keep up with what the real world throws at us every day.

Betham's drawing of a Panopticon

Drawing of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon (Wikipedia Commons)

I have in mind the recent novel by Dave Eggers, The Circle, which follows the career of a bright young thing who becomes a rising star in the utimate tech company, a sort of hybrid of Google, Facebook, and half a dozen other cutting-edge cool shops. The Circle, as the eponymous firm is called, puts all your social media and personal digital data together and allows you to accesss them under your own uber-password. It provides one-stop shopping for those who want to be connected to everything, even while seeing to it that those connections (and, of course, the personal data) are assiduously monitored, stored, and exploited to bring you even more of what you don’t yet know you want.

But a digital panopticon fulfilling Jeremy Bentham’s vision of the relentlessly surveilled life is so close to being realized in the real world that it almost puts Eggers’ fictive imaginings to shame.  Josh Cohen in his Prospect piece describes a tech-driven movement of self-quantification that comports perfectly with the world of the Circle, even bringing to it a higher, finer resolution:

Quantified Self (QS) is a growing global movement selling a new form of wisdom, encapsulated in the slogan “self-knowledge through numbers”. Rooted in the American tech scene, it encourages people to monitor all aspects of their physical, emotional, cognitive, social, domestic and working lives. The wearable cameras that enable you to broadcast your life minute by minute; the Nano-sensors that can be installed in any region of the body to track vital functions from blood pressure to cholesterol intake, the voice recorders that pick up the sound of your sleeping self or your baby’s babble—together, these devices can provide you with the means to regain control over your fugitive life.

This vision has traction at a time when our daily lives, as the Snowden leaks have revealed, are being lived in the shadow of state agencies, private corporations and terrorist networks—overwhelming yet invisible forces that leave us feeling powerless to maintain boundaries around our private selves. In a world where our personal data appears vulnerable to intrusion and exploitation, a movement that effectively encourages you to become your own spy is bound to resonate. Surveillance technologies will put us back in the centre of the lives from which they’d displaced us. Our authoritative command of our physiological and behavioural “numbers” can assure us that after all, no one knows us better than we do.

No, Cohen does not believe this.  He knows that there is no end to the monitoring and the new devices, no end to “more data accumulated and shared.” But he is concerned less with the loss of privacy than he is with the misguided search for self-knowledge through more and finer quantitative measurements. He eloquently describes the panic that may begin to set in even at the outset of such a quantitative quest, a panic that, if not suppressed by other technological measurements, may lead to a valuable insight:  “Perhaps the self you really want to know, and that always eludes you, is the one that can’t be quantified.”

True, of course. But perhaps the saddest thing about Cohen’s lament is how it registers on the mind of even one who agrees:  How quaint Cohen sounds.  How truly quaint.

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The European Issues

As we at The Hedgehog Review were putting the last touches on our upcoming spring issue,  Harper’s magazine made its timely appearance in my mailbox. Its provocative cover: a Nazi-esque armband adorned with a euro symbol. The headline: “How Germany Reconquered Europe.”

Harper's February 2014 cover

Harper’s February 2014 cover

How indeed? I was particularly curious because our spring issue devotes several essays to the precarious and uncertain future of the European Union.

Harper’s look at the subject takes the form of  a roundtable discussion among five  eminent scholars—”two Germans, a Frenchman, an Englishman, and an American.”  The points made by these discussants are often as controversial as the cover. Economist  James K. Galbraith, the American voice, makes his views of the crisis crystal clear: “On the question of the effects of a crisis in the United States, let me offer a radically contrarian view: I’m looking forward to it. I’m absolutely looking forward to it, in all seriousness.” ( His reason:  Ultimately, it will help the American economy rid itself of too-big-to-fail “zombie institutions” that should have failed after the 2008 financial collapse.)

The main questions circle the euro:  Will it survive? If so, in what form? If not, what will replace it? And how will America and the world be affected?

The consensus is that, yes, the euro will survive, at least for a time, and at least partially because the world—America, China, among others—want it to.

A goodly portion of the symposium addresses the next possible moves in the EU’s game of transnational chess. veering for a moment into the divisive question of Europeanness. Do Greeks, Spaniards, Italians, Danes, and others view themselves as Europeans?

Ulrike Guérot, associate for Germany at the Open Society Initiative for Europe, argues yes:

We are not just talking economics here; there is a cultural, traditional, historical attachment. I traveled to Greece, Portgual, Spain, and Italy before coming here, and if you question these people, give them the option to leave the euro, they will say that being part of Europe is a sort of national raison d’état.

Emmanuel Todd, political scientist at the National Institute of Demographic Studies Paris, sees things quite differently:

The way our German friends talk about Europe is very strange to a Frenchman. From an ideological point of view, outside Germany, Europe is a dead concept. In France nobody believes in Europe.

This side disagreement piqued my interest, and not ony because it is a theme explored by several essays in our next issue.  Montserrat Guibernau, a professor of politics, begins her article  with the question–“Can there be a European identity?”—and goes on to define it as an “emergent ‘nonemotional’ identity.”

Historian Marcello Verga weighs in with historical perspective, detailing the issues of identity that plagued the Council of Europe in the 1950s and remain live considerations today.

Political scientist Philippe Bénéton plays a variation on the topic in his discussion of Europe’s attempt to move beyond the nation-state:

An agreement on the rules of the game does not suffice to make a strong society. Who would risk his life to defend procedures, either those of the political regime or those of the market? And can this agreement itself be solid if the members of the society have nothing in common? According to a more substantial definition, political society cannot be reduced to a mere association. In particular, it cannot be established successfully except in the kind of community that was forged in the modern era: the nation-state. Liberal democracy and the nation-state can be separated only at great risk.

That question of a transnational democracy emerges in the Harper’s discussion as well:

Says Galbraith: “The idea of an integrated federal democracy in Europe seems to me to be an impossible hurdle at this stage. It’s also, in my view, entirely unnecessary.”

Guérot responds: “This is the line that really divides us here in this discussion. I don’t want to believe that a politically integrated Europe is impossible before we have really tried. To me, political integration is really the project of today, tomorrow, and beyond.”

One subject that is never broached in Harper’s conversation: religion.

For that, readers should await the thoughts of our contributor Christian Joppke, who makes the case that Christianity, while the most likely contender, cannot serve as the foundation of a new pan-European identity, at least in any formal legal or institutional ways:

Yet when the European Union had a chance to define itself, in the preamble of its never-realized constitution, a reference to Europe’s Christian roots was refused, though not without a fight. All one finds in this document is an anemic acknowledgment of the “cultural, religious, and humanist traditions of Europe.” Even the U.S. Supreme Court, though heavily constrained by the separationist legacy of the First Amendment’s establishment clause that has no parallel anywhere in Europe, has recently moved toward a “recognition of the role of God in our Nation’s heritage,” a recognition that makes the European refusal appear all the more puzzling.

Readers whose interest has been whetted by the Harper’s symposium should look forward to the Hedgehog’s diverse delvings into Europe’s current crisis.  All share our characteristic focus on the deeper cultural and philosophical  dimensions of the subject. Starting in March, look for the issue in your mailbox or in select Barnes & Noble bookstores.

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