sabato 25 febbraio 2012

How to Be a European (Union) Philosopher

Un articolo di Santiago Zabala sul New York Times, 23 febbraio 2012

How to Be a European (Union) Philosopher

One of the motivations behind the creation of the European Union was to assist in the social, economic and individual flourishing of citizens and workers who actually felt European regardless of their birthplace or current residence. I’ve been told that I not only embody such citizenship — I was raised in Rome, Vienna and Geneva, studied philosophy in Turin and Berlin, and now work in Barcelona — but also present a model of a European Union philosopher (because I  promote and teach continental philosophy). While as an E.U. citizen I’m delighted we are all allowed to reside in all these beautiful cities of the continent, as a philosopher I’m alarmed by the E.U.’s ongoing existential exclusions — that is, its forgetfulness of being. I’m not referring simply to a devaluation of the philosopher’s role in society, which is much more pronounced in other parts of the world, but rather something much more vital.

When we speak of being from the existential-hermeneutic point of view, as those interested in philosophy well know, we are not referring to the factual existence of things but rather to the force of the people, thinkers and artists who generated our history. Thus, each epoch can be alluded to in the name that great philosophers have given to being in their work — “act” in Aquinas Middle Ages, “absolute spirit” in Hegel’s modernity, or “trace” in Derrida’s postmodernity. It is between being and nothing. But being also denotes how our existence is hermeneutic, in other words, a distinctive interpretative project in search of autonomous life. We exist first and foremost as creatures who manage to question our own being and in this way project our lives. Without this distinctiveness we would not exist; that is, our lives would be reduced to a predetermined subordination to the dominant philosophical or political system.

The problem in 2012 is that E.U. policies are presented as if we have reached the end of history: after decades of war, Europe is finally united culturally, economically and soon also militarily. This, in the E.U. conception, is the best possible governance we could hope for. But as the ongoing protests throughout Europe point out, history has not ended: as citizens we continue to project our lives in ways that diverge from the Union’s neoliberal game plan. The fact that they are promoting technocratic governance does not imply that the nations of Europe are incapable of governing themselves but rather that they are being trammeled into compliance with the E.U. measures, classifications and rankings.  But where do these rankings come from?

Classification and the creation of hierarchies, whether financial, social or educational, are primarily developments of Western metaphysics, the object-oriented knowledge upon which we have modeled not only science but thought in general. The problem with this model is not theoretical, as we’ve been accustomed to believe, but rather ethical because it obliges intellectuals (whether economist, constitutionalist or philosopher) to leave out those who are not included within the hierarchies. The problem in considering our intellectuals —  “Newtonian physical scientist[s]” as Richard Rorty pointed out — is that this kind of thinker will center social reforms around “what human beings are like — not knowledge of what Greeks or Frenchmen or Chinese are like, but of humanity as such.” But metaphysical concepts such as “humanity” inevitably impose values and beliefs upon those who do not share them, as we’ve experienced with the horrors of colonialism. If so many philosophers at the beginning of the 20th century (Spengler, Popper and Arendt, for example) were concerned with the “total subordination of reason to metaphysical reality” it’s because, as Herbert Marcuse pointed out, it “prepares the way for racist ideology.”

While it would be inappropriate to consider the austerity plans run by the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund (recently grouped together as the “troika”) ideologically “racist,” they are certainly “metaphysically violent.” As Paul Krugman explained in a New York Times magazine article a few years ago, the problem with establishment economists is that they mistake mathematics for truth; they are “seduced by the vision of a perfect, frictionless market system [and] need to abandon the neat but wrong solution of assuming that everyone is rational and markets work perfectly.” The economists of the troika are not imposing violent austerity measures simply to politically dominate the European nations but rather to exclude any competing existential project, that is, any alteration to the troika’s vision of “the market.”

These proposed alterations, as Joseph Stiglitz pointed out, are essentially proposals of fiscal stimulus and support for individual citizens who have suffered directly in the financial crisis; but such actions would shake the “measures” of “fiscal discipline” that the European leaders are imposing upon its members. If, for the benefit of the Union, we must submit to measures that inflict social injuries upon our weakest citizens, it’s worth asking whether the euro is worth saving.

The fact that the European Research Council funds predominantly analytic philosophy projects, as well as those subservient to the hard sciences, perhaps is an indication that they prefer intellectuals who submit “reality to reason” rather than fighting the ongoing exclusion of the most vulnerable citizens by those in power. The work of a philosopher in Europe must involve guarding being, namely the existential lives of those not in power, from systems of thought that seek to exclude them. Before the parentheses in this article’s title can be removed, the European Union must reconsider the existential nature not only of citizens but also of philosophy itself since it seems to have forgotten both.
Santiago Zabala is ICREA Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of Barcelona. His books include “The Hermeneutic Nature of Analytic Philosophy,” “The Remains of Being” and, most recently, “Hermeneutic Communism,” written with Gianni Vattimo).

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