Is Europe... boring?

Saturday 20 October, 10.30am until 12.00pm, Pit Theatre

The anthem of the European Union, Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’, captures an historic European ideal that is hard to associate with the grey-suited bureaucrats of the contemporary EU. ‘Ode to Joy’ speaks of the excitement and sense of change – sometimes experienced with optimism, sometimes foreboding – that swept Europe after the French Revolution. Through the long nineteenth century until 1914, new nations like Germany, Italy and Greece came into existence, empires spread, Freud, Marx, Darwin and Nietzsche thought, Romantic poets dreamed. The masses entered history, fought for a better world, died in the trenches of the Great War. New waves of revolution swept crumbling empires aside, Bauhaus blossomed, Sartre and Arendt grappled with Heidegger, Einstein lectured in working men’s clubs, Joyce was in Paris, Orwell and Hemingway in Spain. Ideas mattered and history was upon us as the hammer and sickle flew over the Reichstag’s ruins.

Nearly 70 years later, one can travel without a passport from Paris to Warsaw, Copenhagen to Naples. The same currency allows one to buy Gucci and McDonalds in a reunited Berlin or a Madrid where Franco is just a memory. The European Union is the largest single economic unit in the world: its population exceeds that of the United States. It lacks the economic dynamism of America, but it is safe and, until recently, prosperous. Tourists flock to breathe in the atmosphere of the old world, to marvel at how people once lived, loved and thought, fought and died. Security and comfort are nothing to sneer at, but is something missing? Do we share a sense of being European, of holding ideals in common? Is today’s EU bound together by fear of the future rather than a love of freedom? With closer integration on the horizon – seemingly the only safe alternative – is it worth asking where today’s intellectuals and thinkers are? Weimar may have lived a brief, intense, and doomed existence but there was no doubt it burned brightly. Where is the culture, the music, the art, the philosophy, to make the European pulse quicken today? Or is it dangerous to romanticise Europe’s revolutionary past at a time when Europe potentially faces massive instability once again? Might these be vain questions as red and black flags flap on the streets of Athens once more, and Europe sits at the centre of the world’s depression?

Dr Albena Azmanova
social philosopher, political commentator and activist; author, The Scandal of Reason: a critical theory of political judgement

Timothy Garton Ash
professor of European studies, University of Oxford; commentator; director, Free Speech Debate

Ivan Krastev
chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia; permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna

Bruno Waterfield
Brussels correspondent, The Times; co-author, No Means No

Angus Kennedy
convenor, The Academy; author, Being Cultured: in defence of discrimination

Produced by
Angus Kennedy convenor, The Academy; author, Being Cultured: in defence of discrimination
Recommended readings
The EU’s Nobel has come at the price of democracy

Now be against the political institution in its current form is apparently to be anti-peace as well as anti-European

Dave Bowden, Independent, 12 October 2012

A scale model of European implosion

The budgetary austerity zealously applied by Madrid has revitalised demands for independence in Barcelona. Engaged in a fiscal and economic power struggle with the central government, Catalonia is threatening to disrupt the social and regional equilibrium that underlies Spanish democracy.

José Manuel Pureza, presseurop, 2 October 2012

Do we believe in the EU?

Crisis is a good moment for an examination of conscience. If war broke out in Europe today, would anyone be willing to die for the ideas of Schuman or Monnet’s community method?

Jacek Pawlicki & Tomasz Bielecki, presseurop, 21 September 2012

The Crisis of Europe

How the Union Came Together and Why It’s Falling Apart

Timothy Garton Ash, Foreign Affairs, September 2012

The Tragedy of the European Union and How to Resolve it

I have been a fervent supporter of the European Union as the embodiment of an open society—a voluntary association of equal states that surrendered part of their sovereignty for the common good. The euro crisis is now turning the European Union into something fundamentally different.

George Soros, New York Review of Books, 12 September 2012

Only deeper European unification can save the eurozone

Europe needs a new direction. A restructuring of the eurozone, including a transfer of sovereignty, is essential to end the crisis

Jürgen Habermas, Peter Bofinger and Julian Nida-Rümelin, Guardian, 9 August 2012

The Scandal of Reason: A Critical Theory of Political Judgment

Theories of justice are haunted by a paradox: the more ambitious the theory of justice, the less applicable and useful the model is to political practice; yet the more politically realistic the theory, the weaker its moral ambition, rendering it unsound and equally useless.

Albena Azmanova, Columbia University Press, 13 April 2012

The Hungary question could strengthen the EU

Debate over Hungary's new constitution will revitalise EU institutions – as long as it focuses on politics and law, not culture

Jan-Werner Mueller, Guardian, 2 April 2012

The New Old World

The New Old World looks at the history of the European Union, the core continental countries within it, and the issue of its further expansion into Asia. It opens with a consideration of the origins and outcomes of European integration since the Second World War, and how today's EU has been theorized across a range of contemporary disciplines

Perry Anderson, Verso, 1 August 2011

Session partners