Prof. Dr. Nicholas Dima
USA, January 2019
We live in an era of new conflicts, new challenges and new identity crises! We moved from local to national identity and have organized ourselves in nation-states. During the last century we moved even further to form solid international organizations and global forums. We have improved dramatically our technology and changed our society, but we failed to change our violent nature. Is our innermost personality programmed genetically for conflict? Can we reach a higher level of understanding to be able to live together peacefully? Europe is a case in point. Is the EU able to find a common denominator for a continental identity and save itself? So far, the overbearing attitude of the European Parliament has already caused centrifugal tendencies and made England decide to leave the union. What is going on?
A number of recent books address the current international problems. Some of them have also studied the past to better understand the present and to build a safer future. Nevertheless, real solutions are out of reach. To understand ourselves and our nature some authors have turned to psychology and philosophy. The question of identity, for example, is thoroughly studied by Francis Fukuyama in his new book Identity: the Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment. The book studies the current political organization starting with the exploration of the very human soul. This is a new stage in understanding the link between individual behavior and social organization. And the author is applying his study to the present era of globalization and wide-spread democracy. The foregone conclusion is that in a world of democracy, characterized by excessive individualism and vast diversity, there is little in common to hold the society together. Each person wants to express his inner most identity and to translate it into political representation. The result is that true democracies can no longer unite everybody. Thus, the present is confusing and the future is uncertain…
The current Western political systems are driven by two trends or forces: conservatism, expressing mainly old nationalism and religion, and liberal democracy, a sort of pseudo-marxist socialism. Each of these trends gathers countless small groups and individuals, but too many times the individuals forming them have little in common. Accordingly, the new world of diversity and inclusion no longer fits either the old traditional beliefs or the new socialistic motivation. People want individual recognition and respect for personal dignity.
Apparently, we are back to the old dilemma weighing in the two sides of humanity: material and spiritual. Traditionally, religion in general and Christianity in particular, emphasize spirituality over materialism. However, the new secular societies are searching for universal values. What are those values that might unite us all? Who is defining and who is defending them? The only consensus in this regard is that personal interests and dignity are best served by democratic systems? However, democratic systems cannot satisfy every demand. Thus, while disregard for individuals or small groups can be addressed in public debates, disregard for larger groups, ethnic or religious for example, can lead to violence. It is already happening in Europe.
The European Union is threatened currently by two conflicting tendencies. On the one hand, certain regions, such as Catalonia in Spain and Scotland in Great Britain, are pursuing independence. On the other hand, the continent is assailed by foreign immigrants who reject the European values. Both trends can lead to grave conflicts and war and could shake present social political system arrangements. While the nationalistic trends are challenging the political system from the right, the socialist and neo liberal groups assail the political systems from the left. As a result, the center cannot sustain the present political systems anymore and societies risk to collapse.
Diversity adds spice to the world, but narrowing identities and ever growing diversity threaten collective action and social unity. In one of his books, titled who are we? Samuel Huntington addressed the situation in the American context. Traditionally, he wrote, the Americans were defined as a people sharing the Christian Faith, European ethnicity, language, and commitment to principles of democratic government. Nevertheless, the current diversity is reducing America to only two commonalities: English language and democratic principles. And he asks himself rhetorically: Does it mean that any persons who speaks English and believes in democratic principles, is an American? And we are back to the questions of identity, nation and conflict.
Richard Haass, another noted American analyist, published recently the book A World in Disarray; that is a world in trouble. His study underscores that our world continues to combine President Wilson’s idealism with hard-core realism. But that means balancing ambiguous morality, questionable legitimacy, and cynical politics. Internationally, for example, such issues as sovereignty and legitimacy are not universally accepted and are difficult to address. Therefore, brute force is still needed to impose some order in the world and to avoid chaos. In his opinion, the United States cannot afford to stay aloof; America’s involvement in world affairs is not only necessary, it is very much needed.
Noted American statesman and analyst Henry Kissinger is even more cynical in his latest book named World Order. He claims that America ought to remain strong and engaged internationally and must try to keep the world in balance. He adds, though, that it is not going to be easy. In this context, Kissinger offers a statement by former Secretary of State George Shultz who said: Americans, being a moral people, want their foreign policy to reflect the values we espouse as a nation. But Americans, being a practical people, also want their foreign policy to be effective. Can these opposing values be reconciled? Is the foreign policy of any country moral?
Despite today’s advanced process of internationalization and globalization, most analysts stress the crucial importance of the nation-states and national identity. Nations-states remain the building blocks of international arrangements, but nations are ego-centric and self-serving. Furthermore, the question is: Will nation-states survive the current process of globalization? And if they do not survive, how will international order be maintained? Should the U.N. control the world? Should London obey blindly decisions made in Brussels?
The situation is especially challenging in Europe because Europeans belong to different nationalities and do not even share a common language. Europe’s only common heritage is the Christian Faith. And it is this common cement that is strongly denied by the new left. Yet, without its Christian traditions and values, Europe would cease to be Europe. And this is the problem! Little wonder many Europeans are back to nationalism.
Recent evolutions in Europe are troubling and history offers little encouragement. If the United Kingdom goes ahead and leaves the EU the very existence of the union is jeopardized. A voluminous book published by Peter H. Wilson, Heart of Europe: A History of the Holy Roman Empire, shows that England got involved in European affairs rather late, but once involved her participation was crucial in keeping the balance of the continent. England helped keep a delicate balance between France and Germany and between the West and Russia. And England is needed now in Europe more than ever.
The English people are confronted these days with a drastic dilemma. Leaving Europe or staying in it? They are right and they are wrong at the same time. England will be stronger with Europe and Europe will be safer with England. To keep England in Europe, however, the EU should revise its autocratic and overbearing policy. The solution is to renegotiate the union and allow existing nation-state more room to express and cultivate their own national characters and to pursue their interests…
Our national identity is what keeps us together as large groups of people. It means our language, our history, our culture, and our shared values. It took centuries to make nations; it will take centuries to transform them. It is possible that in the future Europe will acquire a new and common identity, but we need patience and wisdom to get there.