Europe and secularism

Via DJ Nozem I was directed to a very interesting and very important article on Eurozine about European secularism and its role in shaping European identities. The text contains many useful insights and provides a wealth of discussion material. I’ll give one quote for our readers to consider and debate, emphasis mine, but please do and go read everything.

Internal differences notwithstanding, western European societies are deeply secular societies, shaped by the hegemonic knowledge regime of secularism. As liberal democratic societies they tolerate and respect individual religious freedom. But due to the pressure towards the privatization of religion, which among European societies has become a taken-for-granted characteristic of the self-definition of a modern secular society, those societies have a much greater difficulty in recognizing some legitimate role for religion in public life and in the organization and mobilization of collective group identities. Muslim organized collective identities and their public representations become a source of anxiety not only because of their religious otherness as a non-Christian and non-European religion, but more importantly because of their religiousness itself as the other of European secularity. In this context, the temptation to identify Islam and fundamentalism becomes the more pronounced. Islam, by definition, becomes the other of Western secular modernity. Therefore, the problems posed by the incorporation of Muslim immigrants become consciously or unconsciously associated with seemingly related and vexatious issues concerning the role of religion in the public sphere, which European societies assumed they had already solved according to the liberal secular norm of privatization of religion.

The sentence in bold goes to the heart of what I personally feel to be one of the main issues we are dealing with. Sure, Muslim fundamentalists who are ready to throw bombs and cause physical damage are a real threat and get plenty of media attention, deservedly or not. However, I believe the issues are much larger and much more complex. Terrorists, for better or for worse, are still a minority within a minority. There are bigger forces and trends at play here, as Eurozine points out:

The final and more responsible option would be to face the difficult and polemical task of defining through open and public debate the political identity of the new European Union: Who are we? Where do we come from? What constitutes our spiritual and moral heritage and the boundaries of our collective identities? How flexible internally and how open externally should those boundaries be? This would be under any circumstance an enormously complex task that would entail addressing and coming to terms with the many problematic and contradictory aspects of the European heritage in its intra-national, inter-European, and global-colonial dimensions. But such a complex task is made the more difficult by secularist prejudices that preclude not only a critical yet honest and reflexive assessment of the Judeo-Christian heritage, but even any public official reference to such a heritage, on the grounds that any reference to religion could be divisive and counterproductive, or simply violates secular postulates.

Of Population Pyramids and Value Chains

It is by now well known that the main hope for developed societies subject to rapid population ageing who wish to maintain their relative standard of living lies in increasing their collective productivity more rapidly than they increase their dependency ratio via-a-vis the older age groups. Now in the comments thread on the recent ‘Reform is a Dirty Word‘ post I ventured to say that I found it obvious that at some stage we would reach a point where the rate of population ageing was going to outstrip the rate of productivity increase (in which case relative income per capita would inevitaby start to fall). David, unsurprisingly, asked me why I thought this to be the case. I was not happy with the response I offered (which was essentially some ‘rigmarole’ about the biology of ageing which is coming in a separate post), and since that time I have been scratching my head trying to find a simple way to get this point across. Perhaps I now have one.

All you need to get to grips with what follows is a basic understanding of geometry and a vague interest in football.
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Networks and Language in Europe (and More)

Many thanks to the good folks at AFOE for the invitation to guest-blog here for a while. To include a non-European and non-European-resident among this crowd is not a little humbling; I hope I do the blog justice. I have no handy bio available, so suffice to say that I’m an academic, I teach political philosophy, once lived in Germany (but not for nearly long enough), now live in Arkansas, and often stay up late trying to get our two-month-old daughter to go to sleep. For more information, feel free to peruse my own blog, W?ldchen vom Philosophenweg.

Recently I ran across a fascinating article by James C. Bennett, he of “Anglosphere” fame. The article, one of the cover features of the most recent issue of The National Interest, is titled “Networking Nation-States” and is heavy-laden with ideas and insights. Bennett is an unapologetic defender of the globalized free market, who sees politics through the prism of contract and transaction, meaning that he understands healthy polities to be those which maximize fluidity, entrepreneurship, reflexivity and innovation, with little distinctions between the political and the economic spheres. Like some others here at AFOE, I find this kind of neoliberal triumphalism wearying. But I forgive Bennett because he has such an intriguing grasp of the related issues of “space” and language in the construction of societies. Those interested in the EU, and the argument over its relationship to traditional understandings of political identity and sovereignty (which I tend to think is a complicated philosophical matter, and not simply an IR debate over terminology), would do well to think hard about what Bennett is saying.
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