I have repeatedly stated that one of the acutest cultural problems in the EU nowadays is that of a lack of cultural identity rooted in Christianity; this is largely due philosophically to a poor appreciation of historicism. To my mind, the philosopher who first alerted us to this problem was Giambattista Vico, widely considered the father of modern historicism. I’d like to offer a brief outline of his theory of history, trusting that interested readers will then pick up and read his masterpiece The New Science.
In 1976 A. Robert Caponigri of Notre Dame University published an essay in honor of the great Yale Dante and Vico scholar Thomas Bergin (in Italian Literature: Roots and Branches, Yale University Press) in which he stated that “In the ‘Scienza Nuova’ Vico anticipates by two centuries contemporary man’s most profound discovery concerning himself: the fact that he has a history, because by creating history man discovers and actualizes his own humanity.” That statement alerts us to the fact that Vico is well within the Italian humanistic tradition. He is, in fact, nothing short of its culmination. A tradition this which is interrupted by Descartes’ anti-humanistic stance and now waiting, like ambers under the ashes of a technocratic rationalistic society, for a new rebirth.
I am not suggesting that the concept of history is a special privilege of Western Man. Non Westerns too have a history. However, it is only in 18th century Europe that Man becomes aware of the far reaching implications of that fact. While Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Muslims had chronicles and archives, they were not intellectually conscious of the astonishing fact peculiar to Western Man, that the history that man makes expresses his freedom vis à vis events, nature and social life; which is to say, that when Man creates history out of nothing (as a sort of creation ex nihilo), he creates an eminently human factum, a sort of artifact, which is then knowable to the human mind that created it. In short, the awareness that Man has, is, and makes history is a paradigm, or a myth of reality if you will, which is unique to Western thinking and is intimately related to the idea of freedom.
Carl Marx for one utilized this paradigm of Man as his own history, but he was not its discoverer as some surmise. Its discoverer was Giambattista Vico who first proposed it to his contemporaries as a sort of antidote to the then rampant abstract, rationalistic philosophy of Renè Descartes. In fact, I suggest that to perceive Vico’s originality one needs to explore this peculiar Cartesian rationalistic background of our culture. Only in contrast to the thought of Descartes, which has shaped the modern mind-set, can we grasp the relevancy of Vico’s thought.
In the first place, it should be noted that a-historical thinking, a tendency to emphasize and privilege the universal and abstract aspects of thought, at the expense of the particular and the contingent, has been around in the West since Plato. But Descartes believed that he had reached the end of his epistemological ventures with what he considered the final solution to the problem of human knowledge. He accomplishes it by deemphasizing the humanities and claiming that the main criterion of truth for man is that the judgments asserting it must consist of “clear and distinct ideas.”
In his Principles of Philosophy Descartes states that “I term that clear which is present and apparent to an attentive mind, in the same way as we assert that we see objects clearly when, being present to the regarding eye, they operate upon it with sufficient strength. But the distinct is that which is so precise and different from all other objects that it contains within itself nothing but what is clear.” Obviously, within this kind of epistemology symbols related to seeing predominate over those related to hearing. The insistence throughout is on clarity and mathematical knowledge. Mathematics is in fact specifically mentioned in Descartes’ Discourse on Method where he states that “Most of all I was delighted with Mathematics because of the certainty of its demonstrations and the evidence of its reasoning.”
And what exactly is Descartes’ true foundation for his theory of knowledge? His renowned “Cogito, ergo sum,” that is, thought in the act of thinking or reflecting upon itself. In other words, if I think, I exist or at least perceive myself as existing. This first certitude of one’s existence is characterized by the evidence thought has of itself with no other unclear elements. Therefore, Descartes concludes, the criterion of truth must be evidence accompanied by clarity and distinctness. What is dismissed out of hand are all “unclear” ideas upon which history rests: memories, inner psychic states, motives, images, symbols, myths, imaginative fairy tales, works of art with their ambiguous possibilities of meaning. In fact, the vast realm of personal and inter-personal knowledge, defined by Martin Buber as the realm of the “I-Thou,” is summarily rejected.
Now, it does not take much intellectual acumen to realize that since Descartes Western thought has been dominated by a rampant rationalism which, with the possible exception of Nietzschean romantic anti-rationalism culminating with existentialism, has a peculiar view of the relationship existing between a knowing experiencing subject (the self) and the objects and events around it (the observable world) which it perceives and knows. Since the seventeenth century this has been the almost exclusive domain within which the nature of reality has been considered in the West. It is a mode of thought wherein all of reality consists of “external” objects and events which are responsible for the perceptual experience of an observing subject. This is the realm of “I-it” as also defined by Buber; a realm concerned with the world of things and objectified events. It reaches its most restrictive form with modern science which, by its very nature, is exclusively concerned with observable objects and events.
Vico’s peculiar genius lies in the fact that he was the first thinker within Western culture to clearly perceive that Descartes left no room for history; that on this road Man would end up dehumanizing himself. In contrast, he proposed a theory of knowledge which emphasizes and demonstrates the importance and validity of historical thinking. His opus spanned fifteen years (1710-1725) and culminated with the publication of his New Science (the first edition appeared in 1725, the second in 1730 and the third in 1744).
Vico’s initial attack on the Cartesian paradigm begins with his inaugural lecture at the University of Naples in 1710 titled De Antiquissima Italorum Sapientia. There he inquires as to what it is that makes mathematical ideas, the prime example of Descartes’ “clear and distinct ideas,” so irrefutable? His answer is that such clarity and irrefutability derive from the fact that we ourselves have made them. In geometry we are able to demonstrate truth because we ourselves have created it. Vico employs a Latin formula to explain this idea: Verum et Factum convertuntur, which basically means that we can only fully create, and hence fully know, the things that we design and make out of nothing. In other words, the privileged position of mathematical propositions, as regards clarity and persuasiveness, rests upon the fact that they are arbitrary creations.
Vico then proceeds to qualify Descartes’ position before setting out the theoretical basis for historical knowledge proper. His basic insight is that truth is a dimension of the subject and it is a fallacy to think with Descartes that it can be conceived as a property of objects themselves. In other words, truth is the mode of presence of the subject to itself as mediated by the objects it observes. This circularity establishes the integrity of the mind as total presence to itself. Within it the dualism subject/object is mediated. To say it in even more simple terms Vico, as the consummate humanist that he is, proposes that besides metaphysics (rational intuition), mathematics (deductive knowledge), and natural science (empirical knowledge), there is a fourth, very important kind of knowledge: self-knowledge.
Within self-knowledge we are more than mere passive onlookers. We are the protagonists of situations which we understand from the inside. In its broadest sense Vico is equating this kind of necessary knowledge, well known to the ancient Greeks, with historical knowledge proper. Moreover, he alerts us to the fact that since nobody has made himself, this self-knowledge will not have the “clear and distinct” quality of mathematics. On the other hand, neither will it have the game quality, the fictitiousness and arbitrariness of mathematics. It will be a superior kind of knowledge because it is not an observing of phenomena exterior to us, and therefore ultimately unknowable to us. In fact, it will be even superior to the empirical knowledge of the natural world. In this respect, Vico is the precursor of Martin Buber’s basic insight that it is only in the world of I-Thou that true reality is to be found. The world of I-it is there to be analyzed, categorized, organized but it is not the total world. Vico had intuited that the world of Descartes’ cogito may be indubitable, but it also essentially limited and sterile. It cannot yield the essence of either thought or existence. From it we will never derive the causes and the nature of our being.
Vico has thus established that the Cartesian cogito, i.e., thinking thought, cannot be science but mere consciousness. In searching for a principle of truth one must begin from an absolute reality, namely that of God who has created all things and therefore knows them all. He is the Primus Factor, therefore in Him there is the first truth. In as much as all elements of things (both exterior and interior) are present in Him, complete truth resides in Him. This is so because verum factum convertuntur, he who causes a thing knows it.
This concept of causation in Vico shows the relative character of human knowledge. In as much as God contains all things, He can “read” all the elements of things. His mind is characterized by intelligentia. The human mind, on the other hand, is foreign to all, is foreign to all things that are different from itself and is therefore characterized by cogitatio by which it gathers elements external to itself. In other words, Vico is saying that we reason because we are imperfect. God does not reason, He intuits.
From this relative character of human thought issues a sort of metaphysics of humility, a new paradigm for perceiving reality; and it is this: the more external the object to the knowing mind, the more generic will be its knowledge. For example, nature had long been in existence when man arrives on the scene. The human mind, therefore, can never fully participate in its origins. Sciences are better or less knowable depending on how much human thought operates in building them: mathematics is surer than mechanics, mechanics surer than physics, physics surer than morality. Vico wisely suggests that the more congenial thing for man is to limit himself to the examination of what has been produced in history: the customs, the deeds, and above all, the language of Man. He refers to this as the certum, the cultural residue constituting the subject matter of the historian.
It is crucial that this certum, these records of history, be understood as that which man has made, the factum. Here again Vico’s insight is that the certum and the factum are convertible; which is to say, history leads to knowledge; more specifically it leads to self-knowledge when it approaches its own documents (the certum) with the understanding that these are what other selves have created in history. We are then within Vico’s hermeneutical circle: whenever Man creates in history, and above all when he creates language, he creates a structure that constitutes an interpretation of his experience. In turn that interpretation organizes the world around him. The study of history turns out to be an ongoing understanding and evaluation, in effect a constant reinterpretation, of these interpretative structures which men have created. There is no such thing as “objective” history, once, once and for all as some historians, in their eagerness to declare their discipline a “science” would contend.
A scientist with positivistic tendencies in describing the history of science, will reveal to the perceptive reader the Cartesian paradigm under which he labors. Inevitably, there is a tendency to see religion not at the very origins of science but as magic and superstition hostile to it; while science per se and its rational method of perceiving reality will be assigned preeminence over and above myth-making, poetry and poetic wisdom.
This rather cavalier intellectual stance would not be so repugnant were it stated as a premise at the outset. The sheer hubris of the Cartesian mind-set (what Vico calls “the barbarism of the intellect” and I call “hard-wired rationalism”) is exhibited by its insistence that it is the only valid and “objective” view of what constitutes reality, while other views or paradigms can only proceed out of ignorance and have therefore little, if any, intellectual value. A. Robert Caponigri puts it best when he writes that “The concrete processes of culture alone provide the context for the idea of man because only in that context are the conditions of total presence realized…In culture, the alienation latent in nature is overcome because all cultural structures are modes of the presence of man to himself as defined against nature.” (“The Timelessness of the Scienza Nuova of Giambattista Vico.” In Italian Literature: Roots and Branches, Ed. Jose Rimanelli, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 1976, p. 310).
One of the most important Vichian principles is this: “The nature of institutions is nothing but their coming into being (nascimento) at certain times and in certain guises” (SN, 147). Vico’s stress upon the ongoing development of history is one in which the legacy of the past is taken with complete seriousness, but without obscuring the necessity of reprehending the past in ways appropriate to the present, or the necessity of leaving the future free to apprehend the past in ways which are perhaps as yet unthinkable. Indeed, the Columbus of 1992 is a differently perceived Columbus than the one of 1892.
With the above examined understanding of history Vico attempts to oppose Descartes’ claim that “clear and distinct ideas” constitute the highest form of knowledge. He perceived that Descartes’ claim inevitably leads to a concept of history as a clearly and distinctly apprehended “hard core of historical facts” known once and for all. Indeed, that “hard core” may have the simplicity of mathematical ideas but it is similar to them in the sense that it is an abstraction arbitrarily created out of the complex flow of history; an abstraction which can then be used as a counter in a game that we ourselves have invented. This appeal to thinking of history in terms of “hard core” facts can be better understood if we keep in mind that the moving of abstract counters in freely invented games gives one a great sense of control while calling for little commitment on the part of the player. For example, let the reader imagine, if you will, the computerized video games routinely played by generals in the Pentagon and other nations’ War Departments. In a few seconds these powerful Caesars are able to obliterate millions of enemy soldiers, not unlike the original Caesar who claimed more than a million lives in his Gallic War. In the video game, it happens from time to time that millions of one’s own soldiers are nuked by mistake. One general’s comment to this “friendly fire” mistake supposedly was “Holy cow!” The reader may retort that there is nothing wrong in playing a virtual war game if it ultimately prevents a real war. Fair enough. The problem however arises when those “hard core” facts are fallaciously assumed to exist objectively “out there” and made to constitute the substance of history. When millions of soldiers and whole cities come to be seen as mere counters in a dangerous chess game of “realpolitik,” then we end up with the “Evil Empire” engaging the world in an arms race costing the world a couple of million dollars a minute. Some already envision a new start of those games, called Cold War, in the 21st century, and they may be right.
E.F.Schumacher in his A Guide to the Perplexed (Perennial Library, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, 1977) puts the matter thus: “The change of Western man’s interest from ‘the slenderest knowledge that may be obtained of the highest things’ (Thomas Aquinas) to mathematically precise knowledge of lesser things—‘there being nothing in the world the knowledge of which would be more desirable or more useful’ (Christian Huygens, 1629-1695—marks a shift from what we might call ‘science for understanding’ to ‘science for manipulation.’ The purpose of the former was the enlightenment of the person and his ‘liberation;’ the purpose of the latter is power. ‘Knowledge itself is power,’ said Francis Bacon, and Descartes promised men they would become ‘masters and possessors of nature.’ In its more sophisticated development, ‘science for manipulation’ tends almost inevitably to advance from the manipulation of nature to that of people” (pp. 53-54).
Vico clearly perceives this fallacy more than two hundred years ahead of his times and insists on the conversion of the certum with the factum, i.e., that the study of history is a reinterpretation of those interpretative structures which Man has created. He shows that the formula he initially applied to mathematics, the true and the made are convertible, is applicable to history as well. However, when applied to history, a different kind of knowledge arises. While in mathematics the resulting knowledge is “clear and distinct,” albeit fictitious and arbitrary, in history it cannot be so since we have neither created ourselves nor the world of nature out of nothing.
History cannot yield clear and distinct ideas because it deals with tangled non fictitious matters of purposes, goals, motives, acts of the will, fears, hopes in effort to reach self-knowledge. Even more simply put, history deals with the heritage of the past, understanding for the present and hope for the future. This truth of self-knowledge is convertible with what Man has accomplished in history because as Vico explains it: “…the world of civil society has certainly been made by men, and its principles are therefore to be found within the modifications of our own human mind” (SN, 331).
We are not accustomed of speaking of this matter in terms of verum and factum. And yet all we need to do is transpose “content” for verum, and “form” for factum, to understand that Vico is basically saying that the content of anything is but the form it assumed at the point in history at which it came into being. In other words, content comes into existence with or within form. Contrary to what Descartes thought he could do, content and form can be distinguished but cannot be separated from one another. To fully know one at its origins is to know the other. They are convertible because they arise together. There is no such thing as “the inner meaning of myths” or of fact separate from interpretation in the study of history. Once that is granted, then one has to also grant that history is equally knowable as mathematics. This is so because history is the result of the development of the human mind and of the universal principles it contains and by which it judges things and to which it tries to conform.
And here is how Vico himself expresses the unity of content and form: “Our science therefore comes to describe at the same time and ideal eternal history traversed in time by the history of every nation in its rise, development, maturity, decline, and fall. Indeed, we made bold to affirm that he who meditates this Science narrates to himself this ideal eternal history so far as he himself makes it for himself by that proof ‘it had, has, and will have to be.’ For the first indubitable principle posited above is that this world of nations has certainly been made by men, and its guise must therefore be found within the modifications of our human mind. And history cannot be more certain when he who creates the things also narrates them. Now, as geometry, when it constructs the world of quantity out of its elements, or contemplates the world, is creating it for itself, just so does our Science create for itself the world of nations, but with a reality greater by just so much as the institutions having to do with human affairs are more real than points, lines, surfaces, and figures are. And this very fact is an argument, o reader, that these proofs are of a kind divine and should give thee a divine pleasure, since in God knowledge and creation are one and the same thing (SN, 349).”
The above quote makes it quite clear that the starting point of this unique approach to history cannot be the Cartesian thinking subject. Vico demonstrates that Descartes, whole intention was that of overcoming doubt and founding a sure system of reaching truth, ironically ends up with the position of Protagoras: “Man is the measure of all things.” However, given that Man is a partial being and not his own creator, given too that he doubts and his thought is a relative truth, the Cartesian criterion of truth proves to be inadequate. It is in effect a reduction of truth to the private, what Vico aptly calls “la boria dei dotti,” the arrogance of the learned, i.e., the production of truth in a closet independent of the real world out there. To the contrary, Vico insists that the above mentioned common ideal notions have become present in the human mind through the life of nations as “common sense of the people.” For him “common sense” is a consensus reached by a whole people without reflection and expressing itself in spontaneous wisdom or poetic wisdom. Homer’s poetry in the Iliad and the Odyssey was reached that way for those epics could not have been written by the same man. It sprang from the common sense and the poetic wisdom of the ancient Greeks before the onset of philosophical reflection. Such a notion is fundamental to a critical approach to problems of history, be they in religion, law, art, language, for truth is not something private to be pondered in a closet or an ivory tower for that matter. It is rather a public patrimony finding its natural dimension in the social life of man.
To briefly summarize Vico’s theory of knowledge we can say that history becomes science when Man orders and understands his deeds according to those eternal notions that Man (through the mediating operation of the intellect) finds in himself. The truth of history does not consist in mere facts produced by men, but also in the possibility that men have to recover the facts of history to the structure of their mind and to the eternal order that God reveals to the mind of men. As we shall see more thoroughly further down, in Vico philosophy and philology are completely integrated. While the human mind generates institutions such as language, laws, religions, poetry, myths, the civil world of tribes and nations, this production is not wholly autonomous. It operates under what Vico terms “the force of truth” immanent in the eternal notions present in the mind of man. This is providence at work. Of everything that Man may know, this is most authentically scientific.
Unfortunately the modern Cartesian positivistic mind-set has not yet fully come to terms with this Vichian new paradigm. The delusion persists that questions of meaning in history and civilization can be adequately answered with the technological know-how. Until that fallacy can be overcome, the danger of dehumanization and loss of freedom will continue to persist.
Is the EU risking geopolitical irrelevance in its own backyard? Lessons from Covid-19
Covid-19 and the global landscape
Undoubtedly, it is hard to make complete sense of the impact of such an unprecedented – at least in our modern times- global crisis and it would be premature to make any definite assessment. However, from a geopolitical perspective, it would be safe to assume that it has reinforced existing tendencies that were already underway over the last decade: On the one hand, a retreat to the nation-state. On the other hand, it has led to an acceleration of re-regionalisation, mainly due to the decoupling of global supply chains. These two apparently opposite trends are in fact two sides of the same coin, signalling a departure from hyper-globalisation.
Multilateralism has suffered a serious blow in the aftermath of the pandemic. President Trump’s decision for the withdrawal of the US from the WHO is indicative. The escalating US-Chinese trade war has now been coupled with a war of narratives, with each side blaming the other for ineffective response to the pandemic.
Caught between this new wave of competition, the image of EU has also suffered a blow, due to the late response of the majority of member states to the pandemic, and more significantly, due to the early lack of solidarity between its very own members.
Amid this current unpredictable landscape, with eroding post-WWII international institutions, Washington’s self-isolation, a rising China and an assertive and regionally present/emerging Russia, the need for greater strategic autonomy is evident. EU has the opportunity but also the responsibility to step up as a champion of multilateralism. Hence, on FP level, a more strategic EU could finally justify von der Leyen’s characterisation of her Commission as a ‘’geopolitical’’ one.
However, in order to do so, the EU should begin with its own backyard, the seriously-affected and volatile Western Balkans.
EU and the WB, the enlargement’s state of play
It was in October 2019, when a much-anticipated green light for the start of the negotiating process for Albania and North Macedonia was denied by France, followed by Denmark and the Netherlands, on the grounds that the entire framework of the membership process should first be revised.
Sympathisers perceived it as an honest questioning of the effectiveness of the existing framework. Critics attributed this decision either to president Macron’s need to bolster his leadership image at the European level or the need to satisfy the French public’s increasingly sceptical attitude towards EU enlargement. Regardless of the rationale of this decision, it was still another indication of intergovernmentalism’s privacy in its FP setting, threatening to impel the progress achieved over the last years in the Western Balkans and an additional blow to its credibility vis-a-vis its neighbours.
Even though this (myopic) veto was revoked in April 2020, following the promise of a revised enlargement methodology, accession negotiations are expected to last several years. The EU needs to step up in support in multiple ways in order to secure its credibility towards the WB states, while preventing further democratic backsliding in the region.
Impact of Covid-19 on WB
Covid-19 hit WB at a particularly peculiar period, with Serbia, North Macedonia, and Montenegro having their elections in 2020, whereas Kosovo’s fragile governmental coalition under former PM Kurti was overthrown in late March.
Even though the average number of Covid-19 cases per capita stayed significantly lower than the majority of European states, the WB were particularly affected due to their weak health systems and vulnerable economies. The political effects of the pandemic are also significant, having resulted to rising populism and centralisation of power. Some leaders even attempted to politicise the pandemic, treating it as a political issue instead of a severe public health crisis. Susceptible to their long-tradition of playing their ‘’nationalist card’’ at times of crises, the leaders of the WB have also increased their anti-EU rhetoric during the pandemic. Moreover, the instrumentalisation of the pandemic as a legitimising tool for additional authoritarian measures has exacerbated phenomena of state capture, especially in Serbia.
Foreign actors – disinformation campaigns on WB
Apart from risking a prolonged democratic setback, the pandemic’s effect in the region has also a geopolitical dimension in an area characterised by geopolitical pluralism:
Since 2013, China has increased its (geo)economic presence through the ‘’Belt and Road’’ project and the ‘’16+1’’ format with questionable practices and no conditionality strings attached for the local political leaderships. The EU’s late response to the crisis paved the way for greater Chinese involvement in the area. Beijing, attempting to switch the narrative of its own early inertness in dealing with the virus in its territory, launched a ‘’mask diplomacy’’ campaign, providing with masks and essential medical equipment countries in need, including candidate states such as Serbia but even EU member states like Italy.The Serbian leadership seized this opportunity to blast criticism towards the EU, thanking China and ‘’brother Xi’’ (in his own words) personally
Russia is frequently engaging in covert operations and disinformation campaigns, especially in Serbia and in one of Bosnia’s entities, Republika Srpska. Kremlin also attempted to undermine the Prespa agreement between Greece and North Macedonia and is openly against the recognition of Kosovo. It also uses energy as a bargaining chip for political gains; In this case, sticking to its usual ‘’divide and rule’’ strategy Kremlin has supported disinformation campaigns ran by state-owned media. The majority of them emphasise on EU’s lack of solidarity and weaknesses, portraying Russia and other authoritarian models of governance like China as the ones that can guarantee efficiency/effectiveness and decisiveness in managing an imminent crisis.
Turkey, a candidate for membership itself, exercises its own influence through soft power (culture and religion), mainly in Muslim-populated Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania, but also in Serbia and North Macedonia, through economic means, adding to the region’s complexity of overlapping and contrasting foreign interests.
These actors pose no threat to EU’s prominence in the region (indicatively enjoying 75% share of the total trade) but could significantly sabotage democratisation. The more distant the European perspective will look, the less constrained the leadership of states like Serbia will feel to conduct business with them. Albania is one of the two (together with Montenegro) candidate states with full alignment to the EU foreign and security policy. Yet its candidacy status has stalled.
EU’s economic presence in the region is disanalogous to its visibility and soft power, especially compared to the aforementioned foreign actors, partially due to their disinformation campaigns. Thus, in the dawn of the outbreak pandemic a similar pattern was repeated: EU was originally criticised for placing export restrictions on protective equipment during the virus’ outbreak in Europe. Even though the restrictions were lifted quickly, as the European Commission first pledged €38 million for the immediate healthcare needs of the WB states in March, followed by a lucrative support package of €3,3 billion that was announced on 29 April, the reputational damage was already done.
Instead, rather than affecting EU’s position vis-a-vis its Balkan partners, the current crisis should pave the way for a ‘’positive instrumentalisation’’ of the crisis in order to avoid risking its geopolitical (ir)relevance.
Thus, the current crisis could be the start for greater, deeper and wider EU engagement in the region for the following reasons:
Increasing need for supply diversification in Europe and WB
As Mark Leonard recently noted ‘’the current pandemic could mark a paradigm shift in EU-China relationship. Thus, the pandemic’s spill-over effect on supply chains will lead to a re-regionalisation process in an attempt to a partial decoupling of economic ties with China. This could give EU an advantage, consolidating its geographic proximity and economic primacy in the region and halting Chinese geo-economic overextension. China’s ‘’Health silk road’’ can generate asymmetries and the debt-trap phenomena in several states across its silk road map (Sri Lanka etc.) should be a point of concern among WB states.
US decline as a global hegemon and the eroding trust of its allies
The current US leadership is too inward-oriented, strongly committed to its ‘’America first’’ doctrine. The President’s counterproductive obsession in insisting on the Chinese origin of the virus and his decision to leave the WHO were just two recent examples that added to Washington’s unwillingness to continue its post-WWII role as the provider of global public goods. Domestically, the political landscape is deeply polarised and divided before the upcoming elections. This overall decline is also reflected on the eroding trust of EU citizens and citizens of other traditional allies towards Washington.
Indeed, Beijing has managed to boost its leadership credentials globally, amid an increasingly introvert and isolationist US leadership. Nevertheless, the lack of transparency and credibility, two essential elements of hegemonic/stability theory/global leadership, coupled with the authoritarian character of its regime render China ill-suited for leading an increasingly ‘’headless’’, also known as’’G-Zero’’ world.
To capitalise of the current situation while staying in line with its own set of values, the EU will have to:
Apply greater scrutiny using updated screening mechanisms on foreign investments, including Chinese ones, pushing sustainability and ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) criteria. EU can lead the path towards greater sustainability in trade and investments, boosting its geo-economic credentials as a global regulatory power. EU should explore ways to include the WB in the European Green Deal and its ambitious economic goals for climate neutrality by 2050 for the avoidance of price disparities in energy. The EU could assist by sharing best practices and by outlining a clear ‘’green agenda’’ for the Western Balkans, unlocking their significant potential in renewable energy, especially in hydro-energy. Overall, this crisis has been a reminder that supply chains in critical sectors should be reviewed.
Regardless the outcome of the global efforts for an effective vaccine and a return to normality, the economic recovery in the region will not be easy, according to World Bank report. Therefore, the full inclusion of the WB is a dire need for any post-reconstruction plan on behalf of the EU, regardless of the accession status stage/level. In other words, new carrots will have to be invented, complementary to the one of accession, as the accession carrot is losing ground in the near future due to low prospects and/or slow progress. Of course, economic support should go hand in hand with strings attached. The EIB as primary funding instruments, should outline clear conditionality criteria related to green economic goals, justifying its recent self-branding as the ‘’European Climate Bank’’.
On a diplomatic level, other possible moves on behalf of the EU with constructive orientation could be finally granting visa liberalisation for the citizens of Kosovo. Finally, EU will have to keep demonstrating active support for the continuation of dialogue and the negotiations between Pristina and Belgrade, bypassing US involvement. Finally, upon approval of the negotiating frameworks for Albania and North Macedonia by the European Council, the EU should not let go of the momentum and carry on with the first intergovernmental conferences that will mark the formal start of the accession negotiations. This will be another strong sign of support to the progressive, pro-EU forces in the two countries.
In order to counter false narratives and improve EU’s visibility in the region, an increase in the efforts to pushback disinformation campaigns of Russia and China both in the Western Balkans but also in its own territory and members, securing its own coherence and its external positive outlook. The new initiative in fighting disinformation is a step towards the right direction and the Western Balkans should be prioritised as a focal point. It has been proven that economic assistance per se is not enough to win hearts and minds.
Of course, internal coherence is a precondition. It was tested once again, bringing into the surface the traditional division between North and South, however, the capping stone of the negotiations led to a compromise, indicative of the Union’s resilience. Greater internal coherence will result to greater credibility abroad, especially in the candidate Balkan states. For example, the EU member states have yet to reach an agreement on the migration pact. Also, it is hard to capitalise on its strong record of human right and RoL when still showing an ambiguous attitude vis-a-vis serious violation by the governments of Hungary and Poland. Emphasising on its strengths (social state, transparency) and capitalising on its recent economic agreement will send the right message to the WB states.
Kevin Rudd, the former prime minister of Australia, in an early Covid-19 essay warned that international institutions are becoming arenas of competition. The EU, with its 27 member states and diversity of voices, has been an arena of conflicting interests in its own. Paradoxically, it could be argued that its own tedious, yet successful – experience with multilateralism and fair compromises puts the EU in a better position to contribute to efforts of repairing multilateralism. However, it should start being taken more seriously by its very own people and why not, by the people that aspire to join it one day. This goal cannot be reached unless its first achieved in its very own backyard, the WB, through an increase of its credibility-visibility and active/practical role on multiple levels.
From Prince to Duce: An in depth study about Machiavellianism in the Fascist Doctrine
Although both philosophies of Machiavellianism and Fascism are almost 400 years apart, there is no doubt that the theories of Machiavelli regarding realism and power can be found in the theories of Giovanni Gentile. How much of an influence was Niccoló Machiavelli for the father of fascism, Giovanni Gentile and was Mussolini the actual prince that Machiavelli was dreaming of? Why does Machiavelli have a special place at the pantheon of fascism and how relative are those theories in the 21st century?
Political profiles of Machiavelli and Gentile
Nicolló Machiavelli was born in 1469, in Florence of Italy. He was the son of a wealthy lawyer and he studied at the University of Florence. He was mostly known after 1498 where he first served as a government official in the government of the Republic of Florence.
Apart from a government official, Machiavelli was a well-known diplomat, philosopher, and writer. Some of his key works are The Discourses on Livy (1517), The Art of War (1519-1521) but the most notable of them is The Prince (1513). Based on Machiavelli’s works and theories, the modern term Machiavellian was born which is mostly connected with acts of political deceit.
On the other hand, Giovanni Gentile was born in Castelvetrano, Sicily in 1875. At a young age after finishing high school, he studied philosophy focusing on the idealist tradition in Italy and Neo-Hegelian idealism. His works such as The Doctrine of Fascism (1932) and The Philosophy of Fascism (1928), were essential foundations for what would be known as the Fascist movement.
In that respect, Giovanni Gentile is considered to be the father of fascism, who gave birth to the iconic figure of the Duce, Benito Mussolini. He served under Mussolini’s regime as the Minister of Education and later as the president of the Academy of Italy. In 1944 he was captured and executed by Italian partisans.
Understanding the realist approach in Machiavelli’s works
To completely understand how Machiavelli influenced one of the most successful ideologies of the 20th century, there has to be in-depth research regarding the theories of Machiavelli. One of his most remarkable works was with no doubt The Prince.
Written in 1513, his work is focused and addressed to young princes that are willing to become successful rulers. Machiavelli is trying to imply the concept of realism by directly implying the truth rather than imagining it. Unlike other political thinkers, he does not see the state as a mechanism to nurture the morality of its citizens but as an ensuring concept that will protect their wellbeing. To have a strong state, you need to have a strong leader that will be able to ensure the wellbeing of his subjects by using any means possible, even deception or intrigue.
“In judging policies, we should consider the results that have been achieved through them rather than the means by which they have been executed”
Machiavelli considered the idea of the end justifies the means as the only way to ensure stability and prosperity for the state. The success of a prince should be judged by the consequences of his actions and never by his morality or ideology. This idea is perfectly described in The Prince.
“ In the actions of all men, especially princes, where there is no resource to justice, the end is all that counts. A prince should only be concerned with conquering or maintaining a state, for the means will always be judged to be honorable and praiseworthy by each and every person because the masses always follow appearances and the outcomes of affairs, and the world is nothing other than the masses”
Regarding his views about religion and the state, although he was a devoted catholic, he did oppose the interference of church to political life. According to one of his books, the Discourses on Livy, the vision that he has for the perfect form of government is modeled on the Roman Republic, with a mixed constitution and participation by its citizens. However, he stresses out that for such a republic to exist, it needs a strong leader that will allow specific laws about the social organization that will allow this ideal republic to be born.
Gentile’s idea of the fascist state
Similar to Machiavelli’s ideas about the ideal leader and republic were the theories of Giovanni Gentile. As the father of fascism, Gentile was essential to establish the foundations and the pillars to promote Benito Mussolini and the Duce of the people that will lead them to the resurrection of the Roman Republic.
Gentile’s ideas are perfectly described in one of his early works, The Philosophy of Fascism which was written in 1928. Based on his book, we can get a clear understanding of his constructive ideas. To get the support of the masses, Gentile focused on more nationalistic elements combined with a more radical form of social organization that will be based around the fascist state.
The philosophy that he wanted to impose was one of unity through collectivism. In this idea, he promotes the fascist conception of the state as an attitude towards life in which individuals are bound together by a higher law and will, the law and will of the nation. However, to fully understand the principles behind fascism, one has to follow the guidelines that he mentions in The Doctrine of Fascism which he co-wrote with Benito Mussolini.
Written in 1932, The Doctrine of Fascism, focuses on the ideas that can be promoted to achieve the goal of the fascist state. Gentile rejected the idea of individualism and thought that the answer to the needs of people for security and prosperity was in the idea of collectivism.
Although it might sound very familiar with what Karl Marx was advocating, Gentile did not agree with him on the idea of a divided society into social classes and a historical struggle between classes. He also was against any form of democracy that indicated the majority rule, which sees the will of the nation underneath the will of the majority.
Above all, the idea of fascism sets in three major ideas. That the law and will of the nation must take precedence over the individual will and that all human values lie within the state. Moreover, all individual actions serve to preserve and expand the state.
In addition to his philosophy, it needs to be mentioned his ideas regarding other forms of political theory or even the aspect of peace. For Gentile, any form of economic or political liberalism would only result in an unstable political system that is bound to fail.
His views about the failure of liberalism came right after the end of WWI, where Italy ended up in a state of social and political unrest.
Politicians that were promoting these ideas were not able to provide sustainable answers to Italy’s increasing unemployment rate and social unrest.
Gentile also believed that the aspiration of permanent peace could not be implemented because of the conflicting interests of all the nations that in the end made conflict completely inevitable.
A comparative study of both philosophies
After carefully reviewing both theories, it is safe to say that there are quite a few similarities that can be found. Firstly, there is a clear sense of contempt for the idea of moral progress.
In terms of politics, both Machiavelli and Gentile’s ideal leader, Benito Mussolini always considered themselves realists that were willing to sacrifice anything for their nation.
Mussolini himself even claimed that Niccoló Machiavelli and his realist approach were an inspiration to him and that his book The Prince had an influence on him since he aspired of being the great leader for Italy that would restore the glory of the Roman Empire.
Secondly the idea of the state’s wellbeing being above any form of individualism. In that sense, the famous quote of Machiavelli “the end justifies the means”, can be found in the fascist doctrine.
The belief that the end justifies the means, as a pure struggle for power is the defining characteristics of fascism.
Finally, both of the theories can be traced down to the single concept of the sheepdog and the sheep.
An effective leader can and will harness the weaker traits of humanity in his people to great effect, in the same way, a sheepdog can manipulate to his will a herd of sheep. Not to mention that both Machiavelli and Mussolini thought that the idea of ensuring the wellbeing of a state and its citizens can be effectively achieved by using deceit, treachery, and secrecy whenever it is necessary.
Was Benito Mussolini a real Machiavellian Prince?
With all these similarities, wouldn’t all the scholars agree that through Gentile’s intellectual foundations to the fascist movement, Benito Mussolini can be considered the ideal prince according to Machiavelli?
However, he might be far from being the ideal leader. Machiavelli himself would have found the idea of Mussolini being a prince obscure.
Firstly, the radical ideas that Mussolini had and the way he imposed them on the people through a dictatorship did not comply with the concept of virtues that Machiavelli suggested.
Secondly, Machiavelli specifically said and made it very clear that this is only a matter of expediency and not a model for social behavior, something that Mussolini tried to impose through his blackshirts movement. The aspect of totalitarian regimes was not what Machiavelli had in his mind.
Mussolini also failed to protect and ensure the wellbeing of his citizens and the state. His radical views and clear lack of understanding of what was happening around him made him more of a joker rather than a prince.
An excellent example is his will to enter WWII with the Axis, something that completely crippled the Italian people.
Machiavelli was not an advocate of war and he believed that being ruthless should only last until peace and prosperity are achieved, not to mention that his ideal ruler will establish the ideal republic where there will be a mixed constitution and participation by the citizens.
In that sense, Mussolini was not willing to let his people have any sort of power. In the end for many historians and political thinkers. Mussolini was not in power for the benefit of his people but for the benefit of his ego and his idea that he was the chosen one to restore the glory of ancient Rome.
Implementing the political philosophies in the 21st century
In conclusion, can these two theories be implemented in today’s society? Certainly, fascism has left a bitter taste in Europe and around the world and no government in the world wants to hold the title of a fascist state.
However, fascism has not disappeared rather it has silently moved towards right-wing groups that promote the idea of nationalism.
On the other hand, the theories of Machiavelli regarding realism can be found around the world and some may argue that leaders like Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping are the modern princes that put the interests of the state above individualism. With that being said, it would be impossible to compare any world leader to the ideal prince of Machiavelli, simply because it is hard to understand the notion of a paternalistic society that Machiavelli wanted to be created through the perfect leader. Instead in this day and age authoritarian regimes have replaced this notion and most of the time they leave a negative global opinion.
Today it is important for everyone to remember our world’s history in order not to allow ourselves to fall for the same mistakes of our past. The mistakes that brought misery for the whole world with catastrophic wars and misleading ideologies that pretend to be closer to the citizens but in reality they serve their own authoritarian goals. All in all, when we approach such theories we have to remember the words of the revolutionary Leon Trotsky:
“If the end justifies the means, what justifies the end?”
An Austro-Franco-German Proposal for a European Post Covid-19 Recovery Programme
The conference named “75 years of Europe’s Collective Security and Human Rights System”, which took place on the 1st of July at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, brought together experts related to the reality of the Old Continent and its Union over the course of the past 75 years of its post-WWII anti-fascist existence. It was jointly organized by four different entities (the International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies IFIMES, Media Platform Modern Diplomacy, Scientific Journal European Perspectives, and Action Platform Culture for Peace) with the support of the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, numerous academia supporting and media partners.
The conference gathered over twenty high ranking speakers from Canada to Australia, and audience physically in the venue while many others attended online – from Chile to Far East. The day was filled by three panels focusing on the legacy of WWII, Nuremberg Trials, the European Human Rights Charter and their relevance in the 21st century; on the importance of culture for peace and culture of peace – culture, science, arts, sports – as a way to reinforce a collective identity in Europe; on the importance of accelerating on universalism and pan-European Multilateralism while integrating further the Euro-MED within Europe, or as the Romano Prodi’s EU Commission coined it back in 2000s – “from Morocco to Russia – everything but the institutions”.
The event itself was probably the largest physical gathering past the early spring lock down to this very day in this part of Europe. No wonder that it marked a launch of the political rethink and recalibration named – Vienna Process.
The panel under the name “Future to Europe: Is there any alternative to universal and pan-European Multilateralism? Revisiting and recalibrating the Euro-MED and cross-continental affairs”, was focused on discussing the determinants of Europe’s relations with its strategic Euro-MED and Eurasian neighborhood, the possible pan-European political architecture as well as on the forthcoming post-crisis recovery.
On the latter topic, the panelist Mario Holzner, who is the Director-General of the WIIW Austria, outlined the policy proposal on the post-pandemic European recovery programme, elaborated by his Viennese Institute in collaboration with the Paris-based research institute OFCE and the German IMK Macroeconomic Policy Institute. The Recovery Fund recently proposed by the European Commission represents a benchmark in the era of stalled European integration, and during the unstable and precarious post-pandemic times it holds a crucial role for overcoming the immense political and economic crisis of 2020 . Following on much public debate about the recovery financing, which however has heretofore lacked the proposals for concreteprojects that the EU should allocate the funds into, it is now urgently needed to come up with these.
WIIW, OFCE and IMK, three research tanks dealing with economic topics, suggested two main pillars – an EU one, and a national one- for the spending of the Commission’s recovery programme that reaches the amount of €2tn and is to allotted over a 10-year horizon. The spending of the EU pillar is to be channeled into the area of healthcare, eventually giving rise to a pan-European health project under the name Health4EU. Not least, another efficient allocation of the funds located in the programme’sEU pillar is to projects helping to mitigate the risks resulting from climate change, as well as to develop an EU-wide rail infrastructure that would substantively contribute to achieving the Commission’s goals of carbon-neutrality at the continent.
Among other, the proposal introduces two ambitious transport projects- a European high-speed rail infrastructure called Ultra-Rapid-Train, which would cut the travel time between Europe’s capitals, as well as disparate regions of the Union. Another suggested initiative is an integrated European Silk Road which would combine transport modes according to the equally-named Chinese undertaking.
Mr. Holzner’s experts team put forward the idea to “electrify” the European Commission’s Green Deal. Such electrification is feasible through the realisation of an integrated electricity grid for 100%-renewable energy transmission (e-highway), the support for complementary battery and green-hydrogen projects, as well as a programme of co-financing member states’ decarbonisation and Just Transition policies. Together, the suggested policy proposals provide the basis for creating a truly sustainable European energy infrastructure.
From the national pillar, it should be the member states themselves who benefit from the funding allocation in the overall amount of €500bn. According to the experts from WIIW, these resources should be focused on the hardest-hit countries and regions, whereas it is imperative that they are front-loaded (over the time span of three years).
The overall architecture of the programme’s spending, involving the largest part of the budget, needs to be focused on long-term projects and investment opportunities that would serve as a value added for the European integration, while also allowing to build resilience against the major challenges that the EU currently faces. The proposed sectors for the initiatives which could be launched from the EU’s funding programme are public health, transport infrastructure, as well as energy/decarbonisation scheme. Accordingly, it is needed that the funding programme is primarily focused on the structural and increasingly alarming threat of climate change.
As stated in the closing remarks, to make this memorable event a long-lasting process, the organisers as well as the participants of this unique conference initiated an action plan named “Vienna Process: Common Future – One Europe.” In the framework of this enterprise, the contributing policy-makers and academics will continue to engage in meaningful activities to reflect on the trends and developments forming the European reality while simultaneously affecting the lives of millions. The European system, formed over centuries and having spanned to a political and economic Union comprising 27 states, is currently being reconfigured as a result of numerous external factors such as Brexit, the pandemic, as well as the dynamics in neighbouring regions. All of these are engendering the conditions for a novel modus operandi on the continent, whereby it is in the best intention of those partaking at this conference to contribute to a more just, secure, and peaceful European future.
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