[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] K [/yt_dropcap]arl G. Jung pointed out in his Modern Man in Search of a Soul that Man is naturally religious and when he throws religion out the window, it will promptly return via the back door in the form of a fanatical cult or a totalitarian ideology.
Giambattista Vico, the 18th century philosopher of history and civilizations who fully understood and explained the connection between myth and religion, points out in his New Science (1725) that the burial of the dead, hinting at belief in an after-life by primitive man, is a credible and concrete sign of some archaic form of religion, what he considers a sine qua non (together with language and the institution of marriage and family) for the beginning of any kind of primordial civilized society.
Indeed, religion and atheism (see Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura) have been around from time immemorial, but it is only with the arrival of nihilism in the 20th century that we witness the political installation and practice of the religion-less State, to wit Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union which descend into the cult of self-worship or race worship, not too dissimilar from that of the ancient Romans worshipping goddess Rome. The ideology is substituted to religion and given a name (Nazism or Marxism, for example) while religion is deemed as poisonous to the body-politic, a rival ideology of sort to be dispatched. We know quite well the nefarious fruits of those social experiments. Indeed, it is by their fruits that the wolves in sheep’s clothing are best known, not by their alleged good intentions and goals. Some of those wolves were brought to the Hague’s International Court of Law after World War II and most received quick justice. Others followed after Kosovo some fifty years later. The issue remains.
Christianity is not native to Europe, it arrives via the Middle East but, as hinted above, however, there were in Europe native archaic religions (called pagan religions by Christians) which can be traced back to the the Stone Age. Moreover, as Klaus Held points out in his essay on the origins of European culture, never was religion so discussed in ancient Greece as when science and democracy were making their debut in the 4th century BC. Perhaps the best example to support this assertion is Plato’s dialogue called Euthyphro. There we read about Socrates and Euthyphro discussing the nature of holiness. After some debating back and forth they finally come to agree that the holy is what all the gods agree in approving. Socrates however, true to form, follows with another more penetrating question: “Is the holy such because the gods approve it, or do they approve it because it is holy”? At first Euthyphro misses the import of the question. For this is the question of the “reasonableness” of the gods (or God as the case may be). To ask the same question in a slightly different way: “Would absolutely anything the gods approved of, be holy just because they approve of it, or are they also bound to approve only what is holy”? Which is to say, are they free to approve or disapprove or are they bound by reason just as humans are. For humans to remain ethical and human, they need to follow reason in assessing their own actions. Does this apply to the gods too; and if so, are they free or determined?
As Nietzsche well grasped in his Geneology of Morals, with that penetrating question Socrates has discovered the basic dilemma of the relationship between religion and morality. The dilemma is basically this: either goodness cannot be explained simply by reference to what the gods want, or else it is an empty tautology to assert that “the gods are good.” In that case the praise of the gods is simply power-worship. Those who have the power to do so impose their will; those who do not simply obey those who have it. Enter Machiavelli and modern political science.
For us moderns the question may be put thus: is Aquinas right in his faith in reason that leads him to found his theology on the scaffolding of Aristotelian rationality and discern no innate enmity between faith and reason? With that question we arrive at the statement of the US founding fathers in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” Which is to say, it is universally evident to reason that human rights are universal and inalienable, independent of agreements among men or even among gods. If God created us human creatures with reason, She expects us to use it as a way of reaching the truth, and the truth shall make us free. Even God, if She respects truth, cannot let a Lucifer out of hell, the reprobate angel who said “evil be thou my god” (see Milton’s Paradise Lost).
Moreover, was Aquinas right in pointing out that Truth can be distinguished as scientific, religious, and philosophical but it neverthless remains one and indivisible? Perhaps the most important point of his Summa is that religious faith cannot contradict reason; when it does, then we have separated truths and we may be dealing with a fanatical cult of sort leading to falsehood.
By the 12th century the Olympian and Nordic gods have dwindled to one God and Western civilization is entirely monotheistic and Biblical. The Enlightenment however begins the work of God’s liquidation culminating with Nietzsche’s madman shout: “God is dead” at the end of the 19th century. Leibnitz basically poses the same dilemma as Socrates when he writes that: “Those who believe that God has established good and evil by an arbitrary decree…. deprive God of the designation “good”: for what cause could one have to praise him for what he does, if in doing something quite different he would have done equally well?”
The problem here, as Nietzsche and others within a Christian Western Civilization also saw quite well, is that Socrates really believes that “knowledge is virtue,” and that by merely discussing the virtues and clarifying their essence, one is then bound to become a virtuous person. Plato, who is actually the one who presents Socrates to us and narrates his trial, is more skeptical. He posits the irrational in the human soul which needs to be rained in (see the image of the charioteer and the two winged horses in The Phaedrus). He had observed the likes of Critias, Charmides and even Alcibiades, converse at length with Socrates and then go off and become elitist sophists, corrupt people who use language not as a means to a sincere dialogue aiming at truth, but as a tool to control and manipulate others. They were the precursors of Machiavelli and his philosophy, and our modern politicians, a philosophy alive and well within current Western Civilization.
And which are the modern views on virtue? On one extreme, as already hinted, there is Machiavelli’s position which takes hold of the Aristotelian concept of virtue (understood as a good habit as opposed to vice, a bad habit) and turns it up-side-down: virtue is nothing else but something well done, with competency and thorough skill. It is perfection of means or techne in any field. The virtuous Prince is he who gets a hold of power and holds on to it at any cost. Pushed to its ultimate conclusion, the logical rationalist who operates by pure reason, (what Vico calls “the barbarism of the intellect”) will make the trains run on time and efficiently, will gas millions of innocent women, children and men, and then conceive himself as a “virtuous” person; somebody to be admired and praised for his supreme competence in doing such a thorough and efficient job and meeting the goals he has proposed. Virtue is now power, as the father of the scientific method Francis Bacon well expressed it.
The other side of this coin is the Christian view as expressed by St. Paul: “I know the good but I do evil.” In other words, there is something within human nature that is perceived as flawed and less than ideal at its source which makes Socrates’ dictum “knowledge is virtue” sound a bit naïve and abstract. Paul and to a certain extent Plato are a bit more realistic about human nature. Plato knows about the irrational part of the soul, Paul knows that there is a garden which has been left behind, and that there is a snake in such a utopian garden and there are fallen angels as Milton points out. As pure spirits, they know what virtue is, rationally unencumbered by the weakness of the senses, but freely embrace evil nonetheless. There is no redemption for them, for there are no mitigating circumstances such as the weakness of the body.
It is conceivably naïve on Socrates’ part to think that nobody would choose evil by simply knowing what evil is. In a flawed universe, knowledge is not automatically convertible into virtue. In the same way, it is naïve to think that a Constitution proclaiming the universal rights of man with no appeal to a Creator of human nature (through which they become inalienable, not to be granted and not to be violated by any State no matter how powerful) but simply to abstract notions such “fraternitè” “egalitè” “libertè” is any kind of guarantee that those rights will be universally respected. To wit, the former Soviet Union and the present Russia and People’s Republic of China who have wonderful theoretical ideals in their constitutions, portending a utopia or blissful paradise on earth, but it is all on paper so to speak, for the most part violated in practice.
To be sure, these three understandings of virtue were proposed in one form or another under the guise of rationality, piety, morality or holiness at the Plenary Session of the Convention for the EU Constitution held in Brussels a decade or so ago. Unfortunately they were never thoroughly debated. One of the frequent contributors to the forum on the future of Europe (Carlos del Ama, a Spaniard who teaches philosophy in Madrid) submitted a document at the conclusion of the Convention, on which I assisted him with the English version. It showed that, contrary to what the modern anti-religion sophists and rationalists go around peddling nowadays, historically, most of the Constitutions of the world at the very least mention a Creator or a Providence in their preamble as a way of grounding themselves in something more durable than the historical vicissitudes of humankind and its relativistic power politick. The decision not to do so for the EU Constitution while enthusiastically invoking on the part of Mr.Valerie D’Estaing the goddess Europe at the opening session of the Constitutional Convention leaves one wondering if the above examined distinctions were at least discerned. They certainly were not discussed. Too philosophical, in our times the paradigms are usually economic, or political, or military. They are paradigms grounded in power.
And so it was not too surprising that the feast of the gods on the Mount Olympus to celebrate the EU Constitution proceeded full speed ahead on Rome’s Capitoline Hill where the draft Constitution was signed by the head of each member state. It contained plenty of lip service to democratic values and human rights but it never debated on what should those principles be grounded?
It now appears that an apple was thrown on the banquet table by an angry rival goddess who had not been invited at the party: the goddess of discord. The old nationalistic ideological centrifugal forces returned. The difficulties continued unabated for a decade and more and as of now one of the member states, of those which originally signed the Constitution, has withdrawn from the Union and others are mulling over the same step. No great surprises there, given that in general the people were not democratically consulted with a universal referendum on it.
Ultimately people get the Constitution and the government they deserve, for better or for worse. There are various ways of escaping from freedom (see Fromm’s Escape from Freedom). The flip side of that phenomenon is the dictum of Thomas Jefferson: “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.” On November 8 there will be test of fire of that statement in the US, worth pondering by all Europeans who still treasure freedom and democracy.
How Romania’s battles over corruption hamstrung economic progress
When Romania took over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union in January, news coverage in Western Europe mostly focused on the tensions between Brussels and Bucharest over the latter’s judicial reforms. Jean-Claude Juncker publicly called Romania’s ability to fulfil its presidential duties into question; the European Commission, meanwhile, accused the ruling Social Democrats (PSD) of backsliding on corruption.
Since then, however, Romania has executed its presidential duties without a hitch, hosting European leaders for a major EU summit in Sibiu on May 10th that earned plaudits from top EU officials like Donald Tusk. In hindsight, has the overarching media narrative ignored important developments inside Romania? Does the Sibiu summit demonstrate that Romania has regained its footing as one of Europe’s most dynamic economies?
Economic growth no longer extraordinary
Romania’s economy, while still growing at an impressive rate, has slowed down from the remarkable rates the country was registering as recently as 2017— when its 7% expansion outpaced nearly all European peers. 2018 saw growth rates of 4%, while estimates point to 3.5% for 2019.
Since it joined the European Union in 2007, Romania’s per capita national output doubled to roughly 60 percent of the Eurozone average. Record lows in unemployment led to double-digit average wage growth over the last four years. But the recent downwards trend has left many wondering whether the Romanian economy will ever resume its previous rate of development.
Is the DNA’s aggressive prosecution scaring off foreign investors?
Bucharest’s economic slowdown is due to a variety of factors, from tightened global financial conditions to falling birth rates. Foreign investors, however, may also be skittish thanks to the long-running battle between Romania’s political establishment and its controversial anti-corruption agency, the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA). Under the leadership of agency head Laura Kövesi, the DNA undertook (by its own count) 2,396 investigations targeting Romanian magistrates between 2014 and 2018. Kövesi’s tenure saw over 1,000 figures from the country’s political and business circles convicted for corruption.
The DNA’s swathes of indictments targeting Romania’s leading political figures, with charges ranging from forgery to money laundering, have certainly played into the country’s reputation for corruption. That image has hamstrung Romania’s ability to attract foreign capital and investment, from Europe and beyond.
EU leaders, meanwhile, have heaped praise on the DNA’s stack of convictions, holding the anti-corruption agency up as a model for other European countries to emulate. Concerns have mounted, however, that the DNA is abusing its power and reverting to communist-era investigative practice.
Long lists of convictions—but at what cost?
Hiding behind the DNA’s unusually-high conviction rates were potential due process violations, including lengthy pre-trial detainment periods equivalent to imprisonment before having been sentenced by a court of law, or otherwise threatening suspects that a lack of cooperation could see their family members prosecuted. Increased scrutiny of these violations may help explain why the number of cases resulting in acquittals rose markedly, from 12.2% in 2017 to 36.3% in 2018.
Some of the DNA’s most prominent targets have drawn parallels between its behaviour and that of Romania’s Communist-era security services. Alina Bica, who formerly served as chief prosecutor for organised crime and was arrested in 2014, described her experience with the DNA as “like in the 1950s when the communists came. You get called an enemy of the state, you get put in the truck…they damage your family.” Kövesi reportedly made a personal visit to the Supreme Council of Magistrates to persuade them to sign off on Bica’s arrest, while Bica’s husband was targeted with charges of tax evasion and her lawyer was also detained.
Many of those singled out by the DNA accuse the body of pursuing political or personal vendettas. Bica, for example, claimed the charges against her stemmed from her 2012 investigation into Transgaz, where Kövesi’s brother served as a director. PSD spokespeople have suggested treasurer Mircea Drăghici, currently under investigation for embezzling party funds, is being targeted as part of the lead-up to this month’s European elections.
Troubling collaboration with the intelligence services
Recent revelations about the DNA’s investigative tactics have given new life to comparisons between today’s anti-corruption czars and the communist-era Securitate secret police. Earlier this year, Romania’s Constitutional Court ruled secret protocols between DNA prosecutors and the country’s domestic intelligence agency, the SRI, were unconstitutional. The Constitutional Court concluded that the SRI, successor to the Securitate, had signed agreements allowing the intelligence agency to circumvent the authority of prosecutors in criminal investigations, while simultaneously conducting over 20,000 wiretaps a year on behalf of the DNA—an excessive violation of privacy.
The investigation by the Constitutional Court culminated in Kövesi’s removal from her position in 2018. Kövesi herself has been indicted on charges of corruption and abuse of office, relating to allegations by Romanian businessman Sebastian Ghita that Kövesi strongarmed him into paying for the repatriation of a fugitive from Indonesia. Romanian police claim they footed the bill, but criminal proceedings are ongoing. The former prosecutor nevertheless retains many fans in Brussels. Allies in the European Parliament want to name her to the new position of EU Chief Prosecutor despite the ongoing investigation in Romania.
With the steady release of DNA documents to the newly formed Special Section for the Investigation of Crimes Committed by Magistrates and the National Union of Judges in Romania, which both operate independently of the DNA, efforts to increase transparency in Romanian governance may soon move beyond the bitter political rivalries that undermined Romania’s political stability and global reputation.
While the Sibiu summit was a political success, the economy is also regaining its footing. Consumer confidence is recovering, with better prospects for future savings. Wage growth remains impressive while lending activity continues to expand. And CFA Romania, an association of investment professionals, released a report predicting Romanian economic activity will improve over the next 12 months. It seems that, despite the corruption battles of the past several years, both Romanian businesses and consumers remain optimistic about their future prospects.
Any signs of a chill between France and Germany?
The past few months have seen many signs of growing friction and divisions between the two European superpowers, Germany and France. Before the February vote on changes to the EU Third Energy Package, meant to expand the European Commission’s power to regulate Europe’s electricity and natural gas market, France opposed, until the very last moment, Germany’s position on the issue. In April, Paris and Berlin failed to agree on how much more time Britain should be given to decide on its withdrawal from the EU. During the recent presidential elections in Ukraine, France and Germany supported various candidates. Moreover, they are equally divided on who will be the new head of the European Commission. What is happening in relations between members of the “European tandem”?
During the latter half of 2018, it looked as if relations between the EU’s two powerhouses were reaching a new strategic level. In a joint statement made in Meseberg in June, Berlin and Paris outlined their shared vision of the European Union’s future development. In late August, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas simultaneously spoke out about a new role for Europe to make it “sovereign and strong.” During their informal meeting in Marseille in September, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel agreed on a coordinated response to the main challenges facing Europe and on concerted work on shaping the “agenda for Europe.”
In November, the two leaders spoke in favor of creating a “European army,” “real Pan-European armed forces” capable of defending Europe. And in January of this year, they inked a broader cooperation accord in Aachen, which commentators described as a “new big step” in bringing the two countries closer together. The Treaty of Aachen covers new areas of political cooperation, including common projects and commitments in the fields of defense and international relations.
Just a month later, however, the Franco-German rapprochement hit a snag over two strategic projects worth billions of euros, namely the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and trade relations with the United States. Here the interests of Paris and Berlin differ the most. Underscoring the seriousness of the rift, Emmanuel Macron canceled a planned trip to a security conference in Munich in what many commentators described as a “demonstrative” move. As for the issue of completing the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, the compromise reached by France and Germany and approved by the European Parliament, imposed on Berlin “a formula that the German government wanted to avoid.”
Regarding the issue of trade relations with the United States, it wasn’t until mid-April that Brussels collectively managed to prevail over France, which had been blocking the start of pertinent negotiations with Washington. Any delay may cost the German automakers multi-billion dollar fines from the United States. If the French succeed in delaying the start of negotiations, Germany, which is already experiencing a sharp slowdown in economic growth, may end up the loser again.
France’s sudden move left the German media guessing whether Macron’s actions were dictated by his displeasure about Berlin’s “slow response” to his initiatives, or by Donald Trump’s threat to sanction companies involved in the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, including the French concern Engie. Or maybe Macron had resorted to this “show of force” in a bid to strengthen his hand amid the conflict with the “yellow jackets” and growing tensions with Italy?
Indeed, the statement made in Meseberg and the treaty signed in Aachen could have proved too much of a compromise for Macron, if not a serious blow to his ambitions. According to critics, “the Treaty of Aachen dodges the most sensitive topics characteristic of modern Europe.” Including migration and political unification of Europe – something Macron is so eager to accomplish. The treaty makes no mention of a common EU tax and financial policy, while the issue of creating a single economic space is spelled out declaratively at best. Angela Merkel essentially emasculated virtually all of Macron’s initiatives pertaining to the financial and economic reform of the EU and the Eurozone. Emmanuel Macron has been out to become one of the EU’s leaders, or even its sole leader, ever since he became president in 2017. All the more so following Britain’s exit from the bloc and amid the ebbing political authority and the planned resignation by 2021 of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, once the informal leader of a united Europe.
The current political situation in France is also calling for more decisive actions by President Macron. To ensure at least a relative success in the upcoming European elections, he needs to enlist the support not only of the traditional left-and right-centrists, but possibly of some representatives of the new European right too. Whether or not Angela Merkel stands down in 2021, or after the elections to the European Parliament (as has been rumored since April), Emmanuel Macron essentially remains the only top-level proponent of greater European integration. (Unless Merkel ultimately moves to the head of the European Commission, of course). With Macron eyeing a second presidential term in 2022, the advancement of the modernization model for France depends directly on the success of the European project. And here any significant changes in the European Union “mainly depend on the position of France’s privileged partner – Germany.”
All this means that Macron needs a breakthrough now that Berlin is going through a “complicated power transit” with Merkel having resigned as the head of the CDU and preparing to hand her post as Federal Chancellor over to a successor. Therefore, she is now taking her time and, according to her successor as CDU leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, is holding out for a new vector in the development of the European project as “the common denominator of the distribution of political forces after the elections.” Does this mean that Berlin’s is staking on the success of its candidate in the ongoing struggle for the next president of the European Commission? For the first time ever, the CDU and the CSU have managed to nominate a common candidate who has “good chances” of heading the EU’s executive body.
Meanwhile, Berlin is facing an intractable dilemma. Since 1949, “avoiding by all means situations necessitating a hard choice between France and the United States has been a key principle of German foreign policy.” This approach “survived all governments and coalitions, and was maintained after the reunification of Germany.” Under the present circumstances, however, remaining firmly committed to the transatlantic relationship threatens to further destabilize the European integration project, which is now seen as being key to Germany’s future. Simultaneously, a course aimed at minimizing damage from the policy of external powers that threatens the fundamental German interests might necessitate radical and ambitious geopolitical maneuvers that would almost inevitably revive the Europeans’ and Americans’ historical fears of “German instincts.”
US and British analysts already worry that “the
shackles that are voluntarily accepted [by Germany] can be thrown off.” They also wonder how long it will take before new generations of Germans want to restore their country’ full state sovereignty.
In Germany itself, promotion of such slogans have already given the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) the third largest fraction in the Bundestag. A major paradox of the current European and German policy is that Berlin’s activity or passivity is equally detrimental to the Pan-European project and could eventually lead to the EU’s fragmentation and even disintegration.
However, the Franco-German “tandem” is already being dogged with contradictions and compromises, which are highly unpopular among many in the German establishment. The cautious response by many EU members to the latest joint geopolitical initiatives of Berlin and Paris, gave Germany more reasons to fear that Macron’s global ambitions could exacerbate the differences that already exist in the EU. Many in Germany have long suspected Macron of wishing to make the EU instrumental in his foreign policy aspirations.
Some experts still believe that at the end of the day the current chill between Germany and France may turn out to be just a sign of the traditional “propensity for taking independent political decisions.” The sides are sizing each other up to see “who will be setting the rules of the roadmap in the future.” Also, Paris’s tougher stance towards Berlin may be a tactical ploy, a pre-election maneuver to “hijack” part of the agenda from the “national populists” of Central, Eastern and Southern Europe where many people are not happy about the German “diktat.”
Emmanuel Macron has proved once and again his ability to ride the wave of public discontent with certain issues. His Plan for Europe, published in early March, carefully avoids any mention of France’ and Germany’s leading role in advancing EU reforms.
On the other hand, the foreign policy of the leading European powers has a long history, and long-term geopolitical considerations continue to play a significant role. Germany, for one, has traditionally been looking for a counterweight to the Anglo-Saxons, while France – to German dominance in Europe. As a result, the search by Paris and Berlin for common points of political contact is now turning into intense efforts to find the “lowest common denominator.” The overall impression is that we will only be able to see a greater deal of certainty in relations between the two countries after the results of elections to the European Parliament have been summed up. The distribution of roles both within the “European tandem” and in the EU as a whole depends on which political forces – pro-Macron or pro-Merkel, the Europeans will vote for.
First published in our partner International Affairs
Sino-Italian Partnership and European Concern
A crucial moment in modern European history is that the European doors opened to Chinese President Xi Jinping in Italy during a reception that is like receiving kings and leaders. Once again China is moving west despite all the American warnings from the Chinese dragon coming from the East, and this time it was Italy’s accession to the One Belt One Road initiative.
The Chinese president said that his country’s relationship with Italy is excellent and that the Sino-Italian common interests are the basis for a fruitful future. The Italian prime minister said that Italy is a key partner in the Belt and Road initiative and that trade between Italy and China should increase. But all this positive atmosphere is met with dissatisfaction and fear by the United States and some Italians, which is totally opposed to dealing with China because it considers it a threat to its national security and therefore to the national security of Italy.
In order to prevent espionage or transfer of experience by the Chinese, it was agreed to establish an oversight authority. In an expression of US rejection of the agreement, White House official Garrett Marquis wrote last week on Twitter that Rome “does not need” to join the “New Silk Road”. In an effort to ease US concerns, Luigi Di Maio said before taking part in an Italian-Chinese economic forum in Rome that the relationship will not go beyond trade, as we remain allies of the United States, and remain in NATO and the European Union.
The Italian economy, which is in a recession, is pushing the Italian government to form an alliance with China. Many European policy experts consider Italy to be a Trojan horse for China in the European region, which will have political implications for the future of the EU and the future of the Italian-American relationship; especially as the Chinese giant Huawei is expected to participate in the launch of the technology “G5” mobile phones in Italy.
China’s opening up is not limited to Italy, but to Europe as a whole. In the last visit by the Chinese president to Europe, he moved from Italy to Monaco and Paris and met President Emmanuel Macron, who is trying to open up to Beijing. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has opposed the Sino-Italian rapprochement with signing the agreement to join the Belt and Road Initiative, so that Italy will be the first G7 country to join the initiative.
Beijing is interested in investing in Italian ports, including the port of Trieste on the Adriatic, to boost its exports to Europe. Italy seeks to balance trade with China. According to official data, trade between the two countries grew by 9.2% compared to 2016, reaching 42 billion euros. Italy managed to cut its trade deficit with China by 1.37 billion euros, increasing exports to Beijing by 22.2%, while imports rose to 28.4 billion euros, an increase of 4% compared to 2016.
But the most important issue remains the weak Italian economy, which will survive under Chinese debt, and the Sri Lankan experience proves that China is dealing with countries with economic interests. So, will the European gateway withstand the Chinese economic giant, or will it be a Chinese economic and political region in the future?
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