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Nineteen Eighty-Nine: The End of Which European Era? Author(s): Tony Judt Source: Daedalus, Vol. 123, No.

3, After Communism: What? (Summer, 1994), pp. 1-19 Published by: The MIT Press on behalf of American Academy of Arts & Sciences Stable URL: . Accessed: 24/10/2011 17:48
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Tony Judt

Nineteen Eighty-Nine: The End ofWhich

European Era?

Every epoch is a sphinx that plunges soon as its riddle has been solved.

into the abyss Heine




Europe was



is not as cynical This forgetting. and helpful, there was appear; the myths were often positive to be forgotten, much that needed and the results, especially in the western were are such exer half of the continent, impressive. Nor cises in collective treaties Years self-construction which and ended ity. The Thirty necessarily the wars of foredoomed to futil the the Reformation, wars all depended

a foundation of myths and or as dismissive as it may

War, upon ambitious the past away and all of comparably in some measure; them succeeded their effects are with us still. But to the shape of twentieth-century for reasons peculiar the history settlement has proven peculiarly post-1945 illusory, something which was already clear in Eastern Europe by the early 1980s and which one. The has now to every have brought home subsequent developments of this essay is to try to understand the era which purpose in its historical context closed and to sketch an outline of terms in which the think of itself as it enters a new Europe might stage in its history. 1989 and

the Napoleonic to put attempts

and distinctive

After 1945 therewas much to forget.Most obviously, and this is

a subject which I have addressed there was the experi elsewhere, ence of occupation and collaboration?or, in the case of those or Italy where countries came to power like Germany fascism by
Tony 1 is Erich Maria Studies at New York University.




of European

means, the memory of more than a decade of dictator


ship.1 Beyond this lay the unhappy memory ofWorld War

inadequate the Treaty

I and its

the resentments and injustices occasioned resolution; by of Versailles; the economic debacle of the interwar

decades, itself a heritage ofWorld War I but exacerbated by autarkic

and antagonistic commercial unresolved policies; nineteenth-century of social inequity and imperial conquest; dilemmas and, overshad sense of decline it all, a deep, continent-wide and decadence. owing

This last sentiment, although the least tangible of Europe's inherited

was also in some sense the most Itwas shared important. problems, come to power the generation in 1945, that would it and by accounts for their common with the inadequate of responses disgust to the interwar crisis and for their earlier suscepti the democracies

bility to the appeals of fascism and communism alike. It lay behind

the more sentiment than of many just a German intellectuals atrocity: that "Auschwitz" was stood for the Holocaust the culmina

tion and proof of the ultimate decline of European civilization. By May 1945 itwas not only Europe's great cities which lay buried in
it was the very spirit of the continent rubble, a new, to imagine To put all that behind, alone. Marshall, nationalization struction but itself. better Europe was a

massive undertaking. It could not be done by policy and planning

the welfare and state, multiyear Beveridge, plans, were recon the necessary conditions of European alone they would have been insufficient. What gave foundation and myths, most The more of which success real guilt of con these forgiveness. there was and

were them meaning certain of guilt cerned questions


is illustrated in the fact that the mistakes of 1919 were not

in 1945 prudential around. (both strategic, Germany into international communi terms. Potentially feuds The damaging and memo nationalist

even though repeated, at once For reasons was

Germanys) incorporated quickly ties on relatively nondiscriminating

civil wars

in France and Italy were nipped in the bud by strong

or venal at the price of burying old acts of collaboration.2

governments postwar ries of fascist crimes sentiments politics consigned common jectives and since the

which had shaped European suspicions were late nineteenth denied century expression, were now plain and by to a past whose outcomes ugly consent The only acceptable collective ob unacceptable. national Europe were now social (in the form of egalit?r

in Western

The End of Which European Era?

economic (in the form of productivist of possible (in the shape of a variety goals), and global). both European institutions, its similarity In Eastern took place, similar Europe something ian redistributive and legislation), internationalist

masked by the ideological and geopolitical interests inwhich


resentments The bitter of the small characteristically expressed. or Saint served at Versailles countries of the region?inadequately or abandoned in the course of diplomatic truncated Germain, cases a competent thereafter, maneuverings lacking inmost political class, economic short on social recently benefits?were nal or the means to exploit them resources, or the means to express discontent, justice the chief victims of a war from which they would an obligatory (partially Here rationally, and most derive no

quickly buried beneath and the assertion internationalism taken

myth of frater true) that a revolu

had transformation tionary wars from wartime deriving

too potential civil or prewar were divisions snuffed out was a retribution it was mostly and where from above, applied more to ensure the firm implantation undertaken cynical business, than to root out those responsible of communist for authority place.

collaboration with
republican and others ters were represented ern Europe, change?geared institutions?but took The break of precedence. need for no

the Nazis

or for domestic political crimes. In

reasons, administrators, Italy, for analogous policemen, who had served the old regime and its foreign paymas often left in place, the reality of the continuity they overlain of renewal and by a myth as inWestern there was Europe, to redistribution, here, too, the such a radical production, foundation break with revolution. indeed and new myths In East real, radical international came first and

less than

the moment.3

a political InWestern

one?lay Europe

the past?a discursive in the special circumstances the whole process was driven

by a French search for security. After 1945 the French were doing what they had sought to achieve after 1918, but this timewith more
success. French After a series of false starts realized that policymakers to their own the existing Franco-German ing antagonism but in "Europeanizing" their problem: tage, incorporating its resources with and potential, into a European Germany, in the years from 1945 to 1947 their best hope lay not in pursu advan West com

munity where the Germans would be bound to the French and the

French dow ascribe

would cease countries to fear the Germans. was, such in this context, as Schumann to France's The addition little more of Italy and than a win sought In this, on At to the each

the Benelux

Men dressing. a European

and Monnet interests.


whole, they The myth

until 1990.4 succeeded, of a "united Europe" was

not wholly


project terms

1950, in 1958, in the Single European Act, and in the

and their intellectual diplomats even ethical, to describe in normative, continent which had vastly the outgrown

of Maastricht?European were spokesmen compelled a vision of the

or possibilities to it. To do less would purposes originally assigned an acknowledgment like failure, that "Europe" was have seemed interests of its members. and could only be the sum of the separate

Like a middleweight
the "European

boxer blown up to heavyweight dimensions,

forth promises of pan-European unity and

idea" put

offered hope and prosperity to any and all states who qualified for inclusion. The reputation of the myth of "Europe" depended upon
it never being later) posed put to the test. The the resources inclusion of three poorer countries relied

from Southern Europe (Greece in 1981 and Spain and Portugal five
years threats bent were For the stretched of an entity which upon

steady economic growth and great collective wealth. After 1989 the
of communism exceeded the absor by the collapse at a time when Western its economies of Europe capacities no longer expanding. The myth burst. some time Western idea." have had their doubts about Europeans was happy to first postwar generation of their faith in the thirty-year miracle long The to share in the benefits children, of while so forth. Their "Euro-travel," dismissive of in the

"European in it, to put believe and sustained growth, "Euro-fashion," and in economic


identity and happy enough to be "Europeans," did not

improvement and material security:


1960s they found it aesthetically unappealing and emotionally un satisfying; after 1973 (and especially since 1987) they find it deeply
unconvincing. currency, had begun the Despite impending all the chatter about a common 1992, removal of frontiers, from European and all that, a

growing number of young (Western) Europeans well before 1989

to take their distance in places like Greece less prominent the prospect still offered "Europe" the postwar myth. This was or Spain, or even Italy, where of an unattained cosmopolitan

The End of Which European Era?

modernity, than it was its role interests France, where had worn thin. could be pursued is that the place where The irony, of course, continued "Europe" as a powerful myth was to function in Eastern and common project and even reform-minded young people, dissidents, Europe, where communist moral which different managers longed to share in the personal, political, to "return" to a Europe of "Europeanness," benefits attachment they had been cut off by their enforced in Germany, Denmark, as a screen behind which Britain, national or


and from to a

and distinctly "socialism." too, Here, dysfunctional myth, was a myth, a language, but itwas part of a strategy for "Europe" to Europe" from a hopeless past: Poland, escaping by "returning and their neighbors could not only over Czechoslovakia, Hungary, come economic retardation with help from Brussels, and Adenauer but could had of find

the strength to fight and defeat the forces of darkness in their own
national What illusions traditions?much we have seen as de Gaulle since 1989 sought these

to do in their historic treaty of 1963.

is the steady erosion time Europe as the last remaining strands of theWestern myth have fallen away. are interrelated These it not been for German Had developments. itself the most immediate and important unification, consequence nor France would of the events of 1989, neither Germany be facing in the liberated lands of Eastern at the same

their present dilemmas. The French would not be suffering the short
interest rates and the long term realiza of high German in which that their Europe, France was the primary beneficiary no longer exists; the Germans economic of German would strength, not be facing, for the first time since 1950, the prospect of a tion the and, with it, the need to rethink to being should attach degree importance they "Europeans" rather than Germans, given that the two may no longer be compat ible. This Franco-German dilemma has not only damaged the Euro seriously troubled economy of pean idea, inWestern merely it has revealed today it as vulnerable rings cynical, Europe naive.5 when and mythic. "Euro-talk" it does not sound term effects

Meanwhile, the alacrity with which Western Europeans (notably the French) backed away from their earlier enthusiasm for a liber
ated Eastern the former Europe has seriously communist lands who the position weakened of those in are pro-Europe. Since the European

Tony Judt
to admit Romania, countries or Slovenia) increased more a result, or like Hungary into its midst,

is in no hurry Community Poland (much less Lithuania, low-wage grant" tattered economies labor), in Prague, the

fearful of the added costs of subsidies and the competition

(not to speak idea of Europe Budapest, who were and of an flow of than those is looking As and Warsaw. most a

"immi little same



their pronouncements the local electorate: sentiment,


outspokenly are now multiply

in "European" discredited with

cosmopolitan nation. Adherence foreign With economic illusions built

naive and out-of-touch with local seemingly for a foreign, of being accused spokesmen they to the needs is antagonistic of the interest which are to the Western in most community of Eastern Europe, is now but the affection only for

option policy is at a discount. "Europe" the decline

of the European idea, reduced now to pragmatic other postwar and administrative uniformity, practice economic miracle was have been shattered. The European on non-European labor. The (or at any "open door"

of cheap, the importation rate non-European Economic Community) in part

policy of the 1950s had the further advantage of echoing postwar

of peoples, the free movement the right of asylum, ideals concerning No discrimination. and an end to ethnic or national longer re seen as an economic burden and a social threat, these "guest quired, or "aliens." are now and their children workers" "immigrants" the French, and the Scandinavians 1960s the British, Since the late a process now at its have been putting up barriers against outsiders, recent legislation in France and Germany; the the most zenith with unification made of Germany and obvious uncomfortably civil war, The Yugoslav in no small measure,7 problem" post-1989 a process already which has contributed has also related developments under way.6 have

to the "immigrant two other trea shattered

World War Iwas mistakenly supposed to sured postwar illusions. If war "to end allwars," World War II did indeed seem have been the
been just that, at least as far as Europe was of NATO, the creation of nuclear disaster, a to forever exclude seemed of Soviet power and the imposition to this to intra-European crises. Rare exceptions response military occasioned norm were either to domestic attributed by instability for many concerned. years The to have threat quasi-colonial crises (as in France or Greece), or to misapprehen

The End of Which European Era?

the realities concerning That Europeans 1956). might as borders, matters nationality, sions unthinkable; seemed horrific that they might absurd

in of global (as in Hungary power come to blows over such traditional or ethnic territorial claims seemed do so in ways uncannily redolent of

earlier conflicts hitherto assigned to history books would

and Moreover, was another the events just five years ago. in Yugoslavia reveal not only


the extent

which Europe has been unable to escape its past, but how hollow
of the continent's collective and for sustained the newly myths: action. We have not come clear that there them. That there was acquired capacity to an end of intra is little that a place ever any reason

wars, European called "Europe" to believe 1949-1989, action or when inaction

it is now was

can do about


a myth a time, from sustained during in fact, happily when Europe was, powerless, States or the Soviet Union was the the United by in international United "reunited" never being
* *

only significant of the postwar the whole depended upon

variable world?the them

politics.8 The broader promises Nations' reiterated desires to see collective European to the test. action?


and put


the most in recent

place the categories of

has taken sign that a profound telling change is the unsuitability, the irrelevance of many of years to make sense of description conventionally employed

affairs. It no longer makes any sense to describe European someone as a "socialist," in Eastern Europe for example; the term

is heavily polluted
countries undergoing

(although nostalgia for the pre-1989 stability in

traumatic economic upheaval may now be

giving it a brief political afterlife). InWestern

politicians but neither

Europe there are

and political still operate under that label, parties who nor their audience attach any historical they significance

to the word. The Labour Party in Britain is struggling to free itself from an association with labor, though to date it has lacked the courage of the Italian Communists who, like the Italian Christian
Democrats, associations. But very terms have changed than and their name in an effort In Eastern what to erase past the did,

it ismore "Left"

just a matter "Right" no

of names. longer mean

Europe they once

and nents


seen by their oppo under those who them are often operate as and even by their own electorate somewhere else belonging on the spectrum. The older usage of and "Westernizer" "Populist" or Slovakia in places to capture the historical like Hungary cleavage between national conservatives no and urban-liberal modernizers lines are as blurred by conservative parties as they are for Euro-membership by former religious, provincial, and neo-Slavophile

sense?the longer makes with rural roots pressing communists trading on prejudices. This problem

acute in Eastern Europe, is especially where for nearly fifty years collective national in large identity was measure determined the nature of one's relations with the Soviet by Union: how friendly and if they were punctuated they were, when revolts and with what in matters of autonomy outcome, by degrees of categories of religion, economic policy, and foreign relations, etc. Since 1989

all that is gone (and consigned to a limbo between history and memory whence itwill only be retrieved with difficulty). In a region
whose it is past offers no clear social or political descriptors to erase from to the the public record any reference tempting communist it were but an unhappy and transient era, as though as a source its place we find an older past substituted interlude?in recent and reference. 1939 had This is deeply misleading. In Eastern inWestern in Europe, important something happened to 1989; to explain or Serb the Czech-Slovak as "timeless as though historical the antagonisms"

identity as Europe,


the years from Croat conflicts European past

to get its revenge the upon just been waiting as attributing is as meaningless interlude the resur illusory postwar to some extra-historical in Germany skinheads gence of neo-Nazi of "Germanness" inclination could past. as a mere to treat post-1989 revival of Europe sense if one satisfactorily demonstrated only make reaching deep into the unresolved

problem This the past with

that the era which has just ended was

Yalta, of the postwar the categories themselves exploitation programs or with Hitler's invasion illusions of 1939 leaves us more

indeed the one which began

of Poland, and that the passing or less where we started. But

of little use; they are are, as I have suggested, now closed, era which has and their current part of the vacuum. to the present Where the points political languages, the past, however distorted, is all that

promise of the future once helped to justify political and social


The End of Which European Era?


in the name ideas and people of Instead of mobilizing to come, national and ethnic leaders invoke times past. things is that Reactionaries has changed always did this, of course. What own now its terrain both "reaction" and that of the occupies erstwhile Croatia.9 In the matter of defunct eras we are dealing today not only with radicals. This is as true for France as it is for Slovakia and


but also with


To say that Europe until

or of Hitler, under the sign of the Holocaust, does recently operated or precisely not sufficiently came apart in 1989. For what explain after 1945, both parts of Europe (communist, just as for Europe the crucial reference was Lenin's and liberal) before 1939, fascist, Revolution. our This was the event which new but also gave century tion of revolution. Because 1917 the prospect action and in our not only shaped geopolitics in to the nineteenth-century life tradi in St. Petersburg of what in happened of revolution made sense as an and

the language times. Left

influential and seductive way

collective even the noncommunist

of thinking about public

It is what a common gave

life and

the communist

and provided eschatology at least until 1968, with a shared language, however distorted. them, Without that language and that reference is no radical project there in European political thought, and its absence has shaken European

political sensibilities inways that we have not yet fully understood.

and older tradition. too, was Yet, 1917, part of a distinctive a means Lenin provided the European Left with of sustaining the of the French Revolution in social and international cir heritage cumstances to render the language which by 1900 had threatened of 1789 hopelessly In other words, and imprecise. he inadequate saved the revolutionary albeit at the price of destroy political myth, a matter of its ethical This was of some ing much credibility. importance, since in the aftermath of the failed revolutions of 1848


of the radical energies of Europe had gone

of various

into national

movements and entered The from confusion Paris

their ambitions kinds, or else had moderated the mainstream of liberal politics in fact if not in name.

center engendered by the shift of the revolutionary to Frankfurt was overcome and thence to Moscow by nineteenth-century claims would association of revolutionary legitimized.

the characteristically West,

progress with industrialproduction; ifRussia could out-industrialize the

then its revolutionary be retrospectively

If we

have reached then we the end of the revolutionary sense in an important have era set in motion also closed the era

by Lenin, come as no

opened by his French predecessors

in 1789. This conclusion will

in France who have been proclaiming surprise to many some time now; but whereas the end of this epoch for their claims in France, rested on domestic transformations the termi including decline firmed on


own Communist of France's Party, they are now con a pan-European scale by the collapse of the Bolshevik incarnation of the European the institutional regime, revolutionary are startling in that both the language The implications and epoch. life rest squarely upon the terms of European the projects political

of reference in which
hitherto features been of Left

the heritage of the French Revolution

Without it as


grasped. and Right

more without the signif importantly, to "1789," the building blocks of European polit of the revolutionary the other great heritage ical liberalism, era, lose theorists and philoso their form. It is for this reason that political icance accorded in Hungary, France, Poland, Germany, Italy, and elsewhere in recent years been turning to the somewhat different Anglo to see what might American of liberal political be tradition thought stem. on to the faltering continental grafted phers have Revolutions, Events since of of course, 1989 are not suggest nation-state. The demise the nineteenth-century in recent decades, too hastily announced the presumptive state was outcome of Eurofication and the successful of a globalized economy at least against would the Western Maastricht half and of the continent. the postcommunist an altogether suggest after the If anything, backlash too the reaction in the East that another the only mileposts era is coming of the past. to a close, that of the nation

in parts of Europe. Without no sense. Perhaps ism" makes

a reference, the distinctive as they are already to do blur, beginning of revolution, the eschatology "social

superficially idea. What, the national Le Pen, of Jean-Marie

of presence healthy are German the rise unification, all, and the of Czechoslovakia breakup

former Soviet Union,

evidence The

and the collapse of Yugoslavia

if not the

revivals? national of rampant it confuses is misleading national because evidence identity nation-states of the last cen The European the nation-state.10 with of an the successful expansion tury came into being either through state into linguistically contiguous territory, dynastic early-modern

The End of Which European Era?


or else through of an old empire?or the breakup both, as in the case of Germany formed and Italy. Whether (i.e., Greece, early and Italy) or in the last bout of state construction Serbia, Belgium, after World via, War the Baltic I (i.e., Czechoslovakia, Austria, were states, etc.) these countries Poland, Yugosla never ethnically, so in the of them became

or socially culturally, course of World War tion

postwar popula the point that such states were, underscored shifts. This merely of Great Power diplomacy in almost every case, the products (or its are now breaking are the states which The new These up. failure). is consistent. From Spain to Bel fault lines vary, but the pattern from Italy to Yugoslavia, from Czechoslovakia to the United into re the sedi

Some homogenous. II or as a result of enforced


states are dividing case), European (a marginal Kingdom of Europe, itself settlement The nineteenth-century gions. ment is cracking.11 of shifting imperial plates, The era to which these events signal an end is the one

that began

in 1848, following the failure of the revolutions of that year. From then until 1945 nationalism and industrial progress substituted for
revolution nationalist nation-states conflict and social transformation and sentiment did not of the new the ultimate of Europe. That of European configurations account for the domestic helps across much

Polish, Hungarian, from the perceived inadequacy of unwanted minorities presence II and the enforced settlement disputes, but also contributed of the newer

always match states and their angry quarrels with neighbors? and Italian nationalism took their cue German, of that within area and the their geographical their territory. World War followed put an end to such of the undermining Soviet internation

to a radical states?between


of Europe their raison d'?tre seemed elusive. to pursue case to take in the Western their own ends?or free of a transnational of the promise advantage Europe?Slovenians, accept restrictive Flemings, the terms than Lombards, of earlier and Catalans settlements which saw no good reason to now seemed more

fragile legitimacy alism and the promise


Another century

liberating. of thinking about the collapse of the nineteenth way to have ended settlement the nineteenth (here taking century

with the defeat of the Central Powers in 1989) is to note the alacrity with which the intelligentsia of much of the continent has thrown in its lotwith the notion of extraterritorial identity. Until 1919, the


intellectual" An was almost unheard of and some intellectual theorist the was, almost by definition, of a nation the case of new (in a political or cultural a stream within In the most were extreme cases (i.e., the or the nation; or nobility

idea of a "European thing of an oxymoron.

representative, spokesman, or aspirant or of nations) nation (as in the French case). Czechs while tion. From not or the Croats) peasants Intellectuals lacked the

intellectuals collective

urban bourgeoisie identified with the empire (Austrian, in this case),

any consciousness the anachronism) invented, (forgiving its myths, its language, its culture, and toMasaryk, and Kossuth, through Palacky was his place Julien Benda as nation-maker. or Giovanni with Even representa or reinvented, its demands. the mark of or Croce, primarily however

the nation, Fichte the intellectual to mention their

national great

intellectuals international


Gentile, domestic debates,

Jaur?s were


After 1919, and with growing effect after 1945, intellectuals were
else attached themselves (as in disastrously or Romania) to an aggressively fascist aesthetic. France, Germany, for the sort of nationalism which The European idea, as a substitute internationalized?or was thought to have produced 1914 and its heritage, acquired a

certain appeal, reinforced after 1945 by the idea of the intellectual

as spokesman In a curious for a morally troubled world. paradox was uniquely in France by the accident slowed down of this process which meant intellectual that a French French postwar ascendancy, intellectual contradiction. ple?intellectuals itan audience national idea.12 could be both French and universalist or West Elsewhere?in and consciously took up Italy addressed a new role Europe apparent for exam Germany, to a cosmopol themselves as spokesmen the against without

intellectual was, the progressive, after 1945, replaced by of course, defunct socialist, or communist vision was necessarily intellectual whose nonnational, the more lectuals so because were spent exiles abroad so many Eastern and Central European in their own home lands, often returning as refugees authoritarianism from domestic in Eastern critics of took on Europe the Soviet-imposed and a new regime and intel after and

In Eastern

the nationalist

years nism, role: and

foreign fascism alike. But with the declining legitimacy of commu

intellectuals they the became difficult in the not

name of the oppressed nation but on behalf of the individual citizen

("European") idea of freedom rights.

The End of Which European Era?

Intellectuals relationship cations and inmodern the nation-state European and have a close The and



symbiotic of this fragmentation

link signals a crisis for both parties. Deprived of intellectual justifi

from lacking an empire or empires can only be of Europe the nation-states seek liberation, which they or local interest. In in economic and political necessity grounded to point to "Europe" case today either this appears (as every or else to multifurcation?or fortress or protector) both, for regions for their existence like Lombardy, Slovenia, which they have hitherto benefit. alist" For intellectuals This is unappealing. is not or Catalonia been where the national of a drain a part seems more in these places the local entity of than a

intellectuals men

interest argument to deny the very real presence of "nation or Serbia, apologists inHungary for the retrench

ing and revanchist ambitions of their political

intellectuals, language which international World War like Csurka, is peculiarly European thereby to repulsive brought are the

leaders; but such

sensibilities to speak a of an


intellectual II.Most of


crisis, may despair For this reason experiencing began or 1789. We 1815, European proposition. life cultural critical French sensibilities Industrial political

intellectuals, but it is all they have. "Europe" crisis we it may be that the era whose not are in 1945, nor in one in 1917, nor even special sense, surface this may of with

up on the lessons of the current faced with are now

living, On the Enlightenment. is still a continent After all, Europe by we the dream associate

in 1848, the end of the seem an odd

is shaped tolerance which that unfolded Revolutions.

whose and political and progress, rationality, in European the revolution


in the century between the British and the if you like, between and the the Scientific or, to the extent that the characteristic Indeed, Enlightenment more than was ever enlightened des

form of the European XVI?we live now

and Louis

Maria Theresia and Joseph II, of Frederick the Great

in the glow of the is "Brussels," idea. What after all, if not a renewal of Enlightenment the goal of efficient universal shorn of particularisms administration, and driven by rational calculation and the rule of law, which the great eighteenth-century monarchs strove unsuccessfully to institute

in their ramshackle lands? Indeed, it is the very rationality of the

European European to many has made it appealing ideal which Community to that educated intellectuals?and especially professional



sees in Brussels an escape which from hidebound intelligentsia as eighteenth-century and particularisms, much practices lawyers, over to enlightened monarchs the and writers traders, appealed sense the and diets. In this limited heads of reactionary parliaments

European Enlightenment

is alive and well

and living in Jacques

And yet the Enlightenment

we are about to forget abandon discursive rationality

is in crisis. By this I do not mean that

of the early modern revolutions, and experimental reject the thought,

the lessons

we should not premises of social and political modernity?though too hastily dismiss the notion that there are influential thinkers in
Europe do today who would in the air and Enlightenment important. is the crisis of the European obvious these the most Among In a functional This may be read in two ways: intellectuals. sense, are redundant to be so. In Eastern and feel themselves intellectuals just that. But its symptoms there are is a new counter

is at a low ebb; they are perceived influence their political Europe a reminder as culturally marginal of a time and an embarrassment, to associate with them did not wish of their audience when most of the dissident conscience with annoying prolongation most Hungarians, and others had, which Slovaks, Poles, Czechs, In their marginality little in common. and still have, they speak have lost their role as self neither for the state nor to it. They and the only role they for imprisoned peoples, spokesmen appointed ever truly had in Central and in societies where and Eastern Europe, there is no integrated subcommunity they are adrift. cosmopolitan an

The Jewish intelligentsia of fin de si?cle Vienna or Budapest might

have been marginal real part of a very to the Empire real micro-society, a very as a whole, but they were and from that base they could

or Hungarian have intellectuals Czech Today, speak to the world. no such base and thus speak to the world This is not from nowhere. or sustainable a comfortable pose. are also of Western In a similar sense, the intellectuals Europe adrift. In Paris, still the intellectual agonized role of debate heartland over is interminable, classic als. The there of the continent, the lost role of the intellectu intellectual, as a surrogate

the Western

authority for both the prince and the people, has been lost. The identity and importance of the state have been blurred by the
apparent Europeanizing of power and the privatizing of resources,

The End of Which European Era?

great theories of human progress it?as within which vehicles established of rational


while themoral standing of themasses has dimmed along with the

elements privileged of Margaret words the people?or In the change.

does not exist. Intellectuals Thatcher, "society" and write and make ethical pronouncements, may important speak no longer have a theory of but they themselves should why anyone listen to them.

This is the second element in the decline of the intellectuals. The Enlightenment bequeathed an ideal of knowledge, the belief that
the natural, realms was within social, and spiritual understanding the human grasp, and that those who grasped it?scientists, philos a special claim on the attention social theorists?had of ophers, control come under attack of European ling vision modernity?has from so many directions that we have forgotten how crucial it is. It has been condemned in itsMarxist form as a hubristic and danger ous assertion of human power; in its scientific form as a naive and no less dangerous of the mysteries of nature; in misunderstanding its economic form as a monstrous and self-destructive in confidence now rulers and the ruled alike. This fundamental notion?the

the myth of productivity and transformation; and in its philosoph

ical form There ment as the quintessential is, of course, much that fallacy of rational about these attacks and objectivism. on the Enlighten confused. Neo


is contradictory


of the Right may see industrial society as the vicious

of discursive are no but their own arguments stepchild rationality, less steeped in post-Enlightenment assumptions; neo-Heideggerians of the Left an almost be a case in point) (Havel might express distaste for the political and economic mystical damage wrought by thoughtless, individual overconfident freedom but set against it ideals of modernity and civic values which took their modern form era.

in the Enlightenment It is this confusion about glance

over what its critics find unattractive exactly our world, and why, which to see at first makes it harder how much the common theme is one corrosive of the just since practiced society on rational discourse dismissive the least of whatever important Not many the eigh itself, al itmeans because people of are

under which we have assumptions teenth century. The direct attacks though they are the most obviously to be "enlightened," are probably their marginal and self-refuting



to the extreme Derridians, including Derrida himself. But

the broader, shallower claim that there is nothing big left to believe
is an illusion, and that that progress in, that ideals are a sham, is the only sustainable self-interest short-term (there private goal no public from the sphere of public has now moved ones) being man in the cant into that of cultural The free-thinking discourse. vision of the Enlightenment?still exists; that sphere?Kant's public to perform an intellectual his is. But for such a person is what sense of speaking in the Habermasian role?in crucial rationally a common must to a public share with his audience and sphere?he sense of what constitutes be an agreed There must epistemology. sense to it makes ends and for what collective rational projects pursue and them. Today is truly the European intellectual cannot credibly offer

reasons beyond the prudential for the thoughts he is propounding,

that Russell's heaven a sea change In Bertrand in European thought. are discovering that there is in fact less in words, and earth than was dreamt of in our philosophy. we
* * *

was not the first to note, has more as Marx imagination History, in Europe will lead some is now happening than men. Whatever to make in this essay is that "somewhere" The point Iwish where. since from the Europe we have known look very different will It already will Yugoslavia 1945. is a fact; of Europe dislocation regional nor will never be the same again, Italy. The recent came very close to giving the Catalan nationalists elections Spanish to a veto they would have exercised a veto over national legislation, a near monopoly Such regionalization, of its resources. give Catalonia does. The

identical to that sought by theNorthern League in Italy and already

northern well-off at too high a price, by the relatively achieved, extremities for the southern states of Yugoslavia, will be disastrous so as it is they who sit closest the more of Mediterranean Europe, to the from Africa to the ever increasing pressures demographic the likely compromise, In the same way, the western (Poland, Hungary, Europe fringe of Central whereby a Euro-suburb while and the Czech "Byzantine" lands) will become south and Asia to the east.

Europe (from Latvia to Bulgaria) will be left to stew in its provincial

The End of Which European Era?


resentment in of nostalgic the politics juices, will further exacerbate the latter region. the end of This does not signal a return to the past. Between in historical per (itself now recognized, growth steady economic spective, as a moment to be repeated) and unlikely ideas alike, we can reasonably able future fortune and contingent of peculiar good and great the retreat of Great Powers for the foresee expect to experience and with in our it domestic era?human and convince and interna social

an era of uncertainty, moral institutions

tional resentments and instability. The crucial building blocks of

international justice, rights, national autonomy?were philosophical To sociological ourselves

epistemes which contemporary thinkers have difficulty grounding

in universally acknowledged that we and our neighbors self-evident assumptions truths is going such guiding propositions.14 should continue to be all the more ideals no longer as though these were difficult: second order obtain. Our present

situation, with
post-Enlightenment mentary organs

respect to the basic political

ideas which


to that of the rudi is thus comparable Europe, wrote in the Origin Darwin of which of Species: still retained in the serve as

[they] may be compared with the letter in a word, spelling but become useless in the pronunciation, a clue in seeking for its derivation. At best

but which


at home and abroad, for social behavior, such guidelines as myths, as rule-utilitarian to be reconstructed premises in a world where most dismiss for human practice people would on stilts." This, however, as "nonsense ambitious anything more have fails to address authority codes enforce, and to what inheritance from the the question of authority. Who in Europe to intellectual, (moral, political) of collective behavior? Who, ends and with what limits? the Enlightenment?indeed less teach, in short, has power, is an unresolved This itwas the space opened today much has

up by the end of the Divine Right and the extinction of absolutism

which now only Europe sentation into the public place the very theories of repre first brought in whose and nation, and history progress twilight we to this question, sit. In the absence of any clear answer it seems a little melodramatic is about to enter to conclude an era of turmoil, that in a variety of ways a time of troubles. This


of course, but and unpleasant for most experience. people

new for the old continent, is nothing it will come as a novel alive today

ENDNOTES *See Tony Judt, "The Past isAnother Country: Myth andMemory in Postwar Eu rope," Dcedalus 121 (4) (Fall 1992): 83-119. 2For the Italian case see themagisterial work of Claudio Pavone, Una Guerra Civile. Saggio storico sulla moralit? nella Resistenza (Turin: Bollati Boringhieri, 1992). 3Which is not to deny that many
changes, but to no effect.

in the previous decades had pressed for just such

4The relationship between France and the Federal Republic of Germany in the years 1949-1990 curiously echoes that between Austria and Prussia after the Congress
of Vienna. other Prussia the senior ically In both to participate could partner associate. of cases one and as both a resource partner, ostensibly a guarantee?in strengthen longer control the the Austrian to use the one, sought case by encouraging to dis Confederation?only senior the ambitions of its econom

in and no

the German or contain

cover, in the fullness of time, that the power relationship had reversed itself and

5For a full discussion uses of "Europe"

the European ramifications in German debate, political

of German see Timothy

unification, Garton Ash,



In Eu

rope's Name: 1993).

6Curiously, idea, that this of

Germany and theDivided Continent

reveals "Fortress the enduring Europe," and strength a continent

(New York: Random House,

of at least one in its Christian European whiteness racial the

relevance united

exotic, against cosmopolitan, This version of the European

and threatening its roots idea, with

from within forces, in nineteenth-century

or without.

ory was shared by Hitler and even by some of the intellectual critics of democracy of the 1930s. It has been revived by neo-fascists and "new Right" intellectuals in
Germany, 7At least Germany France, in those and Italy that in recent have years and their appears doors to to be thriving. and countries opened refugees?Austria

in particular. ex-colonies relative outside autonomy?but of Europe, where Britain or France or France, might which still un

in small 8Except intervene with derscores


as Britain

the point.

9A number of prominent
and Jean-Pierre Debray, tions of a sort of national

French left-wingers,
Chev?nement, republicanism, have quite

recently literally

them Max

Gallo, R?gis

to nostalgic invoca a "reaction" to the over

selling of Europe and the demise of an international radical project. 10Fora fuller discussion of this theme, see Tony Judt, "TheNew Old Nationalism," New York Review of Books, 26 May 1994.
nIn the case of Belgium, the national settlement is coming apart as a result of pres

sure from two directions: domestically

the Flemings andWalloons

are splitting

The End of Which European Era?

into fields gium" a federated of economic the image of state, while internationally action has eroded and administrative entity. has discomfort argued over cogently that the paradoxical consequences disastrous "Benelux" the specificity


in so many of "Bel

as a distinctive Enzensberger of existential

12Hans Magnus condition

of this new role for German writers?filling formodern German

13"Some correct beliefs and truths

a domestic political void but in a


their national

intellectual and political life.

are .there are constraints inescapable.. true factual beliefs of how, for instance, of fact and are formed logic. A has no


tendency to undermine them, while the opposite is typically true of ideological beliefs, for example. This is a truth, admittedly far from clear, at the heart of the Enlightenment enterprise." Bernard Williams, Shame and Necessity (Berkeley and Los Angeles, Calif.: University of California Press, 1993), 216 n. 52.
14Witness the general reaction to the work of John Rawls, including his most recent

attempt to devise a theoretical basis for liberalism?that extent that it describes the sort of liberal societies where
Hence, import

it is only valid to the it is already practiced.

attempts to

air of even disembodied the best-informed too, the rather such Anglo-American into continental terrain. speculation