The time has come to save Europe, the planet, humanity. This can only be done through a new, courageous democratic process. Indeed, while we tend to reduce democracy to a mere electoral procedure, also an important one, Europe and the rest of the world have totally forgotten what it means to be a community, to search the truth together and to foster a full human development. Democracy has been reduced to the choice of the best political, cultural or consumerist product to be bought by atoms called citizens. Therefore, community is a word that can be manipulated by European populists in order to get consensus; the truth is something decided only by tribunals, or imposed with violence in other parts of the world; and growth is considered only as the annual change in the GDP, without any reference to happiness, relations, sense. We lack a strong democracy, as something more than a merely electoral procedure, exactly at a time when the use of reason, together with overcoming one’s egoic identifications, is the only hope to deal with issues such as climate change.
The tragedy of two world wars and of millions of victims was followed in our continent by an ambitious, brave idea such as the European project. But that tragedy provided also a chance to philosophers such as Hannah Arendt to describe the risks of mass society, or to the Frankfurt School to denounce the violence arising from the use of human reason only as an instrument to pursue an aim.
The identity problem of Europe is the identity problem of democracy. It is a philosophical, and an existential matter. Europe was the place that developed a sense of tolerance, after centuries of wars, and it did so through dialogue, universities, newspapers, coffee houses, and, of course, parliaments, towns, families, personal relations, faiths, religions, atheists. The dream of Europe was the result of the suffering of nations, meaning of mothers, father, sons, daughters. Therefore, something very concrete. The lack of wars, for more than 70 years, has been an outstanding and historic achievement for Europe. However, the increasing polarisation of politics, for instance in the United States, the rise of populism and racism, the inability to act faster against climate change, are signs that, together with wars, also the sense of community, or at least of an ethic dimension of life seems to have been lost. The philosophical problem of democracy is the inability of societies to become communities, to create what Habermas calls a public sphere, in order to decide on what is right and meaningful for us as humans. Most of our decisions are economic ones and, while they are very important, they are based on assumptions that could at least be questioned by a rational, autonomous human being. For instance, some of these questions that could be asked are the following: is technology really more important than humanities for the European future? The fact that infertility has strongly risen among Western males is only a medical, scientific issue? Should European youngsters care only about getting a job or also about forming and expressing their identities through work, in order to avoid becoming what Hannah Arendt called “animal laborans”? Europe can only be a free, deep community if its States become so. And this requires what, in my book “Exchanging Autonomy” I defined as functional autonomy: we act on the basis of some values, instead of believing in some values just because they are needed to convince ourselves of what we do to survive.
And democracy and Europe require also an existential change. A change thanks to which the inclusion of the other is not only a political and philosophical option, but the natural outcome of feeling whole with humanity, the environment, the planet, the universe. Until we overcome the tendency to consider as an enemy whoever is different from us, just because we identify ourselves in some traditions, or ideas, or nations, or parties, the philosophical idea of democracy is going to remain an abstract one. This is a time when climate change, maybe more than any other challenge, is endangering all humanity. Europe can be a leader in dealing with it, not only through concrete actions in limiting CO2 emissions, but also in thinking about a different economic paradigm, for which the quality of production is as important as quantity, for instance.
Europe and humanity need to be saved. Technocratic solutions might be useful, in some cases, but they will never be enough when we need reason, communities, truth, development of humanity, and values that can be exchanged, applied, communicated. Populism, that manipulates the sense of belonging of people, on one hand, and neoliberalism, that tries to convince people that they only belong to what they consume, and that everything can be commodified, are both very distant from what we need today. We need individuality beyond individualism, communities beyond mass societies, a public sphere beyond mere markets where also information is a product. The time is now.