Analysis of the Paris Statement by European intellectuals
On October 7, 2017, several prominent European intellectuals published a Paris Statement titled “A Europe We Believe In”, which consists of 36 points postulating the loss of European identity due to the prevailing political, economic and cultural codes adopted and enforced by the EU, and pointing out ways to address this challenge. The full text is available online at https://thetrueeurope.eu/a-europe-we-can-believe-in/.
Although the authors—Rémi Brague (France), Philippe Bénéton (France), Roger Scruton (United Kingdom), Matthias Storme (Belgium), Ryszard Legutko (Poland), Dalmacio Negro Pavón (Spain) and seven more signatories from Czech Republic, Hungary, Norway, Germany and the Netherlands—are sometimes labelled as the “new right”, they can hardly be qualified as such, because, contrary to the founding fathers and orthodox exponents of the right movement, they advocate state and social control over the free market. In their criticism of what the Statement defines as the “false Europe”, i.e. the continent’s mainstream culture, they come pretty close to the leftist viewpoint, but they differ drastically from the left when it comes to the steps proposed to save the continent: The authors of the Paris Statement claim that the work of European renewal should begin with theological self-knowledge. This “old-fashioned” attitude seems to be particularly important from the Russian point of view.
Courtesy of the Russian Slavophile Aleksey Khomyakov, who was the first one to call Europe the “land of holy wonders”, that image of Europe lived on in posterity, including in the views of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and most other well-educated Russians. Let me cite the words spoken by Dostoyevsky’s characters that most probably belonged to the author himself, as we encounter them in both A Writer’s Diary and some of his novels:
“Europe—why it’s a terrible and sacred thing, Europe is!”—“For a Russian, Europe is as precious as Russia: for him, every stone in her is dear and beloved. Europe was just as much our fatherland as Russia... Oh, Russians cherish those old foreign stones, those wonders of God’s old world, those fragments of holy wonders; and they’re even dearer to us than to them! They have other thoughts and other feelings now, and they’ve ceased to cherish the old stones...”
A Europe that repudiates its roots ceases to be Europe
In other words, before anything else, Europe is dear to us for its Christian and cultural heritage. We still cherish the Europe where secularisation has not turned into desecration of all that is holy and de-ontologisation of all traditional values; i.e. stripping these values of any ontological relevance. Today’s “false Europe” rejects that sacred and ontological aspect as outdated rubbish that weighs on the minds of new Europeans and “offends” citizens with a different cultural background. It looks like that is exactly where the division between the present-day Europe and Russia lies: a Europe that repudiates its roots and great achievements ceases to be Europe. That is what Jacky Billon, a famous French singer and composer, author of Joe Dassin’s hits, viscount and a Catholic-turned-Orthodox, told me back in the 2000s: “I’ve travelled all over Europe—there is none of Europe left.” This dividing line recognised by many Europeans and Russians can therefore become the starting point for an effort to bring about a brand new, bright outlook for restoring the European identity and for constructive relations between Russia and wider Eurasia, on the one hand, and the true Europe, on the other.
Modernity, a new epoch that replaced theocentricism of the Middle Ages and put man at the centre of the universe (hence, the name of anthropocentric era), began with Renaissance. From its very start, Renaissance revealed the main contradiction of Modernity: Renaissance puts man as he is in the place of God to create and innovate, discover new lands, master science and produce outstanding pieces of art, but no other historical epoch could rival the Renaissance in the extent of hypocrisy, backstabbing, and rejection of the notion of sin and evil. Faust, an itinerant scholar who sold his soul to the Devil for unlimited power over the world, was condemned during the Middle Ages and hailed as a hero in the age of Modernity. The cult of a godlike man shut the door on worship of the God-man, rapidly turning the godlike man into a manlike beast. That is what Russian philosopher Alexei Losev noted, musing on the dark side of titanism: everyone thinks himself to be a titan, and this ends up in a heap of dead bodies (Alexei Losev, Aesthetics of the Renaissance).
The authors of the Paris Statement claim that the greatest threat to the future of Europe is neither Russian adventurism (sic) nor Muslim immigration, but Europe’s false understanding of itself that centres around the concept of a godlike man taken to its extreme. This false Europe imagines itself as a fulfilment of civilisation, but in truth it will confiscate the Europeans’ home. This echoes the Eurocentrism and progressivism of Hegel who, as if in an act of self-mockery, professed the grand dialectical philosophy of constant development while being an apologist of the Prussian monarchy; as he believed each historical victory, including the victory or defeat of a nation, to be the ultimate realisation of the world spirit. The authors continue by saying that the patrons of the false Europe believe that History is on their side, which is also in line with Hegel’s discourse: the German philosopher opined that some “historical” nations exhibited development and had a mission to fulfil, while others (Indians, Africans) were “unhistorical” and were therefore destined to be enslaved and attached to Europe. This proclamation of ownership over history lives on despite the postmodern Europe loudly denouncing the concept of Eurocentrism. The authors of the Statement highlight this hypocrisy or ignorance of mainstream politicians and ideologues when they speak about multiculturalism. Point 18 states that there is a great deal of bad faith in the project of multiculturalism. Most in European governing classes presume the superiority of their culture, which must not be affirmed in public. They think that assimilation will happen naturally, “they” will necessarily become like “us”, with official multiculturalism being deployed as a therapeutic tool for managing the unfortunate but “temporary” cultural tensions.
European culture is firmly rooted in Christianity
The false Europe denies its Christian roots. But it was the Christian church that brought cultural unity to Europe, the authors of the Paris Statement posit. The Christian Gospel did not deliver a comprehensive civil law; but, along with the Roman law, it laid the foundations for the civil society and nation states without posing a threat to the European unity. Christian roots nourish Europe. The notion of equal dignity of every individual, regardless of sex, rank or race, arose from the unmistakably Christian virtues of fairness, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, peace-making and charity. Christianity revolutionised the relationship between men and women, valuing love, marriage, mutual fidelity, spousal and parental sacrifice in an unprecedented way.
The classical virtues of Europe also draw inspiration from the culture of ancient Greece and Rome, where Europe’s philosophy, arts, sciences, technological advances, law, and the very notions of civility, social solidarity and civic loyalty stem from. Importantly, the idea of freedom also comes from the Roman and Christian schools of thought. European thinkers have traditionally derived their understanding of human rights from Thomas Aquinas’ concept of the “natural law”, which holds that all life in the Universe, both that of nature and of society, complies with the universal law dictated by God himself, and that this superior law manifests itself in moral standards that govern human behaviour. A similar idea had been expressed by Cicero:
“True law is right reason in agreement with nature; it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting; it summons to duty by its commands; (...) one eternal and unchangeable law will be valid for all nations and all times, and there will be one master and ruler, that is, God, over us all, for He is the author of this law, its promulgator, and its enforcing judge.”
Culture starts with taboos and has inherent restrictions—otherwise, it is no culture at all
The politics of the contemporary Europe is dominated by the faceless dictatorship of transnational corporations and elites. Their false universalist and universalising pretensions reveal them to be an ersatz religious enterprise, complete with strong creedal commitments and anathemas. They trample on the national traditions, and those who object are labelled as “nostalgic racists or fascists”. As the patrons of the false Europe construct their faux Christendom of universal human rights, the authors fear they are losing their home. Meanwhile, the false Europe boasts an unprecedented commitment to the warped concept of human rights and liberty. This liberty sells itself as hedonism, irresponsibility, and liberation from all restraints, including sexual freedom and freedom of self-expression. These freedoms go back to the Generation of ’68, which viewed culture as an inherently oppressive regime that needed to be ditched. It is no coincidence that one of the slogans during the May 1968 events in France said: “It is forbidden to forbid.” However, culture starts with taboos and has inherent restrictions—otherwise, it is no culture at all. On the other hand, the declared freedoms are confected by the Government, which suppresses free thinking in the name of liberty and tolerance, and urges Europeans to view technocratic tyranny as the only true freedom. This social arrangement is decidedly undemocratic, as it is not beset by a single fixable flaw, but by pervasive deficiencies that are endemic to the established governance system of Europe. The targets of imposed restrictions are not obscenity or other assaults on decency in public life, but the manifestly free speech on socially important issues. Political leaders who give voice to inconvenient truths about Islam and immigration are hauled before judges. The grip of this tyranny keeps tightening, as it has no other way to preserve itself. Patriotism is being consistently eroded. Over the last decades, a culture of repudiation has been rehearsed in the European lecture halls, depriving the next generation of a sense of identity. Today, critical thinking equates with a simple-minded repudiation of everything that is one’s own, including national policy, culture, etc. This complacent and unreflective animus, by virtue of its very existence, goes against Modernity’s lodestar, which has been the rigorous discipline of intellectual honesty and objectivity. The culture of repudiation has taken hold. Civil society is being wiped out, but the people are reluctant to rally behind causes that protect their own interests due to a lack of civic trust and social cohesion. The institutions of marriage and child-rearing are being defiled, while wanton consumerism frustrates the deep desires to form families and raise children. Arts promote decadence, which has blurred the line between fine and foul. In its attempt to eradicate discrimination, political correctness enforces strong taboos that keep any signs of freedom at bay. As a result, European societies seem to be falling into individualism, isolation and aimlessness. People lead siloed lives, and communities that were once unified are now disintegrated. It promotes a culture of market-driven homogeneity and politically enforced conformity.
The authors of the Paris Statement note that Europe has made significant strides when it comes to equality and fight against discrimination by race, nationality, gender and so on. But here, too, a utopian detachment from reality has taken hold. Migrants are not assimilated into European society, often living in isolated communities under their own laws that are completely at odds with the European way of life. Europeans have been made to believe that it is a gross injustice to demand the assimilation of refugees and other newcomers to local manners and mores. Moreover, Europeans should not think their own culture in any way superior to others, better yet—they need to denigrate it. Europeans are to affirm the very colonisation of their homelands as Europe’s great twenty-first century glory—a collective act of self-sacrifice for the sake of some new global community of peace and prosperity that is being born.
Social differentiation and civil unrest, which is increasingly often being quelled with armed soldiers and riot police, are becoming the new norm. The crusade for a borderless world, this Biblical Moloch in need of endless sacrifice that results in self-destruction of nations and people, must be ceased. The authors call on Europe not to continue down this path.
As stated above, the work of European renewal must begin with theological self-knowledge, i.e. recognition of Europe’s Christian roots that are still there and can yet again sway the continent’s fate. Europeans must turn their backs on the pseudo-religion of the false Europe. In order to recover their political and historical agency, it is imperative that they re-secularize European public life and get rid of the ersatz religion.
Today’s language is intended to obscure reality rather than describe it
According to the authors, the true liberalism must be restored, and first and foremost, rhetoric must be different. Today’s language is intended to obscure reality rather than describe it. Threats, blackmail, prejudice and allegations of intolerability should be left behind, while free discussion of socially important issues must be encouraged.
A new kind of statesmanship and a new kind of statesman need to be fostered. The latter shall be one that stewards the country’s commonweal, honours its traditions, seeks approbation from it rather than the “international community”, which is in fact the public relations apparatus of an oligarchy.
Europe must clearly understand that “immigration without assimilation is colonisation, and this must be rejected” (paragraph 27).
A proper hierarchy nourishes social well-being, and that should be acknowledged. Parents and mentors must teach their children and mentees. Let me explain. I have to make such obvious points because European pedagogy has had a long-standing tradition of promoting minimisation of teaching in favour of merely informing the student, trying to obscure that with such misleading terms as “indoctrination”, “ideology” and “violation of children’s and students’ rights”. The very situation characterised by a hierarchy whereby the parent/teacher is, figuratively speaking, on the podium and the children/students are listening to them closely that had been there for several millennia has been turned inside out, with the parent/teacher and child/student declared as possessing at best equal rights within the communication process and any hierarchy or superior/inferior designation according to one’s education, competence, social skills, etc. prohibited, or at worst translated into a practice similar to that of Mao’s Red Guards.
Europe should not accept advice from experts who ignore the cultural demands of the people, the authors stressed. It must reject an exaggerated egalitarianism and the reduction of wisdom to technical knowledge. While principal human rights must be protected from infringement, a proper democracy requires a social and cultural hierarchy motivating people to develop their potential and fostering respect to those who steward the commonweal. This vertical orientation will help the civilisation to counter both the growing power of wealth and the corrupting influence of the nastiest widespread distractions.
Moral culture must be restored, said the authors. Let me also note that given the total freedom Europe currently bestows on itself while interpreting some of the human rights, the declared ethical neutrality is a mere phantom or illusion, and such words as moralisation, moralising, or propensity for making moral judgements have become vulgar in the Russian language as well, as if the difference between the good and the evil or the vice and the virtue has been abolished. In the Western public opinion, morality is often regarded as a repressive, abstract, conventional system of principles and therefore could and should be altered as desired. And I must add that although moral standards are indeed rooted into a specific time in history and vary both from society to society and within a society throughout its life cycle, by their very nature they do not allow arbitrary changes. Even Immanuel Kant with his strict and rational philosophical system did not penetrate the mystery of the “moral law within us” (and the mystery of the “starry heavens above”), recognising it as the sole possible evidence of God’s existence. At the same time, the authors urged us to renew the exchange of respect between social classes that characterises a society that values the contributions of all.
Markets need to be oriented toward social ends. We cannot allow everything to be for sale. Markets require the rule of law and function best when they are nested within strong social institutions organised on their own, non-market principles. Economic growth, while beneficial, is not the highest good. Today, corporate gigantism threatens even political sovereignty. The government power should seek to sustain non-economic social goods.
According to the authors of the Paris Statement, reforms of educational curricula are needed to disseminate Europe’s common culture instead of indoctrinating young people in a culture of repudiation. Every effort must be made to renew the European high culture by re-setting the sublime and the beautiful as a common standard and rejecting the degradation of the arts as political propaganda.
Marriage must be recognised as the foundation of civil society and the basis for harmony between men and women (!), while being fathers and mothers must be viewed as the most fundamental roles in society; marriage, childbearing, and childrearing must be encouraged. “A society that fails to welcome children has no future” (paragraph 33).
Populism, a swear word in the false Europe’s modern discourse, is an essential concept if used to describe a focus on ideas socially compelling for the broad public. The false Europe in its fear of democratic orientation labels any threat to its monopoly on moral legitimacy as “anti-democratic”.
The authors conclude that our future is the true Europe. It represents an alternative to the artificial, soulless solidarity of a unified market, a transnational bureaucracy, and glib entertainment. The renowned humanitarian activists appeal to all Europeans to join them in renewing national sovereignty and the Europe of nations, rejecting the utopian fantasy of a multicultural world without borders.
As early as the mid-1990s and later, Georgy Knabe, a brilliant Russian culturologist, investigated into most of Europe’s dead-end roads mentioned in the Paris Statement in his works and lectures, including those delivered abroad. The Europeans, however, often gave him a cold shoulder and sometimes even called him and the most renowned Russian scholars “narrow-minded” behind the scenes. Interestingly, it was Knabe who reviewed the book called Europe, la voie romaine written by Rémi Brague, one of the Paris Statement’s authors. In his analysis, he proved wrong Brague’s assertion about the immanent self-destruction of the Roman culture and its dissolution in other cultures devoid of its own, together with his statement that Europe has to succeed to this Roman path. Sure, the Roman culture assimilated other cultures, but never dissolved in them. On the contrary, its self-assigned mission was to propagate the codified Roman law and other norms to the conquered territories, introducing peoples to the highest type of culture. For Europe, this self-destruction means self-defeating. It looks as though today Rémi Brague has turned the tables, changing his opinion to what was previously regarded by the European intellectuals as “narrow-minded thinking”.
Mr Knabe stressed that Europe’s current mindset is characterised by the idea of a man and his free will as the starting point and the real unit of both history and culture:
“Therefore, any community not justified internally by such an individual, any collective norm and general rules translate for them as violence and repression from which they seek (or should seek) to free themselves.”
They seek to free themselves from logic, rationality and truth:
“Postmodernity sees public and state circles of modern Western countries as occupied by a capitalist elite ruled by the bourgeois class in their own interests and therefore subject if not to destruction, then, at least, to de-legitimisation. ... Social protection, humanism, good old traditions, great heritage—all this is an attempt to disguise false ideas behind lofty rhetoric, which therefore deserves only exposure and mockery.”
And further on:
“The struggle against all kinds of national, social or cultural inequality is especially pressing and essential in the postmodern mindset. Declaring one part of society more civilised than another is viewed as utterly inappropriate. Hence, the fervent combating all kinds of racial, national, social or cultural hierarchy, and, above all,—Eurocentrism.”
As the Modernity in its current European version denies any hierarchy, the “us/them” dichotomy is felt deeply by the Europeans:
“Since postmodernity holds a strong belief in the inevitable growth of any superpersonal structure into a totalitarian, suppressive community, it also views the “us/them” dichotomy only as conflictual and repressive. It is the underlying desire of those recognised as “us” to force their values on those recognised as “them”, to absolutise things belonging to “us” and reject that of “them”. ... Since people with a postmodern mindset primarily treat such a distinction as the aligning of “us” with the European and hence, only “white” and “male” civilisation and discrimination of all other civilisations and cultures (“them”), the primary objective is seen in giving “us” and “them” equal rights, and then eliminating the very distinction.”
These are the attitude and mindset the modern European mainstream views as key to detaching from Modernity and to advancing to a more progressive and humanist social state.
Georgy Knabe has shown that, if we rely on the facts rather than pure ideology, the opposition of “us and them” is quite natural. When postmodernists want the notion “them” (existent only in correlation with the notion of “us”) abolished, they renounce “us”, too, which means that the notion of autonomous person, free and progressive, serving as the foundation for the entire superstructure of postmodernist ideas, is abolished likewise. In his review of The Official Politically Correct Dictionary and Handbookpublished in New York in 1994 the scholar demonstrated how the postmodern logic itself requires renunciation of the notions of truth, morality, beauty and identity, with calls for equality turning into denial of any inequality, no matter how natural it is from the cultural, historical or even biological standpoint.
“Do not speak about the great European writers, as this discriminates against non-European writers... There is no truth: “The truth comes from repeating the same line of reasoning solely based on an artificial frame of reference the person holds on to”... Their proponents and advocates probably perceive this situation as the triumph of universal liberalism... and what is now conventionally called tolerance. However, both liberalism and tolerance by their very meaning presume respect for diversepoints of view, i.e. existence of diverse opinions. They are diverse, though, because each of them derives from a certain life experience, which makes people who share it “us” and exponents of different experiences—“them”. These experiences require equal opportunities for engaging in adialogue, an immanent form of cultural and historical development. “Political correctness” repudiates this diversity and, therefore, renounces dialogic origins of society and culture, making their substance amorphously homogeneous.”
Those are the inherent antinomies of postmodernity, which have had an obvious impact on universities.
As a reminder, most of these texts were written by the Russian scholar back in the mid-1990s and early 2000s. It took over 20 years for the leading European intellectuals to clearly see what the Russian researcher has long since predicted and to explicitly include his ideas in the European agenda by classifying them as essential rather than peripheral issues.
I cannot but mention the Joint Declaration of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia issued in February 2016, which says:
“... Europe must remain faithful to its Christian roots. We call upon Christians of Eastern and Western Europe to unite in their shared witness to Christ and the Gospel, so that Europe may preserve its soul, shaped by two thousand years of Christian tradition.”
It also conveys concepts of family, marriage and raising children shared by Catholics and the Orthodox and echoed in the Paris Statement. The heads of the two largest Christian churches also reiterated “the immutability of Christian moral principles, based on respect for the dignity of the individual called into being according to the Creator’s plan.”
There is a cautious expectation that the Statement will serve as a catalyst for Europe’s renewal
Many of Europe’s mainstream public figures prefer to keep silent on the Paris Statement, but some commentators from the Left and the Right have nonetheless chipped in with their opinions. Responses focus on the idea of the godlike man that is central to the authors. Some point out that there are no Greek, Italian, Spanish, Irish, Balkan or Scandinavian names among the signatories (which is not completely true, because there is a Norwegian intellectual behind the Statement). Others opine that, by ignoring local and national intentions, the “false Europe” sets itself up for a revolution as big as the French Revolution, citing Edmund Burke, the founder of the 18th century conservatism, whose Reflections on the Revolution in France is still widely read and referenced, unlike the works of many of his contemporaries. There is a cautious expectation that the Statement will serve as a catalyst for the real renewal of true Europe. Referring to the Statement’s passage on the need to learn from the American experience of curbing immigration instead of blindly admiring their hospitality, some reviewers criticise the EU’s poor imitation of the US federalism involving a central government.
Commentators note that postmodern Europe has not rejected all of its ancient heritage. For example, ever since Plato proposed the community care of wives and children and the need for the state to take over the upbringing of children in his utopia, countless states have intervened in these domains in an attempt to establish total control using public good, the good of children, or scientific recommendations as a smokescreen. This is the kind of intervention that is now going on in the family, marriage and juvenile justice laws and law enforcement practices of the EU countries and the very kind that is challenged by the prominent European scholars in the Paris Statement.
The discussion around the Statement has brought up some of the more notable publications of the last decade dealing with the so-called “Decline of Europe”, including Claire Berlinski’s Menace in Europe, Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West, Theodore Dalrymple’s The New Vichy Syndrome. Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism, Walter Laqueur’s The Last Days of Europe: Epitaph for an Old Continent, Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe, and Bruce Thornton’s Decline and Fall: Europe’s Slow Motion Suicide.
Responses to the Paris Statement also call attention to the EU’s dangerous and distinctly Hobbesian interpretation of human rights, wherein a person’s rights only extend as far as the state allows. The English philosopher argued that natural human tendencies towards self-preservation and self-interest lead to the war of all against all, and urged individuals to give up their natural rights to the state for the sake of global peace.
There have been reviewers who sensed anti-Semitic overtones in the Statement, saying that it spells the end of the Judeo-Christian tradition and shows European Jews the door asking them to go down their own road. Some question the renewed demand for migrants to assimilate. What exactly are Muslims expected to do? Convert into Lutheranism, Catholicism, Calvinism or Orthodoxy? According to the commentators, this would only lead to more violence. Finally, many reviewers resorted to the classic tactic of focusing on what the Statement does not address as opposed to what it does. The Statement, for example, does not tackle the problem of Scotland and other territories that harbour hopes of independence from larger states they are currently a part of. The most ardent commentators go as far as to call the authors of the Statement false prophets bent on recruiting new slaves and making personal gains from their ideology.
After the original text was posted, the Statement has been translated into several European languages and published by local outlets, such as Sarastus, a journal of Finnish right-wing traditionalists.
The authors of the Paris Statement propose a revolutionary (or, some might say, counter-revolutionary) paradigm shift in Europe. Only time will tell how these reforms will unfold and whether Europeans will be inclined to rally behind them; and it looks like that time is not far off.