European Identity and the Enlightenment as a European Phenomenon

     Timothy Garton asked,” If not Turkey, why Bosnia, why Albania? If not turkey, why not the Ukraine? Why not Israel, why not Iraq?” The reason Turkey is not regarded as European is because Turkey, unlike the Ukraine, Bosnia, or Albania, is a nation of Turkic-Altaic speaking central Asians who invaded Asia Minor ( a land previously inhabited by Indo-European speakers from the time of the Hittites to the withdrawal of Byzantine influence beginning in the 1230’s, roughly 3,000 years.) and therefore are not of the same linguistic, religious, or ethnic group as were the peninsula’s previous Greek and Armenian inhabitants. The Turks have no claim to a European background other than occupying lands that were previously inhabited by Europeans, therefore are not entitled to the status of being a European nation; a nation being a  historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological makeup manifested in a common culture (wiktionary).

     So what then constitutes a European? Genetically speaking they are Caucasoid, have a high prevalence for type A blood (35%-45%+), they share common DNA clusters from demic diffusion, have a high continuity of Y-DNA haplogroups such as haplogroup R1a and R1b, also they share many of the same superficial characteristics such as the prevalence of brown, red, and blond hair which is very common amongst Europeans but not exclusive to them. Another factor is language, most Europeans speak an Indo-European language with the exceptions of the Ugric family of languages that include Finnish, Hungarian, and Estonian, and also the Basque language isolate. Only four of the 23 official languages of the EU are not Indo-European, this language family originated in what is today Iran as Proto-Indo-European around 6,000 years ago and quickly spread to central Europe; by 500 b.c. nearly everyone in Europe was speaking a language in this language family. Lastly, religion plays a major role in European identity. The chief religion of the continent is Christianity – broken into three major branches as Catholicism, Protestantism, and Orthodoxy. This religion began as a Jewish cult in the early 1st century but quickly spread throughout what was the Roman Empire and into the interior; by 600 a.d. the entire old empire had been converted and by 1386 with the conversion of the last pagan state of Lithuania nearly the entire continent had been converted – with the exception of the Turks! The roots of Europe lay in central Asia; their religions, languages and even their ancestry, yet over the course of thousands of years they have diversified to the extent that they are now unique from their other central Asian brethren such as the Turks, Iranians, and other groups in the middle east and central Asia.

     Marx said that you must historicise ideology and the common ideologies of Europe today are Capitalism and Liberalism, so to understand why these ideologies are the foundation of modern Europe you must take into historical context the factors that led to them. Those factors are the very factors that distinguish Europeans from other groups – their unique and troubled history. Max Weber took historicism beyond the purely economic viewpoint of Marx and concluded that other social factors must be in play before an ideology can manifest. Marx believed that capitalism and liberalism were manifestations of the Enlightenment, however Weber dug deeper and saw the roots of the enlightenment being the schism between Protestantism and Catholicism. To Weber it was the protestant work ethic that made capitalism possible and through capitalism then liberalism was also possible. Marx believed that the progression of these ideologies would lead to secularism, socialism, and finally to atheism and communism – to a large extent that has been the case as most of Europe is now secular, and over 25% of Europeans regard themselves as atheists or agnostics; also many countries of Europe are governed by, or have some representation from Social Democratic or Socialism parties. Weber believed that the economic factors were in play during the Renaissance to create capitalism yet it never came to be that is until well after the reformation and the establishment of Calvinism. Protestants at the time gave high regard to a strong work ethic, to saving money, investing (in Banks or Companies) and also to philosophy, and spirituality which led to many protestant theologians and philosophers to expand upon the the idea of free enterprise into the realm of free enterprise of the self.

     By the time of the enlightenment these ideas had spread so completely that it did not matter if you were catholic or protestant, French, German, or English; the principles of liberty had spread to every corner of Europe. Yet if you look to see who were the forefathers of the enlightenment you will find Rousseau ( Huguenot and Secular), John Locke (Anglican and Secular), Goethe (Lutheran and Secular), and Schiller (also a Lutheran and Secular). The severity and austerity of protestantism and the bombasticism of the catholic church led most enlightenment period philosophers to the conclusion that separation between church and state was necessary for the security of personal freedom which served as a pinnacle of their beliefs. Early socialist thinkers took the concept further by declaring the abolition of all religion necessary to the security of liberty, and we can see this secular-atheist trend today in much of Europe; such as Estonia and the Czech Republic which have the highest rates of Atheism in the world.

     Immanuel Kant embodies the idea of the protestant work ethic in his response to “What is the Enlightenment?” by stating that laziness and cowardice are the reasons why we remain immature to life. Also he confesses his distaste of religion by stating how pernicious and dishonorable religious immaturity is and that he along with his colleagues believed in secularism, tolerance, and liberalism. So the question is, given what we know of the background of the enlightenment and Europe’s history; could it have been possible for any other land but Europe ( and her colonies in the Americas) to have achieved the Enlightenment? Must one put into historical context the unique factors leading up to this moment or does one bleed one’s heart and dismiss it all as Eurocentrist or racist? Can there be a real debate on European Identity without hurting one’s “multicultural” proclivities or will it succumb to political correctness and not be discussed? Whether one likes it or not Europe was the first experiment in multiculturalism, and over the course of thousands of years has produced its own unique supra-culture. Must one follow the maxim of the Baroque – unity in the multiplicity? Or can Europe and Europeans simply be appreciated for what they are without dissecting them?

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One comment

  1. As Turkey’s economy is surpassing that of it’s closest neighbors it has begun to reconsider it’s desire to be associated with the failing european union. Having closer ties to europe such as joining the union would mean bailing out failing states such as greece, spain, and italy. There is no real incentive for Turkey to become “european”.

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