European intellectuals seem to have accepted that what is happening in Europe is an exclusively economic matter — the concern of experts — and that their absence, their abstention from the debate, is justified. But a few German writers are now talking about the intellectuals’ failure to speak up. In Jan Werner’s words, they “have failed to defend the great achievements of EU construction and [...] to denounce the squandering of a great legacy of mutual trust and understanding.”
Of course it is impossible to speak of the future of Europe without speaking of the euro. Nobody denies this. The problem is the noxious effect of allowing the discussion of European unity to take place solely in the terrain of the technicians, disregarding the political and moral debate that also concerns the economy, and which has been present all along in the process of EU integration.
To accept that the European crisis is happening in an arena in which the intellectuals have nothing to say is a mistake. In 1927 the philosopher Julien Benda accused French intellectuals of “betraying their vocation by opting for nationalist positions,” Jan Müller reminds us, adding: “Present circumstances are far different, but this does not mean that modern intellectuals are not just as mistaken in disregarding the profound injustice of the actions now being taken in the name of austerity and fiscal rectitude.”
To speak of the crisis in general terms, says Reinhardt Koselleck, “is an imprecise manner of speaking.” Indeed, European intellectuals might answer concrete questions that have much to do with their moral positions: Is it acceptable to install technocratic governments as substitutes for others elected by the people? Is it morally defensible, when the people of several nations — Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal — are being asked to make sacrifices in the name of the future? Or to put it in better terms, is it tolerable to impose a collective chastisement on the citizens of these countries, to pay for the mistakes and crimes committed by their politicians — who were egged on, aided and abetted, let it be said, by major international financial groups?
Do the intellectuals have nothing to say about the fact that Greece has made the greatest financial effort in its modern history, reducing its primary deficit — that is, without the payment of debt — from 10.6 to two percent, from 2009 to 2011? Are these exclusively economic matters, or is there a political and moral aspect to be discussed? To the credit of Germany, it must be said that a handful of German intellectuals — Günter Grass, Jürgen Habermas and others — have been attempting to fire up this debate.
Where are the voices in Italy, France and Spain in defense of European unity? What are they waiting for, to ask questions about the deterioration of the common EU decision-making process, or about the galloping renationalization of politics in Europe? What more do they need, to debate the consequences of this renationalization in Germany, so attentively and expectantly observed in Russia?
Europe has been capable, until now, of offering a social and political model that differs from the two other great proposals out there: those of the United States and China. Europe stands not only for democratic order and the market economy, but also for a social pact of a sort that does not exist in the other two. Do we want a society where, as in Tea Party rallies, one sees placards saying: “Your mortgage isn’t my problem”? The decline of confidence in a united Europe is more serious than the rise in the risk premium. If the intellectuals are incapable of leading the defense of the European model, they may feel sure that, in writer Sánchez Ferlosio’s words, “more bad years are on the way, and they will render us yet more blind.”