Realising European Values

Realising European Values

European School of Governance, position paper #3  by Louis Klein.

Three European values there are, not more not less: individual freedom, societal solidarity and equality before the law. And one European goal: joy. That’s it. All the rest, the questions about the future of Europe, its governance and the necessity for further European integration, unfolds from here.

The motto of the French Revolution: liberté, egalité, fraternité translates into the three European values, as well as the lyrics of the German anthem: Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit. It is most obvious for liberté and Freiheit, two words that both mean freedom, and address the freedom of the individual, which had been emancipated through the tradition of the Enlightenment.

Fraternité and Einigkeit translate into brotherhood and union. This resonates with what the French anthropologist Marcel Mauss described as the nature of the state as being institutionalised solidarity. And finally, egalité and Recht translate into equality and law. Equality before the law acknowledges and grants that all human beings are equal, which is as much a religious belief as it is an insight from the Enlightenment.

We may identify more than three European values. However, from a systems perspective on social systems these three are the most important ones. Societies are systemically characterised by the antagonism, i.e. the conflict, of the individual and society, degrees of freedom and the necessity of integration. Getting this balance right is a mater of civilisation. None of the extremes are viable, and certainly, we neither want to live amongst bands of marauding individuals nor do we want to subject ourselves to a coercive integration that turns the state into a prison.

Yet the systemic argument is more sophisticated than plain emotionalising rhetoric. A way to look at it is to acknowledge opposing forces, like Yin and Yang. One force is driving outwards, realising degrees of freedom, and initiating transformation. We may equal that to individual freedom. The other force is driving inwards, and integrating the parts allowing for a whole that is more than the sum of its parts. We may equal this to societal solidarity. The one side is lost without the other and only combined they are a force that creates.

The question remains what ties the one side to the other. For an answer we may want to venture the Tai Chi philosophy, however, in a more European and scientific way we can turn to distinction theory. Every distinction has two sides and three value positions. We can distinguish individual freedom from everything else to fill the first value position. We can then attribute a value for the negation of individual freedom and value the opposing force as societal solidarity, putting limits to individual freedom to facilitate an overall optimum of individual freedom and realising solidarity amongst those individuals. The third value position is called the unity of the distinction. It seems to hold the two distinct sides together and at the same time is a product of the distinction as such. Equality is this third position which links freedom to integration and integration to freedom. It facilitates the shape and suggests the balance.

Equality before the law grants both opposing values to the individual: freedom and solidarity. This is the masterpiece of modern governance. The three monotheistic book-religions dominantly influencing the European tradition, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, know the antagonism of commands that on the one hand we are requested to work for life and on the other hand shall give to the poor. It is the antagonism between performance orientation and solidarity. We can solve the issue case by case or organise for freedom and solidarity allowing a social structure to bear the weight and aim at an optimum for all, treating everybody equal independent of their performance or needs. The equality before the law grants just this.

Let’s assume for a moment that we are concerned here not only with Tai Chi philosophy or distinction theory but confronted with questions of the condictio humana, the antagonism of human being as such. Then organising for the unity and balance of those opposing forces in an adequate governance structures is a matter of civilisation and progress. Done well it realises peace, prosperity and joy for all. It is probably not a coincidence if this sounds like the European project. Yet, it comes with implications still to meet.

Realising European values in the pursuit of peace, prosperity and joy, comes foremost with the call for equality before the law. Especially the young generation questions if there is any necessity to sport today’s cacophony of the various European legal systems; a Single Market, a Single Currency, however, no Single Law. Certainly, Europe is a continent with different regions with their own cultural depth, however, the three European values they share. And there is certainly joy in granting each region their cultural identity, but not at the price to treat some Europeans more equal than others. If thriving on diversity is a valid proposition, Europe is the place to prove it. Yet, if Europeans still ask what was in for them if they dared to further the European integration, based on the three European values, individual freedom, societal solidarity and equality before the law, well, we find the answer in the European anthem. It is joy.

Joy, we learn from contemporary psychology, is different from the pursuit of happiness. Happiness is said to be external. It is transitory and links to things, other people, situations, events, places and thoughts. It bears a component of individual luck. Joy is more consistent and cultivated and less focussed on the individual’s own pleasure. Joy can be cultivated individually and collectively. Joy includes the others. Joy is for everybody. No wonder Europe choose Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ for its anthem. May joy be the guiding goal not only for Europe’s future but more so for the way to achieve it by realising European values.