"Europe" as Utopia: Causes of Its Decline
Abstract

Abstract:

The inhabitants of the European continent thought and acted as Europeans long before they spoke of themselves as Europeans. Talk of European unity is relatively recent in historical terms, even though it has been practiced since the Renaissance, indeed since the early Middle Ages. Whether we think of the communion of Christian churches and universities, the rediscovery of Greek art and literature in the Renaissance, or, finally, the taken-for-granted social intercourse among the European elites, national differences only played a subordinate role in this commonality. Montaigne's Journals (ca. 1580), Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle's Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds (1686), Edward Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-1789), Herder's Another Philosophy of History for the Education of Mankind (1774), Goethe's Italian Journey (1786-88)—to mention only these extremely diverse but highly emblematic texts documenting European experience—provide the most eloquent testimony of an early awareness of European civilization, not to mention of a dialogue among the leading philosophers in the eighteenth century or the grand tours of the scions of the upper classes.