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  • European Paradoxes of HumannessDiscussing Etienne Balibar's Work on Europe
  • Michalis Bartsidis (bio)

This essay's purpose is to explore Etienne Balibar's four books on Europe as a whole.1 Such a retrospective overview enhances the possibility for a historical appraisal of the philosopher's positions, their particular kind of unity, and the formations of his views, as well as, although not in any teleological sense, an account that may vindicate his political ingenuity as well as the efficiency of his analyses.

Balibar himself describes his propositions as moving "between realism and utopia," implying a relation between the state of things and inventive imagination. What emerges as we follow his thought in this overall examination is the figure of a radical heir of Euro-communism, one who surpasses this tradition to offer particularly fruitful ideas, delving deeply into the notion of Europe as an ethical-political program of our times.

The curve of his ideological and emotional commitment to the European project reaches a climax during the period of discussions about the European Constitution, to gradually deescalate by 2015, although none of his initial interest in this project is lost in the process. We will be examining in outline Balibar's four books on Europe as a paradigm, as a historical and theoretical experiment2 regarding the composition of a unity-civitas and, simultaneously, of its subjects: a double process referring to the "constitution of citizenship," city and citizens at the same time. In other words, the term "constitution" here designates the notion of consolidation or configuration of a historical phenomenon; only in the case of the European Constitution of 2005 will it be used to designate the notion of a set of rules governing citizenship.

Balibar's work propounds the hypothesis that this constitution raises the issue of a new ethics: can Europe, despite being historically accustomed to divisions and wars, become a regulatory ideal, instituting [End Page 155] an ethics of resolving its social strife and cultural divisions? In other words, can we render a new model of inclusion feasible in Europe, taking into account the complex political and ethical issues raised by this configuration? Can we think of a way to eradicate the multiple exclusions, the inequalities, and, ultimately, the anthropological differences that allocate and prioritize in humankind the strata of the human and the unhuman, of citizens and noncitizens? Can Europe constitute an ethical but not moral ideal, a universal that, even when it is not perceived as convincing enough, despite all opposition, figures out means and possibilities (spaces, institutions, movements) of establishing political integration? There is a great abundance of evidence in favor of reclaiming such a confrontational universal in the European tradition, that of contradictory modernization processes and of a conflictual democracy. Can this ideal function as a compass for historically orienting both individuals and the masses through its contribution to a new representation and a new rationality of history? This argument demonstrates the depth of Balibar's philosophical problematic on Europe and on the demand for a new political ethics. In essence, what is under examination here is whether the experiment and the idea of Europe jointly suggest a locus for the invention of a new politics at the service of an "integral" humanity.

As we will show, the concept of "humanity"/humanness in Balibar's thought refers not to the simple signification provided by theoretical humanism but to a complex, composite notion according to which humanity is and has always been divided; most important, the recognition of the "human" quality has been—and still is—the stake and outcome of conflicts and struggles, that is, a political result. And yet, the demand for human integration or for a unification of divided humanity is still, for Balibar, on the agenda. Methodologically, the French philosopher deconstructs the concept and at the same time contributes to its reconstruction with a relational content, always and only consolidated for a given period. The name we give this philosophic strategy here, applying it to the European issue, is "Europe as method."3

europe as an ethical and political question

In the context of a generalized discussion on Europe as a process and a problem of political...


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pp. 155-184
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