Editorial of May 2017

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by Pedro Madeira Froufe, Editor

Europe: “Ceci c’est pas une pipe!”

Populism has manifested itself not only in the form of public (or at least published) streams of public opinion, but also through the result of (naturally) democratic and legitimate electoral acts. And such cases of populisms materialised in the exercise of representative democracy, generated in the democratic institutional functioning in the context of the rule of law, begin to not be unusual. Deep down, we have seen expressions of populism that acquire power and influence (sometimes determining), with an anti-democratic tendency, created by democracy itself.

Populism appears nowadays as especially adjusted, attractive and intellectually comfortable for a considerable part of the European and American population (in other words, for a large amount of the electorate). There are, as I see it, several reasons, mostly articulated, that cause this relative outbreak now with direct political consequences – that considerably surpass the juridical-constitutional dimension. Those causes are not exclusively attributable to dysfunctions in the dynamics of the democratic institutions.

Such reasons are rooted also in something deeper and concrete than the legal abstraction or the political activity and representation: it has to do, to a great extent, with our current way of life and cosmovision in the context of the technical societies of information and – why not say it – abundance. It should be noted that the intention is not to disregard the existence of reasons attributable to the bad juridical architecture and the bad political functioning (or even the bad performance of politicians); but they are not the only explanatory causes for populist phenomena that disturb democracy….

I won’t reflect or develop, at this occasion, the issue of the causes non-directly juridical, or institutional, of populism. They might also be sociological and cultural tendencies; they could be as well a reaction to extremisms, relativisms and the loss of collective references resulting from the erosion of gregarious institutions, social and natural. That erosion has a lot to do with the overvaluing and a revival of tendencies (neo)hedonist and (neo)utilitarianist which have been potentialized particularly well with the economic growth, modernity (especially in the post-war) and, lately, with the immediacy (created by technology and consequent globalisation). From the legal perspective, such relativism makes it difficult to understand normatively the basic principle of equality, turning it into a principle of the existential relativism: everything is equal to its opposite, blurring and even disabling normative senses, decisions and value options, as everything is equivalent.


Even the causes, the great historical causes that slabbed the path of affirmation of the rule of law and the modern constitutionalism. Opting between the good and the bad, the natural and the artificial is dangerous because might slither in discrimination; it’s better not to opt as everything and its opposite are the same! The lack of causes and the devaluation of value judgments (that is of Law itself which is, naturally and by definition, normative) lead to when an ideal or someone with a cause – even if it’s bad – show up it makes a difference. A non-rational reaction, a reaction in favour of whom assumes genuinely their condition and upholds it in a unnatural context of relativism. That also explains political phenomenon like the democratic election of Donald Trump, with a highly doubtful discourse, precisely from the democratic point of view. As well, it allows understanding the route in electoral campaign of Marine Le Pen, in France. As in demography, the excesses always end up deserving contrary reactions and – this will be eventually the hope – rebalancing and reposition of the natural order of things! In the end, Law is balance, the juridical justice takes on as isonomy, as a permanent “giving each one what is naturally (I highlight naturally) own”: “suum cuique tribuere”. And also the law of integration; and the European integration which is, mainly, a juridical integration (or construction).

So how to envision the future of Europe? How to define the track to follow by the EU in a post-modern time, when tending nihilistic adjectivals like post-truth gain force and might make us slither in a sort of post-politics and, as a result, of post-democracy (all in all, this expression is not new or ununsual)?

The European integration had a purpose, presuming a framework with references and options well determined and an ideal (that deserved the interest and the struggle of many generations of Europeans of the post-war). Such purpose and framework (cause) were and are simple (and must always be renewed and enlivened): peace, democracy (indissoluble binomial), freedom, solidarity amongst the peoples of Europe and fair and growing satisfaction of the life conditions of the people. You only have to read the former article 2 of the ECC Treaty, whose formulation was kept almost unchanged until Lisbon. The concrete way of implementing this motivational ideal of the integration project was guided by cultural and civilizational references which, from the inevitable and healthy heterogeneity of European peoples, cultures and traditions (diversity has always been one of the richness of Europe) were asserted and, in general, were consensual. I refer to the cultural, civilizational and valuing mix, developed and consolidated by history and by the Greco-Roman influence, by the Enlightenment and by the liberal revolutions. Also by the Jewish influence, as George Steiner states, whilst he seems to diminish (in comparison, to be clear) the European Roman hue. In spite of, as Rosanvallon says, not having a single and homogeneous body we could call organically “civil society” (even more so it will be impossible to have a European civil society), this cultural, civilizational and reference of values “mix”, creator of democracy, of the rule of law (the Union based on the rule of law), of the religious tolerance, of openness to the other (pending-ly inclusive), was uncontested. It would (and it should) be the plaster of this fiction or legal-political construction that Europe is.

Then, returning to the question previously put, how to envision the future of Europe? Perhaps by recalling its beginning, that is the origin and the motivation of the integration process. Going back to the convictions, considering that, beyond all and everyone, there are needs that are imposed upon us as causes (even from a utilitarian perspective and pending-ly selfish): those needs of the people of the centre of Europe of 1945, namely, peace, freedom, democracy. And despite everyone and all the post-modern-political-democratic relativist (why not post-human?!) attractions, we couldn’t say that “l’Europe c’est une pipe”!

Picture credits: The for real, live Magritte (…)  by Megan Rosenbloom.

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