Heart and Soul for Europe - An Essay on Spiritual Renewal

European Business Review

ISSN: 0955-534X

Article publication date: 1 April 2000




Coleman, J. (2000), "Heart and Soul for Europe - An Essay on Spiritual Renewal", European Business Review, Vol. 12 No. 2. https://doi.org/10.1108/ebr.2000.05412bab.010



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Heart and Soul for Europe - An Essay on Spiritual Renewal

Book reviews

Heart and Soul for Europe - An Essay on Spiritual Renewal

Edy Korthals AltesVer Gorcum1999189 pp.ISBN: 90 232 3479 0£18.00

Keywords: Europe, European Union, Destruction

Dr Edy Korthals Altes, a former Dutch ambassador to Warsaw and then to Madrid, writes as a convinced and committed Christian. He resigned from the latter post because of his public stance on the madness of the arms race. This in itself makes the chapter on "Peace and security - challenge to religion" especially passionate and interesting.

The author sees, I believe rightly, humanity on the edge of an abyss in which the threats of nuclear disaster, environmental destruction and violent social conflict mingle. It is not like the old days when we could descend into the Dark Ages and the re-emerge. The book places a heavy emphasis on the terrifyingly dangerous side of scientific and technological progress both in the area just mentioned and in its effect on employment. The author quotes the Dutch social philosopher Johan Huizinga who in 1936 wrote In The Shadow of Tomorrow in which he said "We are living in an insane world. And we know it". The difference is that then something would survive humanity's worst excesses and now there is a clear possibility of destroying all life. I recalled an incident in a television version of Watership Down I saw recently when one rabbit says to the other: "these humans won't rest until they've destroyed everything".

The book contains some very severe criticisms of the European Union as at present constituted. The author stresses the lack of democracy, the blind belief in growth and the greed behind the motivation of much of the development of the Union. He leaves one thinking that the only hope is a "born again" European Union. He quotes the five challenges put out by the prestigious Club de Florence on the eve of the Amsterdam Treaty, "The impossible Status Quo":

  1. 1.

    Economic interdependence - global competition has led to cost cutting and unacceptable levels of unemployment and social exclusion.

  2. 2.

    The challenge of peace beyond the Union.

  3. 3.

    The challenge of enlargement.

  4. 4.

    The failure to create a credible reality for its citizens.

  5. 5.

    The challenge of differentiation, a variable geometry which allows some to go ahead without trying its force everybody into line.

Indeed he adds to these the challenge of a change of lifestyle which attaches more importance to the quality of life than to the quantity of material goods - and all this implies for our consumer society. And further challenge is added, the challenge of contributing to world peace and security and not just the defence of Europe's own limited interests.

Like many others he looks back at the original motivation of the Founding Fathers of the European Union, who saw the horrifying destruction that had been wrought in the name of nationalism in the first half of the twentieth century. Perhaps what he or they did not consider was that the fault did not lie simply in the nation states per se but in the imbalance within those states and the Ålites that ruled them. In the Middle Ages a delicate balance was maintained between the aristocrats and the merchants. Korthals Altes rightly refers to Churchill's vision of a united states of Europe but does not mention that Churchill also said, "A day of fate and doom for man will dawn if ever the old quarrels of countries are superseded by the strife of continents". It is all too easy for ambitious leaders to turn away from their own people to the grand designs of continental powers. The wisdom of the ancient Greeks revealed how in trying to escape our human fate we repeat the same tragedies in a new context. What seems to me necessary - and this appears to be something that a Christian and spiritual Europe should achieve - is to look back through the nation states to their regions, so that people in those regions have a meaningful say through their own parliament. It would not be a matter of using the regions to set against the national parliaments but of creating democracy from the bottom up and leading to a confederation or even a federation but not one run by political Ålites whose ambition is to control national, and even better supranational parliaments.

I don't know if this is quite what Korthals is saying but it does seem to me that the spiritual renewal for which he calls must transform the values of the people of Europe and more important, transform the values of their leaders.

This is certainly a book that all Christians should read and use to inform their contributions to the European debate from whatever angle they honestly decide to engage in it.

John Coleman

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