CitationDownload as .RIS
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
This issue of New European looks at what are popularly known as “win-win” situations. These are regrettably, scarce in today’s political climate, both in the internal politics of nation states and in relations between countries or regions of the world. In the post Cold War era, it is ironic that consensus should so often seem further away than ever. The great polarisation has vanished from Europe and the world, but the gap has been filled with a plethora of ethnic, sectarian and religious conflicts, many of them ancient and violent. The age of utopian ideologies seems to be over, for the moment, but there is a danger that it will be replaced by an age of fundamentalisms, most of them negative in character, reacting against rather than acting for. Indeed the new fundamentalisms, religious or secular, authoritarian or anarchist, would seem to be symptoms of a new type of nihilism. Moreover, there is nothing more nihilistic than the compulsive consumerism and cult of celebrity, promoted by the Western media and viewed by the rest of the world with a mixture of envy and horror.
In this unpromising terrain, it is heartening to find individuals and groups, who are attempting to think outside the box, to think around social and economic questions instead of leaping to doctrinaire conclusions. The “win-win” situations described in this issue involve finding common ground between opposing and sometimes hostile camps. This does not imply mere compromise, however, but creative synthesis. In politics, psychology and economics, competing ideas usually represent parts of the truth. Creative synthesis is about putting these parts together in the attempt to arrive at a larger truth. In this way, opposing sides retain their principles, and their distinctive contributions, but they also move on from their starting points and learn that other perspectives have merit as well.
In Britain, there have been few political debates in recent years more bitter and divisive than the debate over European integration. Always a source of contention, the “Europe” issue has developed into an angry contest between “Europhiles” or “federalists” on one side, and “Eurosceptics” or “realists” on the other. Both sides caricature each other and both arguments tip all too easily into fundamentalism. Europhile fundamentalists seek to abolish the nation state altogether, riding roughshod over all the traditions and sentiments that make political stability, and reform, possible. Eurosceptic fundamentalists, meanwhile, seek a tin chapel purity of opposition. As is often the case, it is the extremists on both sides who dominate public discourse. Beneath the froth, the reality is one of sensible integrationists and sensible sceptics. Respectively, they choose to emphasise the pooling of sovereignty and the retention of national competencies, but they respect each others’ positions and, to the chagrin of the fundamentalists, often like each other as people.
It is, therefore, refreshing to find an approach to European co-operation on which moderates from both sides can easily agree. The minority report of the convention on the future of Europe was signed by parliamentarians from regions as disparate as central Europe and Scandinavia, from long-established European Union (EU) members such as France to new recruits like Slovakia. The minority report seeks to replace the old paradigm of “ever closer union” with that of a “Europe of democracies” based on the free association of independent states. For the authors of the report, the ideal of “ever closer union” was probably always an impossible utopia, but had some relevance when the European project involved a handful of states with inter-linked histories and shared experiences. For an expanding EU that encompasses the new democracies of the East, the approach has to be flexible. A flexible unity-in-diversity is more likely to achieve consensus and stability within Europe than attempts to impose bureaucratic uniformity. The minority report is, for a political document, wonderfully short, and it lacks the grandiloquent promises of the ultra-integrationist draft constitution for Europe. It provides a practical framework around which sensible integrationists, who have kept up with changed circumstances, and sensible sceptics, who see the need for co-operation across Europe but welcome the recognition of national differences, can coalesce. It is a pleasure to introduce the minority report with commentaries by two sensible sceptics, Lionel Bell, who has campaigned tirelessly for years against extreme and ill-judged forms of integration, and David Heathcoat-Amory, a British parliamentary delegate to the Convention and one of the report’s signatories.
In a similar vein, but on a very different theme, one of the USA’s prominent child and adolescent psychiatrists, Dr Elizabeth Berger, introduces to our readers the conclusions of a report commissioned by a range of professional organisations concerned with child welfare and the apparent epidemic of emotional problems among children and adolescents, a new form of poverty amidst plenty. The reasons for this epidemic, in Europe as well as the USA, are hotly debated between conservative and liberal politicians and sociologists. It is therefore interesting to find that the report, “Hardwired to connect”, reinforces and challenges the conclusions of both. Conservative readers will find comfort in the emphasis on strong families, communities and role models as the basis for childhood stability. Nonetheless, some of them will be challenged by the report’s ethos of tolerance and respect for the individual, as opposed to authoritarian forms of discipline. Likewise, liberal readers will sympathise with the child-centred focus of the report, but might be perturbed by the idea that some of the “progressive” social movements since the 1960s have contributed to the problems of modern youth. This is precisely why the conclusions of the report are of equal benefit to conservative and liberal policy-makers, and why both should have their understanding enriched by it. Conservatives can learn that conserving only works when it is carried out flexibly and with generosity of spirit. Liberals can learn that for freedom to be in any sense real, it must exist in a context of stability and shared values.
Corinne McLaughlin, of the Center for Visionary Leadership in Washington DC and San Francisco, provides another trans-Atlantic perspective on transcending left and right. She seeks a form of politics that rises above the extreme and ultimately sterile “positions” in which liberals and conservatives so quickly get stuck. She reports, for example, on a successful initiative to bring conservative opponents of abortion together with liberal proponents of the “right to choose”. Abortion in the USA is an issue that has proved far more divisive even than “Europe” in Britain. There are strong and seemingly irreconcilable positions on both sides, which translate into dogmatic political militancy and, on occasion, violence. Yet the divisions can break down when the emphasis is shifted from the area of disagreement towards areas where the two sides can think constructively and look forward. Both sides, for example, can be found to support better education about childbirth, relationships and sexuality, better information about and access to birth control and better forms of (as well as simply more spending on) child welfare. When they work together on such issues, their religious or philosophical standpoints on abortion remain highly significant, but are part of a much more complex picture. In seeking to go beyond left and right, Corinne McLaughlin is working towards a less adversarial, but far more interesting form of politics.
Aidan Rankin reports on a recent initiative in Southern England to establish a political party based on pacifist principles. Such a party, he argues, challenges not only overt warfare, but also the low-level conflict that characterises much of political life, the adversarial slogans, the personal attacks and the emphasis on winning against opponents rather than winning for principles. The party seeks to transcend the right/left divide, but because of the close connections between the British peace movement and the left, it runs the risk of co-option. This is probably why the peace movement has never properly influenced public policy in Britain, despite all the mass rallies. Too often, its one-sidedness has resulted in double standards and bad faith. This is unfortunate, because we desperately need positive alternatives to military conflict, which can appeal across the political spectrum. This is why Aidan Rankin welcomes the Pacifist Party’s formation, and hopes that it will pioneer a more holistic approach to politics, but warns it against possible dangers and pitfalls.
Finally, Aidan Rankin reviews a comprehensive report from Richard Bourne, of the Commonwealth Policy Studies Unit, on the condition of indigenous minority populations in Commonwealth states. The report reveals many difficulties, old and new, that these ancient and scattered populations face. Amid the manifold problems, there are glimmers of hope and instances of heroic survival. This capacity for human renewal enables us to look forward positively and continue to work for something better than the present.
John Coleman and Aidan Rankin