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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
If there is a connecting thread in this issue of New European, it is the search for identity in a complex world order, where allegiances shift unexpectedly and once familiar political concepts change their meaning. “Europe”, for instance, has always been a nebulous concept – where exactly does it begin and end? – that is better understood as a series of interconnected political cultures than as a single entity. Yet throughout the modern era there has been a desire to fuse these disparate elements into a shared “European” identity, reflected in common political institutions. Critics of this tendency see in it the danger of over-simplifying Europe. Its strength, as a civilisation, lies in its diverse nature and its political and economic variety. The attempt to impose a single model is therefore likely to weaken and confuse, rather than unify. Derek Scott belongs broadly to this school of European decentralists. He sees the proposed constitution of the EU as continuing the centralising project and, in the economic sphere especially, sapping the vitality that leads to enterprise, initiative and invention. More than that, he sees it as a missed opportunity to search for a new vision of Europe, which recognises variety as a potential strength, instead of an obstacle to enlightened progress.
In Russia, the influences of Europe and Asia spectacularly overlap, at times converging creatively, at times in conflict with each other. Russia seeks to establish and project a democratic identity, but this conflicts with the reality of authoritarian practice (towards pensioners and ethnic minorities, for instance) and the growth of a cultural nationalism that advocates withdrawal from the world. A keen observer of post-Soviet Russia, and the surrounding ex-Soviet states, Professor Dmitry Shlapentokh sees in this new nationalism the main obstacle to democratic development in Russia. An ideology which combines the most negative aspects of traditional left-wing and right-wing political identities, Russian nationalism is inward looking, rather than expansionist like its fascist and Stalinist predecessors. Shlapentokh notices similar developments in the neo-fascist and anti-immigrant parties that are emerging, in some cases quickly, in EU states. They seek to live within fortified limits, rather than to build empires based on racial myths. The racial myths are just as potent, however, and they have re-emerged perhaps as a reaction against attempts to erase local peculiarities in the interests of enlightened unity. They represent the wrong reaction and a potential evil, but they should be seen as a warning to genuine democrats.
The final contribution, by Aidan Rankin, reviews a new book on the British liberal tradition. The Orange Book aims to recapture the original liberal identity based on economic freedom as well as the social liberalism that has been emphasised in recent years. Rankin suggests that the book founders on the reef of ideological dogma. It would be a pity if the larger ideals of European co-operation and Russian democracy did the same. The message of all three articles is “proceed with care”.