Does National Identity Matter?
Dougherty, Jude P., The World and I
Jude P. Dougherty is professor emeritus and dean emeritus of the School of Philosophy at the Catholic University of America.
The present generation, for the first time in history, is experiencing a unity such that nothing essential can happen anywhere that does not concern all. The Stoic understanding of unity, the framework of the polis, has been expanded to include the whole of humankind. Today's growing interdependence among nations seemingly has ended the days of absolute national sovereignty. Almost imperceptibly a new attitude has developed regarding interdependence, so much so that a United States of Europe is regarded as an imminent possibility. As Europeans debate an EU constitution, the loss of national sovereignty looms with unacknowledged consequences.
This eradication of national identity is occurring at the same time that there is a widespread awareness that the West has lost some of the spiritual resources that animated its past. In a memorable passage written in the first decades of the twentieth century, George Santayana (1863--1952), a Spanish-born Harvard University professor, expressed it this way:
"The present age is a critical one and interesting to live in. The civilization characteristic of Christendom has not disappeared, yet another civilization has begun to take its place. We still understand the value of religious faith. ... On the other hand, the shell of Christendom is broken. The unconquerable mind of the East, the pagan past, the industrial socialist future confront it with equal authority. On the whole life and mind is saturated with the slow upward filtration of a new spirit--that of an emancipated, atheistic, international democracy.1"
Santayana was not alone in his assessment. Philosophers and theologians as diverse as Friedrich Nietzsche and Pope Leo XIII addressed the new intellectual climate shaping nineteenth-century European thought. Old patterns of thought were losing the allegiance of the European intelligentsia. Lost was a confidence that the inherited could withstand the assault of the new science and technology and the progress it implied. Nietzsche and later Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, each in his own way, called for a return to classical Greece as the source for an understanding of Western culture. Leo XIII recommended the work of philosopher-theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas as the antidote to the nihilism and anti-Christian spirit that animated the intellectual climate in the mid-1800s.
Discussion in philosophical circles tended to focus on the meaning of the concept of "Europe." English author Hilaire Belloc could confidently assert that "Europe is the Faith, the Faith is Europe," but that view was not widely shared in the intellectual circles of his day by the philosophers of Enlightenment parentage who thought they had eradicated Christianity. The classical sources of Western culture could not be denied, but was that the whole story? French poet and philosopher Paul Valery, we shall subsequently see, would answer with an emphatic no.
ANCIENT GREECE AND THE WEST
In his 1935 lecture "Philosophy and the Crisis of European Humanity," Husserl offered an analysis of Europe's spiritual and intellectual crisis that looked to ancient Greece as a way out of the crisis facing the West. Husserl found in the Greek spirit of philosophical inquiry the sources for "free and universal theoretical reflection" that would serve as a model for a "supranational" ideal of reason. In Husserl's words, "There are only two escapes from the crisis of European existence: the downfall of Europe in its estrangement from its own rational sense of life, its fall into hostility toward the spiritual into barbarity; or the rebirth of Europe from the spirit of philosophy through a heroism of reason that overcomes naturalism once and for all."2
Like his mentor Husserl, Heidegger similarly attempted to show that a revival of the Greek heritage was essential to the future of the West. …