Tuesday, July 10, 2012

European Journal. Well, sort of.

If I cannot be there, I can read about it. The novel I've engaged this summer, and might still be reading in 2013, is Robert Musil's "The Man Without Qualities."

In The Man Without Qualities he tries to portray a modern man who has to live in and cope with a changing world. In contrast to former generations, the modern-day-man cannot afford himself, or be described in terms of ‘qualities’, as Musil calls it, for all the known certainties have been replaced by a greater diversity; there is no longer a single point one can focus on. The German word ‘Eigenschaften’ is less ambiguous: it literally means ‘characteristics’.

To be more precise at the 250-page mark, with a thousand to go, the story takes place in Vienna in the waning pre-war days of the Habsburg Empire. To know me is to be cognizant of my enduring fascination with this historical period (in general) and Vienna (in particular), both of which are referenced at NAC from time to time.

Today's Tribune column: "History and sausages in Vienna."

Red Stars, Black Mountains: What’s Habsburg got to do with it? (Part 5).

Ironically, Otto Habsburg only recently was mentioned in the New York Times, roughly a year after his death at 98. RemCha, take note:

Where’s Charlemagne When We Need Him?, by Istvan Deak

WRITING some 50 years ago, Archduke Otto Habsburg, the last pretender to the crowns of Austria and Hungary, warned that economic cooperation alone would not satisfy the peoples of Europe and that European unification could not succeed unless it was imbued with an abstract principle. Only something as mystical, he wrote, as the Holy Roman Empire could give people hope, a sense of religious renewal and combat the pernicious effects of local interest, chauvinism, xenophobia and racism.

Today’s European crisis indeed shows that great political institutions cannot be constituted solely on a rational basis or through the bureaucracy and incrementalism of Brussels. The true purpose of the European Union is to bring about peace, prosperity and equality among the diverse regions and groups. Peace has indeed prevailed on most of the Continent, but in the last few years, with prosperity endangered, continued regional inequality has become even more blatant, while radical nationalism has raised its ugly head.

Historic empires provided ideals — whether universal Christian unity or the Marxist-Leninist dogmas of the Soviet Union — in which people were able to believe, no matter how flawed the ruler and how corrupt the imperial institutions. So long as people believe in the principles, the system is likely to endure.

Deak, namesake of a square in Budapest, suggests that European identity enhancement might just help repopulate the continent with Europeans (italics mine).

Europeans must decide whether they are satisfied with a common market and currency, or whether they want to have common political, legal and cultural institutions. They need a great European Museum and Exhibit, many more pan-European music and film festivals, and the propagation of Europeanism in popular culture to shake off cynicism regarding the European project.

Then, perhaps, Europeans will also understand that despite all their hardships, they are still among the richest and most privileged people in the world. They might even decide that they can afford to have a few children.

Appropriately, I conclude with The Economist's take on Europe's fertility crisis, which bears the usual dispassionate tone.

Europe’s other crisis: Recession is bringing Europe’s brief fertility rally to a shuddering halt

... Three broad lessons emerge. First, population trends are more sensitive to the economic cycle than might be expected. Population trends are thought to set the stage for everything else (“demography is destiny” said a 19th-century French scientist). Second, the rise in fertility in the 2000s suggests that not all of Europe is caught in a low-fertility trap. Scandinavia, Britain and France all have relatively high fertility. Third, governments may have scope for policy measures to moderate the fall. Old-fashioned demographic policies were usually “natalist”: they rewarded women who had many children. (Russia still has these.) They almost never work.

But if demographic tempo is what matters, Europe’s fertility might be more susceptible to government policy. Couples might respond to incentives like cheaper kindergartens or more parental leave by changing the spacing of children they want anyway. If Europe is to avoid yet another downward twist in its demographic spiral, “tempo-adjusted fertility” may hold the secret.


RememberCharlemagne said...
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RememberCharlemagne said...

I can't resist the profound nature of the events unfolding before our generation. Like you, I have a fascination with 20th century history that has grown to include a wider appreciation for the many epochs throughout time.

I can't feel but like St. Augustine, only in reverse, as he saw the fall of an empire and the end of an era, and I might possibly be witnessing the rise of a new era that ironically is a thing of the past.

How fascinating is to be an American and celebrate the 4th of July, the quintessential event that ushered in the beginning of the end to the old world social structure. No 4th- no French revolution- no Napoleon- no battle of Austerlitz- no disunion of the Holy Roman Empire- no nationalism- no assassination- no great war- no second great war- no American hegemony- no Israel- no Arab animosity- no 911- no great recession- no new European Empire.