The Borders Of Europe

Because there was once a lady of that name who was, er, abducted by a bull, we in the westernmost peninsula of the Earth’s main land-mass are much given to hypostatising “Europe”. Following the ancients and medievals, we imagine that the Old World must be divided into three continents and thereby three cultural units. We then fret about where the eastern border should go; which, even if ever agreed upon, would be the answer to the wrong question anyway. The right question is why should there be a single cultural unit from Portugal to Ukraine or thereabouts. No one imagines a single “Asian” cultural unit from Japan to Jordan.

Whenever superstates have been assembled in the past, the principle was generally either some natural boundary, such as the Rhine-Danube line for the post-Hadrian Romans; a drastic sociological watershed, such as the difference between the farmer and the nomad for the Chinese; or the happenstance of dynasty, marriage and conquest for practically everywhere else. The concept of “Europe”, on the other hand, is dangerous, because it makes us think that we ought to expand the Union so as to embrace all “Europeans”, whoever they may be, while at the same time excluding all “non-Europeans”, whatever that may mean. Like the ideologues of the Greater Whatever in the golden age of expansive nationalism, we find ourselves uncomfortable with both minorities and irredenta; a discomfort that historically leads to quack-science classification and genocide.

We cannot live with the old concept of an eastern border along the Volga or the Urals, because that makes the question of Russia insoluble; whereas if we turn Europe into “Christendom” and embrace Russia, we have to embrace Georgia and Armenia as well, while at the same time rejecting Turkey, Albania and the Bosniaks.

But if Georgia is a “Christian nation in Asia”, why then, so are The Philippines. And yet, having put our hand to the plough of the EU, we cannot turn back now; one is either a member or not, we have taken a gradient in which every nation has something in common with its neighbour, from Lisbon to Tokyo, and imposed a binary gate upon it. This will end in tears.

Posted on January 5, 2012 at 11:31 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: CULTURAL ODDS AND ENDS, Odds And Ends, Miscellaneous

3 Responses

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  1. Written by urban
    on January 4, 2012 at 13:39

    “No one imagines a single ‘Asian’ cultural unit from Japan to Jordan.”

    And one looks in vain for signs of cultural continuity across North America. Indeed one turns over many a flat rock in search of anything that can be called ‘culture’ at all in the etymological sense. Exploitation doesn’t qualify as ‘caring for the needs of’ anyone or anything.

  2. Written by Hugo Grinebiter
    on January 4, 2012 at 18:49

    I have lived to see the word “culture” shift from meaning “the Arts” and/or a refined sensibility and comportment, to absolutely anything done by human beings, so that we can talk about the “culture” of e.g. British soccer hooligans. Perhaps I am being a snob, a curmudgeon or (hopefully) both, but I think that something that means anything also means nothing. We already had the word “behaviour”, after all. A medieval would use Gesta.

  3. Written by urban
    on January 6, 2012 at 03:07

    I agree completely. Except that I use ‘culture’ more broadly than just ‘the arts’. As a gardener I’m as comfortable with horticulture and agriculture as I am with opera. But I don’t think I commit the etymological fallacy when I posit that a culture that doesn’t take ‘care’ of its members, doesn’t ‘care’ for their needs, isn’t a culture. Culture may well be a particular kind of behavior, but it’s that particularity that makes it cultural.

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