A New European Dream
Guest post by Tomáš Sedláček, Czech economist and author
Thanks to the current economic crisis, the European Dream is also widely being discussed. But paradoxically enough, all this may even give rise to a New European Dream, argues Czech economist Tomáš Sedláček . But in an article written for Hospodarske noviny, the Czech equivalent to The Financial Times, and published on his blog on aktualne.cz he asks is there such a concept, or we just chase the American dream and try to adopt it?
It’s interesting to see Europe come alive, paradoxically due to the current crisis: people are arguing over a beer about what to do with the EU in even the remotest villages. And the EU itself leaps forward – topics that only a half a year ago were taboo or foolish dreams (or both), are now getting realized. Europe is a peculiar continent. We consider ourselves founders of western culture and at the same time constantly fear becoming the agents of its downfall. Strangely enough, almost every generation that left us some contemplative writings expected a crisis, the beginning of the end or at least a profound change to the state (intellectual or technical) of mankind.
A crisis in sight
After all, we have been expecting crises since the times of the New Testament. Even the Czech scholar John Amos Comenius anticipated the end of times and saw himself as Elijah, the voice preaching in the desert (in fact, one of his books bears this title). So the impression of a progressing or impending collapse is nothing new. Back then, people perceived things more from a spiritual and moral perspective, while today, we tend to interpret reality from economic and political points of view. Our crises are thus mostly economic.
Even today there is a demand for “improvement of all things human,” another title by Comenius, by the way. That’s how the crises show their usefulness. The system appeared too healthy for far too long for us to listen to the critical voices. Only after the system reveals its weaknesses we begin to reform. Let us just hope we don’t get to that point too late. Carl Jung used to say that nothing changes without a crisis, least of all human nature. That is why we usually seek to remedy the defects at the most inconvenient times – we cut down public spending during an economic downturn or stagnation, while it should be the other way around. Well, that’s just the way it is – that’s what western civilization has come to.
We Europeans tend to envy Americans for their American dream. We mind not having anything like it. But I believe we do have a dream, we just don’t know how to express it (as is the case with most real dreams). In his recent book “The European Dream” the American economist and philosopher Jeremy Rifkin stated that the absence of a specific European dream is not a burden to us but, on the contrary, an advantage. Europeans could hardly express their noble humanistic dreams with a simple idea such as owning two cars and a house. Rifkin even mentions a New European Dream that focuses more on the deeper values than the material side of life. Of course, as the Czech philosopher Jan Sokol aptly remarked, we first need to be safe, fed and have a place to lay down our heads before delving into any philosophical-spiritual contemplation. Indeed, but it is these contemplations that make us human. And as for those basic needs – Europe has them pretty well covered.
You can’t invent a dream
Rifkin thinks that Europe could become the mover of a new way of thinking. A way of thinking that considers sustainability, culture, human spirit and soft things that can never be quantified, but will always be far more precious than anything that can be put down in numbers. After all, Rifkin even talks about the death of the American dream and states that the European dream is becoming slightly more tangible and might even find itself in global demand. Take a look at sustainability – primarily a European project that is, nevertheless, becoming global.
I am not sure if there has ever been so much talk about Europe’s future. Maybe this is where dreams are born and become real.
You can’t invent a dream. You can’t make up a dream. And you can’t order a dream. You have to dream it. Or, as one beautiful song puts it: “You can fight the sleep, but not the dream.”