From Civil to Human Rights

From Civil to Human Rights

Dialogues on Law and Humanities in the United States and Europe

Helle Porsdam

Europeans have attempted for some time to develop a human rights talk and now European intellectuals are talking about the need to construct ‘European narratives’. This book illustrates that these narratives will emphasize a political and cultural vision for a multi-ethnic and more cosmopolitan Europe.

Chapter 1: A soul for Europe? On European culture and narratives of human rights

Helle Porsdam

Subjects: law - academic, human rights, politics and public policy, human rights


Europe has a soul, indeed. No need to invent or create one for our continent. It’s there in plain sight. It is not to be found in its politics or in its economy. It is first and foremost embedded in its culture.1 In a speech delivered in November 2006 during the conference ‘A Soul for Europe’ in Berlin, German filmmaker Wim Wenders points to a paradox: Whereas Europeans themselves ‘have had it up to here with Europe’, Europe ‘is heaven on earth, the promised land, as soon as you look at it from the outside’. To the rest of the world, the word ‘Europe’ is associated with ‘culture, history, style, “savoir vivre’’ ’ – to the Americans, European culture is even the only thing they feel strangely inferior about. Even rather permanently.2 Why is it, then, that this heaven on earth does not appeal to its own people? Well, Europeans are bored with Europe, Winders claims, because the European cause is presented to them as a political and economic project rather than as a cultural one: . . . Europe continues to present itself first of all as an economic power, insisting on using political and financial arguments over cultural ones at any given time. Europe is not taking advantage of its emotional potential! Who loves his (or her) country on account of its politics or its economy? No one!3 1 Wim Wenders, ‘Giving Europe a Soul?’, speech delivered on 18 November 2006 in Berlin at the conference ‘A Soul for Europe’...

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