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 2: The problem(s) with European culture

Helle Porsdam

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


Talking about ‘European culture’ is not easy. The first problem that one runs into is defining what ‘Europe’ and ‘European’ mean. Once such a definition, however tentative, is obtained, a second problem immediately presents itself: is this ‘Europe’ an entity that we should do our very best to promote, or is it an entity we should set about undermining as quickly as possible? Regardless of whether one sees ‘Europe’ today as a geographical destination only, encompassing the 27 countries that form the membership of the European Union, the 47 countries that make up the European Council, or whether one perceives ‘Europe’ as referring to a state of mind or way of life and therefore as open to anyone and any country that considers him/herself or itself European, it is hardly possible to be neutral when discussing what Europe is, has been and should be. ‘Thus, the name of Europe – derived from distant antiquity and first designating a little region of Asia or Asia Minor’, – as Etienne Balabar ably sums it up: has been connected to cosmopolitan projects, to claims of imperial hegemony or to the resistance that they provoked, to programs dividing up the world and expanding ‘civilization’ that the colonial powers believed themselves the guardians of, to the rivalry of ‘blocs’ that disputed legitimate possession of it, to the creation of a ‘zone of prosperity’ north of the Mediterranean, of a ‘great power in the twenty-first century’.1 ‘Europe’, in other words, is a construction which may refer both to...

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