Repurposing Europe

Christianity, writes Pierre Manent, “found its form in the nation, or in the plurality of nations once called ‘Christendom,’ then ‘Europe.’” Here is Manent writing at First Things:

The history of Europe . . . is animated by a very different notion, one elaborated by ancient Israel, reconfigured by Christianity, and then lost when the arc of European history was broken in the great wars of the twentieth century. This notion, without which the history of Europe is unintelligible, has become unintelligible to contemporary ­Europeans. I am speaking, of course, of the Covenant, the confidence that the Highest Good oversees and perfects the common good of our nations. This is not a simple rational notion, to be sure, but it is not exactly a religious dogma. It is a certain way of understanding human action in the world, of understanding at once the greatness of what we can accomplish and its precariousness. God is here the one who gives victory, but who also chastises lack of measure. He confers on actions an excess of good that makes them truly good, allowing us to venture collective ambitions that exceed a sober assessment of our powers. And he prevents the bad from taking the evil they bear to the limit, thereby saving us from despair in our times of collective trial.

It is up to Christians to renew the meaning and the credibility of the political community ennobled by the Covenant. We will not do this by inviting Islam to join a vague fraternity of the children of Abraham. We will renew the meaning and credibility of the Covenant only by renewing the meaning and credibility of the distinctively European association that bore the Covenant until only recently—that is, the nation. Now that the Jewish people have taken the form of a nation in Israel, the nations of Christian Europe cannot break with the national form without fatally wounding the legitimacy of Israel. So long as the walls of the Arab-Muslim world are crumbling and Muslims seem to have more and more difficulty producing a political form from their own resources, to admit them into, or rather to abandon them in, a Europe without either political form or gathered collective action for the sake of the common good would be to take away their best chance for a civic life. It does not suffice to bring men together to declare or even to guarantee their rights. They need a form of common life. In France, a nation of the Christian mark is the only form that can bring us all together.

Read more: First Things

Image credit: Notre Dame de Paris / Photo by John Biver.