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Market-State or Commonwealth? Europe’s Christian heritage and the future of the European polity

Pabst, Adrian (2016) Market-State or Commonwealth? Europe’s Christian heritage and the future of the European polity. In: Chaplin, Jonathan and Wilton, Gary, eds. God and the EU. Routledge Studies in Religion and Politics . Routledge, London, pp. 109-128. ISBN 978-1-138-90863-5. (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:37668)

Language: English

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The euro crisis is changing the foundations and finalities of the European Union. Amidst the combined banking and sovereign debt crisis, eurozone members have begun to put in place a banking and a fiscal union that will increasingly fuse centralised state power with an increasingly interdependent single market. In their current configuration, the single market and single currency undermine the principles of solidarity (providing mutual assistance to the most needy among Europe’s peoples and nations) and subsidiarity (self-government at the most appropriate level in accordance with the dignity of the person and human flourishing). Connected with this priority of the economic over the social is a tendency to subordinate interpersonal relationships to the central state and the global market that converge at the expense of intermediary institutions such as professional associations, trade unions, universities, free hospitals, friendly societies, artisanal producers, manufacturing and trading guilds, and religious communities. Thus the European integration and enlargement processes are part of a wider logic of disembedding the economy from society and re-embedding social relations in economic transactions, as Karl Polanyi showed.

This chapter argues that the European project blends bureaucratic collectivisation with commercial commodification that Catholic Social Teaching and cognate traditions in Anglicanism and Eastern Orthodoxy reject as false alternatives. The European ‘market-state’ undermines Europe’s shared cultural identity and hollows out the universal values derived from the Christian synthesis of ancient with biblical virtues on which vibrant democracies and market economies depend. The chapter also argues the, to some, surprising thesis that Europe’s Christian heritage is a source of both social solidarity and religious pluralism that offers key resources to shape the future of the European polity across the wider Europe and the whole world.

Section 1 traces the rise of Europe’s secular ‘market-states’. Section 2 analyses the EU’s contemporary crisis, which is not primarily about the ‘democratic deficit’ but rather a lack of legitimacy. Section 3 describes the emerging shape of Europe in terms of a multispeed EU and a multipolar polity, in particular the centrifugal forces that deepen divisions between (1) the euro-area core and periphery; (2) Eurozone members (and candidates) and the rest of the EU; (3) the Union and other European powers (e.g. Russia, Ukraine and Turkey), as well as North African and Near Eastern countries which are part of the wider European orbit. Section 4 contrasts the EU’s evolution towards a ‘market-state’ with a civic commonwealth: whereas the former transfers powers to the centre under the guise of a federal model that is supposed to provide a lock on centralisation, the latter is a voluntary association of nations and peoples with a shared social imaginary that can command popular assent and address the legitimacy crisis. Section 5 suggests that the EU remains a vestigially Christian polity whose roots go back to Christianity’s fusion of Greco-Roman thought with biblical revelation, in particular the blending of philosophy, law and virtue ethics with the revealed logos and the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. This unique legacy has shaped a common culture that can help re-embed states and markets in the interpersonal relations of civil society and integrate other faiths communities in a shared public realm.

Item Type: Book section
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BR Christianity
J Political Science > JC Political theory
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Politics and International Relations
Depositing User: Adrian Pabst
Date Deposited: 19 Dec 2013 12:40 UTC
Last Modified: 17 Aug 2022 12:20 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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