We, the People of Europe?: Reflections on Transnational Citizenship / Edition 1

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étienne Balibar has been one of Europe's most important philosophical and political thinkers since the 1960s. His work has been vastly influential on both sides of the Atlantic throughout the humanities and the social sciences. In We, the People of Europe?, he expands on themes raised in his previous works to offer a trenchant and eloquently written analysis of "transnational citizenship" from the perspective of contemporary Europe. Balibar moves deftly from state theory, national sovereignty, and debates on multiculturalism and European racism, toward imagining a more democratic and less state-centered European citizenship.

Although European unification has progressively divorced the concepts of citizenship and nationhood, this process has met with formidable obstacles. While Balibar seeks a deep understanding of this critical conjuncture, he goes beyond theoretical issues. For example, he examines the emergence, alongside the formal aspects of European citizenship, of a "European apartheid," or the reduplication of external borders in the form of "internal borders" nurtured by dubious notions of national and racial identity. He argues for the democratization of how immigrants and minorities in general are treated by the modern democratic state, and the need to reinvent what it means to be a citizen in an increasingly multicultural, diversified world. A major new work by a renowned theorist, We, the People of Europe? offers a far-reaching alternative to the usual framing of multicultural debates in the United States while also engaging with these debates.

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Editorial Reviews

Political Science Quarterly - Gustav Peebles
There is much merit to this book as a work of political philosophy, inasmuch as it provides new analyses of the concept of sovereignty and develops new ideas about the nature of citizenship under post-modern conditions.
From the Publisher
"Balibar tackles a wide range of themes associated with a dialectic of the construction of 'Europe.' . . . The writing is clear, informed, and provocative."Choice

"There is much merit to this book as a work of political philosophy, inasmuch as it provides new analyses of the concept of sovereignty and develops new ideas about the nature of citizenship under post-modern conditions."—Gustav Peebles, Political Science Quarterly

Balibar tackles a wide range of themes associated with a dialectic of the construction of 'Europe.' . . . The writing is clear, informed, and provocative.
Political Science Quarterly
There is much merit to this book as a work of political philosophy, inasmuch as it provides new analyses of the concept of sovereignty and develops new ideas about the nature of citizenship under post-modern conditions.
— Gustav Peebles
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691089904
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 11/24/2003
  • Series: Translation/Transnation Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Read an Excerpt

We, the People of Europe?

Reflections on Transnational Citizenship
By Étienne Balibar

Princeton University Press

Étienne Balibar
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0691089906

Chapter One

Chapter 1


I am speaking of the "borders of Europe" in Greece, one of the "peripheral" countries of Europe in its traditional configuration-a configuration that reflects powerful myths and a long-lived series of historical events. Thessaloníki is itself at the edge of this border country, one of those places where the dialectic between confrontation with the foreigner (transformed into a hereditary enemy) and communication between civilizations (without which humanity cannot progress) is periodically played out. I thus find myself, it seems, right in the middle of my object of study, with all the resultant difficulties.

The term border is extremely rich in significations. One of my hypotheses is that it is undergoing a profound change in meaning. The borders of new sociopolitical entities, in which an attempt is being made to preserve all the functions of the sovereignty of the state, are no longer entirely situated at the outer limit of territories; they are dispersed a little everywhere, wherever the movement of information, people, and things is happening and is controlled-for example, in cosmopolitan cities. But it is also one of my hypotheses that the zones called peripheral, where secular and religious cultures confront one another, where differences in economic prosperity become more pronounced and strained, constitute the melting pot for the formation of a people (demos), without which there is no citizenship (politeia) in the sense that this term has acquired since antiquity in the democratic tradition.

In this sense, border areas-zones, countries, and cities-are not marginal to the constitution of a public sphere but rather are at the center. If Europe is for us first of all the name of an unresolved political problem, Greece is one of its centers, not because of the mythical origins of our civilization, symbolized by the Acropolis of Athens, but because of the current problems concentrated there.

Or, more exactly, the notion of a center confronts us with a choice. In connection with states, it means the concentration of power, the localization of virtual or real governing authorities. In this sense, the center of Europe is in Brussels, Strasbourg, or in the City of London and the Frankfurt stock exchange, or will soon be in Berlin, the capital of the most powerful of the states that dominate the construction of Europe, and secondarily in Paris, London, and so on. But this notion has another, more essential and elusive meaning, which points to the sites where a people is constituted through the creation of civic consciousness and the collective resolution of the contradictions that run through it. Is there then a "European people," even an emergent one? Nothing is less certain. And if there is not a European people, a new type of people yet to be defined, then there is no public sphere or European state beyond technocratic appearances. This is what I meant when I imitated one of Hegel's famous phrases: Es gibt keinen Staat in Europa.1 But the question must remain open, and in a particularly "central" way at the border points.

There are more difficult issues. We are meeting in the aftermath of the war in Kosovo, the Balkans, or Yugoslavia, at a moment when the protectorate established at Pri

stina by the Western powers is being put into place with difficulty and for dubious ends, while in Belgrade uncertain maneuvers are unfolding for or against the future of the current regime. It is not certain that we all have the same judgment about these events, from which we will not emerge for quite some time. It is even probable that we have profoundly divergent opinions on the subject. The fact that we do not use the same names for the war that just took place is an unequivocal sign of this. It is possible-it is probable-that some of you condemned the intervention of NATO for various reasons, and that still others, also for various reasons, found it impossible to take sides. It is possible-it is probable-that certain of us saw striking proof of the subordination of Europe to the exterior, hegemonic power of the United States, whereas others saw a mercenary utilization of American power by the European states in the service of continental objectives. And so on.

I do not presume to resolve these dilemmas. But I want to state here my conviction that these events mercilessly reveal the fundamental contradictions plaguing European unification. It was not by chance that they occurred when Europe was set to cross an irreversible threshold, by instituting a unitary currency and thus communal control of economic and social policy and by implementing formal elements of "European citizenship," whose military and police counterparts are quickly perceived.

In reality, what is at stake here is the definition of the modes of inclusion and exclusion in the European sphere, as a "public sphere" of bureaucracy and of relations of force but also of communication and cooperation between peoples. Consequently, in the strongest sense of the term, it is the possibility or the impossibility of European unification. In the establishment of a protectorate in Kosovo and, indirectly, other regions of the Balkans, as in the blockade of Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia, the elements of impossibility prevailed obviously and lastingly-even if one thinks, as is my case, that an intervention one way or another to block the ongoing "ethnic cleansing" could no longer be avoided and even if one is skeptical, as is my case, of self-righteous positions concerning a people's right to self-determination in the history of political institutions. The unacceptable impasse that we had reached on the eve of the war in the whole of ex-Yugoslavia was fundamentally the result of the powerlessness, inability, and refusal of the "European community" to propose political solutions of association, to open possibilities of development for the peoples of the Balkans (and more generally of the East), and to assume everywhere its responsibilities in an effective struggle against human rights violations. It is thus Europe, particularly the primary European powers, that is responsible for the catastrophic developments that subsequently took place and for the consequences they now may have.

But, on the other hand, if it is true that the Balkan War manifests the impasse and the impossibility of European unification, it is necessary to have the courage (or the madness) to ask in today's conditions: under what conditions might it become possible again? Where are the potentialities for a different future? How can they be released by assigning responsibility for the past but avoiding the fruitless exercise of repeating it? An effort of this kind alone can give meaning to a project of active European citizenship, disengaged from all myths of identity, from all illusions about the necessary course of history, and a fortiori from all belief in the infallibility of governments. It is this effort that I would like to call on and contribute to. We must privilege the issue of the border when discussing the questions of the European people and of the state in Europe because it crystallizes the stakes of politico-economic power and the symbolic stakes at work in the collective imagination: relations of force and material interest on one side, representations of identity on the other.

I see a striking indicator of this in the fact that during the new Balkan War that has just taken place the name of Europe functioned in two contradictory ways, which cruelly highlighted the ambiguity of the notions of interior and exterior. On one hand, Yugoslavia (as well as to varying degrees the whole Balkan area, including Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria...) was considered an exterior space, in which, in the name of a "principle of intervention" that I will not discuss here but that clearly marked a reciprocal exteriority, an entity called Europe felt compelled to intervene to block a crime against humanity, with the aid of its powerful American allies if necessary. On the other had, to take up themes proposed by the Albanian national writer Ismail Kadaré,2 for example, it was explained that this intervention was occurring on Europe's soil, within its historical limits, and in defense of the principles of Western civilization. Thus, this time the Balkans found themselves fully inscribed within the borders of Europe. The idea was that Europe could not accept genocidal population deportation on its own soil, not only for moral reasons but above all to preserve its political future.

However, this theme, which I do not by any means consider pure propaganda, did not correspond to any attempt to anticipate or accelerate the integration of the Balkan regions referred to in this way into the European public sphere. The failure of the stillborn "Balkan conference" testifies eloquently to this. There was no economic plan of reparations and development involving all the countries concerned and the European community as such. Nor was the notion of "European citizenship" adapted-for example, by the issuing of "European identity cards" to the Kosovo refugees whose identification papers had been destroyed by the Serbian army and militias, along the lines of the excellent suggestion by the French writer Jean Chesneaux.3 Nor were the steps and criteria for entrance into the "union" redefined.

Thus, on the one hand, the Balkans are a part of Europe and, on the other, they are not. Apparently, we are not ready to leave this contradiction behind, for it has equivalents in the eastern part of the continent, beginning with Turkey, Russia, and the Caucasus regions, and everywhere takes on a more and more dramatic significance. This fact results in profoundly paradoxical situations. First of all, the colonization of Kosovo (if one wants to designate the current regime this way, as Régis Debray, with whom I otherwise totally disagree, suggested by his comparisons with the Algerian War) is an "interior colonization" of Europe (with the help of a sort of American foreign legion). But I am also thinking of other situations, such as the fact that Greece could wonder if it was interior or exterior to the domain of European sovereignty, because its soil served as a point of entry for land-occupation forces in which it did not want to take part. I can even imagine that when Turkish participation in the operation was discussed, certain Greek "patriots" asked themselves which of the two "hereditary enemies" was more interior to political Europe, on its way to becoming a military Europe.

All this proves that the notions of interiority and exteriority, which form the basis of the representation of the border, are undergoing a veritable earthquake. The representations of the border, territory, and sovereignty, and the very possibility of representing the border and territory, have become the object of an irreversible historical "forcing." At present these representations constitute a certain conception of the political sphere as a sphere of sovereignty, both the imposition of law and the distribution of land, dating from the beginning of the European modern age and later exported to the whole world-what Carl Schmitt in his great book from 1950, The Nomos of the Earth, called the Jus Publicum Europaeum.4

But, as we also know, this representation of the border, essential as it is for state institutions, is nevertheless profoundly inadequate for an account of the complexity of real situations, of the topology underlying the sometimes peaceful and sometimes violent mutual relations between the identities constitutive of European history. I suggested in the past that (particularly in Mitteleuropa but more generally in all Europe), without even considering the question of "minorities," we are dealing with "triple points" or mobile "overlapping zones" of contradictory civilizations rather than with juxtapositions of monolithic entities. In all its points, Europe is multiple; it is always home to tensions between numerous religious, cultural, linguistic, and political affiliations, numerous readings of history, numerous modes of relations with the rest of the world, whether it is Americanism or Orientalism, the possessive individualism of "Nordic" legal systems or the "tribalism" of Mediterranean familial traditions. This is why I have suggested that in reality the Yugoslavian situation is not atypical but rather constitutes a local projection of forms of confrontation and conflict characteristic of all of Europe, which I did not hesitate to call European race relations, with the implicit understanding that the notion of race has no other content than that of the historical accumulation of religious, linguistic, and genealogical identity references.5

The fate of European identity as a whole is being played out in Yugoslavia and more generally in the Balkans (even if this is not the only site of its trial). Either Europe will recognize in the Balkan situation not a monstrosity grafted to its breast, a pathological "aftereffect" of under-development or of communism, but rather an image and effect of its own history and will undertake to confront it and resolve it and thus to put itself into question and transform itself. Only then will Europe probably begin to become possible again. Or else it will refuse to come to face-to-face with itself and will continue to treat the problem as an exterior obstacle to be overcome through exterior means, including colonization. That is, it will impose in advance on its own citizenship an insurmountable border for its own populations, whom it will place indefinitely in the situation of metics, and it will reproduce its own impossibility.

I would now like to broaden this question of European citizenship as a "citizenship of borders" or confines, a condensation of impossibility and potentials that we must try to activate-without fearing to take things up again at a distance, from the point of view of plurisecular history.

Let us remember how the question of sovereignty is historically bound up with the questions of borders, as much political as cultural and "spiritual," from the classical age to the crisis of imperialism in the mid-twentieth century, and which we have inherited after the dissolution of the "blocs." We know that one of the origins of the political significance of the name of Europe, possibily the most decisive, was the constitution in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries of a "balance of powers" among nation-states, for the most part organized in monarchies.6 Contrary to what one often reads in history books, this did not occur exactly with the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), signed to put an end to the Thirty Years' War, which had ravaged the continent by opposing Protestant and Catholic forces against the background of the "Turkish menace."


Excerpted from We, the People of Europe? by Étienne Balibar Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

At the Borders of Europe 1
Homo nationalis: An Anthropological Sketch of the Nation-Form 11
Droit de cité or Apartheid? 31
Citizenship without Community? 51
Europe after Communism 78
World Borders, Political Borders 101
Outline of a Topography of Cruelty: Citizenship and Civility in the Era of Global Violence 115
Prolegomena to Sovereignty 133
Difficult Europe: Democracy under Construction 155
Democratic Citizenship or Popular Sovereignty? Reflections on Constitutional Debates in Europe 180
Europe: Vanishing Mediator? 203

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