Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Socrates, where are you? by Reydams-Schils


Socrates, wo bist Du geblieben?

(Socrates, where are you?)



'Socrates' is the eloquent name the Commission and the Council of the European Union have given to their latest endeavour in education. The programme is in full negotiation now. The biggest chunk of the budget proposed by the Commission will be used for student mobility grants. The latter will retrieve the famous ERASMUS programme, which started in 1987 and enhanced the mobility of some 200,000 students since.

Yet Socrates is nowhere to be seen, although at least he is promoted again to being human: previously the Commission used his name for 'System of cellular radio for traffic efficiency and safety'. Cellular radio was what the philosopher-midwife Socrates stood for in such a technology minded context.

The issue dealt with in this paper is the absence of the non-applied human sciences on the European level: History, Literature & Linguistics, Art & Archaeology, Philosophy.....Their representation, that is, as academic disciplines. Not only are the non-applied sciences under-represented in comparison to their technical counterparts, but among the former, there also is a marked difference between the cultural studies which deal with the more recent periods as opposed to the ones which focus on the Middle Ages, Antiquity or earlier epochs. We know that Socrates placed himself deliberately at the margin of Athenian society and that he refused payment for his teachings. Is the name of this latest European Union initiative, then, symbolic in more than one respect? Even Socrates' language, Ancient Greek, is not considered important enough to be included in European language schemes. The themes I will focus upon are the following: the importance of the humanities for a European identity and the humanities in the context of the Maastricht Treaty, with the specific dimensions of culture, research and education. I will conclude with a proposal and a comparison with the US.


i. The Humanities and a European Identity

The larger, philosophical issue is one of a 'conceptual deficit' between what the European citizen might consider his identity to be and how that identity is promoted, or ignored, within official structures. While cultural diversity is in itself one of the hallmarks of European culture, the question of a European identity, based on a common cultural heritage, has become more pressing than ever. Vaclav Havel gave an inspired speech to the European Parliament on March 8 of 1994, in which he remarked the absence in the Maastricht Treaty of a 'spiritual, moral or emotional dimension'. But although the President of the Commission, Mr. Jacques Delors, is following the footsteps of the former European 'humanists' like Erasmus by making an intellectual tour of Europe, he has very little time left to translate his courtship into concrete measures which will safeguard this legacy.

The non-applied academic disciplines have their fundamental, clearly delineated role in the renaissance of a European identity. John G. Ruggie, for instance, traces the historical development of the modern territorial state from the Middle Ages onwards and analyses the consequences of its 'post modernist deconstruction' for the European Union, among other political entities. In the library of the Council, which is excellent for the domains it does cover, one will look in vain for the Oxford History of Ideas series, with for instance its volume on The Identity of the European Mind. I would also like to point out that the question of identity and the self has very much come to the forefront of recent classical scholarships, while works such as Bernal's 'Black Athena' have re-examined the relations between Ancient Greek culture and the other cultures of the Mediterranean basin, Africa and the East.


ii. Maastricht

In search of the human sciences, what do we find? Socrates' relative promotion is probably due to the fact that the Maastricht Treaty for the first time has explicitly given the Community competence in the field of education (cf. Bekemans - Balodimos 1993), under article 126 - as opposed to the already existing competence for vocational training, now under article 127---, and in the domain of culture, under article 128. But while these articles do open new perspectives, they reflect the compromise between those member states which wanted to have education and culture included and the ones which wanted strict limitations. Thus the European Union has been assigned a largely supportive and complementary role, and the notion of subsidiarity keeps the individual member states in the forefront. All measures of harmonization are taboo, in order to safeguard cultural diversity, and in addition issues pertaining to the domain of culture require unanimity on the level of the Council, the co-decision procedure with the European Parliament and the consultation of the Committee of the Regions.

Perhaps the most significant opening for the non-applied academic disciplines resides in the stipulation of 'quality education' in article 126 of the Maastricht Treaty, because it might allow the European Union to move beyond considerations of a merely economic nature. But that potential still has to be translated into actual programmes.

In this context, the actual debate on 'SOCRATES' between the Commission and Council on the one hand, and the European Parliament on the other is very interesting. The text proposed by the Commission (JO C 66, 3.3.94) relies on both art. 126 and art. 127 of the Maastricht Treaty, and would hence also over matters of vocational training. The Parliament (EP 181.165) would like to amend the text by dropping the reference to art. 127, and justifies this move (amendment 5) by claiming that this would be the only way to distinguish cultural aims from economic ones. Note that the Parliament emphasizes the, obvious?, link between education and culture. And, incidentally, it is also an amendment of the European parliament (82) which carries the only explicit reference to the classical languages, in the context of the promotion of the common cultural heritage and of intercultural communication (is the Parliament trying to 'smuggle in' art. 128?), through the organization of contests. This is not much, but it is better than nothing.


iii. Culture and Education

Under which heading would the humanities fall? As it turns out they do not only touch upon education, but also on research and culture. Under the treaty article for culture, for instance, the "improvement of the knowledge and dissemination of the culture and history of the European people" is included. Which academic disciplines would be more suited to "bring to the fore the common cultural heritage" of the European Union without leading to a blunt levelling-out of cultural differences than the non-applied human sciences?

The common legacy is to a large extent a 'depository of texts', whether we are talking about the medieval monasteries which saved the manuscripts from disappearing in the Dark Age, the rediscovery of Aristotle at the eve of the European Renaissance and the age of the universities or a post-modern variant of eclecticism. These texts carry themes and paradigms of our cultures, to be accepted or rejected, but never to be left behind, simply because it is impossible to leave them behind, even if we misunderstand or do not remember anymore where phrases have come from. They also require considerable technical skills and intellectual fine-tuning, skills that have to be taught and transmitted from generation to generation.

But the fragmentation of the treaty framework as it is set up now does not allow the humanities to give their fullest contribution.


iv. Research & Education

In an interview last October, at the first European Science Summit (Brussels, October 14 - 15), Mr. Claude Desama, head of the Committee on Energy, Research and Technology of the European Parliament, said that the non-applied human sciences do not need to be subsidized in the context of the 4th research framework programme of European Union activities. But given the fact that national governments are increasingly relying on international networks for the funding of research at their universities, this implies that the human sciences suffer twice from not being included in an EU research framework.

President Jacques Delors himself recently gave a very convincing argument for a limited approach: the European Union cannot tackle everything and hence it should limit itself to some key areas of support. Unfortunately this approach underestimates the impact of EU policies on public opinion and policy makers. What the Union itself might consider simply a strategy with areas of emphasis becomes an ideology in academic contexts: that the disciplines which the Union does not pay attention to are not worth pursuing. A practical judgement is translated into a value judgement. And according to the principle that success breeds success, the chosen disciplines attract even more money from other sources, which could have contributed to a more balanced support. Borrowing a name like 'Socrates' is unfortunately not enough to offset these negative effects.

Let us take a look at a concrete example of the kind of obstacles the limited research policy creates. The European Science Foundation is a relatively small non-governmental organization which operates with money from Research Councils, Academies and institutions devoted to basic scientific research in twenty countries. They have been funding programmes and networks for the humanities, which make up some 5% of the total number of projects. (11% according to the ESF 'Twelve Year Report' of 1990). From 1991 till 1994 there has been a network on 'The Classical Tradition in the Middle Ages & the Renaissance', from 1993 till 1997 there will be a programme on 'The Transformation of the Roman World', that is on the origins of Europe and the emergence of European nations.

Currently this organization is trying to combine its efforts with the 4th research framework of the European Union, and to cooperate with the DG 12 of the Commission. But in this co-operation it will be difficult for the European Science Foundation to get its humanities projects involved as well, because there is no counterpart on the side of the European Union, no 'slot' within the framework to accommodate these disciplines.

So we are back to the programme SOCRATES, which is in essence an educational programme. It is first of all a large umbrella which deals with all disciplines, -- including law, economics, sociology and political science --, and generally speaking entails much more than education at the university level. Secondly, unless the Parliament will get its way (cf. supra), it will include the co-operation between universities, firms and the industry, a domain which also falls under the COMETT programme. Thirdly, its new focus on European identity issues is very laudable in principle; but in practice one finds "European Studies" programmes which start from the French Revolution. Given the fact that such programmes not only attract European students but also recruit on a more international level, this form of self-mutilation becomes quite intriguing. Greece, Italy, Flanders, - to name but some historically crucial 'cultural areas' -, are still in Europe, by all recent accounts (even though the Americans succeeded to transplant a remarkable cloister with a splendid collection of Medieval Art to the north of Manhattan).

The biggest point of attraction in the SOCRATES programme is the former ERASMUS component of student mobility. But with its requirement of full-time study it does not lend itself very well to research exchanges on the doctoral and post-doctoral level. Thus research is barely accommodated within this programme. For the human sciences research exchange possibilities are as vital as for any other discipline. A Classics Ph.D. student might want to attend an Italian university for a perfection course in epigraph; or an Ancient Philosophy Ph.D. student might need the money for a post-doctoral co-operation project with the Brussels Professor, Alain Martin of the Universite Libre, who has just achieved the spectacular discovery of an Empedocles fragment in the Strasbourg library.

The disciplines in question are particularly dependent on such exchange possibilities, because they are mostly limited to university networks and do not have the outside connections of the practical sciences, with for instance powerful research laboratories in the private sector. Therefore it is crucial that in addition to the research framework which exists already for the applied sciences, one be established which meets the very specific needs of the human sciences. If the humanities are not given a European connection, they risk lagging behind in their development.

The last fifteen years have witnessed a consolidation policy for the humanities in Europe which largely consists of a negative 'deconstruction', - and there is nothing sophisticated about this kind, I am afraid -, departments have disappeared and retired faculty members have not been replaced. The situation is particularly problematic in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium and, to a certain extent, France, (and the United States, by the way, have benefited from the resulting brain drain). Germany is doing somewhat better, because of opportunities in the 'neue Laender'. (I would appreciate information on the Greek situation from my dialogue partners at this meeting).


v. A Proposal

In my opinion a revalorisation of the humanities at universities would have to focus on three lines of action: new sources of funding, a better integration of the disciplines concerned in the university systems and international networks, and last but not least, new modes of access to student populations. What the latter concern, I am thinking mostly of short-term post-graduate programs and alternative education models. A number of Flemish philosophy professors, for instance, have founded the School for Comparative Philosophy, with classes in the evening and on Saturdays, and they can hardly meet the demand! As to alternative sources of funding, I can again quote the European Science Foundation, which is attracting money from international actors for the post-doctoral fellowships of its pilot-project on Advanced Asian Studies.

But is it too much to ask from the European Union, in times of heavy budgetary constraints and serious economic problems which include high unemployment, that it devotes attention to this matter? To the latter objection, one can reply that academic unemployment is employment as well, and that it contributes to economic diversification. The first issue is more important. A declaration of principle would be crucial at the moment, in order to include the humanities in research debates; to help create the necessary 'ouverture d'esprit' which will promote the flow of scholars in these domains as well. Be it also noted that the key investments here concern 'human resources', in the genuine sense of the world!, which costs a good deal less than particle accelerators. 

The declaration of principle could go very far. The Commission, for instance, negotiated educational consortia with the United States. If the two sides had remained at the discussion table only a couple of hours longer, they could have included the humanities, which are flourishing in the United States, in spite of economically lean times. The humanities are flourishing in the United States precisely because they benefit from the full range of exchange and research possibilities, in addition to creative funding schemes.


vi. A Comparison - the USA

If you'll allow me one comparison: the KU Leuven has about 25,000 students, the number of Ph.D. students for Classics can be counted on one hand, including the part-time positions. Berkeley has about 21,000 undergraduate and 9,000 graduate students, its Classics program has on average forty Ph.D. students, not counting the ones from other disciplines whose work touches upon Classics (with dissertations, in the Comparative Literature department, such as 'Aristotle and Proust on Memory'). Over the last seven years, the researchers included one British national, one Italian, one Belgian, two Germans, several Greeks; this year, Berkeley admitted a Swedish Ph.D. student. The US is picking up the slack of the European universities, and creates our European identity for us.

In addition, the Ph.D. students of American universities can be found at research institutes all over Europe. The research exchange between the US and Europe for the humanities works much better than the internal exchange, (I myself could return one year to do research at the Philosophy Institute of the KU Leuven thanks to a Mellon dissertation grant administered through Berkeley. I tried in vain to find a European counterpart, and therefore Berkeley was so kind to exempt me from the usual citizenship requirement for this grant.)

Let me conclude on an anecdotal note. Often language barriers are invoked as obstacles for the exchange between European universities. But I met three American scholars who specialize in the study of Medieval Flanders and who had studied in Gent and Leuven; all three of them spoke Dutch, to some extent; one of them was so fluent that he could use idioms which are typical of the Gent dialect.....

Already some of the world's best Classics Departments and Medieval Institutes are to be found on the other side of the ocean; and the Old World is losing out very quickly indeed. While the European Union is worried about its competitiveness on the global market, it neglects assets of the mind for which it does have a historical advantage.







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