Like a traveler walking on foot – always falling forward, cushioned by one moving foot at a time – Europe moves from crisis to crisis. But what is a crisis? Whether it is psychosomatic, cultural or social, a crisis places the organism at a crossroads; it is the “critical” point, where the criterion that dominates at the moment determines the path followed. The European crisis is centered at the unstable place where the subcontinent’s leaders hesitate between two paths, the path of stability (which is not immobility, but a tendency toward equilibrium), or the path of deepening imbalance, which can lead to disintegration.
In 1935, Paul Hasard analyzed the European crisis caused by the rationalism of the 17th century. We only remember the famous diagnosis: “the majority of French people thought like Bossuet; all of a sudden, the French think like Voltaire: it’s a revolution.” It was the triumph of a reason centered on the individual as master of his or her knowledge (as opposed to the believing community, reputed to be alienating), and for which Descartes was the preferred thinker.
In May of 1935, a famous lecture given in Vienna by the philosopher Edmund Husserl was entitled The Crisis of European Humanity, a crisis read as that of modernity from which the social scientists and contemporary philosophers have tried to distance themselves. Little by little, in the manner of Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, the impossible completion of this instrumental rationalism, born of the Enlightenment, was acknowledged: “The myth itself is already Reason, and Reason turns into mythology.”