It is a measure of how radically the situation of Europe has changed in the past generation that one regularly encounters seminars and symposia with grand but gloomy titles such as “Whither Europe?” or “The European Future?”
The question mark is key. There is much doubt about the health of Europe. Part of that is a demographic issue with plunging birthrates and mass immigration, the specter has been raised of a European future that is lacking Europeans. But it is more than that. If the European body is weak, the cause might be in the European soul.
This issue of Religion & Liberty looks at that question, benefiting from the insights of some of Europe's leading voices. Our lead interview is with Mart Laar, the former Estonian prime minister, who talks about “exporting hope” in the context of his country's post-communist transformation. A view from Western Europe is provided by Jose Maria Aznar, the former Spanish prime minister, who speaks directly about the moral foundations of liberty. Both leaders were featured speakers at an Acton conference in Rome this past May.
Our book review looks at a collaboration between Marcello Pera, former president of the Italian Senate, and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. These two thinkers, one political and the other theological, examine the roots of Europe. Pera also has addressed Acton conferences.
And I am delighted to include a text from Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, which adds to our pages a Russian Orthodox perspective on the European soul. Our regular “Double-Edged Sword” feature on Scripture takes up the theme of “divinization”—a particular emphasis of Orthodox theology.
The European question is not only one of politics or economics, but of what lies behind politics and economics, namely the world of culture, ideas, values and faith. In that sense, the European question is not only for Europeans. I would draw your attention on our Acton FAQ, which illustrates how Acton is supporting research on these questions on three different continents.
Just as the human soul animates the human body, understanding the soul of a nation, a people, or even a continent, is critical to understanding the status of that nation, people or continent. It is not possible only to measure that from the outside as it were. This issue of R&L gets us inside so to speak, the European soul.