Europe suffers from an unclear crisis: The forces that should unite us are absent, while the contradictions that should generate change are too vague. A philosophical diagnostic of Europe’s sickness is required in order to prepare a sound political struggle.
Anders Dunker
Dunker is a Norwegian philosopher, and regular contributor.
Published date: September 14, 2018

A Philosophy for Europe: From the Outside
Author: Roberto Esposito
Polity Press, 2018,

In the last decades, Roberto Esposito has established himself as one of Italy’s most important and accessible thinkers – and is first and foremost known for his books on the meaning of the community: Immunitas and Communitas. To understand the workings of social units we need to understand immunity, because every society works like a group protected from a hostile environment. What appeared as a speculative philosophy of life in Schopenhauer and Nietzsche has been channelled through the works of Foucault, becoming a «biopolitical» theory. What is at stake is the condition of life itself, both for individual bodies and for the body politic.

Esposito also explicitly connects to Foucault’s «biopower» – connecting power with health, sexuality and death – as well as the late Heidegger’s thoughts on technology and nature. For Esposito the two world wars – the second in particular – are decisive. This was the time where Heidegger went through his darkest years, letting his own thoughts on time and destiny merge with the historical visions of Nazi-Germany. The world wars were also a setting in which the mechanical deployment of human lives and bodies rose up as the monstrous underbelly of civilisation. Europe’s crisis had long been latent in culture and thought, but now it manifested itself fully in a political and geographic sense – pulling the rest of the world with it into its turmoil.

«The absence of authoritative truths and values at the centre of our culture cannot be covered by the uncontroversial «facts» of science.»

Europe’s crisis is philosophical

Esposito reminds us that «crisis» is a medical term, describing the state of the patient suspended between life and death. Terror-threats and the migration-crisis give us the impression that Europe’s problems invade us from outside its borders, and that it is – in immunological terms – a question of immunising oneself form the outside. In other books, however, Esposito has made it clear that biopolitics is about more than immunological self-defence and the struggle for survival. A crisis can also be understood as an enduring birth – as a continuous struggle to come to life and to take shape. The outer problems facing Europe are signalled by subtler transformations that particularly well-positioned philosophers foresaw.

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