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European Culture in the 21st Century


European Parliament, Directorate-General for Research, Document

EDUC 107 EN Part 2 (2001), pages 31-33.
To consider "European Culture in the 21st century" as a singular subject denies implicitly its necessarily and inherently plural nature. As a homogenous and unified phenomenon, it is as undesirable and impractical as a single European language. Politically, it is as totalitarian a vision as the sole reign of a single European party.

And yet the ideology of modernism, which has devastated cities, landscapes and minds for half a century, squandered natural resources, wasted private lives and professional careers, continues to dominate the cultural policies of all European countries. It reigns through the extension of intellectual terror in government agencies and academies, and works effectively (if no longer declaredly) at the elimination of traditional cultural differences, styles and techniques.

The new buildings of the European Union (EU) in Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg symbolize if anything the poverty and vacuity of the ideology. Despite the evident betrayal of all its ideological promises and pretensions, the vast majority of government sponsored buildings in all EU countries -- including national pavilions at world exhibitions -- continue to be built as mere variations of the same sterile creed.

The tenets of this ideology are based on the erroneous belief that in an industrial civilization all aspects of life will eventually be dominated by industrial processes, i.e. that "modernity" is and can be truly modern only if imbued with the spirit of industrialization.

This belief assumes that in the industrial city not only factories, but equally houses and schools, public and private buildings, must be and must look industrial. It also implies that all manufactured objects, large or small, will eventually be cloned, serial, repetitive, and exchangeable.

The philosophical fallacy of this ideology lies not in its principles, materials, and technology, however, but in the ambition to uphold these as a new paradigm, apparently revolutionizing, invalidating and replacing all previous artistic and architectural traditions, categories, and knowledge.

In the most advanced industrial countries it is no longer conceivable to promote industrial development to the detriment of crafts. The coexistence of these two production modes, ways of thinking and educating, is now largely recognized as a necessity for a healthy modern economy, society and individuals.

Balanced development requires a profound change of mentality, and the abandonment of outdated creeds that remain anchored in an all-out industrial and collectivist teleology. Modernism after all disqualified traditional building methods and styles as anachronistic, and hence as "historic" and superseded.

Traditional architecture's language and technology were excluded from the industrial future and consequently from training. The immense capital of know-how held by 39 building related crafts and trades -- a monument of practical and aesthetic intelligence, with an enormous potential for production, education and creativity -- is erroneously disparaged as pre-industrial and, as such, it is banned from regular technical training and economic practice. It is retained in universities merely as subject for archaeology, leisure and history courses. Artisan know-how is institutionally treated as an orphan with illegitimate offspring. Thus we are faced not only with a scandalous reduction in the productive capacities of European societies as a whole, but also with the social impoverishment of basic democratic choices relating to vocations and trades, and generally with the means of human self-expression. As a consequence, artisan practices necessary for an architecture of quality are relegated to the status of marginal activities, based primarily on self-training.

The immense demand for traditional crafts and architecture which manifests itself in all free European countries must for the time being be satisfied with products of inferior quality; with ersatz and kitsch.

The development capacity of this market in terms of quality and quantity is seriously curbed by a general lack of adequate training and teaching facilities, and of normal institutional recognition. Even the most directive industrialization policies will not result in full employment. The latter is not and cannot be an objective of industrialization -- it is quite simply not within its competence.

In the future, large amounts of building will not be implemented by further industrialization.

Traditional artisan trades represent now a considerable source of employment and, above all, of self-employment.

The goals of European education policies, which are still essentially concerned with intellectual and scientific education in the service of an all-embracing industrial utopia, need to be revised, albeit partially. Neither the State nor industry will in future provide enough jobs to employ the utterly dependent, disoriented and confused masses released for work after fifteen years of obligatory theoretical and impractical general schooling. Ideally, the goal of obligatory schooling should be to make people independent and reliant on their individual gifts and vocations, rather than transforming them into dependent, passive and depressed masses.

How else can we explain the fact that manual work has become an unaffordable rarity in those very EU countries that count today more than 30 million unemployed hands?

We do well to remember that a few thousand pairs of hands are capable of building the most beautiful cities and the most magnificent cathedrals. The problem of mass unemployment is a problem of industrial ideology, of its outdated political, moral and metaphysical ambitions.

Very few people are gifted enough for the kind of theoretical and epistemological education that is now showered upon the masses; training and apprenticeship in practical crafts and know-how are the natural way to awaken the unique, personal talents of most individuals.

Traditional craft disciplines are expressions of specific human skills and dispositions conditioned by human nature itself, not merely by socio-economic relation at any given historical period.

Even in a global industrial utopia, the apprenticeship of traditional craft skills would have to be considered alongside science and humanities as one of the three privileged ways of awakening and training the mind and the body. The suppression of traditional craft skills represents a catastrophic impoverishment of human self-expression, a limitation of human capacity for independence and liberty.

The quality of the great European villages, cities and landscapes, their original construction, their multiplication and maintenance, the transformation of dull 20th century suburbs and abandoned industries into attractive cities, are and will be dependent on the development and promotion of manual crafts and dexterity at the European level.

The reconstruction and promotion of a broad, highly qualified craft industry is a necessary condition for the revival of a dynamic European urban culture. It appeals to the force of character, talent and initiative of individuals, for the work of a society and culture depends entirely upon the work of individuals.

Personal independence, individuality and responsibility, work which procures satisfaction, identity and autonomy at every level of talent and intelligence, are the guiding values of such a culture. A great many citizens identify strongly with these values, making them absolutely and positively modern.

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