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Foreign Affairs

Pope Benedict and the European Question

In a series of lectures delivered at the convent of Saint Scholastica one day prior to Pope John Paul II's death, then Cardinal Ratzinger ranged widely on the present philosophical and anthropological difficulties present in Europe's intellectual makeup. In Meaning and Limits of the Present Rationalist Culture, Ratzinger opined, "let us clarify first if the modern Enlightenment philosophies, considered as a whole, can contain the last word of the cause common to all men. These philosophies are characterized by the fact that they are positivist and, therefore, anti-metaphysical, so much so that, in the end, God cannot have any place in them.... It succeeds in having man no longer admit any moral claim beyond his calculations and, as we saw, the concept of freedom, which at first glance would seem to extend in an unlimited manner, in the end leads to the self-destruction of freedom."

This lecture is well worth pondering during this inherent shakeup of the EU, and perhaps the more ominous signs of the permament shuttering of European prospects for a renewed greatness. Of course, the efficient cause of the difficulties is the split between monetary policy of the EU and fiscal policy conducted by individual member states. Many predicted this result in the late 90s, including Milton Friedman and more senior statesmen in the British Conservative Party. 

PBXVI's analysis ranges to deeper problems in the self-understanding and memory of Europe. Such deformed philosophical understanding on the continent cannot but manifest in the very vivid and yet practical problems of monetary/fiscal policy. Unable to venture much, to believe, to dare that liberty is predicated on more than post-ideological boredom and relativism, the present disrepair of this sort or of another seems inevitable.  

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