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Rosario Forlenza is a Research Fellow at the European Institute, Columbia University, and a Marie Curie Fellow at the University of Padua. He is a historian of modern Europe whose main fields of expertise are political anthropology, symbolic and cultural politics, politics and religion, cinema and propaganda, memory studies, democracy and democratization. He has worked at the University of Cambridge, Princeton University, and New York University.
He has written two books, and his articles have appeared in Modern Italy, Journal of Modern Italian Studies, International Political Anthropology, History&Memory, Contemporary European History, Journal of Cold War Studies, History Workshop Journal, and Journal of Political Ideologies. He is working on a manuscript on the birth of democracy in Italy after World War II and, with Bjørn Thomassen, on a volume titled Italian Modernities: Competing Narratives of Nationhood (forthcoming with Palgrave Macmillan).
The Syrian refugee crisis has resurrected old ideas about Europe as the Abendland — a vision of the continent that sees it as a Christian-Catholic entity, a spiritual and cultural community, and a fortress to be defended, as the realm of Charlemagne, from the external challenge of Islam.
The Abendland trope was influential in shaping the vision of Europe promoted in the 1950s by Christian Democratic politicians at the start of project of integration and in context of the Cold War. It is still visible in recent political developments. The governments of Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Poland, as well as right-wing political forces of many European countries, have invoked Europe’s incompatibility with non-Europeans, thus calling for the defense of symbolic-cultural-religious borders between inside and outside.
This paper argues that the Abendland still slumbers behind the liberal facade of European self-understanding. It remains alive in discursive patterns, representations, political language, and in EU-policies — including those emerging policies towards refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries.
In other words, the Abendland has survived Christian Democracy and the secularization process, and still functions as a condition of possibility for the definition of Europe in opposition to an Other. In times of crisis, such as a “flood” of primarily Muslim refugees and illegal immigrants, the Abendland arises from its slumber.
At the theoretical level, following insights from interpretative social sciences, the preposition defended here is that history (the past) shapes current political affairs (the present) through habitus—the invisible hand of socially-culturally inherited disposition. Habitus is not easily changed or reformed by rational public debate.