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The Idea of Europe

 | 
Catriona Seth
, 
Rotraud von Kulessa

48. Happiness in Europe

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1Johann Gottfried Herder ponders the consequences and stakes of eurocentrism.i He warns against a form of myopia which could lead one to think of Europe as essentially superior to the rest of the world and estimates that there is not a single way of measuring happiness.

2It would be absurdly proud to presume that the inhabitants of all continents would have to be Europeans in order to live happily; for should we have become what we are outside of Europe? […]

3The difference between enlightened and unenlightened, between cultivated and uncultivated peoples, is thus not absolute, but only relative and gradual. Here, the landscape of nations has infinite shading that alters with the variation of location and time; in this case too, as with every landscape, it depends upon the point of view from which you perceive the figures. If we take the concept of European culture as a starting point, it can of course only be found in Europe; if we establish arbitrary distinctions between culture and enlightenment, neither of which, surely, if they are genuine, can exist without the other, then we move even further into cloudcuckooland. But if we keep our feet on this earth and look within its broadest compass at that which Nature, who must know best the purpose and character of its creation, places before our eyes by way of human culture, then this is nothing other than the tradition of raising things to some form of happiness and way of life. This tradition is as universal as the human race. […]

4The glory of many a European people is therefore nothing but vanity, if it seeks to impose itself on all three continents under the banner of so-called Enlightenment, Art and Science.

5Johann Gottfried Herder,
Ideas on the Philosophy of the History of Humanity (1784–1791).

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