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Questo articolo è stato pubblicato il 25 agosto 2012 alle ore 16:56.


About fifty years ago, in 1961, Jean-Paul Sartre complained about the state of Europe then. "Europe is springing leaks everywhere," Sartre said, in the Preface to his book The Wretched of the Earth. He went on to remark: "It simply is that in the past we made history and now history is being made of us." Sartre was undoubtedly too pessimistic. Many major achievements of great significance have occurred in the last half a century in Europe, since Sartre's lament, including the emergence of the European Union, the reunification of Germany, the extension of democracy to Eastern Europe, the consolidation and improvement of national health services and of the welfare state, and legalization and enforcement of some human rights. All this went with a rapidly expanding European economy, which comprehensively rebuilt and massively expanded its industrial base and infrastructure - devastated during the Second World War.

There is indeed a long-run historical contrast to which Sartre could have been referring. For centuries preceding the Second World War, a lot of world history was actually made in Europe. If that generated, around the world, much admiration mixed with some fear, the situation changed rapidly in the second half of the twentieth century. When I first arrived in Cambridge as a student from India in the early 1950s, I remember asking whether there are any lectures given at Cambridge University on the economic history of Asia, Africa and Latin America. I was told that there were indeed such lectures, and they are given for a paper called "Expansion of Europe." That view of the non-European world would seem a little archaic now, not merely because the grand European empires have ended, but also because the balance of political prominence and economic strength has radically changed in the world. Europe is no longer larger than life.

There is, of course, nothing particularly remarkable - or lamentable - in the changing role of the different regions of the world with the progress of history. This has happened again and again in the annals of the world. What is really striking is not the historical rebalancing of the different parts of the world, but the mess that Europe has managed to get into in the last decade or so, particularly over the last couple of years. There is a lot of discussion right now - appropriately enough - on how Europe is going to liberate itself from its financial disarray, economic misery and political chaos. "What to do now" is certainly an important issue today (not least in this symposium), but "what not to do" is also an important question in looking at Europe's immediate past. This is important not just because past mistakes are relevant in deciding on what to do here and now in Europe (even though what has been done cannot be readily "undone" - there is never any automatic translation from past follies into present rectifications), but also because the negative lessons are important to avoid similar adversities in the rest of the world.

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