Home of the European Prospect
Start ||| The Philosophical Europe ||| The Political Progress ||| European Witness
Blog ||| Special Homages: Meister Eckhart / David Copperfield

Karl Jaspers, The Spirit of Europe

La Braconniere, Neuchatel, 1957


      This fundamentally dialectical reality of Europe is rooted in its remotest traditions: the tension between poles can already be found uniquely hidden within the pages of the Bible, that pillar of European life. It is the sacred book which, down the millennia, has allowed every contradictory possibility to flourish with its blessing. 

Diversity Shapes Europe

If the barbarian invasions had not taken place, if the Germanic tribes had not succeeded in breaking the Roman yoke, if instead all the unoccupied North of Europe had also been incorporated into the Empire and the nations had suffered the loss of their liberty and their own character and been transformed into provinces with the same uniformity, there would not have been this magnificent struggle or this broad development of the human mind within these new nations. And yet it is precisely this richness, this diversity that makes Europe what it is, which gives it the advantage of being the most favourable seat for the life and culture and Mankind. This Europe, free and rich, would not therefore exist, and in its place there would be but a Single Rome in which everything would be mingled and merged; and instead of this copious European history, the annals of the Single Roman Empire would be matched by those Chinese chronicles which are so sadly unvarying. (...)

Europe is the country of liberty, that is to say of the formation - as a result of the rivalry between states - of forces that are particular and different from one another. Down the centuries this diversity has become the distinctive characteristic in the forming of Europe, for even after the constitution of great states and nations, the essence of that original characteristic remained intact.

Schlegel, Notes on Modern History

At the very heart of Europe we find the great antithesis of Antiquity and Christianity, opposites that have fought one another and united with one another through the centuries, right down to our own times. The fertile conflicts between Church and State, between nations and Empires, between Romanic and Germanic nations, between Catholicism and Protestantism, between theology and philosophy - between Russia and America today - these too are European. Europe unites extreme opposites: world and transcendence, science and faith, material technology and religion.

Europe betrays her liberty when she loses these antitheses and is appeased, either by espousing an order that forgets it has limits, or by going to extremes that preclude any order because of partiality, or by settling for one of the poles and believing it to be everything. But Europe is her true self again when she is open, when she is free in the tension of her opposites, when she keeps her possibilities and when, through all her changing situations, drawing from her sources, she is able to develop her creative genius unceasingly and unpredictably.


The freedom of the European tends to extreme limits, it seeks the depths of destruction. The European moves through despair towards a revived confidence, through nihilism towards a sound awareness of himself; he lives in the anguish that is the spur of his good faith.

Two other European phenomena are taking root in freedom: an awareness of history and the will of science.

Only in the West is the idea of freedom linked to the freedom of external conditions, even in the individual consciousness. Social freedom, religious freedom, personal freedom depend on one another. But since freedom is never for everyone, and since therefore it is not, in the western sense, for anyone, history is vital to the conquest of freedom. Thus the need for freedom produces history.

   Lecture on September 13, 1946

   Freedom keeps the European anxious and agitated, for he desires freedom but at the same time he knows he does not have it. If he thinks he has it firmly in his possession, it is already lost. Freedom is the lot of man in general, but the European has realised this.

   What is freedom? Freedom is victory over the arbitrary.

Cf.  Jaspers: Truth is in communication.


Home of the European Prospect
Send a Comment ||| |||

get updates 
RSS Feeds / Ellopos Blog
sign up for Ellopos newsletter: