Still a Community of Values?: Historical Reflections on the Normative Basis of the West

Oct 09, 2007

Lecture at Johns Hopkins University, SAIS, Kenney Auditorium | Lecture by Heinrich August Winkler (Humboldt University Berlin), Comment by Stephen F. Szabo (The German Marshall Fund)

Organized by The American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, the German Historical Institute, the Goethe-Institut, the Institute for European, Russia and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University, and the BMW Center for German and European Studies at Georgetown University

“Europe is not a place, but an idea,” many philosophers proclaim. But what are the commonalities to which Europeans lay claim? What is the background of this idea, a concept so strong that it formed the basis of today’s European Union? The values referred to by the European Union are the values that Western Europe has in common with the great democracies of the western world. But does this community of values still exist?

In his lecture Prof. Heinrich August Winkler, the prominent historian from Berlin’s Humboldt University, and author of the recent book, Germany: The Long Road West (Oxford University Press, 2006), follows the West’s long path to the division of power, the inalienable rights of humankind, and pluralistic democracy. At the end is a plea to the listener to understand the political culture of the West as “Streitkultur,” as a culture of conflict. Transatlantic controversies about political conclusions, a result of western values, are necessary again and again. It’s really a matter of the interpretation of values that both sides understand as obligatory. Prof. Winkler has been a Kennedy Memorial Fellow at Harvard University; a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C., and a fellow of Berlin’s Institute for Advanced Study (Wissenschaftskolleg).

Winkler’s lecture will be followed by comments from Dr. Stephen F. Szabo, Executive Director of the Transatlantic Academy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Prior to joining GMF, Dr. Szabo was with the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, and with AICGS as Research Director. He has written on German foreign and security policies, generational politics in Europe, transatlantic security, and political relations.