Horror Vacui: The Crisis of Meaning of the Globalized World, as Demonstrated by the EU. A Jungian Approach
What does globalization mean? But actually, is there any meaning to it? If not, could one be edified? By whom, on what grounds, how and, after all, why would it matter? I will partly explore all these questions, with special regard to the European Union and, maybe surprisingly, on the grounds of Jungian analytical psychology (with some tints of phenomenology and hermeneutics).
Following Husserl and Jaspers, my understanding of the meaning of the concept of “meaning” would amount to the following: any personal or collective representation, partaking in the (quasi-)systematic structure of (some-)one’s self-understanding against the backdrop of one’s encompassing world (both culturally and existentially) and concomitantly serving a descriptive, explicative and teleological function within the intentional flux of self-awareness, respectively within one’s interaction with the world and fellow humans. Zaki Laïdi seems to be in agreement with such a characterization when writing that the concept of meaning essentially involves three aspects: a ground, an identity feeling and a telos.
Our specific globalization
Moving forward, I think a proper way of interpreting the process of globalization would be through Edward Lorenz’s Butterfly Effect, that is as an accelerated interdependentization of the global causality, respectively as a marked increase, both extensively and intensively, in the interdependence between the different fields, levels and regions of human society, civilization and culture. As such, against the backdrop of globalization, phenomena that would previously have had only local or, at most, medium level consequences can now reach global impact (and that ever more rapidly). Through globalization, the world self-compressed, if you will. Consequently, humanity became ever more exposed to endogenous unpredictability for the management of which it developed, mostly during the 20th century, various projects, systems or sub-systems of collective control. The European Union is one of them – I think we might count as other examples thereof the League of Nations, the various world peace or international security organizations, the totalitarian systems and, more recently, even the various IT control systems.
Against the backdrop of globalization, phenomena that would previously have had only local or, at most, medium level consequences can now reach global impact. Through globalization, the world self-compressed.
But why would all this induce a global crisis of meaning, in other words, why would globalization threaten to devoid humanity (or significant parts of it) of ground, identity or finality? My answer would be that, hopefully, this is not something inexorable, but rather contingent upon our form of globalization. In other words, although I do not think that globalization would necessarily have such nihilistic consequences, the way in which it happened to emerge at this stage human history threatens to lead us thereto. Again, why? Because globalization essentially happened to progressively assert itself, at least since the modern age, in close connection with the overinflation of the techno-instrumental rationality and to the detriment of the teleological-holistic rationality. An explanation for this might be that the ever-increasing competition between the rising nation states, spanning across the entire modern age, provided the favourable socio-political framework: the techno-instrumental rationality could provide immediate and concrete advantages within such ever-increasing interstate competition, the teleological-holistic one could not, or at least not in the short run. Of course, the Industrial Revolution has accelerated and intensified this process that consequently, in the long run, has come to fundamentally reshape the European Weltanschauung or worldview. Ultimately, the mass production engendered, in ever more efficient ways, by the Industrial Revolution has also brought, aside from technological progress and sustained increases in life expectancy, standardization, instrumentalization and massification in both cultural and existential senses. The accelerated population growth that, with certain regional differences, has accompanied globalization all through its history, has provided the favourable demographic conditions as well. As a side note, it is remarkable how the fear of the alienating effects of mass society was shared by many important 19th and 20th centuries’ thinkers who were otherwise very different in terms of background or philosophical and political views: Delacroix, de Tocqueville, Marx, Nietzsche, Husserl, Freud, Heidegger, Jung, Marcuse, Ortega y Gasset etc.
All this, conjoined with the marked bellicosity of the European Weltanschauung as reshaped within the aforementioned progressive inter-state competition spanning all through modernity and post-modernity created an explosive mixture: nationalism, as aggressive assertion of the alleged superiority of one’s national culture, civilization and, in extreme cases, even biology is probably the most historically influential and poignant phenomenon in this respect.
The EU case
An explanation for this might be that the ever-increasing competition between the rising nation states, spanning across the entire modern age, provided the favourable socio-political framework for techno-instrumental rationality.
The European Union is one of the most salient collective projects for the prevention and control of the endogenous unpredictability emergent within the context of this form of globalization. But I think that, unfortunately, the European Union, along its evolution, has not taken seriously enough the cultural dimension of Europeanness or, as much as it did, it conceived it (intentionally or not) by analogy with the models already tested during the historical construction of the modern nation state. In nuce, as noted by Stephan Elbe, the so-called integration was conceived in terms of economic or political know how, rather than cultural, the basic idea (or hope) being that a purely functional integration would bring about by itself a specific culture as well. But the latter kept failing to emerge, up to the point where the European Union has come to face the serious identity and, correlatively, legitimacy problems of today.
The European Union is one of the most salient collective projects for the prevention and control of the endogenous unpredictability emergent within the context of this form of globalization.
Now, on a milder note, it would be unfair to claim that the European Union has completely neglected the cultural dimension of integration, but, on the other hand, we could rightfully claim that, to the extent to which it has attempted to do something in this respect, the so-called European culture was mainly conceived by analogy with the models pretested within the context of the historical edification of the modern nation state. In a coarse way, one might claim that the European Anthem, Flag and Day are things that, by their very source and symbolic form, are rather associated, within the collective psyche, with the national conflictual entities and therefore in contradictory tension with the EU motto: United in diversity! In Jungian terms, we might say that, onto them, as symbolic forms, i.e. Anthem, Flag, etc., the history of the conflicts within which they appeared and evolved as such gets projected. Consequently, the aforementioned motto, the circle on the flag (as a supposed symbol of unity) or the fact that the anthem is Ode to Joy appear in this context as unconvincing.
In search of answers
What solution could there be to all this? Well, firstly and quite obviously, the EU should take the cultural dimension of integration much more seriously than it has until now and that especially with respect to its holistic-teleological aspect. Secondly, it should somehow attempt to determine and bring forth the subjacent cultural layer of Europeanness, against the backdrop of that of humanity in general and then attempt to, non-abusively, reinterpret in its terms the elements of national specificity.
The so-called integration was conceived in terms of economic or political know how, rather than cultural, the basic idea (or hope) being that a purely functional integration would bring about by itself a specific culture as well. But the latter kept failing to emerge, up to the point where the European Union has come to face the serious identity and, correlatively, legitimacy problems of today.
Here, the Jungian distinction between the archetype and the archetypal image may prove very useful. As we know, according to Jung, the archetype is the constitutive substructure of the collective unconscious, fulfilling a regulative role with respect to the personally lived experience, be it conscious or unconscious. The archetypes provide us with certain trans-individual phylogenetic schemata for the typologization of the collectively or individually relevant experiences, i.e., the content of the latter is integrated within such essential forms (eidé) belonging to humanity in general. The archetypal images, on the other hand, are the result of the interaction between the archetypes and the specific culture of a certain community or age: they translate, if you will, the meaning of the archetypes in the imagological language of the present. As such, while the archetypes are hereditary, the archetypal images are cultural. One of the fields that express most clearly these dialectics between the archetype and the archetypal image, on the one hand, the collective and the personal unconscious, on the other, is quite expectedly art:
“The creative process, so far as we are able to follow it at all, consists in the unconscious activation of an archetypal image, and in elaborating and shaping this image into the finished work. By giving it shape, the artist translates it into the language of the present, and so makes it possible for us to find our way back to the deepest springs of life. Therein lies the social significance of art: it is constantly at work educating in the spirit of an age, conjuring up the forms in which the age is most lacking. The unsatisfied yearning of the artist reaches back to the primordial image in the unconscious which is best fitted to compensate the inadequacy and one-sidedness of the present. The artist seizes on this image, and in raising it from the deepest unconsciousness he brings it into relation with conscious values, thereby transforming it until it can be accepted by the minds of his contemporaries according to their powers”.
As such, a substantive foundation for the European unity could be found precisely by laying bare the archetypal substratum of the allegedly specifically national images, institutions and behaviours, in other words, through their archetypalization: roughly, this would involve their reinterpretation and determination as different archetypal images of the same archetype (or series of archetypes). The obvious advantage provided by the eventual success of such an undertaking is that it would render possible the harmonious integration of the specifically national elements without any homogenization, given that an archetype can be expressed in a potentially infinite variety of archetypal images and complexes, each valid in its own way. Understood in these terms, the historical construction of the modern nation state has actually hyperpotentiated certain images with specific relevance for certain political communities, at the same time repressing (intentionally or not) their subjacent collectively-human substratum, precisely in order to create (or one might even say invent), by semi-ordered culturalization, political communities with a specific and, most frequently, agonistic identity. In a Jungian interpretation, besides the bellicose consequences of this phenomenon, which are historically obvious enough, subtracted from their archetypal foundation, these collective representations became weak, unconvincing, artificial and, consequently, legitimable only by the nation state’s monopoly on the legitimate use of collective violence, i.e., authority. The archetypalization of these elements of national specificity would render possible their harmonious and non-homogenizing integration, while at the same time replenishing their psychological persuasiveness.
As such, a substantive foundation for the European unity could be found precisely by laying bare the archetypal substratum of the allegedly specifically national images, institutions and behaviours, in other words, through their archetypalization.
Another advantage would derive from the fact that the archetype is, in principle, oblivious to the distinction between secular and religious, it can be expressed in images, institutions or behaviours of both natures. Therefore, the archetypalization would also allow us to close the ever-expanding gap between the religious and the irreligious man, which is an ever more pressing problem in post-modernity.
At the same time and for the same reasons, the archetypalization would also allow for the integration and peaceful coexistence of elements belonging to various mythical-religious traditions, thereby instituting, again in a non-coercive and non-homogenizing way, one of the basic principles of the EU, namely tolerant coexistence: to the extent that the sacred is, in one way or another, a definitive problem for humanity, i.e., a question to which the human being is unrelentingly pushed, by its own nature, to find an answer, the way in which this happens, the answer found as well as the actual living by this answer may legitimately vary with each culture, religion and, ultimately, individual, at least as long as this does not infringe upon the others’ possibility in doing the same for themselves. Archetypalization would allow for the actual and effective assertion of this form of tolerance which, I think, becomes ever more necessary in a globalized world.
The archetypalization of these elements of national specificity would render possible their harmonious and non-homogenizing integration, while at the same time replenishing their psychological persuasiveness.
But beyond all this, I think that archetypalization would, most importantly, enable humanity to overcome the most serious problem faced by today’s world globalized as mass society: what Heidegger called the instrumentalizalization of Being, i.e., the understanding and treatment of all relevant aspects of both human existence and nature in general as mere resources (Bestand) for the productive complex (Ge-stell) devoid of any telos outside of production itself, a phenomenon which both him and Jung lay at the basis of all the problems related to the growing alienation of post-modernity.
In my opinion, archetypalization could bring about the rebalancing of today’s humanity on four fundamental levels:
- between the techno-instrumental and the teleological-holistic dimensions of rationality;
- between the rational consciousness and the unconscious;
- between the individuality and the collectivity;
- between humanity as a whole and nature.
In other words, through archetypalization, each fact and aspect of existence would be connected (in its specificity) to the comprising community and, through it, to humanity in general, both synchronically (the global culture) and diachronically (history).
How could this archetypalization be enacted? By what means? Although an exhaustive answer to this question is beyond my present possibilities, I think that, for the moment, I could indicate at least the field in which this process might start: art. Why art rather than other fields? Because, at least as I see it, art, by its pronounced symbolic character, holds a more direct and, maybe, intimate relation to the unconscious (both individual and collective). Furthermore, it can engage its subject/subjects in a both passive-contemplative sense (i.e., as spectator) and active-creative (as author) and can cover, at the same time, both the individual and the collective dimensions of personality. Moreover, art is easier and more spontaneously accessible for the common man, than other spiritual fields, all the more in our post-modern age with its unprecedented development of the information and communication technology. On the other hand, there is still the issue of whether the IT and media technology is adequate in this respect, but, precisely because it is, I think it should be discussed separately.
The archetypalization would also allow for the integration and peaceful coexistence of elements belonging to various mythical-religious traditions, thereby instituting, again in a non-coercive and non-homogenizing way, one of the basic principles of the EU, namely tolerant coexistence.
Novalis, Fichte, Schelling and the other German romantics had initially envisioned a re-sacralization of the world through art (Weltvergӧttlichung). What I have in mind through the concept of archetypalization is something similar, but, as we have seen, grounded in Jung’s analytical psychology which, by its openness, mindfulness and attention to specificity, could protect this undertaking from abusive ideological distortions as it, unfortunately, was the case with the original project of the romantics.
Elbe, S. 2003. Europe: A Nietzschean Perspective, Routledge, New York.
Heidegger, M. 2000. “Überwindung der Metaphysik”. In Gesamtausgabe. Band 7, Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main.
Jung, C.G. 1972. “On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry”. In Collected Works XV.
Jung, C.G. 1981. “The Concept of the Collective Unconscious”. In Collected Works IX, Part I.
Laïdi, Z. 1998. A World Without Meaning: The Crisis of Meaning in International Politics. Routledge, London.
 Zaki Laïdi, A World Without Meaning: The Crisis of Meaning in International Politics, trans. June Burnham and Jenny Coulon, London: Routledge, 1998.
 A rigorous and far-reaching analysis of the origins and meaning of this phenomenon on the level of the European cultural history can be found in Husserl’s Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology.
 “(…) the founding fathers of the European project had deliberately avoided an overtly revolutionary process of European federalism, opting instead for a strategy that would achieve unification of Europe more gradually. By focusing on piecemeal and sectoral integration it was hoped that cooperation between states was more likely to ensue in the long run, and that such cooperation could, in turn, breed a habit of further cooperation which would induce ever greater steps towards integration. Eventually, loyalties would begin to shift from nation-states to supranational institutions. In this way, the functionalist mode of integration might over time culminate in a federal Europe. The founding fathers had thus adopted a policy that did not cast the European question in spiritual or philosophical terms, deliberately refusing to deploy new ascetic ideals. Instead, it placed economics before politics, making the latter a function of the former, and relied on the logic of the market to drive forward the political project of Europe”. In Elbe, Stephan, Europe: A Nietzschean Perspective, Routledge, New York, 2003, p. 80.
 Jung, C.G. “On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry” in Complete Works XV, pp. 820-883.