Is There a Crisis of Values in Europe?
Good morning. Today’s lecture is the first of two lectures on
Without Roots: The West, Relativism,
by Marcello Pera and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. It is also
the first lecture in the final section of the course, to which we have given the title
Ideal in a Fractured World
I will begin today’s lecture with a brief account of some of the major themes in this section of the
I will then turn to an examination of
, focusing on three central claims made in
this work. First, that contemporary Europe (not just France) is in a state of grave moral and political
crisis, that it is, in fact, in a state of perhaps irreversible decline. Second, that among the most
important causes of this crisis is the rise of a debilitating moral relativism that makes it difficult, if not
impossible, for Europeans to defend their own values in the face of the powerful challenge posed by
In this section, I will not address the philosophical problem of relativism so much as
its political consequences. Third, that the root source of European unity and identity is Christianity and
that the pervasive secularism of modern Europe is both a major symptom of European decline and one
of its most important underlying causes. I will only taking a glancing look at this last theme, however,
since it will be the focus of next Monday’s lecture.
So, to repeat for the sake of clarity, there are three main claims in
, all of which are
controversial: 1. There is crisis of values in Europe. 2. Moral relativism makes it impossible for Europe
to defend its values. 3. The historical source of European unity is Christianity and contemporary
secularism is an obstacle, if not the obstacle, to the reconstituting of that unity.
Before I begin I think I should address one possible objection to using
as a reading.
Namely, that at least part of it, that written by then Cardinal Ratzinger, represents a sectarian religious
standpoint, Roman Catholicism, and hence falls out of the bounds of legitimate scholarly discourse. I
should note that at the time the book was published, Ratzinger was Prefect of the Congregation for the
Doctrine of Faith and right-hand man to John Paul II on matters of Catholic doctrine. This is the lineal
descendent of what used to be known as the Roman Inquisition. Ratzinger was known as the
for his tough-minded defense of Catholic Orthodoxy.
I myself see no reason why the views of a serious religious thinker like Pope Benedict XVI should be
considered out of bounds - theology is an academic discipline after all, even if its subject-matter
doesn’t exist, as Ratzinger himself joked in his Regensburg address. Ratzinger posses an impressive
intellect, he is strongly committed to the use of reason and writes not only for the faithful, but for non-
believers as well. His address at the University of Regensburg, for example, which caused an uproar