What is Europe?

In 2002 I transplanted myself, due to an impulse of and from the heart to the northern aspect of Europe from the cultural decay of San Francisco, California, USA. My heart is still in San Francisco, but not in its current iteration. One of my great-grandfathers emigrated there from Kentucky in the 1850s, adding to the colorful characters having already arrived, and providing my paternal line with some roots and memories. Additionally, three of my grandparents arrived from Greece to San Francisco in the first decade of 1900, then gave birth to five children there.

Map of Europe. 1730
Emerson Kent

Since moving to Stockholm in 2002, I have visited many European cities which I wouldn’t have, had I not moved to Europe–cities in Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Czechia, Hungary, France, Spain, Croatia, Italy (very briefly in Venice), Malta, Greece, Denmark, Holland, Austria, perhaps others that I can’t bring quickly to mind.

I realize now I have always felt “European,” due to a number of factors: my father was steeped in the history and literature of Europe, and we had Europe, virtually, in our home through his declamations; I was a conscious entity throughout WWII; and, I collected stamps from throughout the world, especially European states and small regions which kept changing names and borders throughout the War and after. Additionally, my father was an active member of the San Francisco chapter of the Socialist Labor Party (he was clear in telling me that he was violently opposed to the Communists, being a ‘democratic’ socialist). We sometimes had loud people in the home arguing about events in Europe, especially in the USSR and Germany, as you can imagine. And, finally, both sides of my family have always loved the “classical” music of Europe, which is essential to sustain my spirit.

But, what IS Europe?

Well, Europe is old. It is both beautiful and grotesque, exemplifying the human condition, I suppose.

There is still some intellectual argument about the whole idea of Europe, a thing that doesn’t precisely exist, geographically, culturally.

There is a wonderful sculpture of Europa riding Zeus, as a bull, by Carl Milles at Millesgården in Lidingö, across the water from Stockholm City.

In Greek mythology, Europa was the mother of King Minos of Crete, a woman with Phoenician origin of high lineage, and after whom the continent Europe was named. The story of her abduction by Zeus in the form of a white bull was a Cretan story.

The notion of “Europe” as a distinct place in the world began around 2500 years ago with the ancient Greeks (of course), wanting, most simply put, to distinguish their world separately from that of the Persians. (I refer the reader to A Culture of Freedom: Ancient Greece and the Origins of Europe, by Christian Meier for a comprehensive and easily read discussion of “Europe.”)

One of the characteristics of this Europe of the Greeks is that it had no center.

The perspective was not that of someone looking out from his own palace, city, or empire, in every direction and dividing up the various countries (and people) from and towards that central position. Instead, the overall picture was determined from the point of view of someone well traveled, who was not tied to one location or ruler. The point of departure was the sea, or as Plato called it, the pond around which the Greeks squatted like frogs—a universal element belonging to everyone and no one. This view of the world captured the multitude of countries existing side by side, privileging none of them.

… (T)here are many reasons not to define Europe ethnically in terms of people, per se, but it terms of what uniquely permeated and challenged them, what opened up such a massive realm of possibilities for them, and enabled them… either to take possession of or exert decisive influence over the entire world… Lionel Jones speaks of the European miracle. What he means by that is… a discrete—European—culture.

…(I)n the Middle Ages it was essentially necessary to start from scratch. No matter how intensively people may have oriented themselves time and time again towards antiquity, since the Carolingian Renaissance, … it was a unique process of cultural formation in Europe (which) has continued since. (Source)

Neither being a scholar nor classically educated, I don’t have a clear history of things and events European in my noggin to draw upon. I have bits and pieces: Socrates and his pupils Aristotle and Plato, the French Revolution, the Catholic church and Martin Luther’s defection, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, etc.

As travel Europe I see physical results of these ideas and events, mostly churches and general architecture, the arts and music, waterways, landscapes, many monuments to fallen soldiers and murdered peoples.

LA VILLE DE HONFLEUR
A SES ENFANTS DES ARMEES DE TERRE ET DE MER
MORTS POUR LA PATRIE 1914 – 1918

And the people. I am two people in any given country. I am American, and I feel, if not entirely European, a great affinity for the Europeans I see and meet. It helps to have had the experience of living five frightening and intense years in Brooklyn during my ages nine to fourteen and having gone to high school in Manhattan. I encountered many people with frankly European ethnicities—it was (still is?) part of their individual identities. Everyone in our working-class neighborhood was Irish, Italian, some residual Scandinavians, single representatives of a few others. But, we also were Americans, and proud of it.

What I love are what my father loved: the arts and music, the sciences, the literature to a limited degree, not having any language but English.

In the end, however, it is the values exemplified by the revered works of Europeans, infused as they have been by Ancient Greek and, later, Christian ideals. I cannot be a professed Christian because I don’t hanker for a savior and feel in charge of my own soul. But there is no denying that Jesus Christ as a teacher and exemplar has inspired the great works.

Having written the above I now have to make a choice: do I listen to Mozart’s Great Mass in C minor, or do I listen to Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater?

Thanks for reading.

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Virtual Princes, Virtual Wealth

I start by asserting that the fundamental sources of true wealth are in the earth and the sea. Some people create new wealth by transforming the lives and minerals grown in and extracted from these two sources into useful things for themselves and others.

A third level of wealth arising from these transformations is created by those who transport these useful things over land and sea (and through the air, beginning the 20th Century) to those who will use them.

The land and the sea are our wealth, not money, and not decorations such as jewels and mansions and other excesses.

What stimulated this train thought was my reading of The Leopard, by Tomasi di Lampedusa.

The fictional, but real, “Prince of Salina (‘The Leopard’),” was a noble in the Southern Italian province of Salerno, Sicily, until it was co-opted then dissolved by the beginnings of the new Italian State in 1861.

The Prince owned land, inherited from his ancestors. The residents of his lands were his de facto subjects.

Historical kings and princes of both sexes were in their exalted and privileged positions because the wealth they possessed, the only true wealth—land and its fruits, and the means through which they are transformed into useful goods.

With privilege came the princes’ responsibility for their subjects, sanctified or at least supported by the Church, which also owned extensive lands. Some princes and princesses acted in ways to warrant respect and fealty from their subjects, others didn’t. The ones who didn’t were sometimes overthrown by their subjects, leaving political vacuums to be filled by other princes or by new forms of governance.

Today, princes no longer, for the most part, own land. They own… well what do they own? Shares in large corporations, both privately owned and investor-owned (i.e., with shares traded on stock markets).

The Prince was depressed (about the politicians and their soldiers dissolving the status quo and creating new, more complicated social and political structures). ‘All this shouldn’t last. But it will, always; the human ‘always’ of course. A century, two centuries … and after that it will be different, but worse. We were the Leopards and Lions; those who’ll take our place will be little jackals, hyenas; and the whole lot of us, Leopards, jackals and sheep, we’ll go on thinking ourselves the salt of the earth.

Who are the princes of today? Are they leopards and lions, or are they jackals, hyenas, or other animals? (Let us not discuss politicians who are, with exceptions, lackeys of today’s princes.)

Here is the net worth of the “top ten” (measured in billions of dollars, 2018; source = Forbes Magazine).


A few of these ten people hold real wealth, that is, land. Jeff Bezos, the Koch brothers, and the Larry Ellison family are among the holders of the largest privately owned tracts of land in the USA:

From: “AMERICA’S 100 LARGEST LANDOWNERS 2017” (Source)

1. John Malone
2. Ted Turner
3. Emmerson Family
4. Stan Kroenke
5. Reed Family
6. Irving Family
7. Brad Kelley
8. Singleton Family
9. King Ranch Heirs
10. Pingree Heirs

28. Jeff Bezos

55. Koch Family

91. (Larry) Ellison Family

What are these landholders doing with the land? In 2015, ninety percent of U.S. farms were small, family operated farms, with under $350,000 in annual gross revenue. These small farms, however, accounted for only twenty-four percent of the value of overall farm production. Large-scale family farms with at least $1 million in gross revenue made up only 2.9 percent of U.S. farms but contributed forty-two percent of total production. Nonfamily farms accounted for only 11 percent of agricultural production. (Source)

So, it seems that these landholders, are not, by and large, farmers or ranchers. (However, seeing the name “King Ranch” on the list warns me not to be too glib.)

Landholders in 19th Century Europe, and in prior centuries, tended to live on the land they owned or controlled on behalf of a monarch, each being a part of the community they dominated and supported. They presided over important cultural/religious events and defended their territory from invaders and usurpers who endangered the wealth, that is the land, which was truly the people’s because their lives depended on it.

Now, as seen above, in the USA ninety percent of land in production is owned and managed by small families. These are small but true principalities, insofar as state and national taxation and other laws will allow them to be so.

But back to the dollar-wealthy princes worth billions.

Many of the wealthy people and corporations listed above own things that create wealth, such as machines which serve farmers and miners and oil drillers and those who harvest the seas. Evermore, however, we see wealthy people who are in charge of keeping track of things and in holding and transmitting information. Information is now in the cloud; we have entered a new age of virtual, non-tangible reality.

Hence, we now have non-tangible, virtual princes to pay homage and fealty to. We have become dependent on the virtual tools and information they dispense. We see their corporate names throughout the world, and we see diminishing differences among capital cities.

The narrator of The Leopard makes these observations as the Prince of Salina lay on his deathbed:

“…  (T)he significance of a noble family lies entirely in its traditions, that is in its vital memories; and he was the last to have any unusual memories, anything different from those of other families…”

 

Posted in Books & Literature, Economics, Government & Politics, History, wealth | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments