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Conflicts of European Values in Times of Turbulence

Published onMay 09, 2022
Conflicts of European Values in Times of Turbulence


The values  that function in today’s Europe have a twofold genealogy: a) fundamental values  whose homeland is Europe; b) values  imported from other cultures and civilizations. Heterogeneous values  always give rise to latent or manifested tensions and conflicts, but they are the basis of European prosperity. Europe has been going through unprecedented turbulence for the last 3-4 decades. In such a context, there are sharp conflicts of values  and it is difficult to strike a balance between unity and diversity. Social transformations are conditioned by a revaluation of values. Values perceived  as positive are considered as a result of changes in negative (depreciated). Value reorientations are registered by EVS’s longitudinal data regarding family and marriage, in relation to new forms of family life (unmarried family), in relation to national and ethnic identity, relations between religious denominations, etc. Waves of immigrants test fundamental European values. The growing complexity raises tensions between the principles of democracy and the new meritocracy. In periods of turbulence, the need for knowledge about the real functioning values and the conflicts between them is ex- acerbated. EVS gives a positive answer to this need. People see what they know and it is crucial what and how they see the changing world.


3.1 European Values as Ambiguous in Terms of Their Genealogy

The term ‘European values’ is ambiguous in terms of their genealogy. One meaning refers to the values that define European civilization, European cul- ture, the spiritual form of Europe. The homeland (genealogy) of these values is Europe. The other meaning refers to values functioning  in modern Europe, including values  transferred through migration from other civilizations and cultures (genealogy). Some European values  in the substantial sense of the term have become universal. The universalization of European values has al- ways and in many places met with resistance, and today in many parts of the world there is fierce resistance. In general, the same cannot be said of the transfer of values from outside Europe. Europe’s openness to others is determined  by a number of factors, among which such fundamental European values as  tolerance, pluralism, democracy, multiculturalism that are of key importance.

Taken in themselves, values in general, like numbers, are imaginary and a priori. From the point of view of the philosophy of values, there are positive and negative values: good-evil, beautiful-ugly, etc. The values  functioning in society, studied by empirical sciences such as sociology, are positive or negative depending on their perception. For example, after the implosion of the totalitarian-communist system in Bulgaria, the values  previously considered positive are considered negative. This is the case with every crisis of values and their  revaluation (Fotev 1999a; Fotev 1999b; Fotev, 2012). Empirical sciences such as sociology take values  as a prerequisite or a given issues that philosophy and especially axiology deal with. An empirical science of values  does not provide answers to philosophical questions and does not solve such problems, just as philosophical axiology is dangerous and harmful when it enters the value field of empirical science.

The philosophy of values has a long and fruitful tradition in Europe, but this  is not the case with the empirical study of the values functioning in European  societies. EVS is an unprecedented project. The success of this project is due to the fruitful collaboration of researchers from all European countries involved in EVS. Everyone is grateful to the distinguished scholar and researcher, our dear friend Loek Halman, who has dedicated several decades to EVS. His name is well known and respected among academics in my country.

The theory (theoretical model) of values for the empirical study is of paramount importance. Empirical social science in its theoretical part is in dialogue with philosophy. Inevitably, two different perspectives intersect. The present analysis and in-depth interpretation of EVS data on conflicts of values implies the necessary intersection of the two disparate perspectives.

There are different heterogeneous value spheres, which are in an irreconcilable struggle with each other. “And we know that something can be beautiful not just although it is not good but even in the very aspect that lacks goodness” (Weber 2004: 22). Values are self-founded, as are the gods. “These goods and  their struggles are ruled over by fate, and certainly not by ‘science’” (Weber 2004: 23). The heterogeneous spheres of values and their conflicts, which are  latent and manifested, are dominated by fate, not by one science or another. But if values  are not chosen by people, they are fictions, and in that sense neither destiny nor science has anything to do with them. However, when a value is chosen and functions in the life world of people, in society, it determines the real social actions (individual or collective). People of flesh and blood, individual members of society, groups, communities and nations make valuable choices in every social action. The choice is a conscious or unconscious conflict or tension between values. The big problem is managing conflicts and tensions between values.

The in-depth interpretation of the empirical data on conflicts between values functioning in the European society is revealing the context of the registered differentiated value choice of the respondents, representing the general aggregates of the separate studied European societies. It is a question of the boundaries of context and, in this sense, of the depth of interpretation. In principle, depth is bottomless, and therefore interpretation as illuminating the context has a rational limitation. Beyond our borders is destiny. And from the inner side of the border are the possibilities of managing tensions and conflicts between heterogeneous values.


3.2 The Difficult Balance Between Unity and Diversity

EVS embraces the values  that function in European society. The concept of European society has cognitive legitimacy because national societies within Europe’s geographical borders are not closed but open to each other, and within the European Union there is even greater reason to talk about European society. The field of EVS are differentiated national societies, which provides opportunities for comparative research of data from each wave, as well as in longitudinal terms. This format of the study includes value tensions and conflicts in the different societies between the main European positive and negative values regarding the integration and diversification in the European society.

European integration is fundamentally a value issue, but not just concerning values. At the heart of the complex question is whether integration is identified with homogenization or whether integration is based on cultural diversity, preservation and strengthening of the value identity of national societies, traditions and autopoiesis. These two views and policies, respectively, are two different orders of values. Europe is divided into several regions, which differ typologically in their appearance as European countries with specific characteristics and features, incl. of value order (Dyson, Sepos 2012: 83 ff; 215 ff ). Europe’s cultural unity and diversity is multidimensional and historically determined. “To gain insight into the unity of European cultural diversity and the diversity of European unity we need to attain a good understanding of the complex history of shifting fault lines. Such an understanding is also crucial for understanding the results of the European Values Study surveys (…). The most obvious dividing line is the one that separates Western Europe from Eastern Europe, with a wide transitional zone, sometimes called Central Europe, stretching from the Baltic to the Balkans. Yet one has to insist that the West-East division has never been fixed or permanent. Probably the most durable is the line between Catholic (Latin) Christianity and Orthodox (Greek) Christianity” (Arts, Hagenaars, Halman 2003: 81). Diversity without tolerance, pluralism and other related fundamental values  is becoming a source of constant latent or manifested value tensions and conflicts, as are well known in Europe. “The division of Europe into two opposing halves, therefore, is not entirely fanciful. It rides, however, roughshod over many other lines of division of equal importance. It ignores serious differences both within the West and within the East and it ignores the strong historic division between North and South” (Arts, Hagenaars, Halman 2003: 81). The quoted book also points out the divisions related to the confrontation between Catholicism and Protestantism. “Taking the full range of factors into consideration one can only conclude that to see Europe’s cultural fault lines one should not divide Europe into two regions, but at least into four or five overlapping ones. Despite their differences all the regions of Europe still hold a great deal in common. (…) Despite their own antagonisms, they share fears and anxieties about influences from outside – whether from America, from Africa, or from Asia. Fundamental unity is no less obvious than manifest diversity” (Arts, Hagenaars, Halman. 2003: 82). Different pictures of European values  are possible, some of which are sustainable and others much more volatile. The disturbed balance between unity and diversity creates turbulence. The metaphor of turbulence is in many cases closer to what Schumpeter calls creative destruction. Unlike a crisis in turbulence, when a crisis is not included, it is clear from the beginning what values  a part of society is focused on and there is no search for a way out of the chaos (crisis), which is typical for the crisis.


3.3 Driving Forces of Values’ Tensions

Every significant social change (transformation) is value-conditioned and leads to a change in the constellation of values  functioning in European society. The five waves of EVS register the connection between values  and social change. When changes are large-scale and radical or epochal, value problems become visible to all, as a war rages between heterogeneous values, there are clashes between forces which are for a reassessment of values  and those that are for the status quo. Particular to society, which is for the established order of values,  sees the revaluation as the destruction of the values and foundations of  society. Such a radical and, in a sense, unprecedented transformation was the implosion of the totalitarian-communist system and the transition of the former communist countries to democracy and a market economy. The implosion of the totalitarian-communist system is an unprecedented event. Radical social change can always be the result of an explosion (wars, including civil wars, bloodshed, violence, etc.) rather than a “Velvet Revolution”. The time has come for a dramatic reassessment of values. The totalitarian-communist system is falling apart and its values  are considered negative (Fotev 2009b: 1115). Wars of values are the result of social and existential turbulence and generate turbulence. Europe and the world are nowadays in turbulence and seem to be in a crisis of values. The issue that concerns all Europeans is the next Europe.

European society has a central place and importance for globalization, which has certain values  as driving forces, but globalization itself has no final values and goals, which gives an answer to the related value disorder. Globalization is fuelling sharp conflicts of values, and the end of this war seems hopeless. “The new world in which we now live is giving many citizens much to fear, including the uprooting of many previously stable sources of identity and security. Where change is most rapid, widening disparities in the distribution of income are a key concern. It is indeed an age of turbulence, and it would be imprudent and immoral to minimize the human cost of its disruptions” (Greenspan, 2007:18). In the context of globalization, every order of values is shaken to its founda- tions and there is a disorder or feverish rearrangement of values, which naturally passes through conflicts between values. Globalization means an enormous intensification of international contacts and this also evokes resistance. As a reflex against globalization, people turn to their own familiar culture and values. The threat that globalization gives rise to mobilizes the protection of and desire for one’s own culture, traditions, rites and way of life. Regretfully, it also results in opposition to immigrants and foreigners. This trend of anti-globalisation is very strong; I think that if you assess the European values today, you will witness the inclination towards tradition clearly. People have become more traditional, more conservative“ (Arts, Hagenaars, Halman. 2003: 61). When an in-depth interpretation of individual EVS data sets is performed, the meanings in relation to the global context take place.

Aren’t the global media fundamentally changing a new self-determination of man’s place in the world? Norris and Inglehart (2009) shed a lot of light on these multidimensional and contradictory processes: by analysing and interpreting data from the World Values  Survey (WVS) and European Values  Surveys (EVS).

The fourth industrial revolution, also called the digital revolution, transformed European society and gave rise to a new constellation of European values. „People living in contemporary European society are not only believed to be more autonomous and free to decide for themselves, they are also assumed to experience a wide variety of influences from other parts of the world“ (Arts, Hagenaars, Halman. 2003: 378). Social reality becomes dualistic as virtual or online social reality occupies most of the time budget and in many cases almost all the waking time of the day for large groups of society, for a huge number of professions. EVS covers the real social world, the reality offline. In the future, it is necessary to take into account the online social world, as well as the interactions of social workers with intelligent machines and non-humans.

The family is not a basic cell of society, as Auguste Comte believed, but it is the center of the most sensitive aspects of human life. Basic values of the family  undergo a radical reassessment. Accepted as socially valid, enshrined in moral norms positive values  become negative, and considered negative values are tacitly  or openly accepted as positive. In addition to data from the third and fifth waves of EVS, one in five Europeans considers marriage to be an outdated institution. Of course, there are differences in the shares across countries, such as in some countries, which consider marriage as a residual institution between 20% and 30%, for others between 30% and 40%, which are not complete pictures, as indicated and often considered in different countries (Halman 2001:129; EVS, GESIS (2020). ”The claim that the concept of a normal family has become redundant is not to say that heterosexual, parent-child families with traditional gender roles have vanished. Rather, it is claimed that this particular family type now co-exists with a diverse range of living arrangements. This diversification of lifestyles and values means that perceptions of what is ‘normal’ are becoming relativized“ (Ester, Braun, Mohle 2006: 61). Since each norm is a socially required value, the refusal to accept a norm as socially valid is a matter of revaluation of value.

Growing complexity is a characteristic trend of late modern European society. The European of any nationality, ethnicity, religion, social status, is involved in more and more anonymous relations, which calls into question the traditional grounds of trust as a fundamental social value. In total, more than 40% of Europeans, according to the Fifth Wave of EVS, which covers 37 countries, trust the EU, and 38% rather do not trust and almost 17% do not trust at all (EVS, GESIS (2020). More and more citizens of EU member states express public dissatisfaction with the so-called “Brussels bureaucracy”. However, it must be borne in mind that negative judgments about the Brussels bureaucracy are, among other things, a non-reflective expression of the crisis of modern democracy.

In total, almost 89% of the citizens of the 37 countries covered by the fifth wave of EVS indicate a democratic system as a desirable system of governance. At the same time, more than 76% of citizens of European countries distrust political parties in their countries. The main democratic institution of democracy, the parliament has a distrust of over 62%, and in some countries such as Bulgaria, Slovenia, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the distrust is over 80%; in other countries the distrust is very close to such high values (EVS, GESIS (2020).. A comparative in-depth interpretation of the data would reveal common but also different grounds for negative value judgments. Reconciliation with such facts is perceived as fate, which is a sign of melancholy attitude to the political process. Another conflicting value issue is the relationship between democracy and the new meritocracy. On the scale of the fifth wave, more than half of European citizens, and in Albania, Croatia and other countries more than 80% or so, think that it is good for their countries to have collective, binding management decisions on experts, and the rest reject this opinion (EVS, GESIS, 2020). These are tendencies towards a vaguely understood meritocracy.

Immigration waves are causing extremely complex and multidimensional conflicts between a number of fundamental European values. The management of these conflicts needs virtuosity, in the sense of Hannah Arendt’s political term. It is not possible to discuss in more detail here today’s European situation, which hides many unknowns. The neglect of European and, within its framework, other collective identities, inevitably leads to a crisis of individual identity, and seems to foreshadow the threshold of post-human society. We need to listen to the following conclusion: “The results of our analyses seem to suggest that there is no unique trajectory of value change. (…) Value orientations appear dependent upon specific national contexts and a nation’s historical development” (Arts, Hagenaars, Halman 2003: 47-48). The unity of differences is an endless task of European reason.

3.4 Prioritization as a Way of Managing Values’ Tensions: The Case of COVID-19 Pandemic

To round up, a clear example of a conflict between fundamental values, such as freedom and life, arose during the COVID-19 pandemic. The only way to limit the spread of this dangerous infection are strict measures that restrict human freedoms. In the public sphere, two polarly opposite value orientations are clearly distinguished. Freedom and life are not in conflict when the situation does not require a choice either-or. However, there are situations when the value choice is made through a hierarchy of values  and in such cases priority is used. Hierarchy and prioritization are ways of managing tensions and conflicts between values  and heterogeneous orders (spheres) of values. With good conflict management, one value can reinforce and make full sense of another value. In the conditions of new turbulences and uncertainties, the relevance of Inglehart’s (2018) conclusions from his analysis of evolutionary modernization and cultural evolution sharpen.


List of References

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Arts , W., Halman, L. 2014. Value Contrasts and Consensus in Present-Day Europe. Painting Europe’s Moral Landscapes. Brill, Leiden.

Dyson, D., Sepos, A. .2012. Which Europe? The Politics of Differentiated Integration. Palgrave Macmillan, London, New York.

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