More than a mere geographical entity, Europe is a civilisation firmly anchored in ancient Greco-Roman culture and Christianity, and its centre of gravity is the Mediterranean Sea. Europe is an open, multi-faceted world where multiple cultural identities have crossed paths, where East and West, North and South have met and permeated each other over the centuries. The “Rediscovering Europe” series leads readers through streets and venues that continue to reflect this shared heritage.
Although the practice of democracy can be traced back to other remote civilisations, it is believed to be a Western invention, with the individual placed at its core and power disengaged from the divine or tradition. Even though ancient Greek and Roman societies differed significantly from ours, their thought stimulated philosophical and political debate in Europe. They kept alive an ideal that took a long time to achieve. The book outlines an itinerary among the iconic venues of our freedom: the hills of Athens and Rome; the Magna Carta meadow near Windsor; Siena, where the 1388 fresco of the Allegory of Good Government speaks to us of communal power; Amsterdam, where we can admire Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” and meditate on religious freedom; London, the cradle of the 1689 Glorious Revolution; Philadelphia, where a century later another revolution followed in the footsteps of the pilgrim fathers and inspired the Declaration of Human Rights in 1789 Paris. Afterwards, social revolutions and enlargements of voting rights provided other emblematic drivers of our modern democracies.
Yves Mény formerly taught Political Science at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (SciencesPo) and other universities in France, Europe and the United States; he created and headed the Robert Schuman Centre at the European University Institute.