Recent polemical and philosophical claims about modern, secular, liberal, enlightened Europe are examined from the perspective of Europe's relation, past and present, to the non-European world. The notion that Enlightenment reason and liberal institutions represent a higher level of culture because they serve as a universal, neutral medium in contrast to particular religious or ideological worldviews and most especially religious “fundamentalism” is questioned through a discussion of texts by Günter Grass, Jürgen Habermas, Martti Koskenniemi, Carl Schmitt, and Tzvetan Todorov. The legitimacy of Europe's identity as enlightened, secular, and liberal is not denied, only its self-understanding that with Enlightenment (implicitly regarded as the final stage of history) come universality and neutrality. Such a self-understanding contributes to the political problems that rational, “neutral” discourse is meant to solve.

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