Between the Universal and the Particular: Europe and the Ethical Commitment of Stefan Zweig

  • Abstract:

    The Austrian writer Stefan Zweig is thought to be one of the intellectual forefathers of the European Union. Now, in the second decade of the 21st century, there is a revived interest in his figure and works and, especially, in his (idea of) Europe. It is no secret to anyone familiar with Zweig—“the great European”, as Jules Romains used to call him—that the idea of Europe played a very important role in the development of his career as writer and intellectual. Whereas before IWW Zweig carried out a key role as mediator (translator, editor, etc.) between European cultures, believing in their ultimate spiritual union, after the conflict he will pledge his own writing to become an “agent” of the European cause, especially as the threat of fascism and radical nationalism turns into a dangerous reality in the thirties. Thus, he will create and defend—mostly in his non-fiction works and, above all, in his memoirs Die Welt von Gestern— a postnational narrative that is defined, to some extent, by its idealism and apoliticism. Thus, if Zweig’s ideas remained in the sphere of the intellect, how can they help us solve our current practical—political and social—problems? This paper will argue that, in order to make the most out of Zweig’s commitment, we have to change the way we approach his legacy. That is to say, instead of trying to convert his ideas into a political discourse, we should approach them from the perspective of their ethical value. Therefore, behind Zweig’s ‘Europe’, we will find a set of notions and principles—individualism, freedom, difference/diversity, pacifism, humanism, empathy, cosmopolitanism…—that go beyond Europe itself to form a Weltanschauung that may helps us figure out both our lives in common and as individuals.