In this series, we introduce the researchers of the Centre of Excellence in Law, Identity and the European Narratives.

Pedro Magalhães is a post-doctoral researcher in EuroStorie’s subproject 2, Discovering the Limits of Reason – Europe and the Crisis of Universalism. Pedro’s background is in political science and political theory, with a special focus on European interwar political thought.

Originally Pedro comes from Porto, Portugal, where he also finished his Bachelor’s degree with a major in languages and international relations. His interest in politics emerged at a young age, and so did his wish to understand how politics actually works. Pedro completed his Master’s degree in political science at the New University of Lisbon, with a thesis on the concept of representation.

He wrote his doctoral dissertation also in Lisbon. It focused on the political theories of Max Weber, Carl Schmitt and Hans Kelsen, surveying these authors’ conceptions of political legitimacy and relating them to different paradigmatic narratives of modernity.

After finishing his PhD in 2016, Pedro taught several undergraduate courses in political science, among them one on theories of justice from Plato to Rawls. He started working in EuroStorie at the beginning of August. The themes examined in the subproject 2 matched his research interests, as did the historical period that EuroStorie as a whole focuses on – the interwar years.   

In his current research, Pedro is looking at the relationship between universalism and particularism. He is especially interested in German and Austrian thinkers, who were drawn to this very problem. He would also like to reflect upon the possibility of conciliating these two principles, in spite of the intrinsic tension that marks their relationship. Can we accept the idea that a political community is by necessity a bounded community and at the same time acknowledge the existence of universal rights and values?

Pedro is looking at the problems of universalism and particularism in the interwar context of crippling institutions, disintegrating communities, and rising extremisms. Even though his main aim is not to extract normative or prescriptive conclusions from research, he nevertheless underlines the relevance of such problems for the political challenges of the present: “If we look at the rise of nationalist movements all over the world today, we can see that we really don’t live in the cosmopolitan order towards which we may have thought we were veering at the turn of the millennium.”

Why, then, is it still worth examining what interwar political thinkers wrote? According to Pedro, some of the most important political controversies and cleavages of today are typically patterned along similar lines as those of the interwar period. On the one hand, there is cosmopolitanism, liberalism, and the ideology of universal rights; on the other, nationalism, exclusivism, and populism. Cosmopolitans tend to view nationalists as backwards, uneducated and uncivilized. Nationalists regard cosmopolitans as hopeless utopians, cynical elitists or outright traitors.  “I really think that we have to question these simplistic approaches.” A reconsideration of interwar political theory, Pedro believes, can help us grasp the complexities behind such straightforward dichotomies. 

When it comes to the question of the supranational European polity, Pedro says , that the EUit should strive to be a political community rather than a technocratic instance of a supposedly post-political age. European institutions should be made more democratic, inclusive and responsive, and such institutional changes might further a concrete, positive idea of belonging to the European polity. An idea that, he adds, is not necessarily incompatible either with a universalist conception of rights or with a strong simultaneous attachment to national, regional or local communities.

Furthermore, Pedro also wants to show that Europe does not consist only of the linear and hygienized narrative that the EU usually conveys. He stresses that the story of Europe is also the story of the bloody conflicts of nations, values and worldviews – all of them equally European. This pluralism of European narratives is also relevant, when we think about the relationship between Europe and the rest of the world.

You can find Pedro Magalhães's latest publications in Tuhat.