European Bildung Manifesto

Launched on May 8, 2024


Through the best of times and the worst of times, Europe was shaped by peace and progress, wars, and wants. The concept of Europe has been developing step by step since the Peace of Westphalia of 1648. Through nation-building and colonization in the 19th Century, two World Wars started on European soil, the Iron Curtain and Marshall Plan and the construction of the European Union, Europeans today are rounded by layers of belonging: local, national, continental and global.

Among European nations, some have been drivers of the worst atrocities in history, including slavery, colonialism, fascism, nazism, and environmental destruction on a disastrous scale. European culture has also created immense beauty and spurred major innovations that participated in global progress. Among European contributions are important schools of philosophy, formal logic, the printing press, the steam engine, the international legal human rights framework, and the scientific method. Europe has incepted major systems of societal organization that have the potential to scaffold meaningful and rich lives, such as parliamentary democracy, social capitalism, public education, the modern Welfare State, and cultural institutions with universal reach.

Bildung is the combination of the education and knowledge necessary to thrive in one’s society, and the moral and emotional maturity to be both a team player and have personal autonomy. Our generation is at a crossroads where Europeans need to face up to their history and heritage, face the future of the globe, and put bildung front and center of who we are and who we ought to become.

Recognising that

Among social and economic innovations that were once considered suitable solutions to societal problems, some are now threatening ecosystems and civilization with systemic collapse such that the world now sits at the cross-roads of multiple existential crises including rapid climate change, massive biodiversity loss, resource depletion and the threat of potentially uncontrolled technological development, such as artificial intelligence (AI). Given the important role of Europe in creating the polycrisis, it has enhanced responsibility and means towards its resolution. Europe has historically experienced the consequences of looking for easy answers to crises in populist leaders with intolerant, totalitarian ideologies and dangerous technology at their disposal. European history can serve as a lesson for the future on the value of tolerance, unity, civilized disagreement, belonging, meaning, and social and financial security.

We acknowledge

That bildung, as it emerged in Northern Europe in the 19th Century, has offered ways to create personal and societal progress in adverse contexts. Through bildung, people have been equipped to self-organize around solving immediate as well as long-term problems. This is part of European history.

That similar philosophical and pedagogical values and traditions exist in other cultures around the world, from which we can draw and to which we can contribute. Among them, Ubuntu in Africa, Ikigai in Japan, Confucianism in China, and so forth. That important work has been done in starting a global bildung movement and the Global Bildung Manifesto that inspires it.


  1. We state the continued relevance of bildung in the context of the polycrisis.
  2. We open spaces for the people of Europe to work with and through bildung.
  3. We call upon the following stakeholders to engage with us in further developing and building a bildung movement in Europe: learners, seekers, institutional, corporate and organizational leaders, underground and countercultural movements, cultural and ethnic minorities, and the majorities who have gained the most in Europe as we know it today: the middleclass, who also has the most to lose.
  4. We write and share this manifesto to ignite a conversation about the meaning, potential, and development of bildung in Europe.
  5. We share this manifesto as inspiration for other continental bildung initiatives to develop their own manifestos.
  6. We claim that bildung is a path towards better decision making through the polycrisis politically, at the collective level, and locally, in our individual lives. Europe has the institutions, the experience, and the resources to prioritise bildung and make a difference.

I. What is Bildung?

The Global Bildung Manifesto defines bildung as: “the combination of the education and knowledge necessary to thrive in one’s society, and the moral and emotional maturity to be both a team player and have personal autonomy”.

Bildung represents a series of tensions from which new opportunities can be born. With this manifesto, we recognise four key tension areas:

  • The tension between past and future. Bildung is knowing one’s roots and being able to imagine and co-create the future. It allows us to be fully humane and treat the planet and other species with care, thus enabling us to live within planetary boundaries.
  • The tension between process and outcomes. Bildung is the process as well as the result. Bildung offers wholesomeness. It is an end in itself, not an instrument. 
  • The tension between scientific inquiry and recognizing humans as spiritual beings. Bildung is a method for social maturation. It is a philosophical endeavour trying to understand and feel what it means to be human. It’s a social philosophy, a way of life, an ethics. It is a philosophy, with an invitation to inquire and explore. Folk high schools are a method for Bildung. Bildung is a dialogue between method and philosophy that has an impact on personal biographies, to help people get involved in society, to explore their personal biographies and deeper meanings. It is a broad philosophy leading to education for social change.
  • The tension between individual freedom and societal cohesion. Bildung offers a pathway for an achievable peaceful societal transformation, leading towards the utopian possibility of a meaningful life to which everybody can contribute. It’s a dual movement: on the one hand, an invitation to rethink and inquire, on the other hand, to take action to accompany humanity through the changes incurred by the polycrisis. To achieve this, bildung calls on people to be curious, open to other thoughts than their own, learning to disagree with others in a civil and friendly manner.

II. Why Bildung?

Bildung offers new ways of thinking about life that transcend the rationales that created the problems humanity is facing today. As an umbrella concept, it has the potential to address the following key problem-statements:

  • Emancipating learning & learners: rethinking education to make it relevant to people’s experiences, passion and values.
  • Providing space and guidance for personal growth: encouraging a way of being that speaks to people’s uniqueness.
  • Providing support for organisational, corporate & institutional progress: making Bildung part of the common social methodology for the maturation of organisations (businesses, education, institutions etc.)
  • Supporting and framing underground & countercultural movements: creating an element for the acceleration of social and political change.
  • Inclusion and respect of cultural & ethnic minorities: laying the foundations of an ethos of respect, cultural understanding in Europe.
  • Providing definitions & demarcation of Bildung: articulating bildung to support bildung projects and demarcate of what is and is not bildung.

III. Emancipating Learning & Learners

Rethinking education to make it relevant to people’s experiences, passion and values as humans living in communities. Understanding education as a key to profound, lasting social change, allowing humans to flourish from birth till death.

We strive to:

  • Change the existing education system from an appendage to the economic production apparatus designed to mould productive workers, to an emancipatory system, that taps into natural human learning capabilities, harnesses human capacities to create meaning, and to develop skills, knowledge and wisdom suited to the existential risks we are facing.
  • Change education from a purely instrumental logic to a logic of meaningful thriving in the context of massive environmental and societal change. We want learning that provides the skills and knowledge required to survive in a changed world and to find meaning and purpose, with the potential to increase human happiness and fulfillment. We want to reignite the fundamental biological human trait of curiosity and joy in learning in young and old.
  • Provide a galvanising umbrella to bring educators of Europe into dialogue and action that builds a community of practice, a feeling of fulfillment and meaning in their work, and supports them in their role as guides through the poly-crisis.

IV. Providing Space and Guidance for Personal Growth

Learning is at the core of what it means to be alive. From the single cell that adjusts to its environment, to the sharpest professor who has spent a lifetime studying and researching; being alive means learning how to thrive in one’s surroundings.

There is inherent joy to learning that education must harness and keep alive. Children are naturally curious and wanting to learn. Yet, school as we know it often kills the joy of learning. As a result, innumerable adults associate learning with defeat and fear. At a time when humanity needs and new ways of thinking more than ever, education must be re-imagined.

We strive to:

  • Build venues of learning that are meaningful and allow people to grow.
  • Provide learning opportunities that contribute to personal and collective happiness and civic empowerment.
  • Design curricula and conversations that promote academic, practical, emotional, social, existential, cultural, and other knowledge relevant to 21st Century challenges. We aim to foster learners’ agency in ways that are fruitful to themselves, their community, and the world as a whole.
  • Grow a culture, a civilization and educational systems that foster and the kind of meaning, joy, and unfolding that come with bildung.

V. Providing Support for Organisational & Institutional Progress

Investing in people, their education, and bildung is a wise investment for any society to make. In whatever phase of life, whatever institutional or organizational context people find themselves, everybody learns, and everybody teaches. This implies support and formation by parents, siblings, relatives, friends, work, and in a more formal way by public institutions, with the aim to become a socially responsible individual, finding a balance within oneself and within the environment one lives in. Organisations and institutions need support in providing opportunities for people to learn to cope with happiness and fortune, as well as developing resilience in situations of personal and collective setbacks.

Organisations and institutions, from public education to private businesses and government bodies, must support people’s quest to gain personal insights, to embody autonomy in their decision-making, to determine their own path in life as individuals in a social context, and develop self-respect and respect for others.

We strive for:

  • Governments to provide the conditions and chances to help people to reach this aim.
  • Creating, supporting educational environments that help people to reach this aim.
  • Teachers and mentors to offer expertise, wisdom, experience, objective judgment, room for disagreement, committed guidance to help people to reach this aim.
  • Employers and interest groups and other stakeholders to help people reach this aim.
  • Creating and maintaining learning communities where people can reach this aim.
  • Creating the conditions and support for every individual to pursue bildung.
  • The ambition to enact the above into reality, enabling people and organizations involved to make it come true.

VI. Supporting and Framing Underground & Countercultural Movements

Throughout history, emancipation, progress, and social innovation started as ideas that became underground and countercultural movements. First the movements challenged established norms and structures, then they made the ideas mainstream. Every major, challenging idea that is now accepted as normal in Europe – that people have the right to organize, that working hours should be limited, that women should have the right to vote, that the LGBTQ community deserves equal rights, that abortion should be freely accessible, that people should be free to choose and exercise their religion – was promoted by a countercultural movement that found an echo within the broader population over a longer period of time thanks to tireless activism and social support.

Threatened established orders have always sought to suppress these ideas and movements by force. The Internet has given underground and countercultural movements unprecedented power to gather, share and grow, but it has also given established orders unprecedented power to survey and suppress. Bildung should support underground and countercultural movements with fresh ideas that will allow peaceful changes where there are needs for change, ideas that will allow us to transform societies towards a meaningful and responsible future.

We strive to:

  • Provide guidance and approaches to congealing discontent with established orders into countercultural movements where these are permitted, and underground movements where they are not.
  • Guide underground and countercultural movements towards principles of emancipation, democracy and human rights.
  • Assist the mainstreaming and diffusion of countercultural ideas into society so that they may be held up to democratic scrutiny and shaped to fit the emancipatory aspirations of society.
  • Challenge the discourse of established orders to make space for the voices of underground and countercultural movements to be heard.
  • Provide international networks of underground and countercultural movements to strengthen and support local and national movements.

VII. Inclusion and Respect of Cultural & Ethnic Minorities

Europe is a tapestry of languages and cultures. Nations interwoven through history in complex ways. Our diversity is our strength. Yet, we do not share a common language. We call upon all Europeans to reimagine Europe as a continent of bildung. Of strengthened cultural heritage, of surprising new knowledge, of meaningful education, of disagreement and joint exploration, and of inclusive conversations. A Europe where the doors to deeper understanding are always open. A generous Europe where we own the complexity of our heritage and make learning from it part of who we are.

There remain many minority identity groups across Europe working hard to protect the vitality of their own languages and cultural traditions, these are all part of the rich tapestry of Europe valued by bildung.

We commit to:

  • Making available to all Europeans the resources to learn a second language well. At the heart of thriving is the ability to relate and communicate with others, and crucial to almost all learning is language. Among the challenges in Europe is that we do not share one language across the continent. For integrational purposes we also recommend that all non-native English-speaking Europeans get free access to learning English.
  • Creating opportunities for dialogue and enhanced intercultural understanding. In particular, we strive to ensure that cultural and ethnic minorities across Europe are represented and valued in these forums. Our cultural identities are vital to the way we connect and communicate with one another. Relating well through, not in spite of, our differences requires commitment, empathy and work.
  • Building networks and spaces for sharing and building pan-European identity stories –indigenous and immigrant – to illustrate and share this rich and evolving continental diversity.

VIII. Providing Definitions & Demarcation of Bildung

Bildung everywhere has deep roots in the cultural fabric, and modernity as well as postmodernism have, each Modernity has not been able to grasp the spirit of bildung. Instead it has, more often than not, mechanized, industrialized, and homogenized education and turned it into a goal-focused measuring scheme. Children and adults have been seen as nuts and bolts in the big machinery of society and market, and education has been reduced to serve this.

Postmodernism has not been able to appreciate the depth, heritage, and structure of bildung. Instead, more often than not, it has turned learning, spiritual life, and personal growth into subjective inner phenomena and individual coaching that have left people lonely and detached from traditions, community, and a common sense of reality.

Bildung is rooted in the deep structures of our collective inheritance from the dawn of human existence, the historical experiences that allow us to make sense of the world, and what it means to be human. This heritage and our understanding of history are also what allow us to understand our own time and our generation’s place in the long chain of human and planetary life, and to imagine and create a meaningful future.

Sign the European Bildung Manifesto

Your name can be here too:

Chris Burton, FR
Prof. Dr. Ebba Ossiannilsson, SE
Jill Nephew, US
Editor in chief, Katriina Palo-Närhinen, FI

Signing the European Bildung Manifesto as of Europe Day, May 9, 2024:

Dr. Ginie Servant-Miklos, NL
Ellen Sirnæs, NO
Armin Sieber, CH
Martijn Van Ginneken, NL
Bert Meeuwsen, NL
Ype Akkerman, NL
Mihail Krikunov, UA
Mrs. Jozefa Fawcett, UK
Kazooist Kjetil Aamann, NO
Christoph Maier, DE
Mrs. Carolina Sollero, UK
Kåre Wangel, DK
Mr. Oscar Martinez Ciuró, ES
Mr. Ludvig Claeson, NO
Philipp Grosche, DE
Teacher Carolina Sollero, UK
Ph.D. Nicole Faure, CL
Marije Ammerlaan, NL
Mr. Bogdan Manu, RO
Felix Hollenstein, CH
Ulises Gonzalez, PA
Willy Wijnands, NL
M. Derksen, NL
David O’Brien, IE
Vladan Lausevic, SE
Lene Rachel Andersen, DK
Drs. Sandra Verbruggen, NL