Where Is The Power?
July 15, 2015 4:04 PM   Subscribe

A conversation with Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz
This is significant because in Europe all political thought is imperialist. This means that politics as we know it today, implemented by countries small, middle-sized or large, incorporates the experience of imperial politics from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. That was when the foundations of what we call "the political" were forged, which always entails a balance between power and weakness, and must be the result of an analysis of your strengths and vulnerabilities against the strengths and vulnerabilities of your opponent. To risk banality: politics without political realism is not politics. You see, all European politics is founded on political realism produced by imperial politics. And this experience is completely alien to Poles.

An interview with a senior adviser to the Greek government
I said let Tsipras go to the European Parliament and say that this is how we were treated the last months. Also, refuse to implement these harsh measures. They [the Greek government] prefer to lose the elections [rather than] to enforce those measures. But every time they try political negotiation they [have been] fooled by them [the creditors]: twenty times with Merkel and five more with Schäuble. And how many Eurogroup [meetings] where they said "go back to the technical teams, go back to the Troika". The [Greek government] said "no, we want a political decision" [but they were told] "Our political decision is to go back to the technical decision, you can't have a political decision without a technical decision".
Paul Krugman on technocrats: " what Europe calls technocrats aren’t people who know how the world works; they’re people who subscribe to the approved fantasies, and never change their minds no matter how badly wrong things go."

Left Business Observer, 1998: EMU
In just a bit over nine months, the euro will be born, and the next stage in the process of European economic and monetary union (EMU) will begin. Of the fifteen countries that make up the European Union (EU), eleven (Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain) will begin a three-year process of dissolving their national currencies into a single continental one. Three (Denmark, Sweden, and the UK) are holding off on this step, and one (Greece) just wasn't tough enough to make the cut this time around.

That cut was made mainly on the basis of the state of government finances, specifically the budget deficit and the amount of debt outstanding. Few other considerations, like income levels or industrial structures or demographics or culture, entered the picture. Americans accustomed to thinking of Western Europe as a less austere and less orthodox way of doing capitalism should revise those thoughts immediately; Europe is now run by econocrats and central bankers, and it has become the most austere and most orthodox region of the world, with balanced budgets and hard money taking the front seat, and everything else either in the back seat or left behind entirely.
Nickolas Kaldor (excerpted), 1971: Nicholas Kaldor On The Common Market
… Some day the nations of Europe may be ready to merge their national identities and create a new European Union – the United States of Europe. If and when they do, a European Government will take over all the functions which the Federal government now provides in the U.S., or in Canada or Australia. This will involve the creation of a “full economic and monetary union”. But it is a dangerous error to believe that monetary and economic union can precede a political union or that it will act (in the words of the Werner report) “as a leaven for the evolvement of a political union which in the long run it will in any case be unable to do without”. For if the creation of a monetary union and Community control over national budgets generates pressures which lead to a breakdown of the whole system it will prevent the development of a political union, not promote it.
Europe doesn’t have a debt crisis—it has a democracy crisis
Wolfgang Merkel, a German academic who studies democracy, published a provocative essay last year titled “Is capitalism compatible with democracy?” In it, he argues, essentially, that the fragile post-World-War II peace between markets and democracy—both of which have grown rapidly—seems to to be fraying. In the aftermath of the global financial collapse of 2008, “the crisis of capitalism threatens to turn into a crisis of democracy.”
Contradictions and challenges of the Podemos phenomenon

Ulrike Guérot: Europe as a Republic
The United States of Europe: that was yesterday. A European Republic: this is tomorrow. In this article, I want to sketch out a completely new approach to how we see and look at Europe. The aim is to reflect on the possibility of a European utopia in the twenty-first century, which is no longer the idea of a United States of Europe, but of a European Republic – thus a proposal for a new narrative.
posted by the man of twists and turns (11 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Nice meaty post. The model u.n. kid in me can't wait to dig in more.
posted by vrakatar at 4:49 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Regarding the first article, I'd like to imagine that the sum of Chinese politics amounts to more than "pulling out the teeth of American Empire". I think Mr. Sienkiewicz is selling the Chinese short...I've heard it said that what the Chinese are really trying to do is become the center of the civilized world, as they believe they once were in the past.

Arguably that's the goal of all empires/sufficiently advanced or aggressive nation-states/cultures.

Unless interplanetary colonization occurs (not likely for a very long time), nobody will be the "center of the world". The internet will integrate global multiculturalism, not put it all under the purview of one country. Treaties will become more important than individual political boundaries, but central influence is going to become less and less important as the incidence of communication increases and culture balkanizes more completely.

I think the EU is going to be more relevant as an economic force than anything else; witness the push-pull on Russian-Ukrainian politics in recent months. There won't be a United States of Europe anytime soon.

Krugman's description of technocrats is the same description he applies to the economic thinking of the Republican party in the U.S. Tellingly, nobody really explains logically how malformed economic policy is supposed to actually work (Cutting government spending increases economic output because government?)

If, like me, you played too much Civilization, the U.S. is currently trying to obtain a cultural victory backed up by significant military power.
posted by Strudel at 6:21 PM on July 15, 2015

Has anyone studied the scenario of Greece saying, "Fuck it, we're out?"
posted by No Robots at 9:22 PM on July 15, 2015

Holy moly, that first interview is dense. If you don't know the last 1000 years of Balto-Slavic political history (which, luckily, I have JUST BEEN STUDYING) you will have no clue what he's referring to half the time.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 9:39 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

> Holy moly, that first interview is dense. If you don't know the last 1000 years of Balto-Slavic political history (which, luckily, I have JUST BEEN STUDYING) you will have no clue what he's referring to half the time.

Not only that, but it's extremely parochial; it's basically one huge blort of Polish paranoia and pride. (Nothing against Poles: every nation has its own forms of paranoia and pride.) This is acutely observed:
Opportunism, on which every large bureaucracy is based, was inscribed in the Polish People's Republic. It aroused our anger and rage, but today we should be able to understand that it is also part of every bureaucracy and that this bureaucracy that we have created after 25 years is also by nature opportunistic. Every minister who was in office in Poland knows perfectly well that their greatest problem is administration, which functions according to completely different rules than any political goal of the country that is set in its decision making center and that they themselves represent. It is opportunistic, but thanks to this, it is stable. Thanks to this, regardless of political changes, the interest of the country is carried out. Or at least it should be, in a way much more durable than at the political level.
But the immediately following paragraph is just silly:
To conclude, nothing in the Polish political was drawn from any imperial tradition. Why is it so? Why are we so resistant? What antibodies do we have in our blood? God knows, I cannot tell, but this is my diagnosis.
The only reason Poland doesn't have an imperial tradition is that for various historical/geographical reasons it never got the chance. If there's one thing history teaches us, it's that any nation will oppress others if it gets the chance—plucky little Georgia, once it got out from under the bootheel of the Soviets, busily set about oppressing the even littler Ossetes and Abkhazians. Power corrupts.
posted by languagehat at 6:56 AM on July 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yeah, there's something truly Polish about a discussion of Poland's near-future politics in which both participants accept that it might not have one. The idea that their country exists only in the intervals between their neighbors' imperial projects goes pretty deep psychologically.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 12:15 PM on July 16, 2015

What about Augustus II the Strong?
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:31 PM on July 16, 2015

He was a German who lived three centuries ago. What about him?
posted by languagehat at 3:17 PM on July 16, 2015

He was king of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth when it was quite large and powerful as I understand it.
posted by Golden Eternity at 4:36 PM on July 16, 2015

Right, but Sienkiewicz says the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was not an empire: "We did not integrate into a unified organism any of the territories subject to the Polish Crown – and if the autonomy of Lithuania could be somehow explained, there is no such explanation for Prussia or for Gdansk, not to mention Courland or Livonia."
posted by languagehat at 5:01 PM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Company of One: The Fate of Democracy in an Age of Neoliberalism
I HAPPENED TO FINISH OFF Wendy Brown’s new Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution at an American consulate, waiting on a passport renewal for my son. The “left” weekly paper I brought with me had a front-page article about how Nova Scotia’s governing liberals simply needed better public relations to sell what everyone understood was needed — namely austerity cuts to healthcare, the arts, and so on. A couple of days before, David Cameron had just bludgeoned what was left of the left in Great Britain in the 2015 election; Labor centrists were crowing about the need for their party to return to Tony Blair’s third-way politics. On the screen in the waiting room played a loop of business leaders and recent immigrants speaking to the endless “entrepreneurial spirit” of America. While visiting the Canadian Museum of Immigration afterward, I saw another film telling visitors not only that Canada was a nation of immigrants, but one that fulfilled their entrepreneurial destinies — as long as they worked hard, and from the bottom up. (One woman described working her way up from a position at McDonald’s.) That a day spent in a provincial capital could yield seemingly endless lessons in neoliberal subjectivity is, of course, not happenstance.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:29 PM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

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