Text of blog entry by Darian Meacham on e-International Relations (e-IR), originally published 15 April 2014.
Darian Meacham writing in the openDemocracy digital commons on the boundaries of political solidarity: Europeans are getting poorer, do you care?
Is the nation-state still the most viable form of political community or have the pressures of globalization reduced its possibility to maintain the well-being of its citizens in such a manner that we should look to a larger community of reciprocal solidarity, namely Europe? ...
The Department of Philosophy and the Ph.D. School in Philosophy and History of Philosophy of the University of Rome “La Sapienza”, in cooperation with the Phenomenological Observatory and with Euroikìa—Association for Humanities Studies, are pleased to announce that they are organizing an international workshop on “The Reasons of Europe. History and Problems of a Philosophical Concept”. The conference will take place on Dec. 13-14, 2013 in Rome.
▪ Marc CREPON, directeur de recherche au CNRS (Archives Husserl), directeur du département de Philosophie de l’ENS.
▪ Rodolphe GASCHÉ, Distinguished Professor, State University of New York – Eugenio Donato Professor of Comparative Literature, State University of New York at Buffalo.
▪ Sara HEINÄMAA, Ph.D., Docent, University Lecturer in Theoretical Philosophy, University of Helsinki.
The onset of rationality in the West has become identified with the name of the maiden kidnapped by Zeus on the Phoenician coast to such a degree that it now seems a trivial truism to say that Europe is a philosophical concept and philosophy a European conception. However, such a statement is far from trivial both as regards the “name” or “concept” of Europe, and as regards the meaning of that “origin” and that “attribution”.
As for the latter: if philosophy may rightfully be considered as the European memory of a conceptuality, or of a mode of questioning, whose roots are in the world and in a language of ancient Greece (yet Greece never called itself “Europe” or “West”), it is also true that a universal project of uprooting from all linguistic, ethnic, cultural and territorial constraints is inscribed in the very onset of that conceptuality, and has expressed itself in it from the very beginning. The proof is that today philosophy is spoken, translated and practiced in a great number of languages and in countries ranging from the United States to Japan. And then, what and how many other forms of wisdom, what and how many other idioms contributed to establishing that discipline—to shaping that memory?
As for the “name” Europe: is its origin Greek or Semitic? Does it belong to the kidnapper’s or to the victim’s language? Is it part of the echo of a “here” or of an “elsewhere”? Of a familiarity or of a nostalgia? If its etymology is obscure enough, it is even harder to establish just what the term describes. Since Homer’s days to our time, “Europe” has never designated a region of the Earth neatly circumscribed by natural or geographic boundaries, much less a nativity or a nation. Instead, the realities and institutions the term has designated were so different—the adventures, narratives and linguistic migrations it has hosted were so complex—that we would be embarrassed should anyone (perhaps a non-European) ask us just “who” or “what” the “invention” of that mark or seal designated.
Establishing the status of the “concept” of Europe is no less difficult: is it a geo-political and juridical “institution” (perhaps a would-be institution), or is it a spiritual “figure”? Is it a cultural “convention” or a mental or teleological “schema”? Is it an “essence” or a “task”? Is it a “form of life” or an “idea”? And in the latter case, in what of the many different meanings attributed to the term “idea” in the long philosophical tradition ranging from Plato to Descartes, from Kant to Husserl?
But it is even harder to establish whether Europe is a “name” or a “concept”, a “mythologeme” or a “philosopheme”, or rather, the resistance to the “kidnapping” of one of them by the other.
Context and problem areas
The concept of Europe has taken up a prominent place among the key subjects of phenomenological reflection thanks to two texts: the lecture given by Husserl in Vienna in 1935 under the title, Die Philosophie in der Krisis der europäischen Menschheit (written little over a decade after the texts for the journal Kaizo, the lecture was later included into that monumental “philosophical testament”, Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale Phänomenologie); and the Einführung in die Metaphysik, a series of lectures taught by Heidegger at Freiburg University that same year. However, it was the philosophical contributions and the subsequent critical work of Heidegger himself—as well as, and primarily, of J. Patočka and J. Derrida, but also of J.-L. Nancy and many others—that made the topic of those first two studies (which were as theoretically committed as they were occasioned by current events) into a “chapter” of phenomenological research, one that many scholars around the world are still busy writing.
In that chapter, many questions intertwine with the theme of “Europe”. Here are just a few: the relationship of philosophical “rationality” and the universe of “myth” and “religions”; the onset of the “critical spirit” and the birth of the notion of “history”; the origin of the notion of “responsibility” and its connection to the rise of the Greek polis, to the tenets of Roman and medieval law, and to the idea of “democracy”; finally, the question of “technique” and the relationship between sciences and the “lifeworld”.
Goals and open issues
The aim of this conference is to revisit some aspects of this set of philosophical issues. We would like to see those aspects enter into a dialogue and a contamination (which in fact have been going on for some time, if not since the very beginning) with the discussions that characterize recent research in many fields of knowledge—from political philosophy to law, from mythology to literary studies, from anthropology to the whole range of post-colonial studies). We will try to answer a number a questions, such as the following: what is left, in the era of the so-called globalization or mondialisation, of the “reason” or “reasons” of Europe, as well, of course, as its unquestionable wrongs or misdeeds? What is the raison d’être of that constellation of meaning, now that the planetary deployment of techno-sciences, the exports of Europe—her (definitive?) kidnapping—have reached the four corners of the Earth, depleting its meaning by saturation or triggering a “return” process? In brief—and to quote the very meaningful title of one of J. Patočka’s works—what about “Europe after Europe”?
Klaar voor morgen?
In the past month or so the Belgian Postal Service (Bpost) has lost two items of mine, one was a registered letter containing important documents that were costly to replace, and the other was a Christmas gift for my daughter. Let's just say, I am not exactly a believer in Bpost's new snappy motto: 'ready for tomorrow'. In fairness to Bpost, their customer service (both by phone and twitter) have been responsive, what they have not done is offer any apologies or regrets, nor have they been able to find any of my stuff! For the record, they have denied that Amazon ever shipped the gift for my daughter and just sort of shrugged about the lost registered letter.
This got me thinking about the perils of moving important public services into the domain of the private sector (the Belgian government does still control 50% + 1 share of the public limited liability company Bpost). With the privatisation of the postal service there are no longer any (fully) publicly controlled means of communication between individuals, groups and public institutions. I think it is safe to say that nearly all of our communication, not done face to face, is mediated by private corporations. In a democratic society this seems highly problematic for a very simple reason. The very essence of democratic conduct is public communication in and on the interests of the common good. When this is to a very large extent mediated if not fully controlled by private companies whose primary directive is to generate profit and thus in potential conflict with the common good, there is good reason to believe that these private interests might not always be the neutral and transparent mechanisms of communication that we have come to see them as. In short, there is a risk that the capacity for public communication, one of the foundational aspects of a democratic society, is being eroded by privatisation. Of course today the telecoms are the most obvious example of this - to control an internet connection is more or less these days to control the flow of information and communication between citizens and institutional bodies. If I wish to contact even my local government (other than by spending a day waiting around at city hall) I must pass through a private telecoms company or postal service.
On a more mundane level, when responsibility for running mechanisms of public communication like the postal service is passed into private hands it is seemingly always accompanied by drop in quality. To give a local example, according to the Dernier Heure (a Belgian Newspaper) 'En 2010, quelque 237.475 demandes de recherche d’envois postaux ont été adressées à bpost. C’est une hausse de… 70,5 % par rapport aux 139.246 demandes recensées en 2009 !' Truncated translation: that's a 70,5% increase in requests to find out where the heck my mail has gone in one year! Bpost contests accusations that the quality of their service has diminished, adding that according to their internal investigations 93% of domestic letters arrived within two days. But ask nearly anyone in Belgium what they think of the new privatised postal service and they'll tell to to avoid it to whatever extent possible.
The basic questions surrounding the privatisation of the postal service are the same as those surrounding the privatisation of any essential public service. Can a private enterprise whose primary goal is to draw profit be expected to offer the same level of service as a public service whose only goal is to provide that service? In certain cases - privatisation of telecoms being an example - a liberalised market with sufficient competition may drive innovation leading to improvements in service and drop in price. But even in such cases major infrastructure investment is most often done by governments. In other sectors - rail in the UK, postal service in Belgium - a near monopoly is maintained by a sole provider with no discernable benefit to the service user. In other areas - water, energy - it is hard to see any rational for privatisation beyond an ideological attachement to the market. These are concrete and tangible day to day issues and they should certainly give us some pause.
But, beyond the frustration of wondering where the heck my mail has gone, or if I have set the privacy setting correctly for my gmail, or facebook account, it is the political question that worries me most: what is the risk of privatising the mechanisms of communication in a diminished public sphere, where communication between citizens is ever more reliant on internet and phone connections. Do we trust companies whose sole function is to generate a profit to be in effect the mediators and even arbitrators of the fundamentals of democratic society?
I am now blogging for the Huffington Post UK, so I'll try to post links to my posts there here.
For a little post US election analysis, here's me telling Bill O'Reilly that White Guys Want Stuff Too (i.e. it's not just Black, Latinos, Asian, and Gays who think that big government is a good thing), and that the dreaded 'stuff' that we're talking about here is actually the stuff of nations. In all seriousness, its more important than ever to change the frame of the debate over 'stuff', not just in the US, but also in the UK. Health Care and Education are not government handouts. And they call them 'entitlements' because we are entitled to them. It's called civilisation, we're not quite there yet, in fact it seems we're slipping, but there a
According to Athens News, an English speaking Greek newspaper, Larissa, in the circled area above is home to the greatest concentration of Porsche Cayenne owners in Europe (From the FT). The full report by Nikolaos Artavanis, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University: Adair Morse, University of Chicago Booth School of Business, NBER; Margarita Tsoutsoura, University of Chicago Booth School of Business is below.
One of the major intellectual stumbling blocks in having a clear and honest debate about the Greek situation and by extension the situation throughout the entire European Union is an unrelenting and pure naïveté, if not stupidity, in the way that the situation is discussed: wide swathes of the European media talk about Greeks and Greece as though what we are dealing with was simply one monolithic entity. This kind of thinking seems to be the residue of the most naive form of ethno-national thinking and a desperate fear of returning to a class based analysis. Within any national population there will be a multitude of groups with different behaviours, and most importantly different interests, in Greece at the moment it makes sense to address this in terms of a straightforward class analysis. The free movement of capital in the EU has made this all the more the case. It is simply not coherent or honest to talk about the situation in Greece as though the rich, middle class and poor all behave in the same way, or have behaved in the same way or have the same interests. And yet this seems to be how the discourse in the European media is most often structured.
Wealthy Greeks who have never paid taxes in their lives and have long since moved their money abroad shrug at the thought of a hungry winter for their fellow citizens (as do wealthy technocrats and politicians in Brussels and Berlin); by contrast poor and an increasing number of middle class Greeks now sliding toward poverty are in a state of panic. There is no national unity and certainly no national solidarity spilling from the wealthy suburbs of northern Athens (nor any European unity spilling from the wealthy streets of Brussels’s European Quarter). The non tax-paying upper classes, oligarchs and generations of corrupt politicians who are at the root of the crisis are not one with those who will suffer as food prices rise and pensions and salaries are cut, and they no longer even pretend to represent the interests of those fellow Greek or European citizens who will go hungry and without adequate medical care or housing this winter simply as a result of ideological intransigence in Berlin and Brussels...and Paris, and den Haag and...perhaps worst of all Athens. They don't have to, no one calls them on it because the debate is too often framed in the most naive of terms: ‘Greeks are like this, Greece is like that, Greece must do this or that’.
Simply put, those who have brought about the crisis in Greece are ideologically aligned with the neo-liberals of Brussels and Berlin who as a way out of the crisis propose dismantling essential safeguards that have been established over the past 50 years (and much more recently in Greece) to protect European citizens from the harsh realities of unregulated free market capitalism. This will come at the expense of the quality of life of the middle and lower classes. Any yet, most of the European media remains shockingly blind or silent about this situation. Even the New York Times – hardly the mouthpiece of social democracy –is thoughtful enough to report that if there is violence in Athens this autumn and winter, it will in large part be because the government in Athens has done nothing to address the crimes of those who have ravaged the country for personal gain:
'unrest seems increasingly inevitable. After two and a half years of cutbacks, a fifth straight year of grinding recession, and a jobless rate that is now above 23 percent, many Greeks are livid at the prospect of more cuts. The public refrained from holding protests during the elections. But now that Mr. Samaras is trying to impose more cuts on average workers — but none on the oligarchs or on wealthy Greeks suspected of stashing their money in foreign accounts — many people have been taking to the streets in recent days, ahead of the troika’s visit.'
No big surprise there, the government in Athens is largely composed of and supported by the oligarchs or on wealthy Greeks suspected of stashing their money in foreign accounts.
As Vincente Navarro recently wrote in Social Europe Journal, the pleas of people like Greek PM Samaras for a bit more time do not issue from an understanding of the damage that the neo-liberal demands of the Troika (EU, IMF, ECB) are inflicting on the Greek population, especially the poor and middle classes. Rather any request for more time is for the sake of avoiding civil unrest and violence that may derail the drastic changes to the state that economic liberals like Samaras (and apparently his Pasok partners) fully endorse: cuts in all forms of public infrastructure (including health and education), lowering pensions below sustenance levels and the sale of state assets to private interests.
What may be the most perverse aspect of the situation is that it is the poor and middle classes who are most often publicly blamed. It's time to change the frame of the debate by returning to a class based analysis that is blindingly obvious in its relevance and is not – as many liberal and social democratic politicians alike would like us to believe – a relic of another age.
Addendum 10/09/2012: This is precisely the kind of thing that I am talking about outgoing Dutch PM 'Mark Rutte, declared in a TV debate that Greece is not getting another euro of Dutch taxpayers' money'. Does it make no difference to Rutte or to Dutch voters where in Greece that money is going?
Darian Meacham, Brussels