There will be no winners in this showdown between Left-wing fantasists and the European project’s true believers.
by Janet Daley • The Telegraph (London)
Which of these do you find more repugnant: an autocratic European Union which is no longer bothering to conceal its intention to displace an elected government, or a shambolic clique of Left-wing fantasists who are propelling a country – and its hapless population – into economic ruin and political chaos?
It’s a tough call, isn’t it? Whatever happens in the Greek referendum on Sunday, it will not be the end of this pantomime. In fact, it is intended not to be the end, in spite of the Greek prime minister’s bizarre assertion last week that he could guarantee a deal would be made with the country’s creditors within 48 hours of a “no” vote – when, in fact, a “no” vote would effectively guarantee the impossibility of making such a deal since the answer “no” is a rejection of meaningful concessions to the creditors.
There is no point any longer in trying to make sense of this. It has gone beyond sense. It is now incomprehensible in the strict technical meaning of the word. The “options” available are all catastrophic and delusional in varying degrees and combinations, and nobody is actually going to get to choose between them anyway – at least, nobody in Greece. To the extent that they have had any involvement – or culpability – in this matter, the Greek people must come to terms with the consequences of electing Russell Brand to head their government. Voters do have some responsibility for the choices that they make. That is what distinguishes mature democracy from the students’ union. But given the price that they are paying for that moment of mad frivolity, it seems harsh to condemn, especially as the prospect of fiscal rationality had already been ruined by the fecklessness of previous governments and external forces beyond their control.
But there is something to be learned from this: there has to be, doesn’t there? Otherwise it would just be too grotesquely stupid, too appalling, too depressing to be endured. The key is in the drama’s tragic inevitability (a subject which Greeks understand well): the two antagonistic camps in this epic confrontation are playing up to the worst possible caricatures of themselves. The EU or, properly speaking, the troika of international financial governance, are presenting themselves as a parody of merciless, demonic money-lenders who are now determined to humiliate and pauperise their victims. This theme of public mortification is one that Syriza has made much of. And their punitive repression appears to license childish rebellion on the part of those who resist their diktats.
So the overweening supra-national power of the EU and its global associates has created scope for national governments to behave with even more reckless belligerence – which in turn strengthens the hand of the EU who now seem, to adapt Christine Lagarde’s damning phrase, like the only grown-ups in the room. The more power the EU usurps, the more infantile and irresponsible national governments seem compelled to become – which justifies the EU in taking on even more power and responsibility.
You could say, of course, that this was part of the original plan. The architects of the great European project designed it to over-ride and mitigate the power of national governments, and quite explicitly to undermine the notion of direct democratic accountability between the people of a country and their elected leaders.
In the aftermath of two horrendous world wars and the shameful electoral mandates given to Hitler and Mussolini, a quite conscious decision was made to create European institutions which would over-rule the popular will. Ordinary people had shown themselves to be dangerously susceptible to demagoguery: the political stability and moral integrity of the future could only be guaranteed by the rule of an enlightened governing class. In the wake of the terrible ideological crimes of the last century, a new benign oligarchy was born.
Maybe the particular crisis in which Greece finds itself is the ultimate final act of this intended death of the nation state. Led by a peculiarly inane bunch of political delinquents, it is acting out to perfection the role in which elected national governments were fated to be cast by the original script. But that script was written in the immediate shock that followed the end of the Second World War in which acts had been committed which modern civilised peoples had believed inconceivable. There was a generally accepted sense that without pan-European institutions and constraints, such horror could burst forth again at any moment. (The endlessly repeated mantra that the EU has “kept the peace” in Europe for half a century, is a testimony to the durability of this belief.)
So this is not just a story about Greece and its terrible fate. It is a tale of modern European democracy and where it goes from here. What exactly does the word mean for those committed to the European project? This is the most important question to be asked now, certainly for Britain in its “negotiations” with other EU states.
But this is, to such a great extent, an argument with the past: an idea of European volatility and the dangerousness of ordinary people which may be entirely out of place and irrelevant now. The idea that the EU has “kept the peace” – meaning that without its power and influence the populations of Europe would instantly revert to mass murder – is almost certainly absurd. In a world that has changed beyond recognition, economically, technologically and culturally, we are still talking the language, and dreaming the nightmares, of the last century.
But the other side of this stalemate is a throwback too. The fantasy economics of garbled Marxism, in which populist histrionics feature more than dialectic, is having a quite spectacular burn-out in Greece. The answer to everything is to tax the rich more and distribute money that does not exist. This isn’t an alternative plan: it’s an alternative reality. The very idea of money having any fixed value is a function of capitalist mythology which can be dispelled by simply refusing to accept its terms – which are just a conspiracy against the working class.
This economic illiteracy is peddled here by the SNP and the Greens, and occasionally by Labour depending on what day of the week it is. In France, the electorate has been undergoing a quick refresher course in its limitations.
Those who express kind-hearted sentiments about the Greek plight – as if the realities of lending and borrowing money between nations was just a grand fiction which could be written off without repercussions – unwittingly make use of this Marxist theology. The value of money is not objective: it can be politically decided. Which is true, of course, if you are willing to live in a closed totalitarian society like the old Soviet Union where the value of the currency can be artificially determined and maintained. What happens when the wall comes down is not pretty. Your country and your people are left with a meaningless pile of notes that nobody else recognises. In the real world, and especially in a globalised economy, currencies may only be arbitrarily valued (or devalued) at will if you are prepared to take the consequences. East Germany and Russia both learned that lesson. Why are we still arguing about it?
What we are seeing now is not just a struggle about debt, or national power, or even democratic accountability. This is really the endgame for the great mythical beasts of the last century. First, there is post-war Europe’s fear of its own populations which no one has bothered to re-assess for 50 years. Then we have the last gasp of Marxist delusion which uses 19th century social conditions to understand the post-industrial world. Surely we should be able to move on. We don’t want another 100 years of this, do we?