Un empire européen en voie d’éclatement

Le Monde Diplomatique, Mai 2019, 1, 20-21.

Qu’est-ce que l’Union européenne ? Le concept le plus proche qui vient à l’esprit est celui d’empire libéral ou, mieux, néolibéral : un bloc hiérarchiquement structuré et composé d’États nominalement souverains dont la stabilité se maintient grâce à une distribution du pouvoir d’un centre vers une périphérie.

Au centre se trouve une Allemagne qui essaie avec plus ou moins de succès de se dissimuler à l’intérieur du noyau dur de l’Europe (Kerneuropa) qu’elle forme avec la France. Elle ne veut pas être considérée comme ce que les Britanniques appelaient une « unificatrice du continent », même si, en réalité, c’est bien le cas. Le fait qu’elle se cache derrière la France constitue pour cette dernière une source de pouvoir. (…)

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English version:

The EU is a doomed empire

Published in Le Monde Diplomatique – English Edition, May 01, 2019.

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Lieber den Deckel draufhalten

ZEIT online, 27.03.2019

Europa ist die Antwort“ – so der Slogan der SPD zur Wahl des Europäischen Parlaments. Aber was ist die Frage? Und welches Europa? Wissen kann man, um was für ein Parlament es geht: eins ohne gesetzgeberisches Initiativrecht (das liegt beim Europäischen Rat), ohne Hoheit über die Verfassung (die besteht aus unglaublich komplexen, selbst für Spezialisten nahezu unlesbaren zwischenstaatlichen Verträgen sowie aus Schlüsselentscheidungen des Europäischen Gerichtshofs) und ohne die Möglichkeit, die Regierung zu wählen oder abzuwählen (die ebenfalls aus dem Europäischen Rat besteht; Exekutive und Legislative in einem – das gibt es noch, oder schon wieder). Während ein Parlament, das seinen Namen verdient, seine Rechte und die der Regierung selbst bestimmt, werden sie hier von der Regierung begründet und begrenzt. Kein Wunder, dass die Briten, Erfinder der parlamentarischen Demokratie, so etwas nie ernst nehmen konnten. (…)

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Fighting the State

Review of Quinn Slobodian (2018), Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Appeared in Development and Change 50 (3), 2019, 1-12.

Neoliberalism, we learn from this truly eye-opening book, is not new at all; it is, in fact, almost a century old. Why ‘neo’, then? Because it was conceived and intended to promote the return of the stateless liberal Weltwirtschaft (the globally integrated world economy of the gold standard) which even Karl Polanyi sometimes celebrated with a note of nostalgia. Conceived it was by an identifiable, and now precisely identified, group of people who carried it and the project it stood for to its, however preliminary, victory in our time. The end of liberalism and the rise of neoliberalism began in 1918 with the fall of the empires of free trade and their replacement with a host of sovereign and potentially democratic nation states, carriers of a dangerous virus called ‘economic nationalism’. After 1945 followed decolonization and the introduction of majority voting in the General Assembly of the United Nations — anti-liberal political architectures that, together with the Keynesian gospel of national self-sufficiency, threatened not just economic progress but also, this was the claim, the open society, human freedom and dignity. Therefore, neo. (…)

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Alternativas al corsé monetario del euro

El País, 15 de marzo, 2019.

La Unión Económica y Monetaria (UEM) fue un error histórico, no para Alemania –que originalmente estaba en contra pero se convirtió en su principal beneficiario— sino para los países mediterráneos, Francia incluida, que por distintas razones estaban impacientes por “europeizar” la moneda alemana. Esos países sufren, pero no por su elevada deuda, como sostiene Alemania, sino porque las distintas culturas económicas nacionales requieren distintos regímenes monetarios para permitir que sean internacionalmente competitivas sus distintas estructuras sociales e institucionales. Ya en 1992, Ralf Dahrendorf, el entonces director de la London School of Economics, señaló que algunos países, como Francia, han impulsado el crecimiento económico históricamente con deuda pública, mientras que otros, como Italia, dependían de la alta inflación para alimentar la demanda doméstica. Un país altamente dependiente de las exportaciones como Alemania requiere estabilidad monetaria. Impuesto en Europa en su conjunto, como sucedió durante los neoliberales años noventa, el régimen monetario a la alemana asegura mercados cautivos para las exportaciones alemanas e imposibilita las ocasionales devaluaciones a otros países para defender su competitividad internacional. (…)

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Greek to a Greek

Review of Yanis Varoufakis (2017), Adults in the Room: My Battle with Europe’s Deep Establishment, London: The Bodley Head.

Appeared in Inference: International Review of Science 4 (3), March 2019.

What a strange book—strange but indispensable nevertheless. From January to July 2015, Yanis Varoufakis served as the Greek government’s finance minister. Adults in the Room is an account of his battle with what he calls Europe’s deep establishment. It is often self-indulgent, sometimes sentimental. He also takes pains to show he is human. He describes his happy marriage. He takes dinner with friends. He remembers his student days, and argues with his daughters. He encounters German secret service agents who unaccountably urge him to continue fighting the good fight. His mistakes he assigns to a nature that is too trusting given the intrigues both abroad and at the court of Alexis Tsipras, his prime minister and the leader of Syriza.

And yet, the book is indispensable. For whom? For the journalists who helped the masters of Europe get rid of Varoufakis; for the armies of European functionaries, les ronds-de-cuir; and, one might hope, for teachers and students of the policy sciences. Varoufakis’s book provides an honest account of how our world is governed. It will be plausible to anyone who has tried to make sense of political life without falling victim to the charm of political power. (…)

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Reflections on Political Scale

Adam Smith Lecture in Jurisprudence, University of Glasgow, 30 May 2018. Published online on February 6, 2019, in: Jurisprudence: An International Journal of Legal and Political Thought, 10 (1), 1-14.

I start, not with Smith – he will show up near the end – but with a close friend of his, the historian Edward Gibbon. In the fourth volume of his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, published in 1788, Gibbon’s narrative reaches the point when in the late fifth century the Western Roman Empire forever expired. Before he finally turns his attention to the history of Byzantium, Gibbon pauses to look back at more than four centuries of Roman imperial statehood to consider what the ‘awful revolution’ he has recounted might mean for ‘the instruction of the present age’. (…)

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Through Unending Halls

Review of Joshua B. Freeman (2018), Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World, New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Appeared in London Review of Books 41 (3), 2019, 29-31.

It was in the early 1960s, I think, that our class at a small-town Gymnasium made a trip to south-western Germany, accompanied by several teachers. We visited Heidelberg and Schwetzingen and similar places without really seeing them; 17-year-old boys have other things on their minds. But we also went to Rüsselsheim, near Frankfurt, for a tour of the Opel car factory. I had never imagined that a place like this could exist: the deafening noise, the dirt, the heat, and in the middle of it all, people stoically performing minute predefined operations on the cars-in-the-making that were slowly but relentlessly moving past their work stations. The high point of the visit was the foundry in the basement – which, as I now learn from Joshua Freeman’s marvellous book, was the standard place for foundries in car factories of that era. Here, where the heat seemed unbearable and there was almost no light, half-naked men carried the molten metal, red-hot, from the furnace to the casting stations in small buckets filled to a back-breaking weight. Trained in the classics rather than the real world, I felt I had entered the workshop of Hephaestus. Looking back, I think it was on that day I decided to study sociology, which I then believed could help me and others to improve the lives of those slaving away in the basements of factories everywhere. (…)

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