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. (…)

Continue reading on inference-review.com

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’. (…)

Continue reading on tandfonline.com

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. (…)

Continue reading on lrb.co.uk [Subscription needed]

Globalization and the Transformation of the International State System

Norbert Lechner Lecture, Diego Portales University, Chile, November 14, 2018.

In a globally integrated capitalist economy borders between states are supposed to become economically irrelevant. Globalization is the ultimate form of liberalization; it shields free markets, instituted on a global scale, from national state intervention, in particular of a redistributive kind. Rather than markets located in states, under globalization states become located in markets. This has momentous consequences for the nature of statehood, both domestically and internationally. States located in markets lose the capacity to protect their economies and societies from market competition; in fact their economic role, if one is left for them at all, is to deregulate their national economies in order to make them more competitive, internally first and as a consequence externally as well. (…)

Links:
Video (youtube.com)
– Continue reading on catedranorbertlechner.cl [PDF]

Billige Tugend

Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, 14. Oktober 2018, Seite 44.

Didier Eribon lag mit seiner Kritik an Sahra Wagenknecht in diesem Feuilleton falsch: Offene Grenzen sind noch keine Politik. Die Linken brauchen vielmehr einen neuen Internationalismus.

„Sahra Wagenknecht ist mitverantwortlich für das, was in Chemnitz geschehen ist, weil sie die sogenannte Migrantenproblematik zum Bestandteil der linken Agenda gemacht hat (. . .) Wagenknechts Aussage, sie sei gegen das Konzept offener Grenzen, (. . .) suggeriert, dass man mit ihr auch über Grenzzäune, Hunde und Internierungslager reden kann.“ Das ist eine Menge Holz, vor allem von jemand, der sich „in gewisser Weise“ für das „verantwortlich“ erklärt, was Wagenknecht so alles unternimmt. Ich habe, wie andere auch, Eribons „Rückkehr nach Reims“ – als Soziologe war er und ist er mir bis heute nicht aufgefallen – durchaus mit Bewegung gelesen. Hätte ich das Buch zu rezensieren gehabt, hätte ich den Dauertriumphalismus des Autors über seinen eigenen Bildungsaufstieg etwas nervig gefunden; Bildungsaufsteiger gibt es in unserer Generation ja nicht gerade selten. Wichtiger, mir wäre die geradezu ontologische Beschreibung der Arbeiterklasse, jeder Arbeiterklasse und nicht nur der Familie Eribon, als „rassistisch“ merkwürdig und bemerkenswert erschienen. (…)

Weiterlesen [PDF]

Marx’s writing more relevant today than ever

Interview by Jipson John and Jitheesh P.M., Monthly Review Online, December 06, 2018.

Originally published in Frontline, November 09, 2018

In “How will capitalism end?”, your 2014 article for “New Left Review”, you gave a theoretical farewell to capitalism. You identified five disorders to the system, namely, declining growth, oligarchy, starvation of public sphere, corruption and international anarchy that would bring about the end of capitalism. Are you saying that such an end is impending or immediate before us?

I am not saying that. I am saying that those five trends will continue as there is nothing to be seen that can stop them. I am also saying that there is no new society waiting in the wings of history, which will only have to be instituted by the forces of capitalist opposition. Instead, I am expecting a long period of high uncertainty and disorder—an interregnum in which the old order has died while a new order cannot yet be born. Very strange things can happen in such a time, as Antonio Gramsci pointed out in a famous passage of his The Prison Notebooks.

You argue that capitalism will continue to regress and atrophy until at some point it might end. You also add that we do not need to confront capitalism but let its “natural” end come about. Will capitalism end in such a peaceful manner or will it endanger humanity? People such as John Bellamy Foster speak of either socialism or exterminism as the choice before humanity.

The interregnum will be an extremely dangerous period. It is not that we don’t need to confront capitalism. I said we don’t have the collective capacity to do away with it. I wish we did. But capitalism is now a global regime while anti-capitalist politics is inevitably local. That makes it possible to throw sand into the wheels of capitalist development but, I am afraid, not to end it. (…)

Continue reading on mronline.org

Legado de Merkel es un montón de promesas vacías

Entrevista por Catalina Göpel, La Tercera, 19 de noviembre, 2018.

De visita en Chile para participar de la tercera cátedra Norbert Lechner 2018 “Globalización y la crisis del sistema estatal internacional” organizada por la Universidad Diego Portales, el sociólogo alemán Wolfgang Streeck, del Instituto Max Planck para los Estudios de Sociedades, conversó con La Tercera para abordar -entre otras cosas- los principales desafíos de Europa frente al auge del populismo en ese continente y el fin de la carrera política de la canciller germana Angela Merkel. “Va a culpar de su salida a estos movimientos nacionalistas”, dijo.

¿Qué ha permitido el auge de los movimientos nacionalistas y populistas en Europa?

Cuando la centroizquierda no pudo responder a los problemas actuales, esto puso las esperanzas de la gente en los nacionalismos. Actualmente la globalización socava la capacidad política del Estado Nación y frente a esto los desafíos son también los de encontrar las respuestas a las fuentes de la ansiedad e incertidumbre que experimenta el electorado. Eso quiere decir empleo, seguridad, sistema de pensiones, básicamente los fundamentos del orden de la posguerra. (…)

Continúe en latercera.com

Linke Politik im Schachmatt?

Gespräch mit Clemens Lukitsch, Grautöne, November, 2018.

Der Soziologe Streeck analysiert einen zunehmend der demokratischen Kontrolle entzogen Kapitalismus. Auf die wirtschaftlichen, folgen die politische Erschütterungen in den westlichen Gesellschaften – der Aufstieg regressiver Parteien in Europa, die Wahl Trumps in den USA. Grautöne fragt Streeck, wie viel Zeit noch „gekauft“ werden kann, bis der Konsens des „demokratischen Kapitalismus“ der Nachkriegszeit in sich zusammenfällt. In dem Gespräch geht es auch darum, welche Projekte eine auf soziale Gerechtigkeit abzielende Verteilungspolitik angehen müsste, was die Bewegung #aufstehen dazu beitragen kann und warum im linken Lager ein scharfer Konflikt zwischen Identitäts- und Verteilungsfragen entbrannt ist.

Audio

From Speciation to Specialization

Published in Social Research Vol. 85: No. 3: Fall 2018, 661-685.

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Charles Darwin

For a social scientist, reading Darwin’s origin of species is a simultaneously humbling and reassuring experience. What an achievement! Science and scientific writing at their best. A book that is the product of long thinking, such as we today, haunted by deadlines, can only dream of, and written in a clear, engaging language, immensely readable for even the (educated and interested) layperson. Everything is as simple as possible but no simpler, as allegedly demanded by none less than Albert Einstein himself. And profoundly honest: the open questions, the remaining mysteries carefully exposed, careful attention paid to the difficult spots, and the arguments of the opposition, both real and anticipated, treated with polite respect. (…)

Download [PDF]