Slavoj Žižek and Srećko Horvat, with contributor Alexis Tsipras – What Does Europe Want? (2015)

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Alexis Tsipras

Alexis Tsipras, who remains the prime minister of Greece, distills the content of the book in his foreward to it.

The Destruction of Independent Societies

Until 2008, Greece for some 15 years experienced economic growth. The growth was flawed, as it was characterized by large but untaxed profits gained by the rich, theft of public money, and over-indebtedness and rising unemployment among the poor.

However, the bank losses of 2008, created by unregulated speculation were transferred to national governments, and thus to the societies governed. Development collapsed, Greece was unable to borrow, and became dependent upon the IMF and the European bank. The IMF, the European Union, and the European Central Bank imposed upon Greece a severe austerity programme, which included destructive taxation, large reductions in public spending, elimination of collective agreements, destruction of the welfare state (especially in health, education, and social security), and privatization of essential public needs, such as water and energy.

Austerity has deepened the social crisis, for its intent is to remove the social contract in the interest of uncontrolled market speculation favoured by banks and multinational corporations, and which promotes Germany to the detriment of the Union, and where, in the eurozone, member states no longer have the right to manage their own finances. The central institutions of the European Union have the right to intervene fiscally with policies whose impact is the decline of schools, nurseries, universities, hospitals, and social programmes. Similar situations have emerged in Spain, Portugal, and Italy.

The end of this neoliberal, innately aggressive capitalism, with its unconditional and undisciplined domination of capital, and unheeding of democracy, the needs of hapless societies, and the protection of the environment, approaches.

The speculation of financial capital must cease, and the real economy must be freed from the logic of profit. The morality of the economy must be replaced by the morality of politics and democracy. This requires the active participation of the masses, at all levels, in politics to eliminate the control by the ruling elite.

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Srećko Horvat and Alexis Tsipras

The principal authors, Slavoj Žižek and Srećko Horvat, give several important elaborations.

Debt

Markets do not have feelings; people do.

Financial debt is virtual money; natural resource debt is real depletion. In both instances, the future is mortgaged, the former as the imprisonment of people’s time, the latter as environmental destruction; the one destroys the liberty of the individual, the second destroys the planet.

Banking, in other words, stores both time past and time future. Horvat formulates it this way: “If our future is sold, then there is no future at all.” This is not only a financial construct, but also a theological one. If Christians are born in sin, and Christ’s death a debt for the redemption of this sin, then the Christian’s future can never be free because his sin cannot be redeemed in this mortal life.

Protest

One of the public responses to this enslavement is protest. But the protest takes more than one form. In its pursuit of freeing democracy, it protests the rich and the institutions that protect the rich, and the electoral vote that allows only for a choice between two undesirable conditions; and, in its pursuit of abundance, its xenophobia, which is rooted in ignorance, protests the presence of newcomers, minorities, and any who differ in any way from the majority. The former is resisted by demagogues, whether political of religious, the latter fed upon by demagogues, whether political or religious. Both seek a change of government.

Furthermore, protest and upheaval can occur, and does occur, in proximity to places of peace and comfort; what Stefan Zweig termed parallel worlds. The book gives as examples the modern plight of the migrants contrasted with life in western Europe, and the historical plight during World War Two of Jews contrasted with Gentile, Aryan life in Berlin and Vienna. It also recalls G.K. Chesterton’s articulation that those who fight the enemy in the name of freedom and humanity invariably move towards removing freedom and humanity in order to fight the enemy. Chesterton was referring to the constraints imposed by religion, but a contemporary parallel is the reduction of personal liberty in the fight against an undefined terrorism; in which, moreover, religious zealots in seeking to uproot secular culture abandon their own religious credentials. Horvat concludes the book, elegantly, by writing “we are the Godot we have been waiting for.”

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Slavoj Žižek

Contradiction

Slavoj Žižek, in one of these essays, discusses the contradiction between retaining the old that was Europe with the new that is Europe technologically emergent. He takes as a his point of departure, a not entirely metaphorical commentary on the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and how the ode to joy is compromised by the entry of the Turkish march at bar 331. Or, perhaps, how Beethoven deliberately, by this Janissary march, turns the sentiment of the ode upon itself to reveal its essential falsehood as a nostrum for humanity’s militant essence of disintegration that cannot be overcome.

This is not only of interest as political discourse but also represents the possibility that Beethoven’s fourth movement is not a response to the symphony’s preceding three movements but a confirmation of the intractable turmoil that is concentrated between the two themes, the harmonic porosity, and the persistent tread of the coda (that Stravinsky thought simplistic and unworthy of Beethoven) of the first.

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