View From the Left

Claus Offe lucidly explains what the proponents of ‘solidarity’ are hoping for utterly hopeless about in Europe. The entire article is so thoroughly saturated in doom-drenched, soul-scouring melancholia that by the end I was searching for Odysseus-style restraints to prevent myself doing a wild happy-dance around the office. From the Euro-progressive perspective, things look seriously bleak.

As a bonus, there’s a great gloss on degenerative ratchets: “… those fatal errors which, once committed, prove irreversible, closing off any return to the status quo ante.” By carrying everything relentlessly to the brink, they’re more of a nightmare for the perceptive left than they are for us. By this stage in history, the left has much more to lose. It’s their regime that is going over the cliff. (Yes, I realize this reboot-friendly Schadenfreude will earn a spanking from Goulding.)

ADDED: France is in its worst shape for more than three decades, since François Mitterrand nearly blew up the economy in the early 1980s trying to stimulate growth through government deficits and nationalisations. Unemployment is at 10.5 per cent and climbing. The economy is contracting. And overseeing the shambles is the suety, confidence-draining face of François Hollande.

July 9, 2013admin 43 Comments »
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43 Responses to this entry

  • fotrkd Says:

    Sparky has gone for a bolster (still measuring up). This is getting pretty intense (the largest understatement I have ever made). The amphetamines were to calm you down, right?

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    Posted on July 9th, 2013 at 9:27 am Reply | Quote
  • Vladimir Says:

    There is no reason for any excitement here. Don’t forget that the EU is a project of supreme ideological importance for our elites. Therefore, they will simply not allow it to fail, period. All the concerns expressed in the liked article are trifling second-order issues compared to this fundamental point.

    Things can look bleak only for a naive EU idealist who once believed that the EU integration would lead to universal prosperity and flourishing for the whole of Europe. Such naive idealists, however, are completely irrelevant. Politically shrewd progressives — a category which encompasses everyone who truly matters politically nowadays — are in tacit agreement that the main purpose of the EU is to serve as a major step in the build-up of transnational progressive governance. And from this perspective, they have every reason to be optimistic.

    The shrewd progressives, of course, also believe that their designs will eventually lead to universal prosperity and flourishing. They are however seeing the present troubles as a trivial price for the eventual success of their transnational project. This is of course predicated on the dubious thesis about the eventual grand success of this project — but they are perfectly correct that the present problems pose no serious danger to its forward march.

    (And also, as the last devastating point for people who are gloating over the imagined demise of the EU, it’s naive to believe that even the total EU breakdown scenario would change things very significantly. Norway never joined the EU, and nevertheless, the transnational progressives haven’t found it very difficult to route around this obstacle and ensure good compliance on its part. Admittedly, there would probably be some change for the better due to improved jurisdictional competition.)

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    Thales Reply:

    tl; dr: broken eggs => prog omelettes.

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    admin Reply:

    Claus Offe’s whole article is ultimately about jurisdictional competition within the EU, the recognition that no plausible political route forward is likely to eliminate it, and the conclusion that no ‘solidarity’-based solution is achievable under these conditions. Unless one of these three judgments is incorrect, he has every ground for pessimism. The fissional trends — especially between the north and south — are amplifying, rather than stabilizing, both within themselves, and through reciprocal stimulation. The Germans won’t bail out the Greeks, and the Greeks won’t subject themselves to real austerity. As the situation worsens, the mutual recrimination will grow, until the very idea of ‘Europe’ becomes preposterous.

    The potential of large-scale social systems to prolong the process of ruin, sub-critically, is generally under-estimated, I agree. Perhaps ‘Europe’ can hobble on for decades, but as it does so, it will be carried ever deeper into the degenerative ratchet (“those fatal errors which, once committed, prove irreversible”), ever further from any prospect of solution and resumed advance. ‘Progress’ is terminally sick, its energies absorbed by the ever-complicating problem of sheer survival. I take Offe seriously as the voice of informed elite despair. Their project is broken.

    These people aren’t the Illuminati. They have no magical powers. At any moment, a cascade of chaotically unpredictable instability could finish them.

    It’s an error (I agree) to fill-in their death certificate prematurely. It’s no less an error to imagine that they have secretly discovered the elixir of immortality.

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    Gom Jabbar Reply:

    “The fissional trends — especially between the north and south — are amplifying, rather than stabilizing, both within themselves, and through reciprocal stimulation.”
    Reminds me of a joke I heard, “Garibaldi did not unite Italy, he divided Africa.”

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    admin Reply:

    Yes, that’s good.

    The Euro elite has greater problems than America’s, because it is aiming for regulatory-bureaucratic override of two powerful forces of bottom-up instability, rather than just one. Not only is it aiming to ‘tame’ or domesticate capitalism, but also to suppress ethno-nationalism. (I’m no great enthusiast for the latter, which often means that I woefully underestimate its significance.) ‘Europe’ requires the mastery of both, which makes it a doubly impossible project.

    Posted on July 9th, 2013 at 2:11 pm Reply | Quote
  • Arred Wade Says:

    Never thought about it before, but if it weren’t for Cathedral-induced guilt over the history of American race relations, New England and California would definitely be drawing attention to the presumable imbalance in regional social service use and throwing the South under the bus over it.

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    admin Reply:

    … “and California”?

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    Arred Wade Reply:

    Northern California is probably the most progressive part of the country. Most of the people I know at the upper reaches of society move fairly freely between Boston/NY, San Francisco, and LA, having lived in all three at different parts of their lives. Doesn’t make intuitive geographical sense, but they are in some ways culturally indistinguishable from the yanks.

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    admin Reply:

    I read you as suggesting that California is a relatively low welfare-consumption state (which seemed implausible). If I misunderstood your point, I apologize — but that would also mean that I’m still not getting it.

    Arred Wade Reply:

    Only that the compassion that drives progressive welfare spending stops just short of extending itself to the white lower class, and that the extreme concentration of AA’s in the South is probably the only reason we don’t have the type of regionalist rhetoric you see over in Europe.

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    admin Reply:

    ‘Compassion’ has almost nothing to do with it.

    Doug Reply:

    The sizable majority of the South’s net federal transfers are going to benefit the “political allies” of the Northern progressives. If you, uh, know what I mean… The Southern political leaders, who are chosen by the Southern middle class, not the North’s fifth column in Dixie, overwhelmingly reject these federal transfers when they’re not forced to take them by law:

    http://www.austinchronicle.com/blogs/news/2012-07-09/perry-rejects-health-care-for-texas/

    Northern progressives will never express true animosity at regional federal transfers, other than using them to express a smug sense of superiority towards the wrong type of white people. Because they’re not true deficits in the sense that a hypothetical independent C.S.A. wouldn’t run them. Rather they’re structurally imposed by exported Cathedral policy. In contrast a non-EU Greece would still pretty much run the same deficits (but with a lot more currency devaluation).

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    Posted on July 9th, 2013 at 3:37 pm Reply | Quote
  • Vladimir Says:

    admin,

    Don’t forget that nationalism is just yesterday’s progressivism, not some primal organic force that the “ethno-nationalist” crowd likes to imagine. Without active support from the state, it has no independent life of its own, and will remain limited to a small percentage of contrarian malcontents. (Of course, this strong statement doesn’t apply to tribalism and particularism in general, but there aren’t any other politically viable manifestations of them in today’s Europe either.Even more generally, the mechanisms of propaganda and bureaucratic and judicial checks have evolved in Europe to the point where electoral politics is an almost irrelevant historical relic.)

    Capitalism, on the other hand, is indeed a powerful organic force with a life of its own. However, progressives know how to manage it within the neoliberal framework, and they also have the invincible ideological weapon of diagnosing every economic problem as an excess of unfettered capitalism and insufficient progressivism. So I don’t see how exactly they can be threatened by capitalism in any fatal way.

    Now, progressives certainly have no magical powers that would enable them to create their envisioned multicultural-neoliberal utopia. In this sense, their grand transnational project will almost certainly be a failure. It will produce anomie and dysfunction that is an inevitable consequence of multiculturalism, and it will also produce economic instability and stagnation (which will be, let’s hope, partly offset by the technological progress). All this will happen under the rule of an increasingly Brezhnevian progressive bureaucratic elite. However, there is no reson to expect that they’ll lose the ability to push on with their project with an undiminished ideological zeal, or that power will flow away from the EU and their other transnational institutions.

    (I think you’re falling into a trap of false hope when you diagnose despair on the part of progressives. On the contrary, as the time before their total ideological hegemony is passing out of living memory, it seems to me that their zeal and determination are growing to unprecedented heights — while at the same time their control of all the big megaphones is making the disposal of any ideological opposition easier than ever.)

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Yes, “nationalism is just yesterday’s progressivism”, but to conclude that “without active support from the state, it has no independent life of its own” strikes me as an exaggeration. European tribalism was corralled into a large-scale, language-based, nationalist form centuries ago, and it is this form that is now the conduit of atavistic tribal emotion — irrespective of state approval. Today’s European ruling elites are decidedly post-nationalist in orientation, so nationalism tends to be a channel of social dissent.

    Ideology is no threat to the elite (for clear Moldbuggian reasons), but that does not at all suggest that there are no threats. The principle danger comes from unmanageable systems dynamics, exacerbated by outside factors and a general climate of decline.

    I for one most decidedly do not hope that technological advance will work to paper over the cracks of Cathedralist dysfunction, but that it will — in stark contrast — intensify fissional tendencies and economic volatility, radically complicating the task of social management.

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    Peter A. Taylor Reply:

    > Ideology is no threat to the elite (for clear Moldbuggian reasons),

    I don’t follow you. Are you saying that no currently popular ideology is a threat to the elite, or that no conceivable ideology is a threat? This is because the elites control the gleichgeschaltet media?

    My reading of Moldbug is that what we need is a better counter-parasite.

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    admin Reply:

    Yes, that was hasty, and more controversial than admitted. My starting point in the usage of ‘Moldbuggian’ is that the Cathedral consummates ideology unsurpassably, and that the Antiversity scheme (plus The Plinth, etc.) is bizarrely unrealistic — both arguable assumptions, clearly.

    Vladimir Reply:

    European tribalism was corralled into a large-scale, language-based, nationalist form centuries ago, and it is this form that is now the conduit of atavistic tribal emotion — irrespective of state approval.

    It looks like we have an empirical disagreement here. From what I see, the era of romantic nationalism hasn’t left any such deep imprint, and I just don’t perceive any strong atavistic tribal emotion behind whatever remains of nationalism in today’s Europe. For all practical purposes, it looks like an ideology whose time has come and gone.

    (Admittedly, nationalism is an extremely powerful ideological tool when it’s actively whipped up by the big megaphones of mass propaganda. Also, its one saving grace is that it has historically served as a focal point for political organization against even more hideous and insane leftist ideologies. But none of this is relevant for its role in the reality of today’s Europe.)

    What’s more, I come from ex-Yugoslavia, where due to the recent unpleasantness people have probably the most emotional investment into nationalism out of all Europeans — and yet I can observe the same phenomenon even there. As soon as the nationalist propaganda from the big megaphones is toned down, nationalism ceases to be a significant ideological influence for the overwhelming majority of people.

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    admin Reply:

    Empirical disagreement should be tractable. We just need to extract some predictive consequences from it. (I need some mulling time.)

    Saddam Hussein's Whirling Aluminium Tubes Reply:

    “Don’t forget that nationalism is just yesterday’s progressivism, not some primal organic force that the “ethno-nationalist” crowd likes to imagine. Without active support from the state, it has no independent life of its own, and will remain limited to a small percentage of contrarian malcontents.”

    I don’t think you’ve thought this one through. Historical European nationalism was created via active support from the state, sure. Because many of the countries were artificial creations and nationalism served to bring together people who didn’t really have all that much in common (or divide people who actually had quite a bit in common.)

    But is ethno-nationalism similarly artificial? Not if you use the crudest sense of the term “ethnicity”. In the United States the state actively works to promote integration and to promote a positive image of blacks and Hispanics. Yet white flight is still going strong. The kind of white people who have families naturally cluster together in homogenous neighborhoods if they can, even when it costs them a lot of time (long commutes) and money to do so. Even though white people in the U.S. are atomized individuals who don’t even talk to their neighbors they still desperately want to live around their own kind (or at least, away from non-Asian minorities).

    It is now illegal, but they used to create racially restrictive covenants to ensure that those neighborhoods stayed homogenous. All this without a bit of government encouragement.

    Formalizing that arrangement and giving it legal support would be ethno-nationalism of a sort. Or at least something quite close to it.

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    Thales Reply:

    Tribalism is integral to the interrelationships of our organic husks. Memes can’t suppress the genes forever…

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    admin Reply:

    Truly interesting, but are DNA replicator molecules going to determine the horizon of practical interest forever?

    Thales Reply:

    I hate giving good people bad news…

    spandrell Reply:

    What you’re talking about is racism. Which is of course extremely natural. People of the same race do tend to flock together if surrounded by alien races.

    But European nationalism… I don’t know. Absent language barriers (which are enforced by the state), most Europeans have little need to avoid each other. Swedes and Napolitans might distrust each other, but Dutch and Germans? Southern French and Northern Spaniards? Not much need to segregate.

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    admin Reply:

    Congratulations on the carefully-selected examples — characterized by broadly comparable levels of economic competence. Could you extend it to Flemish and Walloons; Croats and Serbs (let alone Albanians); Lombards and Sicilians; … Germans and Greeks?

    Vladimir Reply:

    I have no significant disagreement here, but note that my remarks are specifically about the prospect of nationalism as a viable basis for serious political organization. As the example of the U.S. shows, even these natural and ineradicable tendencies that you describe are not a viable basis for political organization that doesn’t have the means of big-megaphone mass propaganda on its side.

    This is only more true for European nationalism, in the sense of (say) Frenchmen acting out of French national pride and solidarity. It will certainly happen if they are drowned in French nationalist propaganda, but not otherwise. (And certainly not in the present situation, where every respectable propaganda outlet insists that any excursion into nationalism makes one equivalent to Hitler — so that nationalist politicians are effectively reduced to vying for the votes of the minority of malcontents to whom voting for Hitler would in fact have some appeal.)

    So, yes, if you dilute the meaning of “ethno-nationalism” to denote only people’s tendencies towards clustering and segregation in private life based on intuitively perceived cultural and racial differences, it is certainly a genuine expression of human nature. This, however, is something very different from claiming that the EU transnational progressives will find nationalism to be a serious political obstacle.

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    admin Reply:

    “This, however, is something very different from claiming that the EU transnational progressives will find nationalism to be a serious political obstacle.” — Can there really be any doubt that they’re already finding it an extremely serious political obstacle. Just because it fails to support any kind of “serious political organization” doesn’t change that in the slightest. Ethno-nationalism obstructs risk-pooling, and thus strikes at the very heart of the ‘European Project’.

    Posted on July 9th, 2013 at 4:54 pm Reply | Quote
  • Orlandu84 Says:

    What feeds the Cathedral? Fear. Lots and lots of fear. If people are not afraid, they don’t need the Cathedral. Modern politics is simply industrialized fear mongering. The Cathedral has achieved this State in a number of ways (not least of which is mass media and education).

    What the Cathedral is having a harder time with is making their product fit reality. When everyone was convinced that the USSR might go crazy at any moment, it was easy to explain the need for a USG so big that it could not fail. Then the USG won without having fired a shot. The narrative of fear has been falling apart ever since. Like the USG in “Canadian Bacon,” they have to find somebody or something to be at war with. Otherwise, the people might decide to become truly independent.

    Depending on what part of the narrative you read, the EU was supposed either to balance the USG or solidify NATO into the Hegemony for all time. A small problem happened: not all the EU countries have been pulling their own weight. The whole debt problem just won’t go away. The obvious solution is for the EU to issue EU bonds and be done with the pretense. Yet this solution has its own problem set. First, such bonds would directly compete with US bonds and the Fed might not like that. Second, in order to forge the United States of Europe, the countries of Europe actually have to give up their sovereignty. Some of their leaders like being in charge. Accordingly, in order to produce enough fear, the Cathedral has to portray the situation in Europe as so dire that only more EU will save the day.

    Unfortunately, you can only instill so much fear into people before they start reacting to that fear irrationally. Convince everyone that the world is ending, and everyone will do whatever he wants. I am reminded of Inspector Kemp in “Young Frankenstein,” “A riot is an ungly thing… undt, I tink, that it is chust about time ve had vun.”

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    A helpful angle on the question — and I agree with the general trend of your argument. One huge problem for the EU establishment is that cranking up the fear level doesn’t push popular sentiment even remotely in the direction desired. Instead, it fosters increasing nationalism everywhere, fiscal conservatism in the north, and resistance to ‘reform’ in the south — in all three cases, the exact opposite of the Eurocratic agenda.

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    Posted on July 9th, 2013 at 6:31 pm Reply | Quote
  • fotrkd Says:

    Fancy playing rock paper, scissors?

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    admin Reply:

    As if we’re ever not.

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    fotrkd Reply:

    But you know what we always get wrong.

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    admin Reply:

    Tantalization will get you nowhere.

    fotrkd Reply:

    That’s funny (or sulky) given the circumstances.

    Thales Reply:

    …both temporary and pointless.

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    Posted on July 11th, 2013 at 10:59 am Reply | Quote
  • Vladimir Says:

    admin,

    Can there really be any doubt that they’re already finding it an extremely serious political obstacle.

    How exactly? In what way has nationalism been anything more than an easily managed marginal nuisance for the EU project in recent decades?

    Ethno-nationalism obstructs risk-pooling, and thus strikes at the very heart of the ‘European Project’.

    Well, yes, but what force does it strike with? Sure, it may lower somewhat the first derivative of various measures of how victorious the transnational progressives are. But it definitely has no prospect of getting it anywhere close to zero, let alone reversing its sign.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Offe explains “how exactly” — it makes the Euro crisis insoluble. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard provides a mainstream account of the unsustainable pressures involved.

    I’m in broad agreement with you about the positive potential of European ethno-nationalism (near zero) — it doesn’t contain any answers to anything that matters. Negatively, however, it is hugely important. In economic terms, it represents an automatic counter-action to the strategic suppression of moral hazard, marking a limit where the dream of large-scale collective responsibility disintegrates. In modern history, it is no coincidence that the collapse of communist projects is manifested in a nationalistic form (in the USSR and Yugoslavia, perhaps even Myanmar). It is the most immediate way people express the rejection of a shared destiny. Offe seems to think this is already well underway in Europe. Do you think he’s wrong?

    Accepting everything you say about the weakness of nationalism, it also has some strengths (when envisaged as a disruptive force). For instance, it is by its very nature disintegrated, which means that supra-nationalistic stabilization has to work everywhere, whilst nationalism only has to break out anywhere. Once disintegrative dynamics are unleashed, both mechanical conduction, and cultural contagion, work to spread it throughout the system. It only takes one significant revolt against European supra-nationalism — i.e. the election of a hard-line nationalist government, probably somewhere in the southern periphery — to send shock-waves through the whole continent, perhaps jolting the process of integration into reverse.

    None of this amounts to a confident prediction, but it certainly rises to the level of an effective threat.

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    John Hannon Reply:

    So is it worth bothering to vote UKIP or not?

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    Vladimir Reply:

    Evans-Pritchard’s article follows an effective but nevertheless awful propagandistic template: string together a litany of carefully selected true facts in a way that adds up to a completely misleading picture of the whole situation. Yes, the EU has many problems, but E-P fails to present any discussion of the opposite stabilizing and centralizing forces and why exactly we should believe that they are weaker in the balance.

    Overall, I think you’re underestimating the strength of the carrot-and-stick incentives that the Eurocrats have at their disposal to stabilize this situation. A European nationalist politician is faced with unnanimously hostile mass media that will equate him with Hitler, as well as the threat of being prosecuted for hate speech should he resort to effective hardball rabble-rousing propaganda. And even if the nationalists achieve some electoral success despite all this, and then survive the inevitable subsequent media onslaught, they will have an almost irresistible incentive to sell out and give up on anything beyond small concessions that will at most slow down the Eurocrat plans somewhat. (If this sounds unrealistic, consider that the current president of Serbia used to be the de facto leader of the Serbian Radical Party, which made Golden Dawn look laughably moderate in comparison. Yet it took very little time for him and almost the entire politically talented Radical Party cadre to become good Eurocrat toadies once they caught sight of the carrots.)

    The parallel with the nationalism-driven disintegration of Yugoslavia and the USSR breaks down because this disintegration happened in an ideological vacuum, which occurred after the Communist elites had lost faith in the foundational ideology of the system. Unlike in Lithuania or Croatia in 1989, a nationalist politician in today’s Europe is not facing a decrepit elite that will offer only token resistance (while realizing that the system is finished and it’s high time to figure out how to maintain their status in whatever will replace it). He is facing an elite with a strong grip on power and a supremely high confidence in its ideological, moral, and historical mission. So the more accurate parallel are nationalists in the USSR or Yugoslavia some decades before that — although of course the ones in today’s Europe are bound to be neutralized by subtler and gentler methods.

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    Contemplationist Reply:

    You are absolutely right about the European elites and their position, but that’s just one side of the ledger. As the years go by and the debt crisis shows no signs of going away, legitimacy gets eroded further and further. Incrementally for sure, but it still erodes continuously. It will then come down to how ham-fisted the elites want to become to maintain their grip on power amid tanking legitimacy. If you think there is a threshold beyond which ‘silky soft’ Eurocrats are unable to go (for whatever reason), then thats where the crisis will precipitate.

    Posted on July 12th, 2013 at 3:13 am Reply | Quote
  • Vladimir Says:

    Contemplationist,

    I don’t see anything but wishful thinking in such predictions. What is supposed to be the exact causal chain between persistent debt crisis, “erosion of legitimacy” (what does that mean in practical terms anyway?), and political instability (of what exact kind?) that would necessitate increasingly ham-fisted measures? It sounds to me like just another story grown on the substrate of democratic-era political mythology, not a realistic Machiavellian analysis of the situation.

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    admin Reply:

    Machiavellian analysis fails to learn the lesson of King Canute, which is that the Machiavellian sphere is Gnon-bounded: it has no purchase on God or Nature. Even if you succeed in persuading everyone that the tide will submit to your command, the tide does not submit to your command.

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    Posted on July 12th, 2013 at 10:08 pm Reply | Quote

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