The following is part one of a post by Albena Azmanova, author of The Scandal of Reason: A Critical Theory of Political Judgment. We will post part two tomorrow. Azmanova will be speaking at The New School tonight at 6 pm.
“This almighty raison d’économie leaves no options: it is policymaking without politics, without ideological choices, it allows no alternatives”—Albena Azmanova
Judging by this poster advertising the play “Europe Today,” something is amiss in Europe.
The European Union’s fate has been, of late, rather more bewailed and bemoaned, than celebrated. The most ominous pronouncement of Europe’s sorry fate have centered on the rise of technocratic rule riding high on the will of markets in what Margaret Thatcher called the TINA logic (borrowing from Herbert Spenser)—There Is No Alternative. The emergency appointments by EU authorities of two heads of European governments (Lucas Papandreou in Greece and Mario Monti in Italy) in November 2011, and tasking the newly appointed leaders to enforce (rather than negotiate) policies of austerity in their countries, does add fresh credence to the idea.
We seem to thus have lost our basic right to politics—that is, to the reasoned contest among alternative ideas about the shape of our present and the contours of our future, sacrificing it at the altar of the hegemonic common-sense of free markets aided by bureaucracies, while altogether preserving the democratic institutional order.
THE MISSING CRISIS OF CAPITALISM AND THE “NEW DEAL”
What is the evidence that something is amiss in the nature of European politics? The broadly proclaimed, yet missing, crisis of capitalism can serve as an empirical entry point into a diagnosis of Europe’s current malaise. In the midst of the recent global financial meltdown, we have heard much emphatic talk about the crisis of capitalism. However, what narratives about this crisis tell us is no more than that the financialization of the economy has created a crisis for capitalism—some difficulties in the creation of profit (such as deficient credit) which have been by now been overcome. Moreover, these difficulties, and the social misery they have inflicted, have not triggered a crisis of the system’s legitimacy. “We are not against the system but the system is against us,”, announced a slogan of the indignados—the peaceful demonstrators that who occupied public spaces across Spain in the early summer of 2011. Yet this cry of protest is ambiguous—it is more an appeal to tame the system, make it more inclusive, rather than to subvert or overthrow it.
Like the protests of the Spanish indignados, the citizens’ outrage in Greece against the conditions that the EU and the IMF imposed for the financial bailout of the government, the Occupy Wall Street movements, and the looting that ravaged English cities – all in the summer and autumn of 2011 – have signaled a growing popular discontent with the outcomes of the socio-political system – mainly with the dramatically uneven allocation of wealth and increasing social exclusion. However, while these movements express, in their distinct ways, public frustration with the socio-economic system of neoliberal capitalism, they rarely put into question its validity or evoke an alternative. These calls are at their best appeals for ‘fixing’ the system and making it more inclusive, and, at their worst, – exasperated cries of frustration and fear. If democratic elections are any indicator of prevailing preferences, the most recent round of national elections in Europe have confirmed that capitalism has considerable popular support. In the midst of the rampant economic crisis, the vote in Europe has gone to the right;, support to left parties has been at a historic low, while support to xenophobic populism is rising.
Most importantly, what is absent is a broad societal, cross-ideological coalition of forces mobilizing to protect society from the market, similar to the counter-movement against free markets that Carl Polanyi, in his The Great Transformation, observed to be taking shape in the early twentieth century. At the time, a consensus between the left and the right emerged on the need to constrain markets, a consensus which propelled the post-war welfare states. Instead, we now have governments, irrespectively of their ideological allegiance, running to the rescue of financial capital and big business, and implementing austerity programs to reassure capital markets, while society bears this with relative equanimity, despite the increasing price it is paying in terms of cuts to social insurance, to basic services for the most disadvantaged, general impoverishment and growing precarity. Social frustration is, instead, directed mainly into xenophobia. How can this be explained?
While we have been busy debating the crisis of capitalism, capitalist democracy (as a system of social relations and political rules) has metamorphosed itself into a new form, which the most recent economic meltdown consolidated, but did not cause. This new form is marked by a “new deal”—a new social contract (or legitimacy relationship) between public authority and citizens, which enables a particular style of rule, which I will attempt now to elucidate. Before I proceed, let me clarify the concept of a legitimacy relationship between public authority and citizens, which will be a focal point in the subsequent analysis of Europe’s political health.
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