Wednesday 8 September 2010

Žižek on Europe and "Permanent Economic Emergency"

I've not yet heard a better description of the state of the European Union than this piece by Slavoj Žižek:
One often hears that the true message of the Eurozone crisis is that not only the Euro, but the project of the united Europe itself is dead. But before endorsing this general statement, one should add a Leninist twist to it: Europe is dead—ok, but which Europe? The answer is: the post-political Europe of accommodation to the world market, the Europe which was repeatedly rejected at referendums, the Brussels technocratic-expert Europe. The Europe that presents itself as standing for cold European reason against Greek passion and corruption, for mathematics against pathetics. (Slavoj Žižek, A Permanent Economic Emergency, New Left Review 64).

It is difficult to find a place to stand on the EU in the UK. The right are happy to queue up to bash it on almost every conceivable issue, real and imaginary; however, the free market core of the project is generally ignored in terms of scrutiny in favour of ridiculous, spittle-flecked, nostril-flaring stories about straight bananas and the like. The EU's most voracious support comes from the centre with Lib Dems and New Labourites only too happy to endorse technocracy, supporting as they do both the EU's cosmopolitan pretensions and its free market ideals.

The leftist position should be clear: the EU is a neoliberal homogenising operation designed to facilitate the faster, easier appropriation of wealth for a more mobile few and to remove the possibility of political resistance for the (physically and socio-economically) immobile many. Yet it cuts across the political spectrum in an awkward way: it also realises in highly concrete terms a sort of left-leaning liberal cosmopolitanism that, in many ways, is difficult to resist, while, as the other side of precisely the same coin, it eliminates local democratic accountability and communal heterogeneity for the sake of neoliberal free market ideals.

It is easy to love the results of the Shengen agreement, the ability to live and work anywhere in the EU easily and freely, the apparent disappearance of intra-Europe realpolitik, etc. The question is: would the (at least ostensive) disappearance of borders that is so intuitively agreeable (to a social liberal) be possible without the overriding goal of socio-economic homogenisation (which should not imply egality). If one opposes the EU does that automatically make one an unrepentant nationalist?

To oppose the EU in the UK would generally involve aligning oneself with nationalists of all stripes - from moderate Tories to white supremacists via UKIP. It is something of a double bind that catches the most difficult questions for leftists today: how does one oppose neo-liberal economics while embracing broadly liberal values on questions of gender, sexuality, race and religion, etc.? The academic quasi-left of poststructuralists, deconstructionists and hermeneuticists have never come up with an answer for why their 'celebration' of contingency, openness and tolerance accords almost completely with the dominant centrist, liberal status quo. Of course, scratch many a pomo and you'll often find a economic Marxist underneath, which must lead them to declare: To economics, solidarity; to society, freedom and openness. Does this not preclude, as Žižek emphasises "political economy"? Two worlds, two rules - not unlike the nature/society fissure that social theory rests upon. Wherever shall the twain meet? The quasi-left has little or no interest. Where do we go from here?

Žižek continues from the above:
But, utopian as it may appear, the space is still open for another Europe: a re-politicized Europe, founded on a shared emancipatory project; the Europe that gave birth to ancient Greek democracy, to the French and October Revolutions. This is why one should avoid the temptation to react to the ongoing financial crisis with a retreat to fully sovereign nation-states, easy prey for free-floating international capital, which can play one state against the other. More than ever, the reply to every crisis should be more internationalist and universalist than the universality of global capital.
Not this Europe - another Europe. This seems to be the only way ahead. Damn the vicious, knuckle-dragging nationalists but equally damn and blast the suave, smug cosmopolites. Thing is: looks like this must be a Europe built from the ground up.