“All truths – not only the various kinds of rational truth but also factual truth – are opposed to opinion in their mode of asserting validity. Truth carries within itself an element of coercion, and the frequently tyrannical truthtellers may be caused less by a failing of character than by the strain of habitually living under a kind of compulsion.” – Hannah Arendt (Between Past and Future. 1954, p. 243)
During the period immediately before someone leaves one city and moves to another, they seem to liberate themselves and experiment with abandon during that window of freedom, or fearfully adhere to the tired routines of a forgone order. Having witnessed the Eurocrisis unfold over the past two years from a window in Berlin, I recently thought I would have to move elsewhere due to conflict with the archaic hierarchy of a German university. I naturally rebelled and charged heedlessly into the freedom inherent in a contingent situation – refusing to comply with the hierarchy and arbitrary exercise of power so prevalent in the German university. With the comfortable order of my German life on the brink, I attempted to understand my position in German academia, as well as the European position under German hegemony. In so doing, I came to discover that the latter is not a debate between Keynesianism vs. neoliberal austerity, but a particularly virulent condition of wider academic and German culture: the need for truth.
If a traditional German university is a window into German culture as a whole, then the problem of truth becomes immediately apparent. Imagine riding horseback through the patchwork of political entities in medieval Germany, each with an independent lord holding absolute power over a small slice of territory, beholden only to the good grace of a distant and disinterested central authority. While riding through this landscape, the casual observer cannot help but notice that when moving from one lordship to another, the organization of labor and adherence to a unifying conception of community is entirely dictated by the lord. Some territories have jovial lords who interact with their subjects, interested . . .
Read more: The Truth in Germany – from University to Euro
Euro Cup 2012 started last week. On the day before, walking on a central street in Berlin with colleagues, I saw in a drugstore, and immediately purchased, the dishwashing liquid: “fit Spuehl Fuehrer.”
I checked out the maker’s website to find traces of “corporate Germany” celebrating consumption and sports, as was the case in the World Cup six years ago, when tabloids and supermarket chains cooperated in selling the newspaper/beer/ flag. The website had nothing about this newly minted product. There was also no reflection on it in the press: unsurprising, perhaps, as there has been no interest in the overall presentation of the flag this time around.
The maker of the dishwashing liquid (TIP) advertises another product with the flag, a “fan hat” with a bear and a flag on it. Something you’d wear going to see the game outside. I also learned from the website that the liquid is slightly cheaper than their normal dish soap.
That afternoon I saw the same product in a different drugstore in my neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg, again, in very visible outdoor stand, and got it to share with family and friends, and to test again, now in a different part of Berlin, whether there would be any comment made about my purchase. There was not.
Sometimes a flag is just a flag, I guess, and fans everywhere celebrate their national teams. But how should one read the association with the fuehrer?
I posted the photo on Facebook and some friends living in Germany assured me that it is benign. That Hitler is not a part of it; “they” did not think about it that way. Of course “they” did, and playfully, with reference to another term: “Spiel Fuehrer”— “the man of the match.”
The flag colors combination is everywhere in Germany, related to games. Restaurants and cafés fly flags, indicating that they are broadcasting matches. The flag colors are on ads all around town, including my son’s new sneakers, which he chose, and my daughter Brio toys’ packaging.
Politics in Sports? Notes on the German Flag, the Führer and the Playfulness of Symbols
In this post, Minas Samatas, Professor of Political Sociology, University of Crete, reports that while the Greeks said no to draconian austerity, no to the two ruling parties, and no to European threats of Greece’s exit from euro zone, “Grexit,” they suggested a new path for a democratically legitimate European Union. -Jeff
Μay 6th elections in Greece have sent a loud and clear message: the Greek people said no to the draconian austerity measures that have devastated the country in exchange for dead-end bailouts from the troika of European Union (EU), European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF). Designed by IMF and Eurocrats, the bailout “memorandum” does not guarantee a safe path to move Greece away from disaster, even if implemented in full. The austerity policy gives absolute priority for paying creditors at the expense of citizens’ incomes, without any future prospect of development and growth. It promotes sharp reductions in public spending, shattering the healthcare and educational system, and the “Balkanization” of Greece with salaries under 200 Euros comparable to Bulgaria. The Greek electorate rejected this in no uncertain terms.
They also, and very importantly, said no to the two ruling parties, punishing the socialist PASOK and conservative New Democracy (ND). They are responsible for the dramatic economic crisis and signed the disastrous austerity program (memorandum) to protect the foreign creditors and the banks at the expense of the most vulnerable. The outcome of the ballot expressed anger against the corrupted political elite and its policies. It expressed dismay at the lack of punishment of those responsible for the crisis. It was a call for social justice for those who suffer from the crisis. The election results express the fear and despair of the Greek people affected by the memorandum’s inhumane policy, lurching deeper into poverty and despair by sharp salary and pensions cuts, unfair tax increases, 22% unemployment (with 922 people losing their job per day over the past year), leaving no future for the young people but immigration, leading to over 3,000 persons to suicide.
The conservative New Democracy (ND) came in first place . . .
Read more: Reflections on the Elections in Greece
Just before the Sofitel Affair brutally ended his political career, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the director of the IMF, was considered as the great favorite of the French presidential election, and François Hollande, who had started earlier his bid for the primary polls organized for the first time on the left by the Socialist Party, was not taken seriously, particularly in his own camp. Nicknamed Flanby, Little Gouda, or even “couilles molles” (soft testicles) by his socialist contender Martine Aubry, Hollande very well may be the unexpected winner of the competition, on May 6th, the final round of the French election. Although it has been a boring campaign, it also has been very interesting sociologically.
Strauss-Kahn embodied a center-left version of the “there is no alternative” line, smoothed by a reputation, acquired in happier times, of a rare economic competency that would alleviate the inescapable rigor ahead. Roughly, President Sarkozy and Strauss-Kahn shared the same views. The President had backed the very moderate socialist for the job at the IMF, and they navigated in very close social and economic circles.
But now, one can see almost every day a sea of red flags and an amazing number of raised fists during the Front de Gauche candidate’s electoral meetings, from the Place de la Bastille in Paris to the Prado beaches in Marseilles. Enthusiastic crowds appreciate the leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon‘s tough rhetoric: his speeches are loaded with the most traditional items of the radical camp with a very strong French flavor (a daily celebration of the Bastille Day, but also of 1793 and Robespierre). Mélenchon’s fondness for Hugo Chavez, Raul Castro and the Chinese communist leaders does not seem to bother any of his increasingly young and socially mixed supporters. Mélenchon’s rise has totally reshuffled the campaign, that had started with Sarkozy taking up extreme right-wing issues (mainly immigration and security) and Hollande not saying much as he was so far ahead in the polls that he seemed to be afraid of taking any side that would . . .
Read more: The French Presidential Election: In Search of Time Past
The crisis here in Greece is not just financial, but also social and moral. People suffer, while the political elite and the establishment survive, untouched, although they are responsible for the current state bankruptcy. Given the history of the recent past, after the bloody civil war (1947-1949), during the police state (1949-1967) and the military dictatorship (1967-1974), and especially after the dictatorship up to the present, the crisis is not surprising. Greek tragedy has returned.
After the end of the dictatorship, democracy was restored and Greece joined the European Union (EU) and eventually the Euro-zone for political reasons, not based on economic fiscal criteria. As a consequence, the Greek people enjoyed thirty five years of stable democratic life and relative prosperity, albeit a false one. The state apparatus, dominated by the two political parties, the conservative “New Democracy” and the socialist “PASOK,” was thoroughly corrupt and mismanaged with a highly elaborate system of patronage. There was little real economic development. The economy was based on tourism, EU agricultural subsidies and other EU funds. Many Greek citizens, based on their political connections, were employed in the inflated public sector, and avoided their tax obligations, violated building regulations, and received permits and easy loans from the state controlled banks.
Through loans or from EU funding, these were good years for Greeks and their European partners, especially the Germans who took advantage of the great Greek party, i.e., Athens 2004 Olympics. Their outrageous cost and the ensuing corruption seriously contributed to the present debt crisis and the actual bankruptcy of the whole post dictatorial state and society. Beyond the Olympics, European and other multinational corporations have fully exploited Greece’s corrupt and disorganized system so as to multiply their profits in relation to other countries. The real party was in arms deals in the billions, which involved huge kickbacks. The Greek Parliament covered up the Siemens’ kickback scandal and several others. No one has been sentenced to jail. No one has been punished.
With the international fiscal crisis and aggressive international markets, the . . .
Read more: The Crisis in Greece: Tragedy Without Catharsis
Tim Rosenkranz reports on the significance of a recent article by the German philosopher and social critic Jürgen Habermas. -Jeff
On April 7, 2011 Germany’s political news magazine “Süeddeutsche Zeitung” published a piece by Habermas in which he openly attacks Chancellor Angela Merkel for her “opinion-poll dominated opportunism.” While the article focused on the problem of European integration and the continuing democracy deficit of the institutional frame of the European Union, Jürgen Habermas points his finger at significant systemic problems of today’s democratic political process – between civil society, the public sphere, political elites and the media-sphere – the problem being the loss of larger political projects in a process driven by the short-term politics of public opinion polls.
While Habermas is still a vocal figure in the academic landscape, at least in the last decade, he limits his editorial participation in larger public debates in the media. If he does speak up, it is mostly concerning the problems of European integration and its democratic process. The recent article “Merkels von Demoskopie geleiteter Opportunismus” (“Merkel’s opinion-poll dominated opportunism”) is not an exception. What caught my attention, however, is that Habermas rarely criticizes German politicians directly in person. It is also unusual in that the article is a theoretical expansion within his larger intellectual frame of “deliberative democracy.”
Very atypical for him, Habermas condenses the larger theoretical problem in one paragraph, which I would translate accordingly:
In general, today’s politics seemingly is transforming into an aggregate condition defined by the abdication of perspective and the will to create (Gestaltungswille). The expanding complexity of issues demanding regulation compels [the political actors] to short term reactions within shrinking scopes of action. As if politicians have adopted the unmasking view of system theory, they follow without shame the opportunistic script of opinion poll dominated (demoskopiegeleitet) power pragmatism.
. . .
Read more: Jürgen Habermas on Power to the Polls