Journal Entry #2
NORFOLK, Conn.—The Greek crisis reached fever pitch last weekend. As I wrote in a column published Monday, it is baldy political now. Stiglitz put it better in a piece published the same day in the Guardian. Read it here. “European leaders are finally beginning to reveal the true nature of the ongoing debt dispute, and the answer is not pleasant,” the Nobel economist wrote. “It is about power and democracy much more than money and economics.”
I have found the Greek predicament wrenching for many months. We’re watching unelected technocrats trying to dictate policy to an elected government—triumphantly elected in the case of Prime Minister Tsipras. As I read it, the pith of it is very simple. Evangelists of the neoliberal order, lodge din Brussels, Frankfurt, and Berlin, simply cannot tolerate in their midst an alternative economic model advanced by committed social democrats. The Tsipras government is a contamination. What is more, others would follow were Athens allowed to succeed in pulling itself out of crisis—as I am convinced it could and would—by refuting the policies of austerity (which are prima facie failures) and reflating the economy in a latter-day variant of Keynesianism.
We witness an absolute perversion of the European project. Some very weighty people—Churchill, Schuman, Monnet, others—described it in the early postwar years as intended to fortify the democratic process across the recently ravaged Continent. If it now comes to the subversion of democracy, one must judge the high ideal lost and abandon what remains in form only.
There is a war under way in Europe, surely. The European Union is effectively deployed to advance the neoliberal order against anyone who may dare to fly the banner of authentic, popular (as opposed to elite) democracy. There is only one side to stand on for all right-thinking people. A columnist in The Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (yes, offspring of the great E.E.) just accused the E.U. of deliberately making the Tsipras government offers it cannot possibly accept without betraying its electorate, the object being to induce its downfall. I have no trouble with this thesis. It is what I mean by war.
What kind of war? How to define it? These are interesting questions, because in answering them we find that no American—or anyone anywhere—can remain indifferent to the fate of the Greeks.
Late in Sartre’s life, an American scholar and journalist named John Gerassi recorded extended conversations with the great philosopher and writer. Gerassi had long been close to Sartre by virtue of friendships his parents had enjoyed with the Sartre and de Beauvoir. Six years ago Yale brought out Talking With Sartre, Gerassi’s record of these long exchanges. If one point of agreement between the two obtains above all others, it is this: One can understand nothing of the world around us unless one accepts something quite fundamental about it:
We agreed that, no matter what the pragmatic scholastics ranted, no matter what almost every high school teacher droned into the heads of their gullible students, no matter how often the fat cats of the developed world shouted that they care about the poor, that everyone benefits from the wealth of the few (the trickle-down theory), the world is at war: a class war, the poor versus the rich.
This is part of the great unsayable in our great country. That does not make it false: The American unsayable, a vast plain of unspoken matters, is such more often than not because it is unbearably true. It is why, in the very final analysis, we all have an interest in Greece and Greeks. Greeks ‘r’ Us, whether we understand this or not. Ignorance, as noted in a recent column, is no longer bliss.
SPIRO AGNEW LIVES. He must, given this slur, attached to one of my recent pieces on Russia, the Ukraine crisis, and the new advance of NATO eastward to Russia’s borders. I am “the Pied Piper of Putin’s patsies.” Brilliant stuff. Neither Spiro nor Bill Safire, who wrote much of the bumbling veep’s worst utterances—“hysterical hypochondriacs of history,” the famous “nattering nabobs of negativism”—would shy from this one.
Let’s see. The first Agnewism referred to people who bring historical perspective to events, and we cannot have that in our Providential land. The second, in Agnew’s time, would have meant people who argued we had no business waging war against the Vietnamese in their own country to save them from their preferences. The Pied Piper bit is perfectly of a piece: I am such because I find the Russian president’s accounting of the Ukraine crisis and the attendant impasse between Washington and Moscow a coherent accounting of things. Well, I do, and I have had no comeback on rational grounds. Irrational, of course—the referenced remark being a very ordinary example.
It reminded me of two things, this remark. One, given my position on the Ukraine crisis and the larger confrontation with Russia, I will someday have to take on this thread of thinking more directly than I have to date. Two, it emanates from a… a… an intellectually limited segment of our warm American community, to put the point delicately. Name-calling is not a position in opposition to anything, to state the self-evident. But the counter-counterargument will have to take things much further. Watch this space, or the columns.
For now, this. The juvenile cries of protest prompted by my views, and those of a few others, are evidence of a critical pathology. We have barely begun to tote up the wounds and damage wrought by the way we waged the Cold War. Among the most consequential of these is our prevalent (not universal) inability to see the world for what it is and judge it sensibly. The consequences of this failure are already before us, given we make one wrong turn after another in our conduct abroad.
But, of course, those afflicted with the Cold War malady can see neither the condition nor the consequences—just as they cannot register the Greek crisis for what it truly is, and all that it portends for all of us.