Solzhenitsyn on Nationhood

“Before the camps, I regarded the existence of nationality as something that shouldn’t be noticed – nationality did not really exist, only humanity. But in the camps, one learns: if you belong to a successful nation you are protected and you survive. If you are part of universal humanity, too bad for you.” – Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Two Hundred Years Together (2002)

In Euro We Trust: Are European institutions the secular descendants of the medieval Church?

“The Crown of Immortality” (Swedish House of Knights fresco).

I’m currently reading Robert Bartlett’s The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change, 950-1350, which describes the spread of Frankish civilization and Latin Christendom from the French-West German-North Italian core to the rest of what is today Catholic-Protestant Europe. The borders of that world, with the notable exceptions of Orthodox Bulgaria and Romania, almost perfectly overlap with the current membership of the European Union. The parallels with the EU, and to some extent NATO, are striking.

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Debate with Leigh Phillips II: Global plutocracy or national democracies?

The argument summarized:

  • CHART: “globalization.” (“Globalism” might be more accurate.)
  • Western regimes’ democratic character has declined in general since the 1980s, becoming less pluralist, more elitist and more plutocratic. In large part due to the collapse of mass organizations (trade unions, churches, political parties), to the end of serious threats to Western elites, and to transnational elite collaboration.
  • Western regimes are collaborating with one another against their respective citizenries (to wage wars, to form a transnational surveillance State, to help oligarchs and corporations avoid taxes, to suppress wages, to replace relatively democratic national government with elitist transnational “governance”).
  • The European monetary regime is a particular example of these trends.
  • The end of national sovereignty and the absence non-alignment (instead we have transnationalism and forever war), are broader examples of these trends.
  • We don’t know how we can re-democratize Western regimes, the Internet will probably be a big part of the answer.
  • The Nation-State will continue to be critical to both democracy and equity.
  • Nation-States continue to be economically viable.
  • The incredible influence of Anglo-Western media (broadly defined) is a huge quasi-epistemological problem, heavily distorting our vision.
  • Borderlessness strengthens plutocratic elites, that is why the media promote it (whether it leads to “economic growth” is highly debateable), this could lead to a global plutocracy.
  • Historically and internationally, multipolarity is necessary to liberty, diversity is necessary to progress.

Nine months ago, not that long in the grand scheme of things, I wrote a piece responding to former EUobserver journalist Leigh Phillips in which I argued that “national democracy and global change are two sides of the same coin.”

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The Eurozone’s “Democratic Deficit”: A Reading List for the Perplexed

La version française de cet article est apparue sur ContreLaCour, le blogue de Magali Pernin.

This post provides a reading list of major authors, with summaries, on the origins and nature of the lack of democracy in the eurozone. I will refer to it in future instead of repeating myself what others have already said better.

Most everyone today acknowledges that the European Union is becoming, as the europhile German philosopher Jürgen Habermas argues, a “post-democratic” regime. So does, in his way, a French euro-federalist like Jean Quatremer. But most people, including many EU professionals, are largely ignorant about the actual workings of the EU’s core, the Economic and Monetary Union (eurozone), and why it is so problematic. (It’s true that macroeconomic policy is presented as an abysmally boring science.)

At best you’ll get some criticism of the “Monnet method” born in the 1950s of elitist market integration through the discrete work of diplomats and transnational bureaucrats in Brussels. Ultimately however this method largely preserved the primacy of democratically-elected national governments and its authority was mostly restricted to technical market regulation and an agricultural budget which, though often wasteful and dysfunctional, represented less than 1% of GDP.

In fact, there is a huge break in the history of European integration with the 1992 Maastricht Treaty which put European nations on the path to fusing their currencies to form the euro, creating a regime which transfers regalian economic powers crucial to managing economic crises and social problems to a non-democratic transnational elite which is, by design, unresponsive to public opinion and electoral politics.

So for the curious citizen or observer, this list explains how Maastricht gave primacy to the euro-regime over national democracies and why this regime has proven so undemocratic. Each article makes a key point, with a summary below:

  1. Philippe Séguin (1992): “for there to be a democracy there needs to be a feeling of community belonging strong enough for the minority to accept the will of the majority.” [In French, I may translate the key parts of the speech at some point.]
  2. Paul Krugman (1998) on how this led to the ECB being made a hyper-independent institution to allay German fears of inflation: “The answer was to put the new system on autopilot, pre-programming it to do what the Germans would have done if they were still in charge.”
  3. Paul De Grauwe (1998) on how the euro-bank was made much more unaccountable than other central banks: “The ECB is a law unto itself.” (Also explained by Dyson & Featherstone.)
  4. Vítor Constâncio (ECB Vice-President) on how eurozone integration aggravated financial speculation and eliminated national democracies’ tools for managing economic problems. (Additional aspects explained by De Grauwe and EU Commissioner László Andor.)
  5. Handelsblatt (German business daily) on how the ECB has used its power to finance (or not) governments to blackmail them, notably to force them to “reform” and bailout banks: “The ECB can at any time decide the fate of at least half a dozen governments, supporting them or bringing them down – and that number is increasing.” (Corrolaries: Karl Whelan and Ambrose Evans-Pritchard on Ireland, Matt Yglesias on Italy, and Leigh Phillips more generally.)
  6. Deutsche Welle: “European ‘shadow state’ faces growing resistance.”
  7. Transparency International: We are transfering ever-more power to the “democratic black hole” that is the ECB, making it “the most powerful [EU] institution.”
  8. Conclusion: Where do we go from here?

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Transparency International: The ECB is an ever-more-powerful “democratic black hole”

This is actually an old article by Transparency International’s Jana Mittermaier (“New ECB Powers: The Buck Stops Where?”), from September 2012, but it remains entirely relevant. The article succinctly and eloquently explains the accountability of the European Central Bank, over which no elected parliament has any effective supervisory powers, and of its exponentially-growing authority as it seizes powers for itself (bailout of banks and governments, pressuring of governments) and is granted new powers (notably the “Banking Union,” giving it supervision and policy powers over the eurozone’s 6,000 banks with some €30 trillion [sic] in assets (almost 250% of GDP).

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Book Mini-Reviews: Autumn 2013

I can’t read without having the itch to write, but then who has the time to gather one’s notes to write a “full-on” book review? Life necessarily being a series of compromises, I’ve decided to write some mini-reviews of some recent books I’ve read based on what in them still sticks in my mind rather than comprehensiveness.

Today we have: Julian Assange’s Cypherpunks, a biography of Charles Maurras, conservative Éric Zemmour’s history of France, Alain Soral’s “sociology of game,” a Statist history of the U.S. economy, and a biography of Jean-Marie Le Pen.

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Nigel Farage: Is Marine Le Pen really any worse than your current chums?

Plantu

An Establishment view: Le Monde cartoonist Plantu’s take on nationalist leader Marine Le Pen and leftist leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage has rejected an appeal by Dutch nationalist leader Geert Wilders to form a vast anti-EU coalition by joining the “European Alliance for Freedom”. Euroskeptics will then continue to be divided into several political groups in the European Parliament. Continue reading

Meeting with Emmanuel Todd and Laurent Pinsolle

Todd Clipped While on a recent trip to Paris I was able to meet with none other than Emmanuel Todd, who was kind enough to speak with me over a long lunch. Of course you see more detail in the flesh – a sixty year old, proud of his still-full head of hair – but he was in person the exact same as he is in his numerous online videos and media appearances. One difference: he was unshaven, which had prompted the warning “I’m disgusting” with his trademark self-deprecation.

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EU-China Trade: Western Laissez-Faire or Asian Nation-Statism?

These bronze rat and rabbit heads, looted by Anglo-French troops from the Imperial Chinese Summer Palace in 1860, were returned to China in June 2013.

This is the uncut version of an article written for the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Sustainable Governance Indicators project and published on the LSE’s EUROPP blog.

Earlier this year, French billionaire François-Henri Pinault agreed to return two bronze animal heads to China. The bronze statues had been stolen over a century-and-a-half ago, in 1860 during the Second Opium War, in which Anglo-French forces invaded the country and torched the imperial Summer Palace, in part to force the country to open up to international free trade. In an ironic historical twist, the statues’ return also involves trade: the offer was made as part of an official French presidential visit to Beijing to improve diplomatic and, especially, economic ties. Continue reading