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Published: 29 november 2012 08:31

Leonidas Donskis: Our ambiguous new world, or can we reverse the tragedy of the EU?


Arnold J. Toynbee, echoing a great many historians, once asked: Does history repeat itself? Karl Marx wittily and caustically answered this question in the nineteenth century reminding us that it does, and even twice: once as a tragedy and then as a farce.

There are quite a few indications that what proved a Shakespearean tragedy in the twentieth century tends to repeat itself as a farce now. The Soviet Union and its new industrial faith, as Ernest Gellner described it, was nothing short of a civilizational alternative and rivalry to Europe, or to the West, if you will. A deep disappointment with the supposed Jerusalem of the Left, along with the real collapse of modern belief (or disbelief) in a hidden alternative to capitalism and liberalism had a component of a universal tragedy.

Yet on a closer look, what appears as present civilizational rivals to Europe is Russia’s crony capitalism and pseudo-democracy coupled with a gangster state, instead of a resistance ideology or a utopian dream. What was a tragic cul-de-sac of humanity turned into a grotesque of a rogue state with semi-criminal elite.

Or think of China, whose ideology without any ideology, or capitalism without liberty, has as much to do with the Cultural Revolution and Mao’s political legacy as its present social and moral order with liberal democracy. No theory or ideological doctrine of the twentieth century can explain this phenomenon. Living in a post-ideological and, in all likelihood, post-political era, creates quite a few predicaments when trying to apply mainstream views or conventional wisdom of the past.

A nearly perfect amalgam of soulless and heartless capitalism (whether we call it Wall Street capitalism or cowboy capitalism) and left-wing sensibilities, Soros may well be described as a true hero of globalization.

And what is happening in the EU itself? George Soros, in his article “The Tragedy of the European Union and How to Resolve It,” published in The New York Review of Books (September 27 – October 10, 2012, Vol. LIX, No. 14, pp. 87–93) has offered a clue to this problem. I do not wish to be misunderstood, though.

Not by any means do I regard George Soros as a saint. He himself is a symbol of this mayhem created by global capitalism, accompanied by the weakening of the state, which has become a rather impotent entity deaf and blind in the face of the challenges posed by globalization, and, therefore, acting at best as a security agency for global corporations. A nearly perfect amalgam of soulless and heartless capitalism (whether we call it Wall Street capitalism or cowboy capitalism) and left-wing sensibilities, Soros may well be described as a true hero of globalization.

Therefore, he talks sense. He knows what he says. His is a world of double-faced Janus, one of them advocating the advantages of a global free-market economy, and another being aware of the damage inflicted by the modern economic structure on the poorest countries, failed states, indigenous people, or all new emerging political entities lost in transition. Lost for decades to come.

A right-wing structure coupled with left-wing energy, or right-wing practice reconciled to left-wing political vocabulary – here is our ambiguous creation which we could call modernity at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The world where politicians rhetorically, or else more or less differ from one another only prior to the election, and where they close ranks immediately when the election is over. The world which may be shaped or healed by one hand, and damaged or destroyed by another, although both these hands would belong to one and that same person or institution.

I’ve always had a problem with left-wing millionaires, the folks like Hollywood actors who, no matter how overpaid and overrated, are keen on showing their progressive views, sensibilities, and left-wing sensitivity to poverty. George Soros is incomparably more than that. He is a left-wing billionaire whose hedge funds nearly ruined some East Asian economies, and whose Open Society Fund network in Eastern and Central Europe did for these countries’ education and culture more than all their national ministries of education and culture put together.

Yet this time Soros hit the bull’s eye. He put it black on white, that the tragedy of the EU is that it originated as a global open society that pursued the ends to create a club of democracies with their full commitment to human rights and civil liberties; yet what will emerge after the euro crisis is likely to be a hierarchical system with two classes of member states – creditors and debtors.

How can we expect political symmetry, equality and reciprocity in a system with such an asymmetry of economic power? And this class differentiation is highly likely to become permanent because for the debtor countries, due to economic policies and fiscal reasons, it will be impossible to catch up with the creditor countries. According to Soros, “Germany has actually benefitted from the euro crisis, which has kept down the exchange rate and helped exports.” Instead of doing the bare minimum necessary to resolve the crisis, Germany should “lead or leave the EU.” 

Quite far from its inception, the present EU power structure works paradoxically, producing the new center (Germany) and the new periphery (Greece, Spain, Italy). If countries like Italy can be assessed as periphery within this power structure, it says something disturbing about the state of affairs in the EU. Small wonder, Soros suggests, that Germany must act becoming a benign and benevolent hegemon – just the way the United States was after the Second World War.

We have to face it: the EU is not that same entity of equality, freedom and openness it used to be. Yet if Germany decides to assume genuine moral and political leadership, we could hope for a better case scenario with room left for the ideals of an open society.

Leonidas Donskis, Ph.D., is a Lithuanian Member of the European Parliament

The Baltic Times
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