The Greek crisis is truly a crisis of the political economy, as much about political power as money. And many have claimed that the European response to Greece’s plight, and especially the German response, marks the end of democracy in Europe. Indeed, for Joseph Stiglitz, the Eurozone now represents “the antithesis of democracy,” while others now see European democracy as “a mirage.

Why? On January 25, 2015 the Greeks elected a government, led by Syrizia, whose mandate was clearly anti-austerity: in negotiations this June, the Germans forced austerity on them. When Syrizia put the agreement to a referendum on July 5, and won, the Germans ignored it and forced Syrizia and Greece to its knees. Force, make no mistake, is the word. The European Central Bank, clearly under German control, refused to guarantee liquidity to the Greek banking system and gave the Greeks no way out.

But this is not the real root of democratic collapse in Europe. For the first generation of European leaders——Mendes France, Spinelli, Spaak, Adenauer——democracy was an inherent part of the European project. They conceived it as a movement of free, democratic nations coming together to build an economic union but also to bury (or at least attenuate) the nationalisms that had twice destroyed Europe in the twentieth century. Of course this stress on democracy was, to a degree, a matter of rhetoric. But it was also real, for it must always be remembered that the European project was made over and against the project the Soviet Union had engaged in behind the Iron Curtain. As well, the European project was worked out in a politically and ideologically diverse Western Europe——it was a project of the right, men like de Gaulle and Adenauer, but also of the left: Willy Brandt, Mitterand.

What has changed? The Soviet Union has collapsed. Europe has moved strongly to the right——the French Socialist Party and the German SPD have been completely absorbed by the corporate consensus. And Europe is no longer ideologically diverse but homogeneous. Neo-liberalism has triumphed everywhere.

It’s this last point that’s crucial. It’s rarely remarked on, but neo-liberalism is an apocalyptic ideology; it’s most famous text claims that we’ve reached “the end of history,” that the corporate-democratic world designed by the United States is the final stage of historical development. Hey, this is the End Time! But such notions are inherently anti-democratic. Democracy, if it is to have any meaning, must accept the possibility of choices open to a future that is radically different from the past.

To the current generation of European leaders, it’s this possibility that must be denied. To Wolfgang Schauble, there really is no way out. The ferocity of the German assault on Greece——the desire, not only for victory but humiliation——shows the Europeans' determination to enforce a consensus regardless of democratic will. In Europe, so far as European power is concerned, there is only one choice; and that is truly the end of democracy. But it may also mark an end more generally. For the Germans, and the Europeans, are effectively saying that the present system is beyond reform: there can be no Keynes, no Roosevelt—this is as far as capitalism goes. Look around. Is this where we want to be?

Tagged as: politics