Gellner, Mair and Europe

by Henry on July 3, 2017

(Below is the text of a debate piece I gave last week at a meeting of the Tocqueville society, which is maybe of interest to some CT readers. A more polished version may appear sooner or later in the Tocqueville review)

The great Czech-English sociologist Ernest Gellner remarks somewhere that the Austro-Hungarian empire was strong so long as its subject populations complained about its central rule. It was when they stopped arguing with the center and each other – and instead took matters into their own hands – that it got into trouble.

Europe is surviving the Hapsburg test. For sure, it has lost the United Kingdom, but this loss has not triggered a cascade. People in the remaining member states still prefer grumbling to secession. Indeed, in the last few months the European Union has arguably become a little stronger, providing a fortress against a world that has suddenly become more dangerous and unpredictable. Trump’s election has not led to a tidal wave of populism overwhelming traditional democracies. If anything, it has made populism look less attractive.

Still, from a certain perspective, the European Union resembles the Hapsburg empire than one might like.  European leaders too have their court language, incomprehensible to their own citizens, and attachment to bureaucratic obscurities. As Gellner suggested in his last book, they also have the same enemies – irredentist nationalists who hate what they view as bloodless cosmopolitanism.

Then, as now, these nationalists can tell an easily understood fable about how national choices are being deliberately thwarted by an incomprehensible and malign central authority. Cosmopolitan Europhiles don’t have a straightforward alternative story. They have debated  – and lamented – Europe’s democratic deficit for a very long time. The European Union level is still too underdeveloped to provide proper democratic accountability, yet it is sufficiently strong to undermine democracy at the national level.

As M. Arthuis has noted, EU member states have an unfortunate tendency to Europeanize problems that they do not want to deal with. In a posthumous book, Peter Mair argued that this has weakened the representative role of national political parties. As parties of the center left and center right consign awkward issues to the European level, the space for national democratic politics and for true policy choice by voters becomes ever smaller. The European level does not provide an adequate substitute. EU institutions are not readily accountable to national voters, while member state actions in the Council involve, at best, complex and non-transparent inter-state bargaining, and at worst the raw exercise of power.

Over the last three decades. European political elites have tried to address complaints about democracy in three ways, which do not cohere particularly well. First, they have looked to strengthen the European Parliament, hoping that if they build the institutions of a representative democracy at the European level, the people will come. Second, they have looked to make European citizens happy through shared and effective policy measures, providing what Fritz Scharpf calls ‘output legitimacy.’ Finally, they have somewhat fitfully looked to return some degree of control to national parliaments.

None of these have worked, and indeed they have sometimes had perverse results. European Parliament elections still remain what political scientists call ‘second order’ elections. Voters are more guided by their desire to punish or reward their own national governments, or to show their detestation for Europe as a whole, than to elect politicians to pursue specific policies at the European level. As the Parliament has been given power, it has become more embroiled in opaque bargaining with Council and Commission, through practices such as early agreements and trialogues. Moreover, Brexit is in part an accidental consequence of efforts to build up the European Parliament. Without the Parliament, Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party would never have been able to grow and prosper. Proportional representation allowed it to win seats and a voice that it could never have won under the UK’s own electoral system, while Parliament’s funding and salaries provided resources that could tacitly be turned to the struggle in Britain. Without pressure from the UKIP, the leaders of the British Conservative party would probably never have had to call a referendum.

The strengthening of collective policy too has had pernicious side effects. A strong Europe without intimate democratic connections to its citizens contributed to Brexit too. As the political scientist Chris Gifford has argued, British euroskepticism is in part Mair’s revenge. British populists could claim that they were acting on behalf of a ‘people’ who had been sold out by political parties which care more about their European partners than ordinary voters. Such arguments convinced a small majority of British voters.

This also helps explain the situation of Southern European countries, whose citizens have effectively lost control over their governments’ fiscal policies. These citizens are unlikely to think that free mobile roaming is adequate compensation for the harsh fiscal situation that they have had to endure over several years. Their Northern peers may reasonably retort that without a bailout the South would be far worse off than it is. Still, the rigid conditions attached to the bailout are European conditions, imposed by what has purported to be a community, but sometimes felt more like a prison. Something has gone wrong when the IMF is perceived as more generous and sympathetic to European states in crisis than the European Union itself.

Yet a return to the sovereignty of the nation state is unsustainable too. The countries of Europe are too intimately conjoined for that to work, and were indeed so conjoined long before the euro came into being. Most people have forgotten that monetary union was in part a response to the dominance of the Deutsche Mark, and the unhappiness of other countries, which repeatedly had to adjust to German monetary policy without being able to influence it. Furthermore, the lesson of Brexit is salutary. Even with the very best will on all sides, disentangling Britain from Europe will be a horrifically complex task, and there is no guarantee whatsoever that there will be the best will on all sides. It would be as hard or harder for other states to leave the European Union.

European states are stuck with each other, and need to figure out new institutions that will allow them to live together. They should also build a better democracy while they are at it. The immediate temptation is the one that European leaders have always given into in the past: fix the problems that can readily be fixed through high level bargaining between key leaders, and paper over the continuing disagreements, in the hope that someone else will resolve them at a later stage.  Thus, there is finally some movement towards an agreement between France and Germany over what a European economic government might look like. The risk is that this government will come wrapped in conditions that are intended precisely to insulate European fiscal government from democratic practices and control, while perhaps providing a patina of apparent accountability and legitimacy. This may help cement a temporary bargain – but will also cement the practices and institutions that have damaged democracy in Europe, leading to a greater and perhaps irresolvable crisis down the line. No number of palliative institutional reforms will compensate for this.

What might work instead is a willingness to accommodate – and even embrace – disagreement as a crucial part of European electoral politics. Gellner’s lesson is that political systems do not have to be popular to succeed, but that they do have to organize and structure contention. This is a hard lesson for the European Union to learn. For sure, it has plenty of contention to work with – economic disagreement between southern and northern states; disputes over who should bear the burden of mass migration; what to do with the lapse of states such as Poland or Hungary into more or less unpleasant forms of illiberalism. Yet this contention is typically either channeled into disagreements between member states at the Council or elsewhere, or ignored altogether. It does not serve to organize a public or publics into specific factions who argue with each other. The official political culture of Europe – as represented in publications, Commission initiatives, and the disquietingly bland art that decorates the corridors of Brussels and Strasbourg –instead depicts an artificial unity emerging from an equally artificial and faceless mass of European citizenry. For all the official language about European diversity, there is precious little talk about European disagreement – and it is structured disagreement that Europe needs if it is to become a real and substantial polity.

Originally, Ed Miliband was supposed to deliver these remarks. Very obviously, I am not Ed Miliband, and I have no idea what he was going to say. Still, I do want to point to one, partly inadvertent contribution he made to modern democracy, as leader of the British Labour Party.  Miliband saw that the party he had inherited from Blair had deliberately stopped treating its mass membership as anything better than a ventriloquist’s dummy. In response, he radically changed the party’s rules, so as to encourage a revitalization of mass membership. This had the unexpected consequence of encouraging hundreds of thousands of people to join Labour, leading to the election of Jeremy Corbyn. Many people, including me (and more importantly most of Labour’s MPs), thought this was likely to be a disaster for the party. Instead, it was one of the key factors enabling the enormous resurgence that the party saw in the election a couple of months ago.

Whether one likes or dislikes Corbyn, this story has an extremely important lesson for Europe. Myriads of people are willing to mobilize and get involved in politics when they perceive that there is a fundamental choice between different approaches to organizing politics, society and economy, and they want to weigh in to favor one side. The same story is being repeated today, in somewhat different ways in the US as people mobilize against and for Trump.

The choice that British voters faced (and will face again in the next election) was between austerity politics and its alternative. This choice has real and substantial consequences for people’s pocket books and lives, which is why so many were willing to mobilize to defend and promote their views.

European democracy will finally be a real thing when it is the primary arena in which parties (and the voters who support them) contend over questions which they see as being directly important to their lives. One doesn’t need civic nationalism, or a European demos to do this (or, more precisely, such nationalism and sense of a demos will emerge, if they emerge at all, in lockstep with structured contention). To get people actively engaged in politics, one needs them to believe that there’s an important fight at stake, which has direct repercussions for their lives.

Doubtless, European elites would have preferred a fight over Brexit in which the pro-Europe side clearly won. Not only was that was not on offer in the UK, but it’s the wrong kind of fight for Europe to pursue. What the EU needs is not organized contention over Europe, but organized contention over which kind of Europe, Europe ought to be.

Building such a Europe will be notably hard. Current strategies for political influence (such as Commission handouts to interests that are perceived as enhancing Europe) are useless at best and liable to backfire. Providing the Parliament or other representative institutions with more power over policy areas that few voters really understand will scarcely be any better.

Instead, as the European Union (or more specifically the Eurozone) moves from a regulatory state to one that has a common budget and real economic capacity, it needs to provide European voters with the collective means to contend over how that budget is used. There is no substitute for real arguments with substantial and visible impact on people’s lives in getting people to engage with democracy. Arguments over how to spend money are as real as it gets. The obvious difficulty will be in ensuring that these fights are not simply over which member state gets what, but instead over how the money is to be spent, and, in the longer run, over how much resources should be extracted and from whom. Tocqueville observes that there are two great parties in free societies – that which wishes to limit the public power, and that which wishes to extend it. Creating the conditions for contention between these and other parties at the European level, and hence for European democracy implies that a common Eurozone budget is only a first step, and a step that will falter and trip if it does not provide the opportunity for organized contention over how that money is spent. It is at best uncertain whether European elites wish to take that step, and the many others that would follow, yet it is what they must do if they really want to build European democracy, rather than merely deplore its lack.

{ 85 comments }

1

steven t johnson 07.03.17 at 12:54 pm

Gellner’s belief that the Habsburg empire somehow worked is strange. In one view you could say WWI erupted because it worked so badly it had to go to war against Serbia whose attractions threatened to rip the empire apart.

It seems pretty clear to me that the European Union is dedicated to the moral principles of hard money (in a modern, non-gold standard way, to be sure,) and fiscal restraint in budgets and proper limits on progressive taxation and ideals in a similar vein. Only God knows how this could be attractive to the mass of the population.

As to tribalism…well, historical tribes didn’t operate with nationalist notions of sovereignty and didn’t have delineated territorial domains, while their political structures were specific to their members, overlapping with other peoples. I have no idea how this is relevant to Europe today, except that the US and the EU tend to promote tribalism in countries they attack, in order to undermine the national state/defense.

2

nastywoman 07.03.17 at 1:18 pm

– a nice and friendly – but still Anglo-American perspective as from Europe – in the last few months the European Union has arguably become a lot stronger -(not only ‘a little’) as Trump’s election thankfully has made (braindead) populism so ‘unpopular’ – that there won’t be any Man-Babies running Europe.

And from the perspective of 27 different democratic and not sharing a similar cultural background as the Hapsburg empire – the European Union resembles something far more ‘challenging’ than some kind of ‘Family Affair’ of the past – where one crowned dude could tell another one of his family – to better shape up or the next dinner with all the wives and children gets canceled.

And no – European leaders – don’t have have their court language at all, – as there are sometimes ‘incomprehensible’ differences between a ‘ex-scientist’ educated in East Germany – attachment to completely different bureaucratic obscurities – as a Greek Oligarch.

But that makes the so called ‘European Experiment’ so much more impressive than even the American one and why WE –(young Europeans) just have to get rid of the (old) ‘irredentist nationalists’ – to get to a ”Europanism” which will be far more ”democratic’ than any ”bloodless cosmopolitanism” – as in my family alone there are members from five different European nations – and with their exciting exchange of bodily fluids – ”bloodless” or ”undemocratic” – won’t be an issue at all in the future… and so – how true – how true: ‘a return to the sovereignty of the nation state is unsustainable. The countries of Europe are too intimately conjoined for that to work, and were indeed so conjoined long before the euro came into being.”

3

soullite 07.03.17 at 1:27 pm

Debates like this, between two people who believe almost entirely the same things, always end up being useless, and from your description, devolved into nothing more than who can successfully tar their mutual ‘enemies’ (in their own minds, at least) with the worst load of claptrap.

If you want to know what populists believe, talk to populists, not upper-class wankers who pretend they know what populists believe.

4

Mercurius Londiniensis 07.03.17 at 2:06 pm

‘Without pressure from the UKIP, the leaders of the British Conservative party would probably never have had to call a referendum.’

I fear this is far too kind to those leaders. They did not *have* to call a referendum. Given the first-past-the post system used in Westminster elections, and the low calibre of their Parliamentary candidates, UKIP would never have gained significant representation in the House of Commons. No. Mr Cameron called the referendum in an attempt to settle the long-running argument over Europe in the Conservative Party. We residents of the UK will be paying the price for his miscalculation long after the strains of Brexit have destroyed that party.

5

Jake Gibson 07.03.17 at 2:08 pm

It just occurred to me that “Federalism”,
as endorsed by the right, would somewhat resemble the EU. Wonder how the Federalist Society would respond to that idea.

6

Paul O 07.03.17 at 2:12 pm

I don’t believe it is any longer credible to suggest that Greece would be far worse of without the massive transfer of debt to the public account to bail out French and German banks.

I have read a good deal of Gellner and like him much. I have put aside what is so far an excellent biography of Gellner by Tony Hall – I will recommend it already, though I am only one third through – to read Varoufakis (Adults in the Room) which, if taken at face (which I am willing to do) has some quiet eye popping commentary on the Greek ‘bailouts’.

7

MisterMr 07.03.17 at 2:30 pm

Personally, I believe that all or most of the problems of the EU come from the EU’s economic policy of austerity, but then, because of the peculiar situation of the EU being less than a nation state but more than a coalition of states, such problems are lived and interpreted as a clash between national interests.

So I believe that all the reasoning about the EU’s institutional structure, even when it touches on real problems, in the end is just a distraction from the real issue.

8

Layman 07.03.17 at 2:54 pm

“Gellner’s belief that the Habsburg empire somehow worked is strange. In one view you could say WWI erupted because it worked so badly it had to go to war against Serbia whose attractions threatened to rip the empire apart.”

If, 400 years after it was founded, it fell apart in 1914, that sounds remarkably consistent with Gellner’s remark.

9

Anonymous2 07.03.17 at 2:58 pm

I wonder to what extent it is accurate to write of the EU losing the UK. No doubt we all have our own perspectives but for my part i see it more as an act of self -harm initiated by forces within the UK. Above all, I put it down to decades of dishonest and malicious reporting by the English newspapers. I am not persuaded that the EU could have done much about that. It strikes me as above all a failure of the broader UK political system.

10

Z 07.03.17 at 3:10 pm

A fine analysis (and eloquent one, if I may say so). Yet I find something is missing: ratio of power. After all, and especially since much of the analysis could have been written in 2005 after the failure of the Constitutional Treaty, if there are segments of the population and of the élites which are in favor of a “common budget and real economic capacity” over which “European voters [may] contend” and if such a reform of the EU is not happening (as of now), then it stands to reason that there are segments of the population and of the élites which are not in favor of it. Who are they and why do they oppose it?

Moreover, if you are right to believe that the steps you outline are required to build European democracy (as I also personally believe), then this means that these opposing forces are either mistaken on the nature of European democracy or willing to trade it for the benefits real or supposed they gain from the current situation. What are these benefits?

I don’t find the answers of these questions so easy, myself.

11

Niall McAuley 07.03.17 at 3:18 pm

steven says: Only God knows how this could be attractive to the mass of the population.

Well, here in Ireland the government embarked on an “impossible” austerity mission which popular economists told us would be much too hard for the people to accept (the dopey people would apparently not have noticed the same austerity if done through invisible currency depreciation).

While not my preferred option, things have demonstrably improved, and the political capital of the “austerity” party, Fine Gael, has not gone down.

So, it is possible for austerity to remain at least not unpopular, especially if the only other options on the table are madness.

12

Continental 07.03.17 at 4:14 pm

“There is no substitute for real arguments with substantial and visible impact on people’s lives in getting people to engage with democracy. Arguments over how to spend money are as real as it gets.”

A plausible contention but I’m not sure it’s backed by empirical evidence. The turnout to EU Parliament elections is lamentably low but not as low as turnout for US Congressional elections in off-years (42% vs. 36% in 2014), and even US presidential elections have comparably low turnout despite one would think they have substantial and visible impact on people’s lives. The US also has tax elections and a myriad of referendums at the state and local level. Those are definitely and specifically “arguments about how to spend money”, and people don’t care about them. Absolutely not. The only other country with a high level of direct democratic decision-making, Switzerland, is little better. Turnout is generally below 50% both for legislative elections and referendums at the national level. There are important arguments in favor and against direct-democratic instruments, but there’s no evidence that they actually boost popular participation.

13

nastywoman 07.03.17 at 4:42 pm

‘If you want to know what populists believe, talk to populists, not upper-class wankers who pretend they know what populists believe.’

Does that mean: Never talk to Trump?

Oh wait?
He is a ‘upper-class wanker’ – who knew what populists believe – in order to make people believe – that he is a populist – and not a upper class wanker.

14

hix 07.03.17 at 5:23 pm

Which European leaders are meant to have a court language? Which one would that even be? An English dialect or still a French one? As far as i can tell European politicans, including members of the European parliament dont have any core competency in foreign languages. Now im also wundering what the court language was in Austria-Hungary. At first that was latin right? And the real problems started after a reform that made German the adminstrative language (which was rather practical but increased ethnical tensions).

15

Akshay 07.03.17 at 7:31 pm

Thank you to Henry for a thoughtful contribution looking at the broader picture. The problem of EU elections being opinion polls about the national government, is true in my country (the Netherlands) for regional elections as well, and to a great extent even of local elections. So democracy has the same problem at all of these non-national levels of government. Apparently people in a non-federal state have a genuinely hard time caring about multi-level government. They prioritise the national government because it really is the most important one for their daily lives. The EU is important too, but usually either not that important or too technical even when it is.

While I wish I had a more constructive contribution, I am not sure that Henry’s solution will work. The EU budget is too small, just ~0,9% of GDP. And people already massively overestimate the EU budget, just as they overestimate the foreign aid budget, and the budget for asylum seekers. Why would we want to further exaggerate its importance in people’s minds? That would surely backfire. Eurozone level macro-economic stabilisation might need a bit more money than is available now, but still not a lot*, and could take the form of an anti-cyclical component of the national budget. I don’t know if Henry wants a higher EU budget merely for the purpose of politicisation. If so, that sounds like a hard sell…

I do have one more modest suggestion, which is simply to have more international conversations in the national media, as part of creating the EU public sphere. Every country in the EU is caught in its national filter bubble, dominated by pundits who all know one and other. As a result, all EU countries think they are the only sane ones, whereas all other EU countries are crazy. Newspapers and TV need to invite many more European guests and give them a fair chance to explain their nation’s point of view, especially when it opposes the host nation. It would do a lot of good if EU citizens could see their neighbours do have a point occasionally. It would do even more good to see their own national arguments being smashed by foreigners, which I think will happen often in a fair setting. (The Crisis has painfully started this process, with Greek and German Finance Ministers appearing in each other’s newspapers. But there needs to be a lot more of this, before people really start listening)

*Emergency financial crisis funds do require lots of money, which is why they are likely to remain a matter of inter-state politics, with strong conditionality attached. No-one wants to end up giving blank checks to the next Berlusconi. And anyway, we don’t want emergencies too often

16

pseudo-gorgias 07.03.17 at 7:35 pm

Here in nyc, there is persistent confusion amongst voters over who controls the city’s subway system (it’s the governor) , because the mechanism whereby the subway is administered is extremely arcane and complex. But the politicians like this because it gives them cover to avoid responsibility for its shambolic state and also enact unpopular measures (busses with wifi, new air trams to jfk) that the politicians nevertheless like. So they won’t give it up until there is some crisis that creates a constituency for some better type of institution.

It’s the same thing in Europe, with the ECB, the Europen Parliament, the Europen Courts, and the national parlaments. But what type of crisis could focus the political attentions of a better part of a billion people who don’t speak a common language and have very different experiences of democracy and capitalism, I would feign even imagine. So really, barring apocalypse, it’s bail or muddle through. And I can understand why Britain said ‘bail!’

17

Akshay 07.03.17 at 7:48 pm

Steven T Johnson@1: You seem to be a fellow social democrat, but as with many other Anglophone social democrats, I feel like our parallel universes w.r.t the EU have split at some point. From my parallel universe here on the Northern EU mainland, pretty much all of the world’s most successful welfare states, with the most progressive taxation policies on Earth, are in the EU or the EEA. Why should Anglo social-democrats, who support a Scandinavian (=EU/EEA) or, more modestly, Beneluxian (=EU) style welfare state, think being outside of the EU has any bearing on the topic? These high tax + high spend countries are doing fine in the EU! If anything, European elites admire them, which is why the Tory Right were so eager to leave the EU.

The problem, I believe, with EU comment threads on CT, is that 60 years of politics and history of European cooperation, affecting half a billion people across a very varied continent, implicitly or explicitly get reduced to a specific interpretation of the Greek crisis (Varoufakis’ undiluted). Well, even if Varoufakis is right, you cannot usefully generalise the extreme Greek situation to Life, the Universe and Everything about EU politics, the way CT commenters tend to do. (Yes, the North accuses Greece of having tried a low tax + high spend policy, which was unsustainable. And Greece accuses Northern social democracies of believing in Hayekian neoliberalism. But a lot of this ideological talk is just decoration for an international fight over money.)

In the same vein, by what standards has the Draghi ECB been in favour of hard money? The ECB balance sheet has become huge! It’s just that Draghi can’t do magic, especially not without fiscal support. (Weidmann really is in favour of hard money, but he is in a minority of one at the moment. Monetary policy is a contested topic.)

As for the “mass of the population” over here, they do in fact strongly support fiscal probity and Swabian housewife economics. That’s why we Keynesians keep losing elections to fiscal “conservatives” :-(. If we want more Keynesian policies, we need to replace our current politicians, not support them by blaming the EU, when our own politicians are the ones making “EU” decisions. But on the bright side, public scepticism about Keynesianism hasn’t prevented Sweden or the Netherlands from having a large welfare state! We should not confuse public attitudes towards {structurally high taxation + high quality public services} with public attitudes towards {temporary deficits}.

18

bruce wilder 07.03.17 at 8:50 pm

I noted one small and ironic detail in European affairs recently: the Greeks vetoed EU criticism of China over human rights. The Troika made the Greeks sell control and a half interest in their largest port to China, as they have been forced to sell a great many public resources and assets, and now the Greek government dutifully carries water for their Chinese patrons, er partners.

19

J-D 07.04.17 at 12:41 am

The choice that British voters faced (and will face again in the next election) was between austerity politics and its alternative. This choice has real and substantial consequences for people’s pocket books and lives, which is why so many were willing to mobilize to defend and promote their views.

European democracy will finally be a real thing when it is the primary arena in which parties (and the voters who support them) contend over questions which they see as being directly important to their lives. One doesn’t need civic nationalism, or a European demos to do this (or, more precisely, such nationalism and sense of a demos will emerge, if they emerge at all, in lockstep with structured contention). To get people actively engaged in politics, one needs them to believe that there’s an important fight at stake, which has direct repercussions for their lives.

Instead, as the European Union (or more specifically the Eurozone) moves from a regulatory state to one that has a common budget and real economic capacity, it needs to provide European voters with the collective means to contend over how that budget is used. There is no substitute for real arguments with substantial and visible impact on people’s lives in getting people to engage with democracy. Arguments over how to spend money are as real as it gets. …

To the extent (an extent which is perhaps not as great as it could be) that national political systems in EU members give people democratic influence over how national budgets are used, and over choices with real and substantial consequences for their lives, the way they do so is by having national elections which have at least some influence over the composition of national governments. Maltese voters who prefer Labour governments (and the associated policies) to Nationalist governments (and the associated policies) can vote for Labour in Maltese elections, and the converse applies to Maltese voters with the converse preferences, and the aggregate of their voting decisions determines whether Malta has a Labour government or a Nationalist government.

You don’t suggest directly that what the EU needs is EU-wide elections which have at least some influence over the composition of an EU government, but what, in equally concrete terms, is the alternative? It is easy enough to imagine European elections ceasing to be ‘second order’ elections if there was the possibility of votes for the EPP putting an EPP leader into office as a European Prime Minister (or Chancellor, or President, or what-have-you) and the possibility of votes for the PES putting a PES leader into the same office, but what else, in equally concrete terms, might do the trick?

20

arnold 07.04.17 at 12:42 am

What does it take for government to act, when its seen there is not enough money for a human population to stay or leave a town, county or state, that does not have enough monetary resources to sustain itself…
…This is happening all over the world–capitalism verses socialism…We live everywhere on our planet and immigration and anti immigration have the same meaning now…
… Today’s populism is ignorance of sustaining itself….

21

kidneystones 07.04.17 at 4:18 am

Henry, I’d like to like this piece and do even after several readings. Liking it, however, doesn’t make it sound and the more I think about it the more scattered and poorly-grounded your arguments become.

Many of your observations regarding the ‘problem’ are very sound, at least at first glance. My initial principal concern centered on the magical site of structured contention. What might that look like I wonder?

Anonymous2@9 raises the real red flag, not just about the UK departure, but with the more troubling question of scale. We haven’t seen an exodus, yet, first because the UK has yet to depart, and also because the EU makes exit so darn difficult. Yes, the UK may leave. Will others leave independent of the UK non-exit, or exit? Some have tried and failed. On the one hand its easier to see a collapse of nationalism as more likely, but that’s because I’m soft remain. The collapse makes sense to me, but we’ve got plenty of object lessons suggesting others hold different views.

I’d be much happier with this piece if offered some examples of what a (real) site of structured contention might look like. I normally enjoy your stuff very much, apologies if my critique seems unduly harsh.

22

Tabasco 07.04.17 at 5:05 am

“Miliband saw that the party he had inherited from Blair “

Gordon Brown sends his regards.

23

nastywoman 07.04.17 at 5:35 am

@17
”The problem, I believe, with EU comment threads on CT, is that 60 years of politics and history of European cooperation, affecting half a billion people across a very varied continent, implicitly or explicitly get reduced to a specific interpretation of the Greek crisis”.

But our Anglophone social democratic friends need to do that – in order to argue against the so called ‘austerity’ policies of ‘their’ right-wingers – who used the Greek Crisis to point to – in their minds – ‘the corruption of European Welfare States’ – and even if Paul Krugman and a few others of ‘our’ fellow (economical) Anglophone friends now perhaps regret – that they build their narrative of ‘austerity against Keynesian policies’ with the example of Greece – instead of with one of the most successful ‘Keynesian Social Democratic Welfare States’ Germany.
Which always would have been the much, much better example to teach US and British conservatives and reactionaries the lesson that a government which mainly invests in ‘human capital’ -(instead of just ‘capitalism’) is far more successful -(also money-wise) than any society which isn’t ‘social-democratic’.

BUT – anywhoo – the confused US narrative of the Greek Drama might be so ingrained in the Anglophones -(and Crooked Timbers?) minds – that we just have to tolerate it like an Anglophones idea that a tremendous complicated contemporary Union of 27 resembles a much more simplistic (‘monarchic’) empire of the past?

24

Continental 07.04.17 at 6:24 am

“So, it is possible for austerity to remain at least not unpopular”

Austerity is popular! Haven’t you noticed: Austerian parties keep winning elections, in the US, the UK, und much of the EU. As long as this is the case, complaints about the EU’s democracy deficit are a distraction.

25

Z 07.04.17 at 9:46 am

European democracy will finally be a real thing when it is the primary arena in which parties […] contend over questions which they see as being directly important to their lives. […] To get people actively engaged in politics, one needs them to believe that there’s an important fight at stake, which has direct repercussions for their lives.

This are indeed probably necessary conditions, but are they sufficient? Framed in terms I believe Henry consider pertinent, namely the cognitive properties of democracy, something else is required: the possibility for agents to get a feedback from the consequences of their choices, and this in turn rests on some degree of commonality between various individuals. Within national boundaries, there are well-established (yet still frail) mechanisms to ensure this, starting with basic human sociability, building on shared (but possibly conflicting) anthropological values (not, or at the very least not only, political ones). These mechanisms and the underlying sentiment seem to me to be more or less completely lacking at the European level and arguably increasingly so.

To be concrete, the immediate human realities of the life of a twenty-something Portuguese, French, German or Swede have essentially nothing in common. How, then, are the provisional winners of a putative political contest between them supposed to understand the consequences of their choices on the losers? See in that respect Akshay’s remark that “the “mass of the population” over here […] do[es] in fact strongly support fiscal probity and Swabian housewife economics,” an observation that I believe is correct, but especially as applied to the rather specific “here” and to the similarly specific subset of the European population which has come to wield most of the political power.

Likewise, I find Akshay’s suggestion

It would do a lot of good if EU citizens could see their neighbours do have a point occasionally. It would do even more good to see their own national arguments being smashed by foreigners, which I think will happen often in a fair setting.

absolutely a step in the right direction, but sadly a way too optimistic one. People rarely accepts that their arguments have being smashed by discourse in a fair setting (possibly, the converse is actually more frequent, that is to say, seeing a foreigner smash one’s own argument would rally even more the population behind said argument), it is only the recognition of a shared experience that can gradually leads to this experience (the concrete interaction with an unemployed relative or with a successful colleague, the concrete experience of one’s kids in an overcrowded school or with an infuriating bureaucracy etc…).

(OT but I will reiterate my polite plea for a relaxing of the permanent moderation mode at least in threads with presumably little polemical content like this one; at the moment, meaningful exchanges between commenters are almost impossible due to the expected delay between comments and I regret it.)

26

Manta 07.04.17 at 10:09 am

I think it’s time to deal with the fact that different parts of EU have very different interests: even if the democratic deficit were to be solved, the underlying incompatibility of interests between, say, Germany and Italy cannot be solved in a sustainable way.
The abysmal management of the economic crisis by the EU is not due to bad politicians, but to the very nature of the Euro.

27

Continental 07.04.17 at 1:01 pm

“the immediate human realities of the life of a twenty-something Portuguese, French, German or Swede have essentially nothing in common”

Humans are totally determined by their race and ethnicity. The idea that they share any common humanity, anything like “basic human sociability”, “shared (but possibly conflicting) anthropological values”, is an affront to human nature. And liberals still don’t want to admit that we are facing a fascist resurgence.

Out of curiosity: is your Math department pure French? No German, Swede or Portuguese ever showed up to share their human realities with you? Sad.

28

Continental 07.04.17 at 1:07 pm

Also I’m sure you never had reason to believe that the interests of some groups of French people might conflict with the interests of other groups of French people, and the winners of the national political contest might not care much about the losers? Can’t possibly happen, look what a nice cosy Volksgemeinschaft we have here!

29

nastywoman 07.04.17 at 1:11 pm

@26
‘The abysmal management of the economic crisis by the EU is not due to bad politicians, but to the very nature of the Euro.’

That’s the myth created mainly by US so called ‘liberal’ economists while in reality the Euro could be called ‘the irreversible clue’ which holds all the different countries together – as there never would have been a Brexit if Great Britain would have been on the Euro too.
And about ‘abysmal management of economic crisis’ –
That always was one of the specialities of Italy -(being on the Euro or not)- and no value judgement attached – as the wonderful Italian Chaos of Governing only might get ‘more boring’ in a Germanic way – the longer it will be a Euro Country.

30

Layman 07.04.17 at 1:36 pm

Manta: “I think it’s time to deal with the fact that different parts of EU have very different interests: even if the democratic deficit were to be solved, the underlying incompatibility of interests between, say, Germany and Italy cannot be solved in a sustainable way.”

Like this?

“I think it’s time to deal with the fact that different parts of [insert the name of any neighborhood, city, state, country here] have very different interests: even if the democratic deficit were to be solved, etc…”

It doesn’t really work, does it?

31

steven t johnson 07.04.17 at 1:45 pm

Ashkay@17 ” Why should Anglo social-democrats, who support a Scandinavian (=EU/EEA) or, more modestly, Beneluxian (=EU) style welfare state, think being outside of the EU has any bearing on the topic?” Briefly, under the EU’s economic set up, only some select parts will be able to afford these welfare states without hopelessly clashing with the local rulers. And these welfare states will I think be rolled back when ever the rulers think their wealth is suffering losses. And I think their campaign for the past will be greatly facilitated by membership in the EU. Also, I’m not sure I’m a social democrat. I think the EU stands for a world in which the imperialist powers organize a peaceful division of the world, which isn’t possible. And the pursuit will lead to catastrophe. The last golden summer of of the empires gave us the (first) Great War. This golden autumn will give us another (last?) Great War.

“In the same vein, by what standards has the Draghi ECB been in favour of hard money? The ECB balance sheet has become huge!” In the sense that sees “hard” money in a fiat currency as one in which there is enforcement of the alleged tradeoff between employment and inflation. ECB balances in the coffers of the wealthy are not a problem in the short run. They don’t I think see a way out in the long run, but then, they do not actually comprehend the notion of of a long run very well, since they do understand very well indeed that change is not likely to benefit their masters. In the long run, change is all there is.

There’s no specific question about Keynesians losing elections, but I think you have to be very cautious about using election results as signifying anything about what the will of the people really is. Or even more to the point, as to what they would want if they really had choices.

32

nastywoman 07.04.17 at 1:46 pm

AND the comment of @26
– that is probably the most important point – why such (supposedly) ‘incompatible’European countries like Italy and Germany overcame their difference in such a sustainable way – (now at least since Goethes Trip to Italy)

They ‘complete’ each other – just the same way as ME and my Italian boyfriend.
And I understand that such ‘sustainability’ is hard to understand for people who base their idea of ‘sustainability’ on some funny US economical views that Italians and Germany are ‘incompatible’ while in reality it is like the construction of a Ferrari -(and thus the EU) – and do I really need to write more…?

to prove how little incompatibility of interests between, say, Germany and Italy cannot be solved in a sustainable way.

33

steven t johnson 07.04.17 at 2:21 pm

PS Forgot about the objection that the Habsburg empire lasted four hundred years and therefore this was an endorsement of Gellner. The Habsburgs were Austrian, and the Austrian empire formally ended in 1867. The substance of the Habsburg family’s power had already suffered a shock in 1848-1849. This was further diminished by the Second Italian War of Independence. The process was repeated by the Balkan Wars.

Taking a long time to actually collapse can be a function of having a lot of strength to start with. Or as the saying goes, there’s a lot of ruin in a nation. I have no idea what Gellner considered as Austrian, or Austro-Hungarian, or Habsburg, success.

34

Marc 07.04.17 at 3:03 pm

Is there any evidence that the EU will do better with the next economic downturn, or the next refugee crisis than it did with the prior ones? Because both of these are almost certain to recur, and other shocks to the system are certainly possible. Explicitly non-democratic regimes in the East, as opposed to de facto ones, for instance. And Brexit could have all sorts of unexpected chain reaction consequences; vindictive triumphalism to the contrary, not all of the bad ones will be borne by the UK.

35

Z 07.04.17 at 3:31 pm

Manta’s 26 covers in a shorter and more efficient way what I tried to say in my 25…

36

arnold 07.04.17 at 3:38 pm

Was the essential intent of ‘Brave New World’, to see evolution as the very knowledge and resistance needed, to discover and sustain the will to be free…

37

Stephen 07.04.17 at 7:27 pm

A modernised version of the opinions of the fine poet Charles Sisson:

The Arguments for Federal Union

As Westminster knows what is best for Yorkshire, Brussels will know what is best for England.

As we are adequately represented by our Parliament, and the French are adequately represented by their Parliament, we will both be perfectly represented by the Federal Parliament.

As there is no possibility of corruption or intrigue in the Italian Parliament, the example of Italy may be followed by the whole Union.

As men care most of all about ethical ideals, less for their country and least of all for money, there will be no conflict between inclination and duty in the minds of the central government.

As there is one philosophy to which all men give assent, the central government will easily agree on what principles their policy is to be decided.

As language is merely a vehicle for conveying abstractions, representatives ignorant of one another’s tongues will easily understand one another’s ideals.

As strong nations habitually respect the rights of weak ones, even when it is not in their interests to do so, a strong Union will inevitably be a just one.

As the rights of the nations in the Union will be guaranteed by the central government, it is convenient that the central government should control the army.

As the federated nations will always retain the power of the vote, they need not fear the central executive which disposes of the power of the purse and the gun.

As there is little inconvenience in fleeing to another country, there can be none at all in fleeing to another continent.

38

Layman 07.04.17 at 11:31 pm

stephen johnson: “Forgot about the objection that the Habsburg empire lasted four hundred years and therefore this was an endorsement of Gellner.”

Probably you should have forgotten about it. It wasn’t an endorsement of Gellner, just a comment that your objection didn’t appear to contradict the argument at all. It still doesn’t, now you seem to be in agreement with it.

39

Howard Frant 07.05.17 at 12:50 am

Jake Gibson @5

Yes, Paul Krugman has argued that if Texas were an independent country like Ireland, the S&L crisis would have been a very serious fiscal crisis. Instead they got a huge infusion of money from the central government, and nobody thought this was odd.

The irony about the “Federalists” is that the original Federalists were arguing for a *strong* central government (hence the name).

40

J-D 07.05.17 at 1:15 am

steven t johnson

I think the EU stands for a world in which the imperialist powers organize a peaceful division of the world, which isn’t possible. And the pursuit will lead to catastrophe. The last golden summer of of the empires gave us the (first) Great War. This golden autumn will give us another (last?) Great War.

I bet you’re wrong.

41

J-D 07.05.17 at 4:05 am

Z

Many people who are heavily invested in careers tied to the existing national governments of EU members have what seems to me a fairly obvious motive for resisting movement towards a genuine supra-national EU government: they don’t want to find themselves relegated to the second tier.

42

nastywoman 07.05.17 at 5:51 am

“AND the immediate human realities of the life of a twenty-something Asian, African-American and Native American have so little in common” –
that we might have to break up the US in a lot of little nation states instead – now that independence day is over?

43

Continental 07.05.17 at 8:03 am

Thr w r n 2017, srsly dbtng th thss tht th ttlty f hmn bng’s ntrsts r dtrmnd by thr ntnlty, nd tht ppl f dffrnt ntnlts cn’t pssbly hv nythng f rlvnc n cmmn. Frnch nd Grmn twnty-smthngs dn’t shr ny hmn rlty nd shld thy hppn t mt n sm csmpltn hll-hl lk Prs, prsmbly wldn’t knw wht t tlk bt. lns. t wld nvr ccr t thm tht thy hv ny ntrsts n cmmn, lk prsrvng th plnt n hbtbl stt, prvntng ctstrphc clmt chng, pc nd stblty, ffctv rgltn f trnsntnl crprtns, fghtng ntrntnl trrrsm.

Th sllnss f th rgmnts s bynd blf. Mthmtcn wh dsn’t ndrstnd tht vrtn xsts wthn cntrs, nt jst btwn thm. vry n f ths rgmnts cld wrd fr wrd b sd t jstfy brkng p ntnl stts nt smllr, mr hmgns nts. n fct, vry mdrn dy rpn cntry, ncldng Frnc, dvlpd frm cllctn f prncplts tht vr tm wr nfd nt ntn stt, mstly by frc. Mny f thm stll sffr cnflcts btwn rgns nd cntr bsd n hstrcl grvncs. N lss mprtnt r cnmc nd scl dffrncs wthn stts – rgnl, rrl-rbn, nd f crs (dr mntn) clss dffrncs. “D Grnzn vrlfn ncht zwschn dn Völkrn, sndrn zwschn bn nd ntn” – hv w rgrssd s fr tht w hv frgttn th lssns f cntry f slghtr nd wr?

44

Z 07.05.17 at 9:54 am

Continental

Humans are totally determined by their race and ethnicity

I have no idea what prompted you to spew such racist nonsense.

Out of curiosity: is your Math department pure French? No German, Swede or Portuguese ever showed up to share their human realities with you?

Even a moderately charitable reading of what I wrote makes it clear that what I consider the relevant experience is the sense of commonality created by shared co-existence, so that French, German, Swede and Portuguese are rather transparent metonymies for “people living in France, Germany, Sweden and Portugal” which include more or less by definition my colleagues. Unfortunately, in view of

I’m sure you never had reason to believe that the interests of some groups of French people might conflict with the interests of other groups of French people, and the winners of the national political contest might not care much about the losers? Can’t possibly happen, look what a nice cosy Volksgemeinschaft we have here!

which is apparently in reaction to my 25 which argues, well, almost precisely the converse, I don’t think I can expect that modicum of intellectual charity (and I notice that you again managed to slip a rather detestable insinuation that ethnic purity somehow plays a role in the discussion).

Layman @30

I don’t think you can assume your reformulation self-evidently refutes Manta’s point (if only because you elided the sustainable part and that changes thing quite a good deal). A polity (of whatever side) is democratically viable only if there exist mechanisms that ensure the circulation of information between different segments of the polity and mechanism that allows the coalescence of interests in political forces that can sway future choices. When these mechanisms do not exist (think of a city with a ghetto, or Puerto Rico), then, yes, incomparable interests tend not to be solved in a sustainable way. It seems clear to me that these mechanisms do not currently exist at the European level, and for good reasons (and I believe the burden of proof falls, as usual in existential statement, on those who think otherwise).

Now, if you want a precise formulation, I would not necessarily mention national boundaries as Manta did (the interests of Germany or Italy…) but, yes, I strongly believe that there are conflicting legitimate interests at there European level which currently admit no sustainable solution, starting with those of a highly-trained and organized aging workforce specialized in export of high-quality industry goods whose fertility rate has been below 1,5 for more than 40 years now and those of an intermediate workforce plagued by high youth unemployment and with a fertility rate flirting with the 2 line.

J-D @41

What you write makes perfect sense, but in my country at least, it is among such people (typically, civil servants or people in the private sector but with close ties to national centers of decision-making, if I understood correctly) that support for the European project in general and for a federal EU in particular is strongest (for instance, they were the core electorate of Emmanuel Macron, whose victories in the Presidential and General elections were widely-and correctly, in my view-interpreted as a one of the most significative victory of the European project in recent years). So I don’t think things are as simple as you suggested.

45

steven t johnson 07.05.17 at 2:05 pm

J-D@40 “I bet you’re wrong.”

You and your fellow supporters of things as they are (pretty much, with quibbles over who’s in the driver’s seat,) have indeed bet “I” am wrong, wagering the lives of millions.

Where and when the Great War broke out was an accident, but the war itself was not. Where and when the next Great War breaks will also seem to be an accident. It is the peace that is an accident.

46

Continental 07.05.17 at 3:16 pm

This is what Z at 25 wrote:

“Within national boundaries, there are well-established (yet still frail) mechanisms to ensure this, *starting with basic human sociability*, *building on shared (but possibly conflicting) anthropological values* (not, or at the very least not only, political ones). These mechanisms and the underlying sentiment seem to me to be *more or less completely lacking at the European level* and arguably increasingly so.

To be concrete, *the immediate human realities of the life of a twenty-something Portuguese, French, German or Swede have essentially nothing in common.*””

Z argued that there wasn’t enough “shared anthropological values”, not enough “basic human sociability” shared between Germans, French, Swedes and Portuguese for them to be integrated in a common transnational polity. He argued that their individual economic interests are so strongly determined by nationality that there was no chance of European integration, which implies that he considers class interests within a nation state not too severe to prevent political integration, only those between them. That is what he wrote and I’m not misquoting the least bit.

Go on and read 42. Those who take the effort will find that standard liberal criticism of nationalism is now reason to be censored and excluded on Crooked Timber. Surprising this is hardly but you should be ashamed Henry. I realize I’m not welcome here and I’ll take the hint and stay away. I’m missing exactly nothing I would regret. Thanks folks.

47

nastywoman 07.05.17 at 3:26 pm

‘It is the peace that is an accident.’

Now I had enough and I don’t think that all of this ‘‘incompatible European countries” and ”they have essentially nothing in common” is funny anymore.

Since 70 – in words ‘seventy’ effing years – countries in Europe which used to conquer each other for centuries every much, much fewer years are at peace with each other AND there is NO chance in hell or heaven that countries like Germany or France -(the ‘archenemies’) or Italy and Germany – EVER will go to war against each-other AND this fact is one of the most uplifting lessons about what can be done by ‘sane’ and ‘thoughtful’ and ’empathetic’ and ‘social’ thinking people!

And about all of this – in the meantime really irritating steretypical Anglo-American Intertube-Drama – THE SKY IS FALLING IN EUROPE!

Hello dudes – vacations have started – meet what you write about without any touch of reality at the beaches in Italy – France – Spain, Greece and – yes even in Germany –
(but at least for 4 weeks – none of this if it’s friday it must be Nice!) – and then come back and report!
-(and my joke about the US having to be split in nation states because Americans are ‘incompatible’ can stay in moderation!)

Capisce??!

48

arnold 07.05.17 at 3:58 pm

EU and US and a few others have common ground to show the migrating world…
…All private land can become public land on this planet…

And, is this our work today–to sustain a search for one’s own personal freedom…

49

Layman 07.05.17 at 6:11 pm

Z: “A polity (of whatever side) is democratically viable only if there exist mechanisms that ensure the circulation of information between different segments of the polity and mechanism that allows the coalescence of interests in political forces that can sway future choices.”

This sounds good as far as it goes, but one person’s sufficient mechanism is another person’s insufficient mechanism. How do you test sufficiency, so you can arrive at the certainty you’re expressing here? Or, perhaps you can illustrate by listing some polities you consider democratically viable, and some that you consider not be so, and highlight those mechanism that work in the former case and are lacking in the latter?

50

Layman 07.05.17 at 6:20 pm

Z: “To be concrete, the immediate human realities of the life of a twenty-something Portuguese, French, German or Swede have essentially nothing in common.”

You see, this strikes me as entirely wrong. I grew up in Greece and Italy in the 60s and 70s, and it was true then. I worked extensively in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, etc in the 90s, 00s, and 10s, and it was no longer true. Something changed. I worked with young people on projects and in enterprises where French worked alongside German, Swede, Italian, Spaniard, Greek, Pole. I still know many of these people today. They have common experiences, live similar lives, have similar views about themselves and their relationship with each other.

51

nastywoman 07.05.17 at 7:45 pm

@46
”I realize I’m not welcome here and I’ll take the hint and stay away. I’m missing exactly nothing I would regret. Thanks folks.”

Good Lord are we ‘sensitive’ today? – and if there is anybody who should be allowed to be sensitive it’s me, me, ME! – as I posted all these nice and positive comments about the ‘compatibility’ of Italians and Germans – with already having 5 -(win words: ‘five’) – years behind me – trying to calm down all of my Anglo-friends – and especially Paul Krugman who since 2012 – predicted so often – that the end is near for ‘Urp’ that I had to check every morning after he predicted IT – that it wasn’t so…

And that’s over five years hearing from the ‘nicest’ Anglo-American ‘experts’ how ‘incompatible’ and ‘having nothing in common’ – and ‘any day now – and ‘any minute now’ – and it will collapse – the EU – and it’s ‘a disaster’ – it is ‘the disaster’ – it is THE ‘Eurodämmerung’ – and ‘austerity’ – MY GOD austerity!!! – and THE Euro – and THE Germans and I tell’ya ALL you on the Interubes – and on and on and on – while commenters from Europe – on and on and on – told their poor frightened and alarmed friends on the islands: Just to CALM DOWN – as Europe always will find a ‘compromise’ – which seems to be very hard to comprehend for the Anglo-Crowd?

And so @ 46 – after saying what you have been saying – and being in moderation probably much, much longer do I take my Lollipop and go home?

No I don’t!

And I’m going to stick to this story – comes Z or Bruce or even Goethes Faust!!

52

dax 07.05.17 at 8:01 pm

” it needs to provide European voters with the collective means to contend over how that budget is used.”

And European voters will probably vote for “austerity.” Brits and Americans think spending money you don’t have is obviously “popular”. It may be in their countries, but it isn’t on the continent. (What is popular, as it is popular everywhere, is spending *other* people’s money. But once the Dutch, or the Belge, or even the French or the Spanish are asked whether they want to spend money which they themselves will eventually have to pay back later, they will vote against.) In a European democracy the Greeks would lose – badly.

53

Gareth Wilson 07.05.17 at 9:15 pm

I can think of one thing that the Portuguese, French, Germans, and Swedes have in common. Most of the other EU countries too, even the UK. Pity about the Hungarians, Finns, Estonians, and Maltese, though.

54

Priest 07.05.17 at 11:30 pm

Made me look up the Maltese language history, wasn’t aware of the Arabic background. Down with the Indo-Europeans!

55

J-D 07.06.17 at 12:09 am

steven t johnson
Your characterisation of me as a supporter of things pretty much as they are is a substitution of prejudice for analysis; you have no evidence of what I support, because I haven’t discussed the subject here, partly because I doubt it would be of interest.

For the rest, both my previous comment and the present one reflect some irritation because I am typically irritated by windy rhetoric, and dubious of those who rely on it; in my experience, their grandiose pronouncements dissolve into vacuity on cross-examination.

56

J-D 07.06.17 at 12:16 am

Z

What you write makes perfect sense, but in my country at least, it is among such people (typically, civil servants or people in the private sector but with close ties to national centers of decision-making, if I understood correctly) that support for the European project in general and for a federal EU in particular is strongest (for instance, they were the core electorate of Emmanuel Macron, whose victories in the Presidential and General elections were widely-and correctly, in my view-interpreted as a one of the most significative victory of the European project in recent years). So I don’t think things are as simple as you suggested.

I didn’t intend to suggest that things were simple, and if I did, perhaps I could have expressed myself more carefully. I could have written, as I was certainly thinking, ‘This is of course only one factor among many.’

Also, why is it that when you think of people invested in careers tied to existing national governments, you think of civil servants and of people in the private sector but not of elected politicians?

57

Peter Dorman 07.06.17 at 12:20 am

I strongly agree that structured contention is essential to any functioning polity, and that the EU, with its bland, undifferentiated, ankle-deep comity, has a long way to go in this direction. But something crucial is missing from the OP: political economy.

I know it’s an oversimplification, as all such narratives are, but my interpretation goes like this:

During the Great Depression, WWII or just after the war, all European countries outside the Soviet Bloc arrived at a class compromise (or social contract) designed to forestall future horrors. Each country’s arrangement was unique, but their common feature was a dramatic curtailment of the power of capital. This was hardly limited to welfare state institutions; it included labor policy, regulation of finance, industrial policy and other measures. Capital was politically weak and compelled to accede.

Over time capital recovered its political strength and is now dominant in every country. The space of political contention has narrowed dramatically. But the national accords remain popular and are difficult to abrogate directly at the national level.

The EU has been refashioned since the 1980s to fulfill the role of a mechanism for the undoing of national class compromises. It systematically favors liberalism in the name of a single market, which is structurally at odds with national regulatory regimes. There may be a democratic deficit for, say, environmental policy, but hardly anything needs to be said to make ECB support of sovereign debt conditional on liberalization, especially of labor markets.

This is not the entire story of the EU, but isn’t it a part of everything it touches?

58

steven t johnson 07.06.17 at 2:54 am

J-D@55 thinks that going out your way to reject such propositions as 1) WWI was an inevitable breakdown of a contradictory system 2) Peaceful redivision of the world is impossible 3) The EU does operate on the premise that such a peaceful redivision is possible 4) The current system is contradictory and will break down in war just as it has before is not making a statement. This is an error.

The positive statements are 1) WWI was just a tragic accident 2) The great powers can peacefully resolve all conflicts and changes 3) The current status of the world system is towards peace 4) Barring accidents the current dominant forces for peace will continue indefinitely.(I am afraid I’m inclined to think J-D believe evilly disposed persons who mysteriously appear n the world stage are a kind of accident but perhaps J-D believes modern society has progressed too far for such medievalish things to happen?)

So, yes, I do have personal testimony from J-D about what J-D thinks. It is vacuous indeed. Summing it up as, supporting things as they are, isn’t windy rhetoric, though, leaving one to wonder why J-D is rabbiting on about it.

59

J-D 07.06.17 at 4:00 am

steven t johnson
None of the propositions you listed are propositions that I have asserted; none of them are propositions that I have denied. So, despite your certainty, you don’t know what I think about them. But I will tell you now, and then you will know.
What I think about all of the following statements (and I’ll quote them all for greater clarity) —

1) WWI was an inevitable breakdown of a contradictory system 2) Peaceful redivision of the world is impossible 3) The EU does operate on the premise that such a peaceful redivision is possible 4) The current system is contradictory and will break down in war just as it has before is not making a statement.

1) WWI was just a tragic accident 2) The great powers can peacefully resolve all conflicts and changes 3) The current status of the world system is towards peace 4) Barring accidents the current dominant forces for peace will continue indefinitely.

— what I think about each of those statements is that it is too poorly specified to be evaluated as true or false.

60

nastywoman 07.06.17 at 4:38 am

– but listening last night to a group of students from all over Europe – on the strandbar – on the Rhein – there is one thing -(before the G20) – they seem to all agree – in awesome unison – that you guys – on the islands have completely and totally lost it – with your ‘Brexiting’ and ‘Trumping’ – and all this silly Intertube Drama – an if it wouldn’t have been for me, me, ME – and explaining that Trum is NOT America – and as long ‘as its subject populations complains about its central rule the US empire will be strong – at least strong enough that one can took any matters into some own hands – without getting as much in trouble -as Trump at the coming G20.

61

steven t johnson 07.06.17 at 10:12 am

From the crooked timber of humanity no straight answer will be heard!

62

Ben Philliskirk 07.06.17 at 11:12 am

Can someone please explain why comment 42 has been mangled?

63

Katsue 07.06.17 at 1:38 pm

@11

There are a few obvious facts to bear in mind in relation to Ireland’s situation. One is that there was a lot less austerity in Ireland than in Greece. Another is that employees in Ireland’s software and pharmaceutical sectors were, apart from tax increases, almost totally insulated from the effects of the crisis because their incomes were not dependent on the state of the Irish economy.

So what were the macro effects of this not-so-severe austerity (leaving aside our health and housing crises)?

Well, Irish unemployment rates are still not down to 2007 levels, or real wages back up to 2009 levels. Ireland is still not back to where it was pre-crash.

Politically, Fine Gael’s vote share and seats, after 5 years in government, dropped back to its pre-crash levels, while its coalition partner Labour was almost wiped out. In fact every Irish party in government during the crisis suffered massive losses in vote share and seats at the following election. Fine Gael is only able to form a government now with the effective support of Fianna Fáil, and the combined vote share of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is below 50% for the first time ever*. This is a scenario that would have been almost unthinkable 10 years ago and is a political earthquake by just about any standards.

* Or at least, since the precursors of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil emerged when Sinn Féin split into pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty factions in 1922.

64

Z 07.06.17 at 1:41 pm

Continental

Z argued that there wasn’t enough “shared anthropological values”, not enough “basic human sociability” shared between Germans, French, Swedes and Portuguese for them to be integrated in a common transnational polity.

No, that is certainly not what I argued (to begin with, that would be pretty stupid, as all these people are indeed integrated in a common transnational polity).

He argued that their individual economic interests are so strongly determined by nationality that there was no chance of European integration

Out of interest, I’d be very curious to see where I supposedly argued this.

which implies that he considers class interests within a nation state not too severe to prevent political integration, only those between them.

OK, that was what you thought I implied. Let me suggest another reading. Afterwards, I encourage you to re-read the thread and see if perhaps that alternative reading is as least as compatible with what I wrote as yours. I argued that
-There are conflicting interests between individuals, groups, social classes etc. within communities of people, be they cities, nation-states or supranational entities (well, to be fair, I didn’t explicitly write this, but it is blindingly obvious and taken for granted in the OP).
-In order for these disagreements to admit suitable and sustainable democratic solutions, there are a number of pre-requisites. One of them, dealt explicitly with in Henry’s post, is that people “contend over questions which they see as being directly important to their lives”.
-But there are other ones, for instance the possibility of the members of the polity to evaluate the outcome of said contention. I argue that, in the real world, this requires a sense of commonality of experience and that this sense itself builds on shared anthropological values and experiences.
-Finally, I argued that the foundation of this last requirement was lacking at the European level and was typically present but typically frail at the national level (and ergo that typical nation-states may barely manage to ensure that the eventual outcomes of political choices are part of the common knowledge of the population, leading to meaningful political contentions, whereas the EU as it exists now typically doesn’t).

No suggestion that conflicts of interests do not exist within nation-states or are negligible (that would be a quite amazingly stupid and counterfactual statement) , no suggestion that European integration is impossible (ditto). Just pointing out a missing requirement for meaningful and sustainable political contentions within the EU. Now, of course, you may disagree with these statements, Layman and nastywoman do, but I would appreciate it if you would accept that this was what I argued, not that ethnic purity or nationality could magically solve social problems.

Layman @49

How do you test sufficiency, so you can arrive at the certainty you’re expressing here?

I guess absolute statement make little sense in this context, only relative ones.

Or, perhaps you can illustrate by listing some polities you consider democratically viable, and some that you consider not be so, and highlight those mechanism that work in the former case and are lacking in the latter?

In view of my previous comment, I would be confortable saying I can list some polities that satisfy this particular requirement of shared co-existence more than others. For instance, I would say my town is more viable (under this requirement) than France as a whole, which is more viable than my region, which is more viable than the US, which is more viable than the EU.

Your question about mechanisms is precisely the good one. Let me cut to the most contentious point, the one you find “entirely wrong” in your 50. Were the young Europeans you have worked with all part of the top 20% of their generation in terms of educational and economical dynamism? If so (as I suspect, if only because very few Europeans work outside of their country of birth to begin with so only very specific Europeans get to work side by side), I agree that for them the converging trend initiated in the 80s still holds true (and arguably increasingly so). But if not, then some lived in a society where 12 babies are born for 1000 inhabitants and where the under 25 unemployment rate is 23% while others lived in a country where 8 babies are born for 1000 inhabitants and where the under 25 unemployment rate is below 7%. Pause to think what reality these numbers describe and tell me what the meaning of “They have common experiences, live similar lives, have similar views about themselves and their relationship with each other” can possibly be. Have similar relationship with each other? Then why do some have 1,5 baby per women and others 2? Live similar lives? Then why 1/4th of some are unemployed and less than 1/10th of the others?

Now mechanisms. Well, you tell me. Where are the speakers from one of the group that can be heard by the other? Where are the places, media, assemblies, agoras, unions, associations where members of both groups can share and confront their experiences? Where do the social trajectories of members of the first group ever cross those of the second? On which school benches? Within what common trade? In the rank of which common Army? Hell, is there one single thing about group x you are confident members of group y know and understand?

Now consider similar questions but this time at a different scale and you will easily find tons of examples of equally dissimilar groups, and in many cases within thriving democratic polities. What I predict you won’t find is a such a thriving democratic polity with equally dissimilar groups (and note I did not go out of my way to pick the most dissimilar groups within Europe) for which you won’t be able to answer the questions above trivially.

I personally deplore that this analysis implies that the EU is not democratically viable, but my feelings about the conclusion change neither the facts nor the logic (incidentally, this analysis makes another prediction: that the top 20% whom I agree do share a meaningful part of their experience should be able to have their concerns and interests adequately taken into account at the European level; I dare say that this prediction is borne out).

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Manta 07.06.17 at 3:03 pm

Layman @30:

mine was a constatation of an empirical fact.
Why and how conflicting interests manage to get managed among, say, different USA states, but not among different EU states I don’t know: but they don’t.

And the consequence is that the USA exited recession years ago, while a good chunk of Europe didn’t.

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Manta 07.06.17 at 3:09 pm

Addendum: by “conflicting interests” I mean first and foremost conflicting economic interests.
To make an example: every time a state in the periphery fiscal situation deteriorates, the fiscal situation in the core states gets better.

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AH 07.06.17 at 3:52 pm

What is amazing to me, and it is reflected in the reasonable tone of this piece, is the willful blindness to the fact that the last decade has been a historic disaster for the EU. Economically there is a lost decade of on Japanese scale for the EU as a whole and a depression as bad as the 30s for the south.

The structural problems that caused the crisis a decade ago have not even been acknowledged, and have been subdued only because growth has been so slow that imbalances have not grown and been siphoned off by a current account surplus which relies on accommodation by the rest of the world.

While the ECB is praised for doing the bare minimum a normal central bank would, The extant to which the ECB has become the political stick to keep peripheral countries in line has been ignored. Access to target 2 and QE has been explicitly used to punish a left government.

This is not to go into the endless list of foreign policy failures.

Historically this type of economic arrangement will end in a crisis. The cycle appears to have been lengthened lately, but there is no reason for optimism as most Euro elite are completely unable to face reality.

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arnold 07.06.17 at 4:31 pm

The laws of civilization verses the laws of nature…On our populated planet we have to know the difference; its almost the only common Value we have now…

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Steve Brown 07.06.17 at 4:47 pm

“To get people actively engaged in politics, one needs them to believe that there’s an important fight at stake, which has direct repercussions for their lives.”

The assumption that people ought to be ‘actively engaged in politics’ is part of the problem, at least from the standpoint of classical liberals(and there are still a few around) who see more value in going about one’s business without resorting to the pursuit of coercive(i.e. ‘political’) means or expending effort defending one’s self from same. Time spent engaging in politics, unfortunately necessary at times, is a social cost, not a social benefit, and we should seek to minimize it.

However, the author is correct that the political class and its toadies will ensure that their dark arts will incite fights among the populace that have ‘direct repercussions for their lives.’

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hix 07.06.17 at 9:34 pm

Definitions of austerity that apply to Greece are rather unusual. Anyway, neither Ireland with its specialication in enabling EU tax evasion nor Greece with its colosal government debt based negative international investment position combined with a non functioning public adminstration are very representative for anything.
(Ill note Ireland could have a similar negative international investment position, but then even Greek national accounting data is reliable compared to Irish one which could basically be anything in reality)

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Niall McAuley 07.06.17 at 10:18 pm

Katsue @66 Well, Irish unemployment rates are still not down to 2007 levels, or real wages back up to 2009 levels. Ireland is still not back to where it was pre-crash.

Indeed, I am not suggesting that the crash wasn’t a crash. I am simply pointing out that many Doom merchants in the popular economics line said that it couldn’t be done, and yet it has been done.

We are not back to pre-crash levels, but we are on the mend, not in a death march.

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Niall McAuley 07.06.17 at 10:22 pm

AH writes: Historically this type of economic arrangement will end in a crisis.

The crisis just happened, it was the decade of disaster you pointed out yourself, and the EU weathered it.

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J-D 07.06.17 at 10:41 pm

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nastywoman 07.06.17 at 10:57 pm

@67
‘but there is no reason for optimism as most Euro elite are completely unable to face reality.’

As the above and the rest of the comment of 67 is probably the most perfect… expression of the ‘Temple of Doom’ – Krugman and other Anglo-Apocalypticer had built in the last years – Let me try to go through the Temple?
From Europe! – and just coming back from ‘Don Alfredo’ –
HELLO Z – one of the most important ‘places’ for ‘media, assemblies, agoras, unions, associations where members of ALL groups can share and confront their experiences’.

AND as two of the usual regulars at Don Alfredo -(one of the absolute ‘In’-Places in a German City taken over by Italian cooking) – are from Greece –
Let me try to explain it from the perspective of these two Greeks – as what might be amazing to them ‘is the willful blindness to the fact – what the last 17 years in reality has meant for the poorest European countries – Countries like Greece.
‘Economically there is the time’ – before the introduction of the Euro – where – how do our Greek friends sometimes joke?: The preferred Greek ‘animal’ of transportation wasn’t their Jag – and the German Mark was so almighty – and those rich German workers swamped the Islands to such a dimension each summer vacation – that the families of our Greek friends felt as ‘poor’ as they were.
AND to make a short story of just 8 years not too long:
In just 8 years -(from 2000 to 2008) our Greek Gods -(or the Euro?) lifted Greece -(and the other ‘poor’ European States) – to nearly the same standard of living as the northern European States.
And what an amazing and awesome success? –
if there wouldn’t have been an ‘island’, very, very far away – with the collapse of a crazy housing bubble – crashed also this European miracle -(and hardly any American economists ever told the Greeks: Sorry guys WE f… up)

And the structural problems that caused this crisis have not even been (really?) acknowledged, and have been subdued – only because our fellow Americans like to forget so fast.
And SOO – it is also no wonder – that all these US economists which had helped to ‘blow’ the disaster with all their crazy economical monetary crap – pretended that history -(even in Europe) – started just at the moment – they had collapsed the worlds economy nearly entirely.
And SOOO the awesome and amazing rise of the very poor European States never was mentioned – and the nasty wisdom from the US housing bubble – that what goes up tooo fast might come down -(just like an irish intertubes bubble etc.etc) – and all what was left was the call of the Anglos for more monetary stimulus -(which we ALL totally love!)

*And while the ECB is praised for doing the bare minimum a normal central bank would, the extent to which the Anglo-World believes in stupid ‘Financialization’ – in order to repair a reality – where Rich are able to skim such ‘stimulus’ – in order to move to London and eat there for a lot more at Sale and Pepe than at Don Alfredo – IS just mind-boggling.

‘Historically this type of economic arrangement had to end in a crisis – which Europe with a very high probability will NOT repeat -(because Europeans tend to REMEMBER) – BUT WE -(the Greeks at Don Alfredo) have ‘no reason for optimism for US – as most Americans are completely unable to face such a reality.

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J-D 07.07.17 at 12:28 am

steven t johnson
It is difficult to give a straight answer to a crooked or broken question.

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Ben Philliskirk 07.07.17 at 7:33 am

JD @ 73

I understand the process but, after painstakingly ascertaining the rough gist of the comment, I’m puzzled as to what the crime was.

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Continental 07.07.17 at 9:31 am

Re Z 07.06.17 at 1:41 pm: No, that is certainly not what I argued.

[NB I said I will stay away and I will. But I feel it would be impolite to not respond to Z engaging with my comments.]

It is not clear to me what you object to. I quoted your statement at length. You brought up terminology like “shared anthropological values”, “basic human sociability” and “immediate human realities of the life”. I have lived in five countries and visited many more. I know people of French, German, and many other nationalities. I trust that none of them would agree that they don’t share anthropological values and basic human sociability with each other. All of them would surely recognize the same immediate human realities of life. The claim you made is just totally incomprehensible to me. That political and geographic factors have an influence on life realities is banal. But your claim was specifically that young German and French people’s lives have *almost nothing* in common whatsoever, and while you didn’t say that explicitly the corollary has to be that young French people, even of different class background (say an unemployed immigrant banlieusard compared with a researcher at a Math department), have more in common with each other then young French people have in common with young German people. That is empirically an absurd claim. Clearly a young white educated Frenchman has more life reality in common with a young white educated German than with a young nonwhite uneducated French. I would also point out, as I wrote in the mangled comment, that all of them have very important common interests in the preservation of a habitable planet, which is hardly a minor matter, and in other areas like the effective regulation of transnational corporations. I see no reason whatsoever why French and German people shouldn’t be able to debate and evaluate EU environmental and other policies that affect all of them, and be able to agree on the outcome. And conversely there is no reason why French people of different background should be more likely to be able to agree on such issues among themselves (hint: they don’t) than to agree with Germans or other Europeans.

You say you reject ethnic nationalism. I don’t know what version of nationalism you believe in but clearly it is nationalism that you espouse and I reject it – and I’m confident most French and German twenty-somethings agree with me.

Ben Philliskirk, thanks for the support. Regrettably neither you nor I will get an answer. My conclusion is that I have better use of my time than putting up with arbitrary censorship on a purportedly progressive debate forum now dominated by illiberal nationalists.

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Katsue 07.07.17 at 12:17 pm

@70

Institutional tax avoidance is hardly confined to Europe’s creditor countries. You may wish to reflect on the activities of Amazon or the origin of the word “Dutch” in the “Dutch Sandwich”.

In any case, the crash wasn’t caused by the presence of Apple, Google, Facebook or Pfizer on Irish soil, but by a property bubble which was inflated by historically low interest rates in the early ’00s that were totally inappropriate for Irish economic circumstances at the time, and the crash itself was made significantly more severe by the disastrous tight-money policies of the ECB under Jean-Claude Trichet. The core cause of all this has been Irish membership of the Eurozone, which has been a total disaster for the country.

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nastywoman 07.07.17 at 1:19 pm

@77
…’now dominated by illiberal nationalists.’

What?
– and I thought it was ‘incomprehensible hyphenated gibberish with multiple quote marks like Emily Dickinson writing a marvel comic’ which dominated?

And see – that could be the real problem with the use of ‘definitions’ around here – as there is a lot of ‘labeling’ going on and most of it seems to… let’s say: ‘Questionable’ – there is a lot of time spend just for the ‘basic’ NOT agreeing on any definitions – and are you really sure it’s ‘dominated by illiberal nationalists.’ – as for example ME – is this absolutely – totally -(‘socialistic’ – so my US relatives say) – NON NATIONALIST!

And I found out that quite a few of what I think ‘Americans’ – who comment here – really seem to NOT like their country?
-(at least NOT the way our ‘beloved President does’?)

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Z 07.07.17 at 1:20 pm

It is not clear to me what you object to.

I already spelled it out in my 64, but let me give it another go. I argued a very specific claim: that one (among many) requirements for integration in a democratically viable polity in the long run (not any polity) was lacking at the European level while it is typically present at the national level. If you generalize this very specific contention into sweeping claims about the possibility of European integration, the lack of intra-national conflicts or whatnot, then you get absurd statements, sure. That’s on you.

the corollary has to be that young French people, even of different class background (say an unemployed immigrant banlieusard compared with a researcher at a Math department), have more in common with each other then young French people have in common with young German people

Honestly, I can’t even begin to understand the syllogism that leads you to the conclusion that such a corollary “has to be”. If you spell it for yourself, I am quite sure you will notice 1) that it is entirely yours and 2) that it probably rests on an absurd premise. That it leads to an absurd conclusion should then not be so mysterious.

Anyway, once more with feeling, of course conflicting interests (for instance class interests) exist within a nation, of course they can be more acute than the conflict between individuals of a similar social background within different countries. All I have been saying (consistently) is that there exist (frail) mechanisms to arbitrate between them at the national level which are currently lacking at the European level. So it is not that Y, an unemployed unqualified twenty something in a poor neighborhood of Mulhouse, has more in common or tends to agree more with Z, a Math researcher in Paris, than with X, an unemployed unqualified twenty something in a poor neighborhood of Stuttgart, it’s just that there exists channels of information making the life experience of X and Z knowable to each other (for instance Z’s marriage witness might be living in the same neighborhood as Y and their children may be going to the same school; an example of basic sociability), so that if Z systematically screws Y in the democratic process, he will in the end come to know of it, whereas such channels of information are largely lacking between X and Y. That’s all I have been saying!

Clearly a young white educated Frenchman has more life reality in common with a young white educated German than with a young nonwhite uneducated French.

You’ll notice that in my comment 64, which you are ostensibly responding to, I said so myself-highly educated young Europeans have a lot in common-and I even made explicit the political corollary (they satisfy the requirement so their interests are relatively better defended at the European level via the democratic process). The rest not so much (also, because you twice hinted at my personal identity in this thread already and because you mentioned ethnicity at least 3 times, I’m just going to point out: in addition to being a Math researcher, I’m also the son an immigrant from North Africa and not ethnically white or Caucasian, assuming these adjectives have a definite meaning).

You say you reject ethnic nationalism.

Actually, I never said I rejected ethnic nationalism, and for good reasons: I consider that position so obviously intellectually wrong and morally corrupt that I usually don’t waste a minute of my time rejecting it, just as you never rejected in this thread the divine right of kings to rule. What happened is that you said ethnicity was a strong determinant of political identity and insinuated I considered France a nice Volksgemeinschaft, with the extra irony that I don’t even belong to the main French ethnic group. If you happen to be white or of European descent yourself, I admit that will make my day.

I don’t know what version of nationalism you believe in but clearly it is nationalism that you espouse and I reject it

I don’t think that claiming a very specific mechanism of arbitration in democratic conflicts is relatively lacking at the European level compared to the national one is evidence that I support nationalism, but if it is to you, then I am going to assume you that according to your own criteria, you espouse nationalism as well, as I’m pretty sure you believe that fewer mechanisms of arbitration in democratic conflicts currently exist between Soninkes and Uyghurs than between British.

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nastywoman 07.07.17 at 1:29 pm

and @78
”The core cause of all this has been Irish membership of the Eurozone, which has been a total disaster for the country.”

Are you really sure? – as the Irish membership of the Eurozone -(and it’s tax heaven) firstly catapulted Ireland to the top of the EU Partyzone!

And I fondly remember the great times when everybody went partying -(and working) with our Irish friends until ‘the cows came home’.

Stoked to the utmost degree!!
But then as – indeed – there seems to be this parallel to these housing bubbles -(in the US) and in Ireland itself – where: What goes UP -(to fast?) might come crashing down in a very unpleasant way… and then the party was over…

And to blame the EU for that might be a bit… ‘unfair’? – especially if some who didn’t party that hard missed all the fun in the first place…

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Continental 07.07.17 at 7:28 pm

Z: Ok one last go. You are talking about “mechanisms of arbitration” but what I objected to were claims about “anthropological values” and “human sociability”. So maybe you’d better retract those untenable claims and instead better explain the ones that might be tenable.

You talk about “channels of information making the life experience of X and Z knowable to each other” if they are both Frech, as opposed to the case when they live in different countries. I think this argument is extremely spurious, and your chosen example – people living in the same neighborohood – doesn’t at all support your nation-state argument. People do identify with their local communities, for obvious reasons, whereas identification with the “nation” is mostly a fantasy. I also think that you severely underestimate the degree of let me call it “lived internationalism” that exists in Europe. Tens of millions of Europeans have for various reasonsdecided to live temporarily or permanently in a different EU member state. They have friends and often spouses of different nationality (https://www.economist.com/blogs/feastandfamine/2012/07/mixed-marriages), they speak different languages well, they certainly have channels of information connecting them internationally. This cosmopolitan population is often maligned as privileged or elitist althoug it includes people of all levels of education and income. In the political debate (including here on CT) the nativist population is usually taken as the standard and the cosmopolitans as the exception. Interestingly, the country with the highest rate of transnational marriage is Switzerland (every fourth or fifth Swiss person who gets married has a non-Swiss spouse), which also has one of the strongest right-wing nativist parties in Europe. Who are the “real Swiss”, then? Btw this isn’t even new. Historically, connections and exchange across borders have always been far more important and prevalent than we today with our narrow nation-state concept allow. Again, Switzerland is a great historical example of this.

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hix 07.08.17 at 2:47 am

Well, some small countries specialicing in tax evasion (which does not include the Netherlands) have lots of net foreign debt, others lots of net foreign assets. While the second one is usually better, in both cases the country will usually do good in the end as long as the tax evasion business booms, no matter how good or bad the local makroeconomic managment is.

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Collin Street 07.08.17 at 8:04 am

Z: Ok one last go. You are talking about “mechanisms of arbitration” but what I objected to were claims about “anthropological values” and “human sociability”. So maybe you’d better retract those untenable claims and instead better explain the ones that might be tenable.

See, the thing about being a nazi is that being a nazi is a mistake. And the thing about mistakes is that people make them in good faith, and that means — because of the way the brains work, and how your beliefs about your beliefs can’t be distinguished from your beliefs themselves — that nobody knows that they’re making mistakes.

Nobody ever realises that they’re a nazi. Even the nazis didn’t realise they were nazis; they knew in a certain sense what they were doing, but they didn’t realise its import, didn’t realise that they were completely fucking crazy because nobody ever does. You can’t: catch-22.

Best a man can hope for is to look back on what he said and did and say, “Man I was a stupid arsehole. I wonder what the fuck horrible things it is I’m doing now?”

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Collin Street 07.08.17 at 8:07 am

[actually, don’t release the post ahead: the thing about Actual Nazis being blind to their Actual Naziism is that… actual nazis are blind to their actual naziism, including the consequences of the argument that points out same]

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