Nothing quite prepares the reader for this declaration by Mr. Habermas:
Jürgen Habermas: I have been entrusted with the honour of saying a few introductory words about the subject of our conversation between our distinguished guest Emmanuel Macron and Sigmar Gabriel, our foreign minister who recently rose like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes. Both names are associated with courageous reactions to challenging situations. Emmanuel Macron has dared to cross a red line hitherto untouched since 1789. He has broken apart the entrenched configuration of the two political camps of right and left. Given that it is impossible in a democracy for any individual to stand above the parties, we are curious to see how the political spectrum will be reconfigured if, as expected, he is victorious in the French election.
The ‘as if ‘here is one of the central myths of the Neo-Liberal Dispensation: the ‘political reality’ that somehow the divide between ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ can be overcome- has been overcome by the particular political genius of Emmanuel Macron. This from an April 20, 2017 Eurozine interview of M. Macron conducted by Habermas and Sigmar Gabriel. The Mont Pelerin Olympus is echoing with hosannas.
Where is the Habermas of July 2015?
Speaking about the bailout deal for the first time since it was presented on Monday, the philosopher and sociologist said the German chancellor had effectively carried out “an act of punishment” against the leftwing government of Alexis Tsipras.
“I fear that the German government, including its social democratic faction, have gambled away in one night all the political capital that a better Germany had accumulated in half a century,” he told the Guardian. Previous German governments, he said, had displayed “greater political sensitivity and a post-national mentality”.
Habermas, widely considered one of the most influential contemporary European intellectuals, said that by threatening Greece with an exit from the eurozone over the course of the negotiations, Germany had “unashamedly revealed itself as Europe’s chief disciplinarian and for the first time openly made a claim for German hegemony in Europe.”
The outcome of the negotiations between Greece and the other eurozone member states, he said, did “not make sense in economic terms because of the toxic mixture of necessary structural reforms of state and economy with further neoliberal impositions that will completely discourage an exhausted Greek population and kill any impetus to growth.”
Habermas added: “Forcing the Greek government to agree to an economically questionable, predominantly symbolic privatisation fund cannot be understood as anything other an act of punishment against a leftwing government.”
That ‘privatization’ was not just symbolic, but the usual concerted attack on the Welfare State, using the bankrupt vehicle of Austerity as Neo-Liberal cudgel. Even in this Habermas lacks the necessary candor. See this report by Gillian Tett in the Financial Times titled ‘A debt to history?’ that reports on an after dinner speech by economic historian Benjamin Friedman, dated January 15, 2015. A telling excerpt, that puts the notion of German financial probity into a proper historical perspective :
The mandarins settled comfortably into their chairs, expecting a soothing intellectual discourse on esoteric monetary policy. But Friedman lobbed a grenade.
“We meet at an unsettled time in the economic and political trajectory of many parts of the world, Europe certainly included,” he began in a strikingly flat monotone (I quote from the version of his speech that is now posted online, since I wasn’t allowed to take notes then.) Carefully, he explained that he intended to read his speech from a script, verbatim, to ensure that he got every single word correct. Uneasily, the audience sat up.
For a couple of minutes Friedman then offered a brief review of western financial history, highlighting the unprecedented nature of Europe’s single currency experiment, and offering a description of sovereign and local government defaults in the 20th century. Then, with an edge to his voice, Friedman pointed out that one of the great beneficiaries of debt forgiveness throughout the last century was Germany: on multiple occasions (1924, 1929, 1932 and 1953), the western allies had restructured German debt.
So why couldn’t Germany do the same for others? “There is ample precedent within Europe for both debt relief and debt restructuring . . . There is no economic ground for Germany to be the only European country in modern times to be granted official debt relief on a massive scale and certainly no moral ground either.
“The supposed ability of today’s most heavily indebted European countries to reduce their obligations over time, even in relation to the scale of their economies, is likely yet another fiction,” he continued, warning of political unrest if this situation continued.
The Germans, like Merkel and Habermas, engage in the exercise of politically motivated self-willed forgetting. History made to measure.
Macron self-presentation is as prophet of the Rational Center:
The chief risk is of fatally weakening the very governments that are actually pursuing reforms. Because as long as these countries are in the grip of this inequality, the reforms are too slow to yield results that are politically and socially noticeable, and then it’s the reformers who are in the wrong. And that plays into the hands of populists and extremists.
The key word ‘reform’ is the the rhetorical place holder for Macron’s Neo-Liberalism Lite: that acts the part of ‘Political Enlightenment’ in the face of a ‘stalled’ Europe, rather than a ‘stalled world economy’, in the watershed of the catastrophic failure of the ‘Free Market’ and its successor ‘Austerity’ and that produced that vexing ‘stall’. Notice too that Macron appropriates the notion of ‘inequality’ into his Neo-Liberal Lite propaganda. Macron adopts Thomas Piketty in his attempt to rescue ‘Europe’. Fillon’s prescription for France was Speed & Shock, Macron’s is Neo-Liberalism on Political Prozac. The ‘animal spirits’, the unslakable greed of the Trinity of Hayek/Mises/Friedman, in the view of political opportunist Macron, just needs some necessary consciousness raising. And to this end Macron’s appropriates the notions of ‘social justice’ and ‘redistribution’ re-expressed as ‘distribution’ and ‘fairness’.
As for Macron as political opportunist, see Simon Kuper’s essay of May 17,2017 titled ‘The chill behind Emmanuel Macron’s charm’ at The Financial Times:
Emmanuel Macron watches a smartphone video of an egg cracking on his forehead at a campaign event. He guffaws, then plays the video again. “It didn’t hurt. It came from a long way, did you see?” he marvels to his wife Brigitte and an aide. “The guy got lucky.”
The scene is from Emmanuel Macron, les coulisses d’une victoire (“Behind the scenes of a victory”)‚ a fly-on-the-wall documentary of his campaign that screened on French TV after he was elected president. It’s the most intimate portrait I’ve seen of a political leader. After the artificiality of the campaign, we’re starting to get to know Macron better. He’s a remarkable chap. But there is also something chilling about him. One man who knew him well for many years told me: “He seduces everyone. And then he kills.”
The key to Macron is that he is what the French call a grand séducteur. He quickly learnt that his charm could get him whatever he wanted. Almost every schoolboy fantasises about seducing his sexy high-school teacher. Macron did, even after Brigitte initially turned him down.
He also got used early to being the smartest person in the room. That doesn’t mean he has an original intellectual mind. He twice failed the entrance exams for the Ecole Normale Supérieure, France’s most cerebral “grande école”. But he’s a polymath who quickly absorbs everything from Rossini’s operas to Hegel. His father, a neurologist, had applied his brain more discreetly: his most cited academic article is on sneezing in cats. However, Macron’s charm required larger outlets. After writing his master’s thesis on Machiavelli, he got rich fast as a banker, then absorbed enough economics to be named finance minister.
Like his political ancestor Tony Blair, who walked into Downing Street 20 years ago this month, Macron is an actor at heart. (He met Brigitte when she taught him drama.) Watch the online video in which a journalist hands him a copy of Molière’s play The Misanthrope, a favourite of Macron’s, and suggests he mug up the opening scene so they can perform it together in a week. No, replies Macron, let’s do it right now. And he does, from memory: “Leave me, I beg of you . . . ” He also used to have ambitions of performing as a pianist.
Nothing quite prepares the reader for this utterly surprising, not to speak of candid contribution, from Sigmar Gabriel:
I think that before we succeed in doing what Professor Habermas has just called for, namely winning majorities for an extension of European competencies, we first need to change a few narratives. Because politics begins with saying what’s right. At the moment we like pointing at people who produce fake news – but there are also some bits of fake news that have become established here over the last thirty years, maybe even longer. The first bit of fake news is that Germany is the packhorse of the European Union: We are the net contributors! We are the ones who support everyone else! Unfortunately this is a story that has been told for decades, in politics, in the media, in the economy – pretty much irrespective of who happens to be in power at any given time.
Whenever the financial structure of the European Union has been discussed, we have always stuck to the standard cross-party view that we have to reduce our net contribution – the balance of which incidentally comes to about twelve billion euros. So whenever I’m told – correctly – how important the European project is, twelve billion euros isn’t a figure that blows me away. In the German federal budget we pay more for far less important things. That’s why first of all we must stop this narrative of Germany as the packhorse of the European Union. Ultimately it serves only to pander to people’s alleged national interests. The upsurge in nationalistic feeling that we’re currently seeing is not the beginning, but the result, of thirty years of false narratives. The root of the problem is purely national narratives in the member states of the European Union, particularly in our country. Whereas the truth is that Germany is the chief profiteer, indeed the net beneficiary, of the European Union.
One of the most prominent of the arguments, or better yet, points of propaganda during the 2014 Greek Crisis, was the promulgation of notions of The Virtuous Norther Tier vs The Profligate Southern Tier: The Germans vs. The Greeks. This, in its various iterations, became the touchstone of Anti-Greek Propaganda in the respectable bourgeois Western Press. Ms. Tett’s essay simply eviscerated the legitimacy of that rhetorical pose, at least for the well read.
Where does Mr. Gabriel take his dissenting argument, no matter how carefully it has been denatured? ‘False Narratives’, carefully presented as a blind to the notion expressed as the exercise of German Largess as EU Hegemon. The 4 Time Defaulter in the 20th Century, has not learned its lesson, nor practiced the kind of enlightened stance as argued by Prof. Friedman, but now assumes the role of ‘Leadership’ founded on a half-truth: Germany as benefactor of the EU. On the question of ‘Solidarity’ Mr. Gabriel remains committed.
So, to conclude, one more point on the topic of solidarity – which is a concept that, as a social democrat, I know something about – solidarity means acting responsibly, both towards oneself and towards the community one belongs to. This responsible action is what it’s all about. And I am quite sure that if we pursue this narrative we will also obtain the majorities we need to put it into practice.
On the question of reform of the EU, into an actual and functional democracy, instead of a Cartel, that is in sum a Federalism of Technocrats, remains out of the imaginative reach of this trio. What the reader must settle for is a ‘Franco-German New Deal’. So the German Hegemon must make way for the ‘Franco-German Hegemon’?