Wednesday, 5 May 2010

The suicide of Greece

I'm currently reading Stathis Gourgouris' Dream Nation: Enlightenment, Colonization and the Institution of Modern Greece (1996), a largely irritating and arrogant book that wants to use Castoriadis (as well as the usual suspects, Derrida, Foucault, Edward Said) to expose and debunk the myths or imaginary significations of modern Greek nationhood and Neohellenism. I don't want to discuss those aspects of Gourgouris' argument that seek to grapple with what he regards as Greek nationalism, suffice it to say that, for the sake of his diatribe, he engages in a deliberate distortion and censoring of Greek history and Greek national consciousness, particularly regarding the Greek War of Independence; but there are interesting sections on Adamantios Korais and the Greek Enlightenment and on European Philhellenism as a form of colonialism equivalent to Orientalism.

However, most useful, so far, is the prescient chapter on Greece and the European Union project, Of Modern Hellenes in Europe, which attributes deep roots to the difficulty modern Greece has had, particularly in the realms of Law and the State – and which has now reached crisis point – in adapting to European core systems and values. Gourgouris writes:

'For Greek society's relation to law has never quite shown favor to the notion of "public interest", which is the cornerstone of liberalism's social vision and which is predicated on the significations of "honesty" (in the "free market") and "virtue" (in civil society). Although the text of the law (like most of the Greek social institutions that were constitutionally drafted under the prompting of the vision of a "modern" State) reflects the positivist spirit prevalent in Europe during the nineteenth century, the practice of law, as the aggregate of mediations throughout the history of social relations in the region, is quite another matter. There, one finds the heritage of an amalgam of legal practices that reached its culmination in the extremely complex system prevailing during the Ottoman rule of the entire Eastern Mediterranean region: namely, the cohabitation of a range of legal practices, from Islamic law… to the remnants of Byzantine law… to the various overlapping customary laws that in fact formed the backbone of social practices for centuries. The positivist European legal vision (primarily French and German) was essentially imported into Greece upon Independence in order to dissolve precisely this polymorphous development, in order to streamline the State's regulation and social practices. This may have given a nominal hypostasis to the State (which was anyway the "purpose" of the importation), but it has not altered Greek society's symbolic cohesion in terms of its reciprocal negotiation with the institution of law, and would not do so unless socially instituted.'

Clearly, in these terms, what we're witnessing now in Greece is a final attempt by the European core to convince Greece to conform to its bureaucratic and legal practices, something that Greece has always said it is willing to do, to institute itself, but never managed to achieve and, in my view, won't achieve now either.

If anyone's interested, there is a lecture here by Gourgouris, called Democracy, a Tragic Regime, which develops themes in Castoriadis regarding the Athenian polis, Sophocles, hubris, self-limitation and so on. An interesting point is made about the inherent tendency of democracies to destroy themselves, to commit suicide, and it struck me that, indeed, what we're witnessing now is Greece committing suicide.

14 comments:

Hermes said...

John, several Greek scholars have much to say about this issue such as Contogeorge, Ifestos, Ziakas and even Yannaras. Of course, they are isolated.

In English, and I think I have said this before, I'd recommend Necessary Nation by Jusdanis. A very good book. Also, Anthony D Smith from Cambridge is decent.

I have read bits of Gourgaris. Very boring. It is ironic that he himself is using Western European tools to analyse Greek nationalism.

John Akritas said...

I reckon Gourgouris and similar Greek thinkers have gained a lot of traction in Greek intellectual life recently – you will remember our debate on the Castoriadis blog – and all the shenanigans at the ministry of education are a reflection of this. Ultimately, this attack on the 'nation' is just as damaging to Greece as the debt crisis – the two are, of course, related. I've been looking for a cheap copy of Jusdanis for a while, but the title of his book is apt. The nation-state might not be the perfect or ideal form of human or national organisation, but, for the moment and for the last few centuries, it is 'necessary' and has to be made to work.

The other point is to note how Turkey went through a similar desire to 'modernise' through copying Europe, and did so with Mustafa Kemal's iron fist and without abandoning nationalism; whereas Greece's political elite reckoned and still reckon that 'modernisation' means ditching what it perceives as 'nationalism', which they regard as a remnant of that part of Greece which is not European. Konstantinos Karamanlis' consistent attempts to dump Cyprus are only explicable in this context.

Hermes said...

John, you can read the first chapter of Jusdanis's book at the Princeton University website.

To say that anti-national intellectuals hold key positions in Greece and/or influence discourse is an understatement. They pretty much dominate.

What Greece needs is another dose of Venizelism. He attempted to modernise with nationalism. Although economics was not his strong suit the economy developed strongly in his first years.

I agree with almost everything Anonymous wrote.

lastgreek said...

Hermes, with which "anonymous" do you mostly agree, the first one?

The lack of political statemanship is egregious. Political traitors, of marxist and leftist orientation flourish, and floruished since 1974, after the fall of the nationalist government. [The same "nationalist" government that put America's interests first lol]

... or the second one?

The last part of the XX century was characterized by strict democratic dogma ethos, which continues to this day in spite of the aberrations and disasters befalling it. [Democratic dogma? Not fascist trans-national corporations, whose reach have no boundaries? You work for British Petroleum?]

Hermes said...

lastGreek, unfortunately we Greeks often bring in foreigners to solve our internal problems and then we complain about foreign interference. The Persians, Romans, Bulgars, Turks, British, Russians and Americans have all been invited in by Greeks. The Left is just as guilty as the Right.

Modern forms of democracy (parties, civic society, media) do not work in Greece. We are too volatile, do not trust each other and have long memories.

John Akritas said...

LG is right. Greece's problem is not too much democracy, but a lack of it – a lack of control and self-control, checks, balances, accountability, civil society, rule of law, equality before the law, capacity to change, meritocracy and so on. Greece never built a democratic system after 1974, it built mafias, oligarchies, chaos and permissiveness. And as for the suggestion that the junta were 'nationalists' or 'patriotic' this is just a joke. Their rhetoric might have contained some form of perverse, narrow-minded 'nationalism', but the reality is that they were first-degree traitors, more responsible than anyone for the perverse post-1974 system and the disaster Greece is now facing.

Dr. Gourgouris said...

Greeks have lived the "good life" for far too long. It's like a family who's been living on credit cards for too long and now, they can't even make the minimum payments. So someone else has to bail them out (EU, IMF.) It it pleasant? Of course not, but they who bail you out also set the terms. That's how life works...What's the alternative? As to what took place yesterday in the streets of my beloved Athens: it's a complete Greek tragedy! Actually having 120,000 people protesting peacefully is part of having a democracy. Having 100 "hooded known-unknowns" take advantage of the protest to create more chaos, destruction and ultimately kill three innocent workers is NOT democracy! If they guilty parties are ever brought to justice, they should be hung in Syndagma Square for all to see! Enough is enough...how many more innocent must perish? As for the corrupt political officials of PASOK & New Democracy (they're different sides of the same coin) and the elitist bankers who havew raped the middle and lower classes for years, their time is up too! They deserve the same fate as those killers!

John Akritas said...

Did all Greeks live the 'good life', or was it just a small proportion, and is it this small proportion who are being asked to cough up now or those Greeks on small pensions and low salaries who never cheated and fiddled in the first place? And the alternative is not to pay back those who leant you the money in the first place. It might not be a good alternative, but it is an alternative. As for identifying the koukoulophori, the political class and their buddies in the banks/media, etc, as Greece's worst enemies – I agree – as long as you include KKE/Syriza and the trade unions. Karatzaferis riled the KKE the other day by accusing them of re-enacting their 'antartiko' (civil war rebellion) although it's fair to say that KKE is just doing what Marxists-Leninists do and the Greek state should have been able to marginalise and make insignificant the communists, rather than let them run riot – often literally.

Hermes said...

KKE and SYRIZA do not even honour the Greek Constitution. How can a party be in parliament, let alone control the streets, when it does not honour the paper that binds us all.

Gourgaris is just a product of the post '74 system. The Leftist parties are just as much to blame for the current impasse as the bankers.

Hermes said...

I agree that we must get out of the eurozone. This is the first step towards real freedom. It will be painful initially. Greek debt will have to be redenominated into drachma, easy money will become scarce, people will lose jobs and we will become a pariah state in the international Anglo-Judaic press. However, it will force us to stand on our two feet. Eventually, we will build industry, we will not have to consult our so called "friends" about dealing with the Mongols, we will kick out the immigrants, we will not build new mosques, we will maintain our religious symbols whereever we like, we will build an education system that is Helleno-centric, we will once again produce poets and writers and write for the ethnos, we we will become really free.

lastgreek said...

Αναβολή.

Φακελλάκι.

Modern Greece summarised in two words or less. :)

Hermes, only technological advancemnet is going to save the Greeks (or any small country, for that matter). For this, the Greeks have to put a premium on education. Do you see this happening? All I see today is a nation of wannabe entertainers (pornstars a la Julia). What's worse, what few great scientists, engineers, and other professionals the country has left will be lost to other countries like the United States as they welcome them with open arms. Two of the world's greatest physicists are Greek born and raised... and both are nicely ensconced in North America. Surprise, surprise.

Look... Greece is a small country with a small population. It does not have the luxury of inertia and STUPIDITY like the United States. So what if 50%, let's say, of Americans are as dumb as a doorknob. That still leaves at least 50%--150 million people!--that are not; in other words, 15 times! the pop. of Greece.

Just how dumb are Americans? Well, here's a youtube clip on the Miss Teen USA 2007 pageant where Miss South Carolina answers a question on why at least a fifth of Americans can't locate the US on a map:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lj3iNxZ8Dww

lastgreek said...

Wow! What a difference a weekend makes--a trillion dollars!

Just saying... not that it really matters for Greece--she's still up shit river without a paddle or crew. (Hey! It's metaphor Monday.)

Hermes said...

There are rumours that with Erdogan's visit to Greece next week, who will be accompanied by a large number of Turkish businessmen, Alpha Bank and Emporiki Bank will be acquired by Turkish banks with the support of PASOK.

The theory of Neo-Ottomanism, which is an important talking point in Helleno-centric circles in Greece, is gathering strength. Of course, the US government has tacitly supported this move i.e. witness Obama's supine speech in the Turkish parliament last year and US State Department announcements.

Giorgis said...

Greece stand on it's own two feet ?!!? For the last 30 years Greeks have built nothing of their own accord. Every single brick has an EU funding stamp on it. The draxma is a point of no return. We can sit in our armchair and make calls, but what if they are wrong. Can anybody think of scenarios where Greece looses out outright. There are so many scenarios. Developing our industry ?!? How are we to compete with the EU protected industry on the one hand and the low payed everywhere else. With our technological might ? It takes 30 years to establish a foundation. Who Greece ?