The doomsayers will err, again

22 May 2013
Only in en
Wespennest winces at a Europe poised between paralysis and renewal; Mittelweg 36 applies the lessons of economic history; Schweizer Monat raises an eyebrow as John Gray ranks Keynes above Hayek; Vikerkaar homes in on the contribution of cultural journals to the European public sphere; Akadeemia scrutinizes the nature of (Kierkegaard’s) writing and the writing of nature; Lettera internazionale mediates between history and memory; Esprit lists the perfect ingredients for an authoritarian drive á la Orbán; Spilne reveals the real reasons for the shortage of wives in the West; Krytyka brands Ukranian political science a pseudo-science; and New Literary Observer is bemused by Russian proposals to prohibit cats trampling.


“Europe, once a space of hope, has become a space of angst”, writes editor Jan Koneffke in the new issue of Wespennest (Austria). A “phantom pain” reigns, emanating from Brussels: “the pain surrounding the unfinished realization of an idea”.

The failure of European intellectuals: Aren’t European intellectuals to blame for this unrealized potential? asks Jan-Werner Müller, pointing to a wealth of visions and grand narratives produced up until 1945. Following which? Nothing:

“European integration advanced in the absence of anything like grand intellectual visions. [The founders] might have had high moral purposes, but the project itself advanced on the basis of technocratic imperatives, not because ever more Europeans saw the moral value of European-wide political community-building.”

But what is the task of the European intellectual in the twenty-first century? “Clarifying and explaining”, writes Müller: “They could take it upon themselves to explain Europe to their audiences and, this is crucial, outline the normative choices in developing the EU as we know it, or perhaps creating an altogether different polity. […] They should also weigh normative arguments, but in such a way that European citizens are able to come to their own considered moral and political judgments about what to do with their ‘unidentified political object’.”

The success of federal Europe: In interview, Europhile Pier Virgilio Dastoli explains why Germany and Italy constitute the prototypical European federal states:

“It is characteristic of both countries to think of their national identity as preceding the foundation of their state. We already considered ourselves Italians before the birth of the Italian nation. The German experience was no different. It was not so in any other European country. […] Therefore, we have no concerns about transferring our national identity to a supranational structure, since we know that the former is so strongly anchored in our consciousness that we cannot loose it.”

Also: Arnon Grünberg portrays Dubravka Ugresic; Erich Klein interviews Ivan Klíma; and Ilija Trojanow introduces Christian Muhrbeck’s photos from the Balkans – also a European perspective.

The full table of contents of Wespennest 164 (2013)


“What if there were no persuasive reason that a hedge-fund manager should earn ten times more than a medical school professor who in turn earned ten times more than the nurse who monitored his patient on the operating table, who earned three times more than the immigrant worker who served her food in the hospital cafeteria and who in turn earned five times more than the family members she had left behind back in Guatemala or Bangladesh?”

In Mittelweg 36 (Germany), Harvard historian Charles S. Maier deals with the return of political economy. Not, however, in its habitual, nation-centric and class-oriented form – “How can we coherently discuss the conflicting interests in the economic system if we see no social agents incorporating those interests?” – but in terms of long-term (i.e. centuries-long) global division of wealth.

Historical amnesia has blinded economists to the contingencies of the neoclassical paradigm, argues Maier. What the West is seeing is the tail end of a growth cycle enabled by transferring the cost of over-borrowing to the South: “Just as for many decades the advanced capitalist economies could in effect export their crises to the Third World, now they must seek their own periphery within Europe.”

The Great Recession: Yale historian Adam Tooze surveys the range of historical vantage points from which US economists come at the crisis: from the “ahistorical positivism” of Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart (This Time is Different) to the structuralist critique of Raghuram Rajan (Faultlines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy) to liberal critics like Robert Schiller and George Akerlof (Animal Spirits), Keynesians for whom the Great Depression has an almost “epistemic significance”. Moving between all three positions is Paul Krugman, “the high-priest of fiscal activism”, for whom what’s at stake “are neither arid academic theories nor political debating points, but the past, present and future of tens of millions of his countrymen and women”.

The full table of contents of Mittelweg 36 2/2013


René Scheu, editor of firmly liberal Schweizer Monat, thought he’d misheard when in an interview with the British philosopher, John Gray insisted that Keynes was Hayek’s superior as an economist. The ensuing exchange leaves the reader in no doubt as to Gray’s view:

“Sceptics like me always look at the concrete situation, question it, think about it – and then decide. Government measures to support demand are not per se evil. Insofar John Maynard Keynes was right at the time, and he prevailed in the scientific dispute against Hayek. I personally witnessed that – Hayek never got over this defeat and attributed it more to the general zeitgeist than to scientific knowledge.”

However, Gray comes across as anything but sceptical in the rest of the interview, and not least on the prospects for the European Union’s survival: “Negative utopians, that is, doomsayers, will err one more time. And as always, they will say: the demise will arrive tomorrow. And tomorrow they will say: it comes the day after tomorrow.”

The future of democracy: “As much self-determination as possible, as much foreign influence as necessary” – this is the formula with which the editors preface a dossier on the future of democracy containing the views of commentators as varied as David Friedman and Slavoj Zizek.

Philosopher Roberto Esposito offers the most radical assessment of the challenges ahead: “Human life, the life of the species and the life of the environment have made a violent entry onto the political stage, an entry we are not yet able to grasp the meaning of.” This “true revolution” requires the complete overhauling of received ideas of democracy – which in turn entails nothing less than “a recasting of nature and history, technology and life, space and time.”

Now showing: Writer and theatre director Milo Rau introduces a new documentary art form: the (re-)enactment of show trials. Following a run of The Moscow Trials (on the clash of art and religion – Pussy Riot anyone?) in the Russian capital, the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche is next up in the dock, charged with racism and xenophobia in The Zurich Trials.

The full table of contents of Schweizer Monat 5/2013


Vikerkaar (Estonia) editor Märt Väljataga assesses the role of transnational networks and cultural publications when it comes to channelling new ideas into public life. And, in the light of “those economic and institutional exchanges that nowadays rekindle misunderstandings and caricatures among European peoples”, Esprit editor Marc-Olivier Padis addresses the need for a “stronger platform for European public debate” capable of confronting the challenges of liquid modernity, cultural decentralization and the dilemmas of an open society. The articles (3/2013) are based on a conversation between Väljataga and Padis at the Institut française in Tallinn, the first of four debates on “New ideas in Europe”.

When in Tallinn: Anthropologist Francisco Martínez tours Tallinn, comparing his impressions with coverage in an avant-garde city guide published ten years ago (3/2013). He observes atomization, alienation, consumerism and a lack of solidarity and communication: “Privatization and gentrification continue unhindered, while the remaining public spaces have been turned into politicized memory-places.”

Class, ethnicity and the precariat: The latest issue (4-5/2013) features three major contributions to the ongoing European debate on class and society (see also the last Eurozine Review).

Political scientist Oudekki Loone detects one constant in the midst of an increasingly complex societal picture: “the political struggle between the capitalists and the proletariat for the political mobilization of the middle class”. Meanwhile, anthropologist Eeva Kesküla discusses the neglected issue of class and ethnicity with reference to mining communities in northeast Estonia, where Russian speakers remain the dominant ethnic group. And Airi Triisberg’s article on cultural workers establishes why “a non-precarian artist is almost a contradiction in terms” – a statement with an unforgiving flip-side: “a salaried or wage-earning artist implies someone unable to sustain themselves on their creative work”.

The full table of contents of Vikerkaar 3/2013 and 4-5/2013


To coincide with the bicentenary of Kierkegaard’s birth, Estonian philosopher Karin Kustassoo embarks on a search for the Danish thinker – a search complicated by the text “A First and Last Explanation”, in which Kierkegaard acknowledges authorship of works published under different pseudonyms. Kustassoo proves that the “Explanation” can be interpreted variously to support either of two positions:

“Kierkegaard’s texts can be regarded as an aggregated whole, in which case the different pseudonyms cannot be taken into consideration, and the whole of Kierkegaard’s creation should be treated merely as a literary pastime, the credibility of which is questionable. However, Kierkegaard’s texts can also be discussed with reference to the differences between the pseudonyms, still recognizing their common motivational basis as something Kierkegaardian.”

Reading nature: Scholar and poet Timo Maran argues that “every piece of nature writing is essentially a model of the human relationship with nature”. His analysis of Fred Jüssi’s essay “The Thistle” (1976) draws on concepts of modelling developed by Juri Lotman and Thomas A. Sebeok. This allows Maran to look beyond human culture and discover not only the linguistic and artistic structures of the text itself but the semiotic nature of relations between species. “Ecocritical theory”, he concludes, “might benefit from approaches that take into account the semiotic potential of both the text and the environment”.

The full table of contents of Akadeemia 5/2013


“Memories against history or memories and history?” Such is Esther Benbassa’s dilemma in Lettera internazionale (Italy). The historian and Sephardi Jew from Turkey spins a dialogue between the two forces: “In reality, memory and history constitute an infernal couple that are neither together nor separated. Memory seduces, history quickens the appetite. History is desired, memory desires. The former is passive, the latter active.” And while History loves the “great ones”, memory favours the “quieter ones of History”.

The age of commemoration: The relationship with the past, or more precisely the “fetishistic memorialism” of the last quarter of a century, is what absorbs Pierre Nora. Dedication to “heritage” (patrimoine) is not exclusive to France: Nora observes a “world-wide settling of scores with the past” concerning the overthrow of Latin American dictatorships, the end of apartheid, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The corollary is the forging of “close ties between respect for the past – whether real or imaginary – and a sense of belonging, collective consciousness and individual self-awareness, memory and identity”. Yet Nora is mindful too of the Nietzschian tradition, according to which memory can also be the bearer of bitter messages.

Emigrant identity: In an article entitled “Words of the heart, words of reason”, Herta Müller continues her internal struggle, a reflection of her “emigrant” status, and finds herself in eternal dialogue with other exiled personalities. Meanwhile, Marina Abramovic discloses in an interview with Gioia Costa that her body is free of identity and her mind free of frontiers: “Identity is a paralysis, a frame that obscures the wider scenario. I’m interested in the sun, the moon, the earth, the other planets, the Milky Way, so I would say that I hate the idea of identity because every category is a limit.”

Also: Lettera internazionale has also translated Jan-Werner Müller ‘s article on the “failure of European intellectuals”.
The full table of contents of Lettera internazionale 115 (2013)


“Viktor Orbán’s Hungary combines the symptoms of the crisis of democracy that affects today’s Europe, east and west alike.” At the same time, Orbán’s populist tendencies coincide with the authoritarian deviations in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, according to Jacques Rupnik in Esprit (France). He draws parallels to Hungary’s brand of authoritarianism during the 1930s and the political reopening of the pre-communist gap between “urbanists” and “populists”.

In response to electoral defeats in 2002 and 2006, Orbán radicalized his discourse on the supposed “illegitimacy” of the government and the Constitution, and repeatedly promised to “revive the revolution against the communists”, who had changed only their names. His efforts were rewarded in the 2010 elections with 52 per cent of the vote. As Prime Minister, the “legislative storm”, as he calls it, took what Rupnik describes as its “fundamentally anti-liberal” course:

“In short, Orbán and his friends reduced or dispersed the mechanisms that safeguard the balance crucial to the maintenance of a state of law. Add to this the creation of a state agency with the aim of assuring ‘the objectivity of media’ and you obtain the perfect ingredients of this authoritarian drive.” (Recently Jan-Werner Müller has made a case for the right of Brussels to intervene in member states – including Hungary – as a democracy watchdog.)

The full table of contents of Esprit 5/2013


Spilne (Ukraine) presents an international collection of articles on gender and labour that investigates how class exploitation and gender interact.

Marriage and agency: Nadia Parfan reports that “most of the clients of marriage agencies come from the USA, Canada, Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom, while their prospective wives are based in Southeast Asia, former Soviet countries and, less frequently, Latin America”. Parfan considers Westerners’ “shortage of wives” a product of women’s liberation in the First World: “only those few women compensated for patriarchal oppression with economic benefits, consent to the creation of a nuclear family”.

While the (originally American) ideology of familialism promotes economic stability based on the welfare of nuclear families, women in the Second World are forced to seek husbands abroad due to the depreciation of “traditional female jobs” and “the feminization of poverty”, concludes Parfan. Only the economic liberation of women in the Second World will provide a proper basis for “resistance to global patriarchal capitalism”.

Gender segregation: Tamara Martsenyuk analyses gender segregation in the Ukrainian labour market in no less than 28 professions. Martsenyuk discovers “horizontal and vertical segregation”, a result of “the uneven allocation of time for productive and reproductive work”. Not only are women often restricted to looking for jobs in the service sector, they are also more often refused positions, since “women of procreative age (especially young ones) are always considered ‘prospective mothers'”, and, therefore, “unreliable workers”.

Also: Nancy Fraser on second wave feminism, Barbara Ehrenreich on American cleaners and Nadzeya Husakovskaya’s photo report on how South African women reacted to the deaths of 34 striking miners in Marikana.

The full table of contents of Spilne 6/2013


In Krytyka (Ukraine), Oleksandr Starish critically considers the development of political science in Ukraine, a discipline not taken seriously in the USSR. This proved an obstacle to its institutionalization in independent Ukraine where, for many years, political science was taught by professors who had previously specialized in “Marxist-Leninist philosophy” and “the history of the Communist Party”.

Starish outlines how today, the failure “to de-ideologize” the social sciences and “to de-bureaucratize” the sphere of education continues to take its toll. Meanwhile, he writes, “the national information space is saturated with Russian-language publications in the humanities”, which are “ideologically driven” and based on Russian “historical mythology”. Starish therefore suspects that for as long as Ukrainian researchers lack skills in foreign languages and “access to international lines of communication”, the discipline may continue to be considered “a pseudo-science”.

Also: Krytyka pays tribute to Tony Judt with articles by Ian Buruma and Timothy Snyder, and an extract from Judt’s last book, Thinking the Twentieth Century, co-written with Snyder. (On 10 June 2013 Timothy Snyder will discuss the book with Ivan Krastev at an event in Vienna organized by the Institute for Human Sciences and Eurozine.)

The full table of contents of Krytyka 9-10/2012


Slavoj Zizek, in his contribution to an issue of NLO (Russia) on prohibition, submits the “numerous cases of paedophilia that wrack the Catholic Church”, and the strictures of Chinese and North Korean regimes, among other things, to characteristically trenchant critique.

But beyond the all too painfully Kafkaesque experience of being “ruled by laws that one does not know”, Zizek changes track, turning his attention to what enjoyment actually means today.

He outlines two extremes, namely, “in the terms of our society, on the one hand the consumerist calculating his pleasures, well-protected from all kinds of harassments and other health threats, on the other hand the drug addict (or smoker or…) bent on self-destruction.” However: “Enjoyment is what serves nothing, and the great effort of the contemporary hedonist-utilitarian ‘permissive’ society is to incorporate this un(ac)countable excess into the field of (ac)counting.”

The trampling of cats: The recent proliferation of new taboos in Russia seems to know no limit, according to philosopher Oxana Timofeeva. She shows how proposals for new legislation to curb noise pollution – rumoured to include a clause prohibiting the noise of cats “trampling” – may reveal more about the animal inside us all than the authorities could dream:

“In a sense, a strange and, at the same time, very banal animal dwells in every one of us – an animal that gets stuck, again and again, before the gates of the law, and shifts its feet, stamps its feet, tramples there, on the threshold of prohibition, between nature, knowledge and enjoyment.”

The full table of contents of New Literary Observer 119 (2013)

Published 22 May 2013

Original in English
First published in

© Eurozine


recommended articles