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A manifesto for a new european oligarchy?

by talos Sun Jul 24th, 2011 at 08:15:32 AM EST

In a recent essay in Der Spiegel, titled "Democratization Can't Save Europe, The Need for a Centralization of Power", Prof. Herfried Münkler (of "post-heroic society" fame) states, more clearly than anyone else I've read, the demand for an elite dismissal of democracy in Europe. This is not an exaggeration:

In light of this failure of the elites, it is hardly surprising that we are hearing renewed calls for the democratization of Europe. Suddenly, the people are expected to fix what the elites have botched. Since they are already being asked to pay for the problems caused by the elites, many believe that the people should have more say in how and by whom Europe is controlled.

As reasonable as this might sound, by no means does it make as much sense as it seems at first glance. Even after the democratization of Europe, the elites in Brussels and Strasbourg will still be in charge. The only option available to the European people, to the extent that they can be referred to as such, would be to react to obvious failure by voting their leaders out of office -- and to vote an opposing elite to take their place. Whether this would fundamentally change anything is open to question. [...]

Pushing for the democratization of Europe is akin to playing a reckless game that can quickly lead to European disintegration. Those who see democratization as a logical reaction to the crisis may not even be aware of this risk. They see democratization as an automatic reflex in response to the crisis. But democracy needs the kinds of conditions that do not exist in Europe today.


The essay (a point-by-point response to which might be in order) is disturbing in its unashamed bluntness and its disdain for democracy, using against European peoples the same sort of arguments that, until now, Western elites were reserving for the Third World and its alleged unpreparedness for democratic governance. The author was, I note, a supporter of western adventures against those Third World politically-challenged inhabitants (and, one assumes, understanding of the noted mass extermination of natives these sort of "wars" entailed).

Prof. Münkler's article is also disturbing in its calls for centralizing power in the EU to its core members, which at this point means Germany basically. This has predictably led to the essay being characterized as "The political declaration of the 4th Reich" [in Greek].

I guess the reason this article feels like an actual threat, is that one has the sense that it captures the mentality of large sections of the "serious people" in Europe, as it promotes an idea of European elites being their own salvation, even after admitting that they are currently failing miserably. This is a confirmation of the elites' usual "passionate hatred of democracy", in an especially blunt form. But given the current climate of austerity and uneasiness in Europe (the 2010's as the new 1930s) Münkler's article seems to be just a written account of an ongoing political project.

The WSWS, claims that "Herfried Münkler... has close links to the SPD and the Greens". Is that true, or just paranoia? What sort of political connection (if any) does this man have with parties and think-tanks?

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No time to go into this further right now, but your post-heroic link helps put things in context:

032c.com - The Post-Heroic Society According to Herfried Münkler

JOACHIM BESSING: Would it not be better for our post-heroic society, which according to your theory is no longer able to make sacrifices, to take a cooler stance towards Islamism rather than wearing ourselves out in a War on Terror?
HERFRIED MÜNKLER: Post-heroic societies have a natural disposition to retreat, but the problem is that the other side notices this after a time. Then they raise the pressure to force further retreat, and so on. At some point, the post-heroic society is standing with its back against the wall and has no other options. In this respect, one should not confuse a short-term habitual form of reaction - "cooling off" - with a long-term strategy. With this, I explicitly don't want to say that we should seek out confrontation with Islamism, or rather Jihadism, in every situation. But it is also dangerous to make every thinkable concession merely for the sake of peace. The French and the British pursued such a politics of appeasement against Hitler, ultra-conscious of the fact that they were not in the position to suffer the losses of WWI a second time. As we know, Hitler was neither satisfied nor pacified. I don't want to overemphasize the comparison between Hitler and Jihadism, and I don't want to support the idea of "Islamo-fascism." But that one can make things worse in the long term through appeasement and retreat - that can be easily learned from European history.

Thank goodness for a heroic young Norwegian. No appeasement there.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Jul 24th, 2011 at 08:29:14 AM EST
Richard Murphy - of Tax Research fame - is a good man who clearly thinks the need is for more heroism on the part of the State, not less.

He is currently writing a book outlining the need for a Courageous State

Unfortunately, it is the Courageous decision making and democratic process I worry about. Even the most well meaning elite imposing decisions is still....well....an elite imposing decisions.

In my view direct instantaneous communication changes everything. I think we will see the end of the State as intermediary - whether Courageous or post-Heroic - and the evolution of a participative State as organically networked consensual agreements - not a complex of hierarchic intermediary Organisations.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sun Jul 24th, 2011 at 08:53:58 AM EST
Prof. Herfried Münkler frames his argument such that the most obvious responses would be obvious Godwin bait. This is especially true given the neo-liberal sentiment of the EPP, the composition of the EP and their corporatist policies of the last decade.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Jul 24th, 2011 at 08:55:45 AM EST
Even after the democratization of Europe, the elites in Brussels and Strasbourg will still be in charge.

It's another example of tralala nebulous argumentation, phony language, and lack of clear thinking that led people to support those foreign expeditionary adventures.

I used to say that economists are going to kill us all. Now I'm inclined to add poli sci majors to that list.

Schengen is toast!

by epochepoque on Sun Jul 24th, 2011 at 01:14:31 PM EST
epochepoque:
I used to say that economists are going to kill us all. Now I'm inclined to add poli sci majors to that list.

That is to be expected: the line between Serious EconomistsTM and politicians of any stripe has been increasingly blurring; this is an argument developed on several occasions on ET...

by Bernard (bernard) on Sun Jul 24th, 2011 at 02:04:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Further, the big trend in American poli-sci programs of late has been the open and explicit adoption of modeling techniques and practices from economics.  It's called the "Rational Choice" approach to politics, and its goal is to develop models of how people should, in theory, vote and behave politically presuming they are all acting as rational maximizers.

The fancy numbers and equations and computer models apparently are attractive to funding bodies, all of which display their characteristic love of total bullshit.

by Zwackus on Mon Jul 25th, 2011 at 10:58:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The WSWS, claims that "Herfried Münkler... has close links to the SPD and the Greens". Is that true, or just paranoia?

For an actual link, all I can find is that he was a member of the SPD's youth wing. But they probably mean what's mentioned here: he was invited by Steinmeier (then Schröder's chancellery minister, now the SPD's faction leader) to advise them on how to sell the then planned 'reforms' to the own supporters; and he says they failed to come up with anything.

Other than that, there is this interview, in which he advises the CDU to find its Christian identity again by focusing on standing up to Islam, declares the current Greens agenda a 'light' version of sermon-of-the-mount Christianity; and this op-ed, in which he buries the SPD for failing to stand up for Schröder's 'reforms'.

BTW, he also defended Merkel when she expressed happiness over the assassination of Bin Laden.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Jul 24th, 2011 at 02:23:59 PM EST
Carl Schmitt light? Träume vom Durchregieren? Reformism instead of Reforms. Authority can only establish itself through competence. It also wanes in proportion to incompetence. The answer to overtaxed authorities is not to throw more power after them in the hope they will break through.

Schengen is toast!
by epochepoque on Sun Jul 24th, 2011 at 05:39:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Glad I'm not the only one who read this and thought of Carl Schmitt as well.

And the world will live as one
by Montereyan (robert at calitics dot com) on Mon Jul 25th, 2011 at 12:16:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It is becoming puzzling how did we have a period of democracy and rather egalitarian social arrangements at all.
by das monde on Sun Jul 24th, 2011 at 06:35:43 PM EST
whew, from the diary title i thought we were going to run the ET comb through the norwegian gun-nutter's thesis...

das monde:

It is becoming puzzling how did we have a period of democracy and rather egalitarian social arrangements at

hmmm, it is, isn't it?

maybe it was all the growth agogo which stopped us looking any deeper into how to live together, just think about acquisition, accumulation and status symbols.

social climbing was the cocaine, hubbert's pre-curve the heroin we had slipped into our nestle bottles, methinks...

on the downslope we will learn more about getting along with our neighbours, or rapidly descend into raw primality.

voting mightily for the former :)


'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sun Jul 24th, 2011 at 08:50:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In the USA our "period of democracy and rather egalitarian social arrangements", such as it was, was likely due to the reforms of the New Deal, which rather severely limited the scope of Wall Street and carved out a space for unions. This led to a competition between industries and regions and a more egalitarian society, with union workers creating an new layer of the middle class, de facto. This was tolerated after WW II because it worked, there was money to be made and even Eisenhower supported the general arrangement. But there was never any real economic democracy. Tom Hayden noted that the most undemocratic space in US life was the work place.

It was taken apart by the designs of billionaires through their think tanks and their auxiliaries in the "Power Disciplines" of academia, particularly Economics and Political Science. They succeeded because they had a plan and kept their eyes on it while the rest of society was indifferent and/or distracted, (sometimes deliberately), and were unable, for the most part, to imagine the impact of what the academics and the "think tanks" were doing. It helped that, as the process proceeded from the 1970 forward, there were fewer and fewer people alive who had memories of the Depression and of what led up to it.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Jul 24th, 2011 at 09:50:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, yes, true, as far as you went, but one layer down one wonders if the apathy and sheepiness of the noble lower classes is genetic or induced.

What's to be done needs to be based on what is, innit?

What if the uppah classes are right?

Align culture with our nature. Ot else!

by ormondotvos (ormond.otvosnospamgmialcon) on Tue Jul 26th, 2011 at 01:56:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We have evolved as a social species, but we have shown our selves to be capable of creating and functioning successfully in an enormous variety of cultures, so, while I would not posit the dichotomy you pose, given that choice I would vote for "induced".

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Jul 26th, 2011 at 09:31:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Looking back, what was necessary to keep that social democracy? How much of it could have been salvaged? Which fights were essential? How could the pro-active designs of billionaires be figured out and opposed?
by das monde on Tue Jul 26th, 2011 at 02:33:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Good questions not amenable to easy answers.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Jul 26th, 2011 at 09:33:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The threat of International Communism, and the execution and expropriation of the global elites that its victory would entail, is the key, in my opinion.  

My own theory of political and economic development is that open and competitive economic and political systems function better in competition with other economic and political entities, because they share rewards around more equally and thus encourage more people to work hard and work competently, at all levels of society.  So long as there is competitive pressure on the society as a whole, this openness will be tolerated and encouraged, or the whole group loses.  

However, elites hate competition and openness, because it means they can't have all of everything, and actually have to work to keep what they have.  At all points they long to close the system down, to re-impose monopolies of power and wealth, so they can sit on their lazy asses and act like imperial princes.  Once major external threats subside, then it's time to break the economy, kick the middle classes back down to the gutter, and take all power for themselves.

In my summary level study of the entire world's history, I can read this pattern into all kinds of situations, and I think it explains the current system well enough.  Now that there's no external threat, it's time to cash out.

by Zwackus on Mon Jul 25th, 2011 at 11:07:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oooh. Profound.

Except we're all humans, so how are you sorting the elites?

Align culture with our nature. Ot else!

by ormondotvos (ormond.otvosnospamgmialcon) on Tue Jul 26th, 2011 at 02:04:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Who Rules America? An Investment Manager Breaks Down the Economic Top 1%, Says 0.1% Controls Political and Legislative Process

I sit in an interesting chair in the financial services industry. Our clients largely fall into the top 1%, have a net worth of $5,000,000 or above, and if working make over $300,000 per year [.... A] family enters the top 1% or so today with somewhere around $300k to $400k in pre-tax income and over $1.2M in net worth. Compared to the average American family with a pre-tax income in the mid-$50k range and net worth around $120k, this probably seems like a lot of money. But, there are big differences within that top 1%, with the wealth distribution highly skewed towards the top 0.1%.

The Lower Half of the Top 1%. The 99th to 99.5th percentiles largely include physicians, attorneys, upper middle management, and small business people who have done well [....] This group makes extensive use of 401-k's, SEP-IRA's, Defined Benefit Plans, and other retirement vehicles, which defer taxes until distribution during retirement. Typical would be yearly contributions in the $50k to $100k range, leaving our elite working group with yearly cash flows of $175k to $250k after taxes, or about $15k to $20k per month.

[.... O]ne enters the top 0.5% with about $1.8M, the top 0.25% with $3.1M, the top 0.10% with $5.5M and the top 0.01% with $24.4M. Wealth distribution is highly skewed towards the top 0.01%, increasing the overall average for this group. The net worth for those in the lower half of the top 1% is usually achieved after decades of education, hard work, saving and investing as a professional or small business person. While an after-tax income of $175k to $250k and net worth in the $1.2M to $1.8M range may seem like a lot of money to most Americans, it doesn't really buy freedom from financial worry or access to the true corridors of power and money. That doesn't become frequent until we reach the top 0.1%.

I've had many discussions in the last few years with clients with "only" $5M or under in assets, those in the 99th to 99.9th percentiles, as to whether they have enough money to retire or stay retired. That may sound strange to the 99% not in this group but generally accepted "safe" retirement distribution rates for a 30 year period are in the 3-5% range with 4% as the current industry standard. Assuming that the lower end of the top 1% has, say, $1.2M in investment assets, their retirement income will be about $50k per year plus maybe $30k-$40k from Social Security, so let's say $90k per year pre-tax and $75-$80k post-tax if they wish to plan for 30 years of withdrawals. For those with $1.8M in retirement assets, that rises to around $120-150k pretax per year and around $100k after tax. If someone retires with $5M today, roughly the beginning rung for entry into the top 0.1%, they can reasonably expect an income of $240k pretax and around $190k post tax, including Social Security.

[....] An income of $190k post tax or $15.8k per month will certainly buy a nice lifestyle but is far from rich. And, for those folks who made enough to accumulate this much wealth during their working years, the reduction in income and lifestyle during retirement can be stressful. Plus, watching retirement accounts deplete over time isn't fun, not to mention the ever-fluctuating value of these accounts and the desire of many to leave a substantial inheritance. Our poor lower half of the top 1% lives well but has some financial worries.

Since the majority of those in this group actually earned their money from professions and smaller businesses, they generally don't participate in the benefits big money enjoys. Those in the 99th to 99.5th percentile lack access to power .....

And so on.

by das monde on Tue Jul 26th, 2011 at 02:50:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If the goal is to elevate the free market plutocracy above all restraint, then democracy must necessarily be opposed and suppressed and the power of the elite must be reinforced at every opportunity.

Usually the neolibs couch that in some other velvet glove language, so it's nice that sometimes they show the iron fist like this.

And the world will live as one

by Montereyan (robert at calitics dot com) on Mon Jul 25th, 2011 at 12:20:44 AM EST
Perhaps a case of "in vino es veritas"? Of course the "vino" need not be alcoholic.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Jul 25th, 2011 at 09:13:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
C'mon, folks. Excise the Aryanism and Christer crap, and isn't Anders Breivik saying the same thing?

I mean, is full bore theocratic Islam really that all tolerant?

Are dhimmis now extinct?

Maybe we just need to cut out early religious education, as intolerant.

Really.

Align culture with our nature. Ot else!

by ormondotvos (ormond.otvosnospamgmialcon) on Tue Jul 26th, 2011 at 02:09:10 AM EST


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