International Boulevard

“An Excess of Rationality Leading to Collective Madness”

The Greek leftists have apparently capitulated once again to German economic demands, including a nearly unprecedented surrender of sovereignty over billions of dollars in public assets. For a time, the crisis of the Eurozone has perhaps been papered over. In this interview, Emmanuel Todd says that Europe is however slowly committing collective suicide under German supervision.

How do you view the Greek rollercoaster?

For me, the striking thing is how the Europe we are dealing with today is no longer the Europe of yesterday. We now have a Europe under the control of Germany and its Baltic and European sidekicks. Under German supervision Europe has been transformed into a system of hierarchies, authoritarian and ‘austeritarian.’ Tsipiras polarizes this northern Europe against southern Europe; the confrontation comes down to Tsipras and Schauble [the German finance minister]. Europe is in the process of splitting down the middle. Regardless of what their governments are saying, I am willing to bet that the Italian people, the Spaniards, the Portuguese, even the English are feeling enormous closeness to Tsipras.

So it is more of a North-South split than a left-right split?

Look at the attitude of the [leftist]German Social Democrats; they take a particularly hard line against the Greeks. The whole discourse of the French socialists, until quite recently, consisted of saying, ‘We are going to build another Europe, a Europe of the left. And it is thanks to our excellent relationship with the German Social Democrats that we will be able to do it differently.’

And I would tell them, “No, it is going to be even worse with the Social Democrats!” The political strongholds of the German Social Democrats are in the Protestant regions of Germany. They are even further to the north, even more antagonistic toward the “merry-go-round Catholics” of the continent’s south.

In the end, what it comes down to is not at all a left-right conflict, it is a cultural conflict as ancient as Europe itself.
I have no doubt that if the ghost of [prominent French historian]Fernand Braudel were to emerge from his grave, he would say that we are seeing once again the appearance of the frontiers of the Roman empire.

Countries that are really influenced by Roman universalism find themselves instinctively siding with a reasonable Europe, meaning a Europe whose natural inclinations are not toward authoritarianism and masochism, but a Europe that understands that austerity plans are self destructive, suicidal.

On the other side there is the Europe that is more inclined toward the Lutheran world; which is the world of two-thirds of Germany, most of the Baltic and Scandinavian countries, and you might add to it the Polish sidekick; even though Poland is Catholic, it never belonged to the Roman Empire. Really, what is surfacing is something extraordinarily deep.

We barely hear from France in this North-South debate.

That is the real question: is France going to make a move? There are two Frances. There is the old integral nationalist France that has evolved into the France of the Socialists: decentralizing, Europeanist, Germanophile, this is the France that is caught in a rut.

But it is clear that two thirds of France outside of the urban centers sides with Europe’s south. Somehow, the French political system keeps turning out these ridiculous presidents, in which the frenzied are succeeded by the feeble; the system has broken down, it is entirely paralyzed.

Up to now, France has played the role of the good cop, while Germany played the bad cop. For Hollande, though, it is now the moment of truth. If he lets the Greeks down, he will go down in history with the socialists who voted to give [Nazi collaborator] Marshall Petain full power. If the Greeks are thrown into a mass grave with the complicity and collaboration of France, then we will all know that Vichy France has returned to power.

If there is a Grexit, will it really bring down the whole Euro currency, as you have long prophesized?

In the end, an exit by Greece would almost certainly bring down the entire system. Germany would probably build a common monetary zone with its satellites in Austria, Scandinavia and the Baltic countries, along with Poland which is not presently in the Euro Zone. On the other front, we might see the resurrection of the Franco-British partnership, to balance the system.

What we have watched play out since 2011 is the incredible stubbornness of European elites-notable among them the French neo-Vichyists (and don’t you censor that word, I said neo-Vichyists), a mix of Catholic zombies, bankers, and contemptuous high-level officials, all of them struggling to maintain a system that has broken down.

The Euro is the black hole in the world’s economy; Europe has obstinately pushed on in the face of an economic breakdown to a degree that has an element of folly to it. What we are watching is completely irrational, a form of madness, a kind of excess of rationality that in sum is producing collectively irrational behavior.

On the one hand, we could imagine this continuing for a very long time. But on the other hand I have sensed, and not only among the Germans and the Greeks, the beginnings of a kind of vertigo, of a sort of attraction towards crisis.

No one wants to say out loud that the whole thing is not working, no one wants to take responsibility for the failure-because it is indeed a stunning failure, this tale of the Euro-but we have begun to feel, among the principal players, a sort of need to put an end to it all.

Better a horrible end than a horror without end.

If this is the case, Greece will be the detonator. People are starting to realize the tragic reality of the situation. The tragic reality of the situation is that Europe is a continent which, during the twentieth century, periodically committed suicide under the supervision of Germany. First there was the Great War, and then there was World War Two. Now it is a much wealthier continent, more peaceable, demilitarized, aging, arthritic. And in a context where things are slowing down, we are witnessing, like a replay, Europe’s third self-destruction, once again under the supervision of Germany.

And what about Greece?

Will Greece rise again in five years? In ten? Greece will in any case have to recover outside the Euro zone. Greeks are very smart and adaptable, and they will have their patriotism to help them begin the process of rising again. And that is when the Euro will be in real trouble; letting Greece out means risking the visible proof that it is better to be out of the Euro zone than in it.

When you are in the European madhouse, you have the impression that the anti-Greece forces are the overwhelming majority. But when you read the international press, you realize that almost everyone else sides with Greece. Just read the American press: it considers the positions of the EU commission, the EU parliament, and Germany completely insane. There are an enormous number of people truly interested in rebuilding Greece, starting with the Americans, who will never consent to allowing the country to be torn to pieces, for its strategic location if nothing else. Lots of people want to help Greece; that is part of the problem.

William Bourton Translated from French by International Boulevard

TAGS:Debt Emmanuel Todd Euro Zone Germany Greek Crisis Grexit Syriza Tsipiras Vichy

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