Modern Greece, or the struggle for modernity

Stathis N. Kalyvas, Modern Greece. What Everyone Needs to Know, Oxford University Press, 2015

I bought Modern Greece. What Everyone Needs to Know not much time after its publication. I was curious about modern Greek history, which I did not know much about, as Greece used to be mentioned frequently in newspapers headlines during that period – but I found time to read it much later (and time to write about it only now).

I am no historian, while Stathis Kalyvas is a political scientist at Yale University: this means that I am neither willing nor able to properly judge his attempt to provide a useful resource for those approaching to Greece’s recent history. I only have a few comments or remarks, along with a short summary.

First of all, the book seems pretty convincing in expounding a trajectory made of boom-bust-bailout cycles over the last two centuries: on several occasions, Greek élites have set out ambitious goals, which then turned out to be risky or simply unaffordable in the short term. These efforts generated crisis which generally ended up with some form of foreign intervention. At the end of each cycle, Greece had found itself struggling for a while, but, at the very end, it used to find itself better than it used to be at the beginning of the same cycle – and actually, Greece has not been a late modernizer, but one of the first countries to catch up with Western Europe. If you go through the book, starting from the fight for national independence and finishing with the Eurozone crisis, you will be quite convinced – as I have been – that this recurring pattern has effectively taken place in Greek history.

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The nationalistic anti-EU drift of the Italian radical left

There is a different view, however, which is starting to emerge within the left – at least in the left opposing Italy’s Democratic Party, which is not a socialist or a social democratic party, although being the largest one in the socialist group in the European Parliament and being a member of the Party of European Socialists. Indeed, the current Italian prime minister and Democratic Party leader, Matteo Renzi, wouldn’t be a member of any socialist or social democratic party under the old Italian party system in the so-called First Republic, as he would probably rather be a leftist Christian democrat.

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Yanis Varoufakis on Wolfgang Schäuble

There is a thing I have noticed if I have not misinterpreted what I read.
In an article published today on The Guardian, the former finance minister of Greece Yanis Varoufakis has claimed that the intention of Wolfgang Schäuble, the current finance minister of Germany, is a Grexit. As the eurozone is neither a fixed-exchange-rate regime area based on rules and discipline nor a state or a federation issuing its own currency, but a sort of hybrid entity, according to Varoufakis the German minister would see a Grexit as a way to take one of the two paths, that is the path of disciple or the path of an European federation, and, among the two options, Schäuble would favour the “disciplinarian” option rather the federal one (which would be based on mutualization of debt and risk, I suppose, rather than common rules and discipline).
It seems a change of opinion if you compare what Varoufakis itself said to Die Zeit less than two months ago:

Question: What are the European topics you probably could agree on with Mr Schäuble?

YV: That Europe needs a political union and that, without it, our monetary union is problematic.

Substantially, Varoufakis seemed to think, if we stick to his words, that Schäuble was, in his own way, in favour of a political union, rather than of one simply based on rules established and followed by national governments. Today, Schäuble is included in the camp of those who do not want a federation. Since to me political union and federation are quite synonyms, at least in European Union matters, that seems a shift in opinions.
Furthermore, what Varoufakis wrote today (that a Grexit could have two possible outcomes, one of which would be a federal Europe) leaves room for some interesting reasoning on what a European federalist should wish in order to achieve his/her political target. What if the sacrifice of a member state could lead to the unintended consequence of a European federation, based on the urge to avoid the same scenario in the future? Could be a good idea to sacrifice Greece and ‘upgrade’ the rest?

The work of JS Mill shows the importance of a common identity to the principle of European federalism

John Stuart MillIn his examination of John Stuart Mill’s thought on Europe in Mill’s works Bentham, On Liberty and Utilitarianism, Simon Glendinning has shown why, according to Mill, we are Europeans because we are not one. He also states that European greatness stems from cultural and national diversities across the continent and that the danger of stationariness (in Mill’s own words) comes from uniformity of thought. As a lesson for today, Glendinning argues that the European Union can be successful only if it preserves diversity and prevents intolerance.

However, through an investigation of what is probably Mill’s main work in the field of political theory, Considerations on Representative Government, we may find further hints on why European federalists should consider a plurality of nationalities as positive and how a proper federation should be built. (Read the full article on EUROPP)