Spectre Europe: Introduction

Once again, Europe seems overstrained by the very idea of Europe. While it still considers itself the origin of democracy, the Enlightenment and human rights, today, in the spring of 2016, it also appears, and perhaps first and foremost, as the birthplace of nationalism, racism, colonialism and capitalism. Following two decades of ordo-neoliberal politics as well as an ongoing financial crisis, the recent arrival of a few hundred thousand refugees from Syria, Iraq and other war zones has triggered a situation where not only the once complacent post-war order in Europe seems seriously threatened, but where an authoritarian and xenophobic politics is doubtlessly on the rise. Apparently, so-called ”European values” always expose their dark side: The alleged Enlightenment is mirrored by blindness, democracy by despotism, and human rights by rightlessness.

Precisely this latter denial of the “right to have rights” is the basic situation that those who had to flee their homelands find themselves in. But this situation of absolute vulnerability is of course nothing new, and it has been variously described, from Aeschylus’s Suppliants all the way to Hannah Arendt, who in her essay “We Refugees” reports from her own experience as a refugee who quickly had to learn, “that in this mad world it is easier to be accepted as a ‘great man’ than as a human being”. Her paradigmatic essay, first published in 1943 in the Menorah Journal, deals not only with the almost complete loss of civic rights, it furthermore conceives the legal situation of refugees as background for any general theory of political action. Arendt hence reinterprets refugees, those human beings, who are always the epitome of all minorities and the precariat, as the “vanguard of their peoples”.

While Arendt thus scrutinizes both the biographical patterns and the political identities of the forced expatriates during World War II, Srećko Horvat reminds us how thin the layer of civilisation has always been, especially in the history of Europe, and how fragile it most likely still is, how vibrant the underlying barbarism might still be. His essay “War and Peace in Europe: ‘Bei den Sorglosen’” not only explores the immense count of atrocities in the present it also highlights once again that people only rarely seem to learn from history.

His fellow comrade Yanis Varoufakis likewise cannot offer any simple consolation with regard to the current state of Europe. The founder of the “Democracy in Europe Movement” (DiEM25) and former finance minister of Greece adds an economic perspective strongly drawing on Karl Marx and his insights into capitalist dynamics. This perspective uncovers a number of striking parallels between the political and economic situation in the 1930s and today, pointing out an inherent tendency of capitalist economies to commodify almost every aspect of human life – and to abolish democracy in the course.

Against this tendency, there is an urgent collective desire for alternatives. But these alternatives cannot be the idealized alternatives of utopia as a non-existent but already projected organisation of the social. Jean-Luc Nancy demonstrates this in his tracing of the origin and meaning of the conception of utopia, calling for its suspension as a political guide. According to him, utopia must come to be replaced by “an outside-place that operates at the heart of the real, not in order to explode and annihilate it, but, on the contrary, in order to clear the space for its pulsation”, for a future configuration that considers our questions and demands “in our world and for our world”. In a short interview, exclusively conducted for this booklet, Nancy emphasises that today we need to dissolve our dogmatic utopian imaginations in order to “enter into a time and sound without figures”, calling upon us to “unmake the figures, the maps”.

Rosi Braidottis contribution, finally, can be seen as a first attempt at such an unmaking, in the form of a Deleuzian outline for a post-nationalist Europe – without, for that matter, being utopian. In the midst of talk about Brexit and a ‘refugee crisis’, she calls for an alternative conception of identity, for a new, a ‘nomadic’ European subject. As Arendt already proclaimed more´than 70 years ago, the refugees and their first hand experience of pain and loss may pave the way for a desperately needed reconception of European identity and an undoing of its hegemonic tendencies.

The urgent necessity to reconceive not only European identity but also current European politics both towards a humane treatment of refugees and towards an economic and political order that strives for economic justice and human freedom alike, is ultimately the raison d’etre of the DiEM25 initiative.

In this sense, this booklet may be seen as a first guide book, calling for the unmaking of existing cartographies, for an ethical transformation along the lines of immanent change, and for the struggle for a new way of inhabiting common space.

Table of contents

  • Hannah Arendt: We Refugees
  • Srećko Horvat: War and Peace in Europe: ‘Bei den Sorglosen’
  • Yanis Varoufakis: Confessions of an Erratic Marxist in the Midst of a Repugnant European Crisis
  • Jean-Luc Nancy: In Place of Utopia
    Interview: Utopia Today
  • Rosi Braidotti: The Becoming-Minoritarian of Europe

This booklet was edited by Hannah Wallenfels and Lukas Franke. It was published on the occasion of the presentation of DIEM25: „Europe’s Duty to the Refugees – Europe’s Duty to Itself“, on 5 May 2016 at WERK X in Vienna. It was exclusively available at the event.