The Endless Crisis as an Instrument of Power: In conversation with GiorgioAgamben By / 04 June 2013 A Latin empire against the German dominance? The Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben explains his much-discussed thesis. Apparently, he had been misunderstood. Professor Agamben, when you floated the idea in March of a ‘Latin imperium’ against Germanic domination in Europe, could you have imagined the powerful resonance this contention would have? In the meantime your essay has been translated into countless languages and passionately discussed across half the continent… No, I didn’t expect this. But I believe in the power of words, when they are spoken at the right time. Is the fracture in the European Union really between the economies and ways of life of the ‘Germanic’ north and the ‘Latin’ south? I would like to make clear right away that my thesis has been exaggerated by journalists and therefore misrepresented. Its title, ‘The Latin empire should start a counter-attack’, was supplied by the editors of Libération and was taken up by the German media. It’s not something I ever said. How could I counterpose Latin culture to German, when any intelligent European knows that Italian culture of the Renaissance or the culture of classical Greece is today completely part of German culture, which reconceived it and appropriated it! So, no dominant ‘Latin empire’? No uncultivated Germans? that is. the identity of every culture always lies at the frontiers. Legally speaking. but that each European state continues acting according to its egoistic interest – and today this evidently means above all economic interest. And now the whole project of ratification by the peoples has been silently put on ice. And a Florentine like Dante could feel just as German as the Swabian emperor Frederick II. A number of the founding states of the EU – such as Italy with its many American military bases – are more in the way of protectorates than sovereign states. Does this mean that you see the European Union as an illegal body? Not illegal. since the European citizens were not allowed to decide on it. . but they reflect a social reality. A German such as Winckelmann or Hölderlin could be more Greek than the Greeks. but also our political and legal ones. Or when it was put to a vote. but certainly no Europe. But only with a valid constitution could European institutions regain their legitimacy. Legality is a question of the rules of exertion of power. it was frontally rejected. it is only because Germany. but rather the way in which the European Union has been constructed. In what way has the EU denied its political and legal roots? When we speak of Europe today. legitimacy is the principle that underlies these rules. In politics and militarily there is an Atlantic alliance. The object of my criticism was not Germany. on an exclusively economic basis. democratic element. but illegitimate.In Europe. but on the contrary a treaty between governments: international law. what we have here is not a constitution. That is precisely what makes up Europe: a particularity that time and again oversteps national and cultural frontiers. as in France and the Netherlands in 2005. have reproached me with understanding nothing of democracy. but they should consider first of all that the EU is a community based on treaties between states. we are faced with the gigantic repression of a painful and yet obvious truth: Europe’s so-called constitution is illegitimate. therefore. If this was heard as a criticism of Germany. The idea of Europe as a constitution-giving power is a spectre that no one ventures to conjure up any more. because of its dominant position and despite its exceptional philosophical tradition. It is understandable therefore that an institution without a constitution cannot follow a genuine policy. The lowest common denominator of unity is achieved when Europe appears as a vassal of the United States and takes part in wars that in no way lie in the common interest. and simply disguised with a democratic constitution. Journalists. to say nothing of the will of the people. the very respected German legal scholar Dieter Grimm recalled the fact that a European constitution lacks the fundamental. So not only have our spiritual and cultural roots been ignored. Legal treaties are certainly not just formalities. That is indeed the famous ‘democratic deficit’ in the European system… We shouldn’t lose sight of this. appears unable at the present time to conceive of a Europe based on anything more than just the euro and economics. not constitutional law. Just recently. particularly in Germany. The text that was put through under this name was never voted by the peoples. Is this creeping museumification the counterpart of a creeping impoverishment? It is quite clear that we are not just faced with economic problems. So should the EU emphasize differences rather than harmonization? Perhaps there is nowhere else in the world. We have to imagine unity first of all under an awareness of differences. In the Middle Ages people at least knew that a unity of different political societies had to mean more than a purely political society. in the European states. It is quite evident that there are forces at work in Europe today that seek to manipulate our identity. The whole however always left the particularities of the peoples intact.You’d therefore prefer a Latin imperium. In contrast to Asians and Americans. that is why in my article I insisted that we have unconditionally to preserve our distinctive forms of life. Earlier on. Today I believe that this legitimation must be sought in Europe’s history and its cultural traditions. So Europe is first of all a life form. This undermining goes together with a growing museumification of the past. and in which the inhabitants are forced to feel themselves tourists in their own life world. apart from Europe. We have the beginning of this in many cities that are transformed into historical zones. we could only penetrate into the past archeologically. the Allies also knew that they could destroy German identity. And if the present no longer perceives its own past as something living. as I see it. its artistic treasures. it was perhaps rather provocatively that I took up Alexandre Kojève’s project of a ‘Latin imperium’. later the Roman-German empire. In the same way. The only place in which the past can live is the present. If we were to ignore our own history. When they bombed the German cities. speculators are destroying the Italian landscape today with concrete. It is precisely for this reason that the present crisis strikes me as so dangerous. This does not just mean robbing us of our property. It is not easy to say what could emerge today in place of this. But quite certainly a political entity by the name of Europe can only proceed from this awareness of the past. But quite contrary to this. And this is where the survival of Europe lies. the very institutions that should perpetuate our culture and arouse living contact between past and present. a historical life feeling? Yes. Europeans always encounter their truth in a dialogue with their past. The past for us means not only a cultural inheritance and tradition. its landscapes. motorways and expressways. then universities and museums become problematic. but with the existence of Europe as a whole – starting with our relationship to the past. This is what Europe really consists of. politics was expressed in the idea of the Roman empire. the uniting bond was sought in Christianity. by breaking the umbilical cord that . The past for us would become a distinct life form. to the EU… No. Europe has a special relationship to its cities. but a basic anthropological condition. for whom history means something completely different. where such a variety of cultures and life forms is perceptible – at least at valuable moments. At that time. whose way of life the ‘Germans’ would have to adapt to. but of our historical identity. schools and universities are being demolished and financially undermined. The present understanding of crisis. It serves to legitimize political and economic decisions that in fact dispossess citizens and deprive them of any possibility of decision. of the EU. judgement is divorced from the idea of resolution and repeatedly postponed. Here a government was formed in the name of the crisis and Berlusconi brought back to power despite this being basically against the will of the electorate. however. Both meanings. This government is just as illegitimate as the so-called European constitution. The citizens of Europe must make clear to themselves that this unending crisis – just like a state of emergency – is incompatible with democracy. the crisis of state finance. Or Japanese snobbery. simply going on celebrating the empty rituals of tradition now robbed of any historical meaning. of currency. ‘Crisis’ in ancient medicine meant a judgement. because it stands in dialogue with its own history and thereby acquires new life. which Kojève saw as posthistoric vegetation. taking away their relation to time. Many . In Italy this is very clear. What perspectives then remain for Europe? We must start by restoring the original meaning of the word ‘crisis’. The very word expresses two semantic roots: the medical one. Is the crisis that is present on all sides then the form of expression of a whole system of rule. as a moment of judgement and choice. understood as culture and not only as economic space. when the doctor noted at the decisive moment whether the sick person would survive or die. Either the ‘American way of life’. human energies have been focused on economics. and the theological one of the Last Judgement. and for a long time it has been part of normality in any segment of social life. however. could therefore provide an answer to the crisis? For more than two hundred years. directed at our everyday life? The concept ‘crisis’ has indeed become a motto of modern politics. Today. Differences are rather being levelled out. Does this mean that the debt crisis. assumed that homo sapiens had come to the end of history and that there were now only two possibilities left. have undergone a transformation today. It is exactly the same with the theological sense. I believe that Europe could however realize the alternative of a culture that remains at the same time human and vital. So the prospect of a decision is ever less.still links us with our past. on the other hand. referring to the course of an illness. the philosopher Alexandre Kojève. For Europe we cannot postpone this to the indefinite future. Many years ago a high official of the then embryonic Europe. refers to an enduring state. indefinitely. Europe. and an endless process of decision never concludes. the Last Judgement was inseparable from the end of time. But Europe can only be our future if we make clear to ourselves that this means first of all our past. So this uncertainty is extended into the future. And this past is being increasingly liquidated. is never ending? Today crisis has become an instrument of rule. 24 May 2013. Translated from German. Visit Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Old Europe can precisely make a decisive contribution to the future here.things indicate that the moment has perhaps arrived for homo sapiens to organize human action afresh. More in #Interviews #Articles . beyond this single dimension. to read the original article.
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