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LEONIDAS DONSKIS

A new technocratic revolution or the end of modern nations?

Gruodžio 15, 2011

By Leonidas Donskis

We live in a time of obsession with power. As Zygmunt Bauman wittily noticed, the old formula of politics as a carrots-and-sticks strategy still holds, yet we, having seen in the twentieth century the worst nightmares of sticks, are likely to experience the domination of carrots nowadays. Power manifests itself as financial and economic might and potential, rather than military force and the language of militarism. Yet the logic remains the same. This is the old good wille-zur-macht, or the will-to-power, whether it assumes the guise of Friedrich Nietzsche or Karl Marx. The point is not if you have an identifiable Weltanschauung, a resilient identity or a major ideology; instead, the point is about how much power you have. I buy, therefore, I am.

We got accustomed to regarding a human being merely as a statistical unit. It does not come as a shock to us to view human individuals as a workforce. The purchasing power of society or the ability to consume became crucial criteria to evaluate the degree of suitability of a country for the club of power to which we apply various sonorous titles of international organizations. The question whether you are a democracy becomes relevant only when you have no power and, therefore, have to be controlled through the means of rhetorical or political sticks. If you are oil-rich, or if you can consume or invest much, it absolves you from your failure to respect modern political and moral sensibilities or to stay committed to civil liberties and human rights. 

On a closer look, what is happening in Europe is a technocratic revolution. A decade or two ago it was crucial to have proof that you are a democracy to qualify for the club. What mattered was a set of values and commitments. For now, we are likely to enter a new stage in world politics: what really matters is your financial discipline, the ability to be suitable for a fiscal union, and your economic conduct.

Recalling Samuel Butler’s “Erewhon” (the title of this anti-utopian novel is an anagram of Nowhere – hence, a clear allusion to Thomas More’s Utopia), here we have the political and moral logic of Europe turned upside down. In “Erewhon,” Butler pokes fun of a utopian community where illness becomes a liability and where a failure to remain healthy and fit is prosecuted. Something of this kind can be found in Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” where a failure to be happy is seen as a symptom of backwardness. A caricature of the pursuit of happiness in a distant technocratic and technological society should not console us as something beyond our reality, though.

What we have in Europe now is an emerging concept of the liability of economic impotence. No kind of political and economic impotence shall remain unpunished. This is to say that we no longer have a right to fail, which had long been an inescapable aspect of freedom. The right to be open to the possibility of bankruptcy or any other possibility of failure was part of the European saga of freedom as a fundamental choice we make every day facing its consequences.

Those days are gone. Now you are at risk of becoming a gravedigger of Europe, or even of the entire world, if you send a wrong message to the global market. You may cause a global domino effect, thus letting down your foes and allies who equally depend on that same single world power structure. This is the new language of power, hitherto unseen and unidentified by anybody in world history. Behave yourself, otherwise you will spoil the game and will let us down. In doing so, you will jeopardize the viability of a moral and social order within which no country or nation remains responsible for itself. Everything has its global repercussions and implications.

And how about the nations? Up to now we were certain that the European nations embodied the Calvinist principle of predestination, implying a possibility to be happy in this earthly life and in this-worldly reality; the Kantian principle of self-determination became more relevant in the 19th century. There was a world where the pursuit of happiness, like the possibility of salvation and self-fulfillment, spoke the language of the republic and its values: hence, the emergence of postcolonial nations after two world wars and after the breakup of empires.

What we have today in our second modernity bears little, if any, resemblance to this logic of the first modernity, as Ulrich Beck would have it; we can no longer experience the passions and longings of the 20th century, not to mention the dramas of the 19th century, no matter how hard we try to relegitimize our historical and political narrative. To use the terms of Zygmunt Bauman, the liquid modernity transformed us into a global community of consumers. What was a nation in the era of solid modernity as a community of memory, collective sentiment and moral choice, now is a community of consumers who are obliged and expected to behave in order to qualify for the club.

In  the  epoch of Facebook, the nations are becoming extraterritorial units of a shared language and culture. We knew in the era of solid modernity that the nation was made up by several factors, first and foremost by a common territory, language and culture as well as by the modern division of labor, social mobility and literacy. Nowadays, the picture is rather different: a nation appears as an ensemble of mobile individuals with their logic of life deeply embedded in withdrawal-and-return. It is a question of whether you are online or offline with regard to your country’s problems and the debates around them, instead of deciding once and for all whether you are going to stay in that same place or vote for those same political actors for the rest of your days.

Either you are on, or you are off. This is a daily plebiscite of a liquid-modern society.

 

Leonidas Donskis, Ph.D.,  is a Lithuanian Member  of the European Parliament.

© 2011 The Baltic times. All rights reserved.



LEONIDO DONSKIO KADENCIJA EUROPOS PARLAMENTE
(2009-2014)