Watch an exclusive talk from Yanis Varoufakis on Europe’s past, present and future and read an extract from his book, And The Weak Suffer What They Must?
During the five months of 2015 in which I took a front-row crash course in Europe’s political feuds I confirmed one thing: a titanic battle is being waged for Europe’s integrity and soul, with the forces of reason and humanism losing out, so far, to growing irrationality, authoritarianism and malice.
The rest of the world, America in particular, is concerned but not as much as it ought to be. Europe has twice in the past hundred years dragged the planet down into an appalling quagmire. It can do so again. Europe, as the New Dealers understood in the 1940s, is too important to leave to us Europeans. The whole world has a stake in the victory of rationality, liberty, democracy and humanism in the birthplace of those ideas.
Leonard Schapiro, writing on Stalinism, warned us that ‘the true object of propaganda is neither to convince nor even to persuade. But to produce a uniform pattern of public utterances in which the first trace of unorthodox thought reveals itself as a jarring dissonance.’ During five months of negotiating with the Eurogroup on behalf of Greece I bore the brunt of precisely this type of propaganda. My attempts to infuse some rational humanism into the negotiations on my country’s fiscal and reform agenda were met with a concerted effort to turn our sensible proposals into such a jarring dissonance. It is quite remarkable, but somewhat disheartening, that an insightful statement once written about Stalinism has so much resonance today in the corridors of power in Brussels, Frankfurt and Berlin.
False dogmas are condemned to be found out eventually
But dissidents should take heart. False dogmas are condemned to be found out eventually, in Europe as they were in the Soviet Union and elsewhere. What matters here and now is that they should be found out quickly. For the human toll of this crisis in Europe is too high and has the capacity to reach parts of the planet that do not deserve to suffer as a result of yet another European debacle. When Gandhi was asked what he thought of Western civilization, he famously replied, ‘It would be a very good idea.’ If asked what we think of the European Union today, we could do worse than answer, ‘What a splendid idea! If only we could pull it off!’
I think we can pull it off. But not without a break from Europe’s past and a large democratic stimulus that the fathers of the European Union might have disapproved of.