The Way of All Beauty

[H]e had searched by the stream by which she had prayed to the stones, and the pool where she prayed to the stars; he had called her name up every tower, and had called it wide in the dark, and had had no answer but echo; and so he had come at last to the witch Ziroonderel."Whither?" he said, saying no more than that, that the boy might not know his fears. Yet Orion knew. 
And Ziroonderel all mournfully shook her head. "The way of the leaves," she said. "The way of all beauty." 
-Lord Dunsany, The King of Elfland's Daughter
Where is Europe going?

The economic argument here is not entirely convincing, but it's also not what interests me about the piece.  What I do find interesting is the way that it lines up into a story with heroes and villains, and the villains are framed in ways that have been persuasive and deadly to Europeans past.  It is a story of Catholic versus Protestant, of the torment of Europe by an oppressive Germany represented by a black eagle.

What we are seeing in Europe is the development of a narrative that will justify the refusal by the Greeks, the Irish and the other debtor nations to submit to discipline.  It is a narrative that has both ethnic and religious justifications; and if that were not enough, it has justifications based on class thrown in as well.  Thus it has all three of the poisons that have led to Europe's great wars:  the poison of religious division that brought the Thirty Years War, the poison of nationalism that brought the World Wars, and the poison of anti-capitalism that brought the Communists to power in the Cold War.

And yet, though the claim is not entirely convincing, it is neither entirely wrong.  The claim that Europe is moving from democracy to 'bank-ocracy' is right in an important sense:  we recently saw a British MP scolding the EU for daring to force democratic nations to replace their elected leadership with those chosen by the central bankers.  The Germans are driving this process; and there is a clash between Catholic and Protestant assumptions at work in the cultural division between the debtor and creditor states.  The narrative is deadly, but it is founded on several truths.

The season has turned, as seasons will; the leaves come, and then they go.  Some day we'll ask where Europe went, and we won't have any other answer than Ziroonderel's.


Joseph W. said...

The economic argument here is not entirely convincing...

Ah, Grim, you're as American as I am, but you have a talent for "English understatement." Naked, naive Keynesianism of the worst kind - the very philosophy that gave us "government debt as a way of life."

Whether they'll get back to fighting each other, we'll see, but there doesn't seem to be any Euro-national myth emerging here.

Splendid posts from you this weekend!

Grim said...

Thank you, my friend. I'm glad you found them worth while.

RonF said...

The nations will complain that the EU is delivering them to the bankers; but in fact the nations delivered themselves to the bankers, taking loans they had no hope (and dare I say, intent) of repaying. They sold their posterity to the banks, and now the banks want their due.

European history is replete with sovereigns who defaulted on their loans through the simple device of killing their creditors. I don't think we'll see that. But those nations will see that they can no longer get credit.

Unlike in the past, the sovereign's creditors are not just those who loaned them the money. They are also the hundreds of millions who are expecting pensions and social services that will no longer be able to be funded once the credit is cut off and what wealth is left is taxed to the limit. They can't kill all of them. But all of them may well kill the sovereigns. Not that it will do them much good.