I wrote yesterday about the distinction between 'power over' and 'power to'. This distinction is relevant to the crisis which now grips Europe.
By coincidence, the point is made by two extracts from articles in this week’s LRB.
First, the philosopher and social commentator Slavoj Zizek:
Imagine a scene from a dystopian movie that depicts our society in the near future. Uniformed guards patrol half-empty downtown streets at night, on the prowl for immigrants, criminals and vagrants. Those they find are brutalised. What seems like a fanciful Hollywood image is a reality in today’s Greece. At night, black-shirted vigilantes from the Holocaust-denying neo-fascist Golden Dawn movement – which won 7 per cent of the vote in the last round of elections, and had the support, it’s said, of 50 per cent of the Athenian police – have been patrolling the streets and beating up all the immigrants they can find: Afghans, Pakistanis, Algerians. So this is how Europe is defended in the spring of 2012
Second, political scientist David Runciman reviewing Ferdinand Mount’s new book ‘The New Few, or a very British Oligarchy’ (soon to feature in an RSA event):
….globalisation is a cover story for indecision and fear. It does not drive the concentration of power and wealth according to rational measures of market forces but it sows enough confusion and uncertainty to make decisive action look like too much trouble. Politicians who suspect that they don’t know what they are doing are reluctant to do anything that might confirm it
And of the Leveson Inquirey:
The congestion of British public life, its squeezed, banal thoughtless, easy way with power, its acquiescence in its own straightened quality, its thin conception of the public good, its sense of comfort with its own limited ambitions have all been on daily display
Yesterday I said that zero-sum politics is largely about ‘power over’ battles while policy is largely about ‘power to’ problems. This is wrong. It misses a distinction between revolutionary and reformist politics.
The former – whether its class warfare on the left or fascism in the backstreets of Athens – has a ‘power over’ message: ‘we are suffering because we are being exploited by the others, we will only stop suffering when we take power from them’. Reformists – whether of the right or left - have a ‘power to’ message; ‘with our good intentions and expertise we can adjust the world to make it better for everyone’.
This is why the political centre so often falls into the trap of well-intentioned technocratic arrogance; precisely what led to the creation of a single currency, with no exit, in the complete absence of a significant deepening of European solidarity.
The Euro crisis is a ‘power to’ crisis and as it becomes increasingly clear that the leaders of Europe cannot summon a ‘power to’ solution, the great and growing danger is that it becomes a ‘power over’ crisis.
We hear every day of economic contagion but the real worry now must be contagion from the sphere of economics to the spheres of democratic authority, social order and communal peace.
Public services, commercial corporations and spontaneous social movements: what's the power they all lack? How might public service reform not flounder through shoehorning dynamism into a universalist and planned approach? How might businesses become genuinely socially responsible rather than merely intoning fine sounding rhetoric?