- The Greek Crisis and European Modernity ed. by Anna Triandafyllidou, Ruby Gropas, Hara Kouki
I started reading this volume with some reservation, tired of recent top-down accounts of the Greek crisis that explain little and tend to resort to generalizations. These initial reservations, to my relief, started collapsing as I read the very first pages. Instead of limiting its scope in blaming or exonerating Greece for its economic crisis, the volume attempts to engage dynamically with Greek modernity—as this is contested, realized or unrealized—and its relationship with European modernity. This particular concern with modernity, and its many potential faces, frames the collection thematically and theoretically, and contributes to the broader project of explaining the crisis.
The editors—Triandafyllidou, Gropas, and Kouki—provide the introduction, a scholarly essay that engages critically with the opposition between modernity and tradition, and the rhetorical dilemmas that stem from it: “where does Greece belong?”; further or closer to Europe or somewhere in between? The editors attempt to escape from such essentialist conundrums, and draw from pre-crisis social analyses of Greece to depict the complexity that emerges from the interrelationship of modernity and tradition. Thus, the crisis cannot be simply explained as a consequence of either a systemic European failure or incomplete Greek modernization. In fact, the crisis provides us with new opportunities to challenge our view of modernization—Europeanization and reform—even further.
The main chapters of the volume are organized in pairs, each tackling a dimension of the crisis. We learn about the economic impasse of Greece as this is seen from the economist’s point of view, its political culture assessed from a legal perspective, the welfare state perceived through the lens of social policy, and finally, religion and its relationship with the state.
The chapter by Tsoukalis, placed very appropriately after the introduction, provides additional context to the volume and an attractively written assessment of the limitations that plague the Greek economy. It is measured and anti-populist in its approach, pitched to a non-Greek audience. Tsoukalis navigates beyond blame, towards the conclusion that the Greeks should take ownership and authorship of reforming and restructuring their economy. A second chapter that provides an explanation of the crisis from an economist’s point of view is provided by Varoufakis. His perspective, addressing primarily a Greek audience—“our” society, “our” responsibilities—is as confident and eloquent as Tsoukalis’s, but one degree more dynamic and provocative. Although Varoufakis does not deny the malignancies of the Greek state, he blames the crisis on systemic factors, such as the inability of EU states to recycle (first) their debt and (second) their surplus. In addition, and very aptly, he criticizes official EU narratives for their apparent denial to acknowledge these two problems with recycling.
Tasopoulos’s chapter is concerned with the proliferation of Jacobin ideological elements in Greek constitutional tradition, which he traces back to the Greek enlightenment. His account may be seen as a detour from the immediate concerns of the crisis (and the volume), yet his learned analysis allows us to appreciate the lure of populist political preferences among the Greek public—one of many examples is the tendency to transform electoral success to a goal in itself. More provocatively, the [End Page 213] chapter by Katrougalos challenges the dualism thesis which divides Greek society into traditionalists and modernists. He argues rather persuasively that a more enduring distinction is that between those who have access to political power and those who do not. Katrougalos further challenges the commonly held idea that the Greek civil sector is of gigantic proportions, which, he explains, is not supported by empirical evidence, and is excessively used to blame the Greeks for their current predicament.
The relationship of religion with the Greek state, the topic introduced by the chapters by Dragonas and Zoumboulakis, contributes to the discussion about Greek modernity, which is one of the uniting threads of the volume. Indirectly, it may also help the reader contextualize the rise of ultra-rightist discourse. Dragonas approaches the topic...