- After Austerity?
Costas Douzinas is a key figure in the contemporary European left who rose to prominence through his work at the Birkbeck Law School. He is now in debate with Slavoj Žižek, Alain Badiou, David Graeber, Franco Berardi, and others concerning the future of capitalism in the wake of the economic crash of 2007–8. In this, his most recent work, Philosophy and Resistance in the Crisis, Douzinas addresses the politics of the economic crisis in Greece, discusses his own position within this situation, and extends his analysis to the rest of Europe to suggest that Greece represents the future of European society, in one way or another. He begins his discussion by explaining how he first became involved in debates around the future of Greece in February 2011 through the hunger strike of three hundred undocumented immigrants, who he explains had been reduced to the status of homo sacer by the Greek state. Homo sacer is, of course, the concept made famous by the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben (1998) that describes the situation of the Roman person who exists outside of the law and can be killed with impunity. In many respects, the story Douzinas tells is one of the conversion of large sections of the Greek population into homo sacer under conditions of austerity that are designed to save Europe’s financial elites but take no account of the basic needs of the people. For Douzinas, this situation marks a turning point in European history, one that puts history back on the agenda after the break marked by Francis Fukuyama’s (1993) famous declaration of the end of history and ideological change. In Douzinas’s view, the choice that Europe now faces is between a future of austerity, which will see the emergence of “a Europe with Asian characteristics”—meaning a Europe defined by Chinese-style labor relations—or a future [End Page 420] of resistance, struggle, and ultimately change, which will allow the emergence of a more human future outside of the neoliberal hegemon that subordinates everything to the bottom line.
Following recent work by the French philosopher Alain Badiou (2012), who tells us that the first decade of the twenty-first century has put history back on track, Douzinas explains that politics has reemerged in Greece in the streets and in the squares of the city, and particularly in Athens. The home of Western culture, civilization, and democracy is, thus, the primal scene of resistance to the neoliberal global system where people are simply workers and consumers and nothing more. In the first part of his book, Douzinas sets up this argument noting that Europe is currently haunted by two specters—a specter of bankruptcy and a specter of resistance. In the world defined by the specter of bankruptcy, neoliberal Europe has responded with a schizophrenic model of politics, where socialism is for the rich and capitalism is for the poor. Although debt is everywhere, and we clearly live in a debt society, Douzinas is clear that this debt is not distributed evenly through society. While the debt of the rich is written off or clawed back through public austerity, the debt of the poor expands in order to cover the basic needs of life and ends up colonizing their entire future. The problem of the debt society, for Douzinas, is therefore that it destroys the possibility of the future, which vanishes into a horror story of endless debt repayment. Of course, while one is locked into a lifetime of debt, one is unable to think beyond the next paycheck and, in a wider sense, must accept endless wage slavery under whatever conditions are offered by capitalism. Effectively, then, one becomes a slave to debt and the prevailing capitalist norm toward worker precarity.
In order to support this system, Douzinas explains, debt is transformed into a moral issue and, under neoliberal capital, into a moral concern that impacts the poor and the weak in ways that never touch...