Excursus – Reality …. – or: World as Surreal Jigsaw

There may be good reason to think occasional writing – reference to Kant, Hegel … are bizarre, a kind of excursus, an excursion into another world of the unreal, surreal …

And there may be equally good reason to think that an occasionally look at the reality is about engaging with something surreal, something that is not real but an invention of thinking, a jigsaw of different pieces which are – and that would be the difference to a real jigsaw – randomly spread across an open field.

I frequently use the actual travel time: the time of actually moving from one place to another, hanging around on airports, being cramped into one of these tubes made from metal, wires, plastic … – the tube called aircraft and while standing at the belt, waiting for the luggage, occasionally for more or less extensive reading of different newspapers – I admit, sometimes it is just because they are there, offered for free. So censorship, own selectivity, availability simply replaced (or complemented) by chance. And I admit that especially the ‘random airport collection’ is occasionally very much a favoured one, especially as it is frequently the more ‘serious’ press that is offered to those who would easily have the money needed to buy them (or to those who paid ‘special money’ for their flight ticket). The ‘serious journalism’ not least of the business papers and the liberal press: liberal here more in the humanist sense rather than its perverted economic stunt.

And a short snapshot may be offered here, yesterday’s reading. The initial reason for writing this short ‘review’ is twofold. An article in Monday’s FAZ. Baerbel, with whom I had been sitting together in the train on the way from Freiburg to Karlsruhe – the first leg of the trip to Finland – gave it to me. An ‘analysis’ offered by Schirrmacher, titled ‘I begin believing that the left is correct’. Though the title raises the expectation to read something extraordinary, the article itself had been very much an ordinary piece about the apocalyptic mood of a bourgeois.

Than later read in the Handelsblatt, if you want: The real German Financial Times (The paper that had been established many years later as German offshoot of the original FT, which goes back to 1884

launched as the friends of the ‘Honest Financier and the Respectable Broker’, with Leopold Graham as editor

is a relative shallow brother) the news about the measures planned by Merkel and Sarkozy: ‘Core Europe hits back’, looking at the ‘anti-speculation campaign’ by the two heads of state, claiming to establish an instrument against short sales. ‘Short sales’…, sounds like ‘zero-‘ and ‘negative growth’.

The truth of zero-growth is probably that we are really facing a growth of nulls in politics and economy. Indeed, coming to the German Financial Times then, an article, criticise that there are so many Pettifoggers in the Higher Echelons, talking about the fact that Germany’s most important managers do not respect laws and contracts, ant think this is normal.

And we can read that

this is worrying: In place of a sense for justice and injustice which we would especially expect from top managers we find expertises to secure dubious practice which legal experts compose in any required dictum.

(The German term is Absicherungsgutachten).

So far so good – and we all – left and right know that we are facing a

Sick Society, to which the youth rampage in Great Britain left deep wounds


judges sentence the rioters in summary trial to prove the superiority of the legal system

(German Financial Times)

Ops, the sick society proves its strength literally: showing its ‘strength’, its ‘power’ by means of coercion? One has to say then that (I may add: fortunately)

The public is not impressed: The Critique of the British societal model is increasing.

How should the public be impressed? Some may even look for strength as long as the hegemonic power is able to stigmatise the youth as hooligans and looters.

But there is more at stake, getting obvious when one looks at UK plans to remove rioter’s benefits as we learn in the short note on page one of the Europe Edition of the Financial Times. As I frequently and on very different occasions pointed out: The new social state is lurking around the corner as state based on mercy and charity, any time possible subject to politicians decision to withdraw it. Again we find the search for protection, for securing measures and their legimitation by procedure rather than the legal right …

Who could deny though that some kind of regulation is needed? But does that justify such breach of principles that we thought off as fundamental and human rights?

Hans Zacher, emeritus in Munich, founder of the MPI (the one to which I am corresponding) and surely more at the conservative end of political spectrum, emphasises in his book on the Social State (which I consider as rather Kantian in its foundation) the close connection between the social and democracy, stating for instance

Therein lies another essential communality between democracy and the social. Democracy is a process. The social is a process. And both processes feed and drive each other forward.

He points as well on the appropriateness of the title of a book edited by Wolf-Dieter Narr and Claus Offe: Welfare State andMass Loyality (Cologne, 1975).

But David Marsh in the Handelsblatt has no problem in taking a broad brush in order to get rid of any Kantian notion of reason, rationality, discourse of rights, employing instead frank words: it is not about benefits for one and withholding them for others. He sees it as fact that it is

only the concentrated power that secures silence.

And back to the economy:

– also when it comes to the financial markets.

Good one may say: finally somebody who sees the need of taking control. It may well be that I am obsessed by this topic: the political, the economic and how it is separated from and merged with each other. And as much – and regrettably – both are frequently separated, here they are dangerously brought together: as if the protest by the young people, though not expressed as political protest, would be the same as the ‘protest by the bankers’, though also not expressed politically. In actual fact the self-aggrandisement of the top-managers is not really a moral abjection. It is the protest that is in some way parallel to the representatives of the heavy industry in the late 1920s/early 1930s: They are looking for expansion and for this they need political control – and this is what they are aiming at.

Could it really be financial capital that plays today the role formerly played by the heavy industry? At least it has to be noted that earlier analysis and statements, drawing on parallels between the 2008(ish) and end of 1920s-ish crisis have to be completed – and actually we may refer to an article in the weekend edition of the Sueddeutsche, where Ulrich Schadefer wrote

What an illusion – and what worrying parallel to today’s crisis, the second world economic crisis as it has to be called in the meantime.

What they mean is that the crisis lasted much longer as politicians admitted (in 1931 they called the crisis off, spoke of returning to growth and prosperity …) and that the crisis could by now means be seen as regionally limited.

If Merkel, Sarkozy and others would be willing and able to act against it (The article in the Handelsblatt states that politicians up to know helplessly watched at development but Nicolas Sarkozy and … Angela Merkel [want] to end this game that is ignoble) would doubtlessly be good.

But reading then the FT’s Europe edition one may loose hope.

Berlin and Paris rule out eurobonds

and what follows is the well-known squabble, concerned with their own – national and personal – princedom, not concerned with any ‘common good’ if such thing would exist at all.


Finishing the Jigsaw?

The one ‘vision’ of finishing the jigsaw presents itself as total destruction: the power, creating total disorder in the name of order. One may honestly ask if the helpless reaction of a David Marsch* is not leveling the way for people like Anders Behring Breivik …

And one should ask why there is so much debate – in the Handelsblatt even a little special – on the financial market, the debt crisis and obviously related matters, but for instance only leaving a small note in the political section  in the political section on page 8 of the SZ for just briefly announcing that EON, the multinational trust, plans to lay-off 11,000 of 85,000 workforce. In the Handelsblatt it ‘scores better, being left to page 54. Admittedly the SZ has a long article on page 24 which deals more indirectly with the EON issue – but the way it is written suggests it as a distinct, somewhat distant topic.

And one may ask why there is so much talk about liberalisation, free entrepreneurship and these days the division of the German nation – until 1989 the FRG and GDR – and at the same time there is so little attention given to the fact that it had been liberalisation of the finance markets that are a major part of the crisis scenario, that free entrepreneurship led to such a power concentration that today even liberal politicians fail to keep it under control and that today the German society is deeply split by a social wall – I commented already earlier and elsewhere on this issue.

And one may consider the link between the surely in many cases helpless, desperate youth protests, the ‘protest’ by bankers, gamblers and the like, fighting tooth and nail against democratic control and the loss of hope of the middle class. An earlier edition of the Handelsblatt asks

Is it really the money? What is in many cases more important is something else: recognition. Some would say respect. What matters is the self-esteem that is rooted in the sense and certainty of being part, of being valued as human being. If somebody feels excluded of ignored does – in the worst case – not respect property of others or even respect of other people. It is also when we look at the decent of the middle classes where it is not just money, but fear of loosing the respect of society – a respect that is considered to be rightful.

Discussing middle class politics and policies is surely a matter in its own right, a wide and contradictory field. However, reeding in Saturday’s thejournal.ie about Italy austerity measures: Government ‘puts its hands into the pockets of Italian people‘ and learning that

The proposed cuts to such critical services as local transportation and welfare would have “a depressive … effect,” hurting most the underclasses and inhibiting the productive north of contributing to national GDP, Roberto Formigoni, the governor of the northern Lombardy state, told reporters

does not tell much new – and we find a similar article for instance in the German FT; but thinking at the same time about what Philipp Loepfe writes in today’s Tagesanzeiger (Switzerland), namely that Capitalism destroys itself, – a suicide based on the fact that middle classes, small entrepreneurs: the supposed core or the liberal market society is pushed to the margins by the multinational trusts … – and reading in the SZ the somewhat heartening story about a small entrepreneur of the former GDR, too old to continue the business, not finding a successor as all potential successors moved to the former West – the entrepreneur faces now the problem of not having sufficient private resources to retire …. Indeed, after The Underclass Had Been Left Behind (as Wolfgang Streeck titles in the Handelsblatt, writing about the youth protest in London, precarity moves more and more to the centre of society.

Looking at the US, all this plays not least into the hands of the political right, namely the demagogic tea-party.Ands it plays into the hands of some not less anti-growth attitudes. To avoid being misunderstood. I am the last who suggests uncritically following the mainstream growth policy – I made this occasionally clear when talking about Joseph Stiglitz and his reaction on my question during an UN-University-conference to years ago or so. But the Handelsblatt article on Tyler Cowen as ‘The Theorist of Stand Still’ shows how subtle the arguments can easily move into a dangerous direction of a new-new liberalism.

Easily celebrating ‘The Good Spirit of the Neighbourhood’ in the last article of a series in the German FT, looking at ‘Do-It-Yourself-Citizens’, going hand in hand with celebrating the ‘Entrepreneurs emerging from the Street’, and article in the same paper: it is about the new capitalists in the so-called countries of the developing world.

And it is indeed about what I had been working on over the last weeks: emphasising in Bonn during the Global Forum on Human Rights, as part of the presentation to the MPI and during discussions with colleagues: again and again criticising the holy trinity as today’s capitalist saviours suggest:

* pre-modern, feudal patronage, charity and self-help – pure individualism as talked about in the contribution with Claire

I* suppression and open violence as means of stabilising the interest of the minority – pure government; governance, dismantled from its embellishing rhetoric and wearing the veil of Corporate Social Responsibility

* globalisation of pure capitalism – the Emperor, like resurrection of a superpower to which we just said farewell.


Today’s Trinity of father, son and holy spirit – Today’s form of securing profit, rent and wages, suggestively merged in the postmodern patchwork biography, based on and leading ‘democratically’ to precarity for everyone. – Sure, there had been even some of the top managers getting suicidal when facing the hard reality of having abused the trust of so many people, facing the reality of having been part of the machinery that destroyed the foundation of the existence of individuals as societies. They faced a kind of reality which recently presented itself to me in form of one of the great pieces of paining: Peter Paul Rubens The Large Great Judgment from 1617.

I started by saying that reference to Kant, Hegel … my be bizarre, a kind of excursus, an excursion into another world of the unreal, surreal … But in either world we surely have to search for criteria

that allow to identify what is just and what is unjust (iustum et inisutum).

         May be after all that the worlds are not so much apart as they seem at first glance.


*******    *    ********


* Marsch (sounds like Marsh) is the German term for march, walk

2 Responses to “Excursus – Reality …. – or: World as Surreal Jigsaw”
  1. peter herrmann ha detto:

    Of course, such reading can be continued. Just getting rid of the paper – actually looking for something while preparing a presentation I will have to give when going to Vienna – I see another article, not commented though there had been a place for doing so – namely where I talked about the ‘short sales’. Stephan Schulmeister (gosh, what a name – and apparently he really is a good one (Schulmeister translates to principal, head of a school, teacher) comments in the German FT, and shows how useless the control would be at the end: only a small part of speculation is made up this way, a much larger part is based on more sophisticated means … – and to stop that would take more serious measures, actually measures … – I give the word to him: “But one cannot expect elites for which free markets are a matter of religiosity to abolish them.”
    For those readers of the FT who do not know yet, he shows how to work the system and undermine stability of public economies in order to increase private wealth ….

  2. peter herrmann ha detto:

    interesting in the context of the denial of the true character of the “riots” and the trend towards a more authoritarian regime something from yesterday’s guardian:

    “The courts are handing down prison sentences to convicted rioters that are on average 25% longer than normal, according to an exclusive Guardian analysis of 1,000 riot-related cases dealt with so far by magistrates.
    The data proves for the first time that the handful of high-profile individual cases – including a four-year sentence for inciting disorder on Facebook – are indicative of a more punitive general trend.”
    (Revealed: the full picture of sentences handed down to rioters, by Alan Travis and Simon Rogers
    guardian.co.uk, Thursday 18 August 2011 21.23 BST;


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