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Book review: Greece resistance and the Future of Europe

Paddy McDaid reviews Philosophy and Resistance in the Crisis: Greece and the Future of Europe (Polity, 2013) by Costas Douzinas

April 8, 2014
5 min read

polity greeceIf history teachers us anything it is that whatever is done to animals will later be applied to humans; humans reduced to animal status. With a large swathe of the European population regarded as PIIGS – Portugal Ireland, Italy, and Spain – this book serves both as a wake-up call and a call to Resistance. As Costas Douzinas warns us, Greece, a victim of ‘capitalist correction’, may be the future of Europe. As a result, the book’s stated aim, to assist the international solidarity with the resisting Greeks takes on a double meaning. Firstly, the desire to assist the Greek resistance and, secondly, a plea to the Left in other countries to realise that their liberation remains bound to Greek liberation. Douzinas offers the reader an excellent entry point to both. Born in Greece he has spent time both inside and outside of the country during the events analysed. His closeness to many of these events makes this book a personal insight, while his critical distance as an academic based in England allows him to contextualise these within the wider sphere of radical political theory and to offer his experiences and readings of the actual political events as a corrective to radical political theory. Philosophy and Resistance in the Crisis is divided into three main parts, each comprised of a number of essays which can be read as stand-alone pieces or together as part of the author’s overall argument. Part I, Crisis, contextualises events in Greece with regard to neoliberalism. Douzinas examines how ‘working people were integrated into capitalist priorities’ and how this has been used to discipline and control all aspects of our lives, producing subjects fit for a neoliberal world. If all of this sounds rather despairing, Part II, Philosophy, offers hope; despite 1989 being heralded as marking the ‘end of history’, 2010 saw an upsurge in protests and uprisings throughout the world. Douzinas attempts to explore the ‘metaphysics of resistance’, explaining its eternal return and its basis in philosophy and law. This grounding establishes the framework for an examination of the development of the Greek resistance. Here the clash between the law of the state and ideas of a higher law, the voice of conscience which has always, nominally, had a role in liberal theory, becomes evident. Drawing upon examples, Douzinas argues that the importance of disobedience is that it marks the start of the process of producing new subjectivities which state ‘we don’t want to be ruled like that’. This insubordination unravels sovereignty’s hold on the people and everything becomes possible. This leads to a review of Marxist and post-Marxist radical philosophy and their attempts to ‘revive the left agenda for a new age’ which establishes the launch pad for what develops, in Part III, into a number of challenging and provocative arguments. If we have been faced with a ‘Left Melancholy’ then, for Douzinas, the task of radical philosophy is to cure this ailment. Resistance, Part III, brings the previous two parts together in an attempt to align theory and practice by learning the lessons of Greece through its key moments. This part of the book may particularly interest activists as the author critiques many of well-known names of the radical philosophical left in more depth. It is clear that the author’s experience of the Greece resistance is that the politics of the street are often ahead of radical political theory, serving as a valuable corrective to such theory. The lessons drawn here will be of interest to anyone who wants to bring about radical change. Whether readers agree with Douzinas’ conclusions and ideas they cannot afford to ignore them. We must at least consider what is to be learned from this study of the development of a radical political subject from the streets to Syriza, a ‘new type’ of party distinct from the old Leninist models, which he argues has been adopted by the multitude as its institutional expression as it begins to roll out a ‘dual track strategy’ – social mobilisation in tandem with parliamentary presence, ‘in and against the state’. While some readers may find the wide range of sources a little heavy going in parts, the arguments of this book are thought-provoking and will challenge many on the ‘traditional’ left. Yet Philosophy and Resistance in the Crisis is to be welcomed as a public political intervention by an academic in an era where many public intellectuals arguably seem to have lost their nerve and abandoned the quest for social justice in favour of EU research grants. As Douzinas grapples with the legacy of events in Greece and the role of the EU, it is incumbent upon us to consider what this means for us and the daily struggles in which we engage.