The meta ta politika of Europe

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Fellow citizen Ralf Grahn (@RalfGrahn) recently suggested that European bloggers should consider producing an article under the twitter hashtag #MyEurope, in light of the commemoration of Europe Day, on the 9th of May. The idea is to invite the authors to publicize their perhaps idealized conception of Europe, of its politics in their broader sense, so as to participate in—and enrich the—public debate on the present and the future of the European Union (or of the Euro Area) and, most importantly, to provide a renewed impetus to the eurologosphere, the aggregation of all European blogs or “eurologs”, to the (re-)consideration and (re-)examination of the immediate issues at hand as well as the prospects for Europe in the years ahead.

As I obviously endorse Ralf’s initiative, I ought to inform the reader that in this modest contribution of mine to the general discussion, I shall expound on the meta ta politika, the “metapolitics”, of Europe qua abstraction and of Europe qua political entity. Given the vastness of the topic, of discussing “Europe” from one’s vantage point, I have taken the liberty to blithely strip away the superficialities of daily politics, especially the arid controversies underpinning them, so as to opt for delving into first politics; the realm where one can roam freely across the fields of thought, whose provinces know no confines and where the thinker is not encumbered by any presupposed terminus to inquiry; a terminus which in this context is customarily manifested in a kind of self-restrained politics, of partisanship or of a quasi-mystical duty to remain subservient to some chimerical incorporeality, or indeed of a pseudo-ethical obligation to conformity with an amalgamation of prejudices and unexamined shibboleths, whose adherence to, effectively renders one hetero-determined to one’s own political presence, in the temporal-institutional or historical-cultural context.

Outlines of first politics

Politics concerns the rational determination and allocation of power among or within a collective of human beings; “rational” not in the sense of seeking marginal efficiency gains, but in that it specifies and particularizes means and functions to the attainment of ends, however vague and elusive those may be. This is to say that politics stands in contrast to the jungle method as the distribution of power is no longer—or not necessarily—determined by brute force, or the preponderance of sheer numbers, but by the application of a preconceived model of primary and secondary, implicit or explicit rules, upon which other imaginary institutions and roles are compounded. Such power-determination-power-allocation we may term isxys.

The deviation from the instinctive presence starts with first politics, with the postulation of the “who” and the “what” in the human collective, providing the fundament for the establishment of the arbitrary modalities of isxys, together with their function(s) and end(s), whose created-and-creating differentiation in spatio-temporal and political-institutional terms is the universal midpoint of polity in the abstract.

From the subject-object dichotomy in this primary institution of society, one may single out the first conception of the polity, of the “what”, upon which other notions, presumptions and inter-subjective and context-specific realities are fastened upon in a concentric fashion; or depending on the environing differentiated-and-differentiating factors, as structured predispositions, architectures of the imaginary world, or of the lifeworld. Similarly, the identification of the “who” is the determinant to the political system, for it brings to the theater of the spatio-temporal the subject that exercises and defines power, be it the phantasmagorized notion of a collective ontology, of a spectralized otherness, or of an indivisible singularity. The subject of politics is not monolithic though, as it often appears in a multi-layered or multi-faceted form, as a compound of different “whos” which are essentially antithetical to one another, yet which are harmoniously blended together, courtesy of the varying functions of power and the roles thereof.

The politevma, as the derivative of the subject-object conception of first politics, encompasses the primary and secondary rules of the society, as representing a system, a rational taxonomy of imaginary roles and functions which realize isxys, in ways that are necessarily variable, as dependent upon the originary conception of the “who” and “what”. The concretization of imaginary institutions, the clear delineation of the first politics, is either conducted with the introduction of hypostesized perceptions exerting an hetero-instituting influence, that can often be manipulated by certain subjects, but which necessarily presents an arbitrary, though robust boundary; or by the application of logical tools that stipulate roles, functions and ends. The former characterizes a politevma where power legitimation stems from otherness, from an unreachable exteriority to society, which renders the “who” and “what” as pre-determined and which, a fortiriori, preempts or deters any differentiating impulse from within the rigid limits of the hetero-instituting element. Whereas the latter, places the source of isxys in an interiority, thus making power legitimation a matter of auto-institution, or in other words, rendering it susceptible to constant change in form and substance.

Common to these is nomos as the instrument that makes institution possible. In an heteronomous politevma, nomos is what the exteriority supposedly instructs, such as in a theocracy, where the word of God(s) is the single or the predominant factor of isxys. In contradistinction, the autonomous politevma realizes nomos as a method of internal change in isxys, since that polity has the limited or full capacity to question and redefine the primary and secondary rules, and moreover, to even reconsider its first politics, its originary subject-object dichotomy. Nomos occurs in the context of second politics or just “politics” (as contrasted to first politics = metapolitics), the process that brings together the subjects of isxys in the polity. Second politics—politics—are the “how” of a polity and come in a variety of forms such as authoritarian or libertarian, conservative or reformulative. Some of the names of such secondary politics, whose specifics I shall not consider in this article, are tyranny, oligarchy, democracy, ochlocracy, anarchy, though it certainly is the empirical case that these never really appear in a pure form, but in numerous combinations and permutations, as is of course the potentially constant variability of first politics.

Antinomies in the institution of Europe

What practically begs to be examined, following this mere introduction to the meta ta politika, is the politics of modern day Europe. The subject in this context is human qua singularity as the most magnificent product of the Enlightenment, as the hypokeimenon of first politics, whereas the object is the polity as being the collective of such individuals; while liberal values and democracy, are the politevma and the set of primary and secondary rules placed upon the subject-object binary. The impressive antinomy of modern Europe exists in the fact that while the subject is defined as a singularity, which enjoys its own rights by virtue of its decontextualized existence, there still exists, as a remnant of age-old institutions a tissue of incorporealities that essentially compete with the subject in gaining primacy to isxys, those being the phantomalized ontologies of nation, terra patria (fatherland), society and state, all in their mystical sense as having the status of indivisibility in their own accord, i.e. as if they were “individuals”. This ought not to come as an oddity, for philosophical modernity is replete with theories that attribute the values of the Enlightenment’s exalted “human” to these other incorporealities, such as Hegel’s claim of the state being the ultimate incarnation of morality, the historical and class determinism of Marx, nationalism as preservation and evolution of the heteronomic element of theocracy and so on.

This peculiar co-existence of the subjects of politics is evident in the current construction of the European Union, with its numerous layers of power, their interconnections and interrelations. The individual in the EU is a citizen, in the legal sense, of two different sources of legality, the national and the supranational. Sovereignty as the exercise of the legal means to coercion, remains a nation-state privilege, even though the confederal edifice of the EU in general or of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) in particular, has a considerable degree of indirect or de facto state sovereignty. A similar tension exists with the tissue of otherwise meaningless predispositions inherent in “identity”, for there too the individual is more than just a national unit, in the sense of belonging to the whole of the nation qua ontology; but rather is also a member of a broader collective, of “Europe” that still is understood as something cosmopolitan and mundane, that has yet to be branded with the patina of mysticism, as is the case with the “nation”, though this will clearly happen if European meta-nationalists have their way in imposing upon all of us their understanding of what is to be European.

Concomitant with this assemblage of core contradictions is the equally dubious symbiosis of both auto- and hetero- nomic elements in second politics; for whilst Europeans adhere to democracy as the politevma of self-determination and self-institution, which allows for the impetus to change to be engendered from within, they nonetheless cling on to the meta-ethics of the exteriorities of such secular superhuman entities as the nation, the state and the terra patria. Characteristic of such a paradox in our era, is the ongoing and persistent existence of state’s rights as effectively constituting a separate corpus of law from the one applying to individual human(s) in the political, social, economic and moral spheres.

The European Union fosters this suboptimal combination of imaginaries, whose generative locus is distinct from one another, at a number of levels, from the local to the European, as is evidently the case after having proceeded with an investigation of its legal-institutional morphology, where some portion of isxys is shaped by individuals and their representatives, another part by unelected technocratic overlords and still an additional one by secretive interests of otherwise democratic states (“democratic” in a loose sense).

A mere overview of some of the main EU institutions can illustrate this claim, with the European Parliament being the closest entity to autonomy, the Commission standing as the confederal conclave of technocrats, the Council of the European Union as the platform where those ambiguous “national interests” are discussed by appointed “permanent representations” at COREPER I and II or by still appointed ministers of national governments, and lastly the European Council or its unofficial duplicate—the Eurogroup—as the forum for inter-governmental deliberations, couched in terms of opaque statist (national) interests—and let us, for the sake of simplicity, not introduce in this critical examination the European Central Bank and the numerous European agencies, bodies and quangos.

Against this backdrop, the citizen who presumably is the subject of politics, autonomous politics in this case, at least—or only—in principle, is in effect nothing but a trifle, a minor and often indirect participant in isxys. A clear reflection of this truth in its conceptual form can be found in this slightly naive concoction of the “European year of citizens” where “citizens” and “civil society” are only allowed to be “involved” in some aspects of policies that affect their lives, within the rigid confines of a hierarchical complexity; or moreover, can be identified as the overriding perception that permeates and penetrates the kind of bureaucratic palaver that alludes to a “citizens pillar” to be appended to the EU architecture, which is to say, the erection of a pitiful scaffold to further support the tower of heteronomy that is the EU in its present form.

In this regard, the European Union encompasses and incorporates all of the philosophical contradictions and their inferences that have been passed on to us and which continue to develop further in directions that can lead to both clarity and confusion, or fusion and fission of theories and (meta-)narratives of the truth and the desirable in the inter-subjective world. The metapolitical challenge that currently arises is the termination of the tension between autonomy and heteronomy, the grounding of the former as the central element of the politevma in Europe and the consequent transition from the confederal and heteronomous European Union, to the European organic democracy where isxys is equally distributed among all individuals. Finally, to connect all of the above to the very first part of this article, I must say to any reader who has reached this line, that a change in metapolitics is what I want in #MyEurope. Whether this will happen or not depends on shifts and new impulses in the realms of both theorisis and praxis.

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Protesilaos Stavrou

EU policy analyst. Philosopher. Web developer.
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