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2004-06-03

Sloterdijk's bubbles in Der Falter 

Der Falter has an interview with philosopher Peter Sloterdijk [DE]. Sloterdijk makes three independent, highly interesting arguments there:

1. He criticises the Hardt and Negri 'Empire'-theory, comparing it unfavourably to Dostojewskij's notion of the 'crystal palace':
The big advantage of the crystal palace metaphor is signalled already by the name. Here one is dealing with a building which creates an enormous difference between inside and outside. On the other hand, the concept 'empire' suggests that everything is already covered by the system. On closer inspection on realises that Negri is professing to a mysticism of being opposed, which needs the Whole as opponent - in the way in which Christ once needed the world as backdrop for his flight from the world. I read this as a requiem for left radicalism.
2. Sloterdijk claims that all politics in continental Europe is and will remain social-democratic. The positions of the welfare state are just too deeply entrenched everywhere in continental Europe, and the idea of welfare as a tool to keep the masses in the mood for ever increasing consumption is not challengeable.

I believe there is a core of truth in this observation. Listening to people's conversations in public places over the holiday weekend, it is amazing how frequently the conversation topic seems to be access to this or that welfare scheme, how this or that person manages to get so and so many extra euros from the state by making this or that claim. Economic ambition is geared towards access to welfare, even in the middle classes who don't seem to be in desparate need of money, and even for welfare schemes that provide insignificantly small monthly payouts. In this sense, the Austrian political system really seems to be soaked with social-democracy. However, the cultural mood seems to be quite different in the emerging economies of Europe - an interesting and potentially productive tension.

Sloterdijk also mentions the crisis of this continental system, which continues to drop more and more people at the bottom of the welfare scale into poverty, as they are no longer supported due to expiring unemployment benefits etc.

3. Sloterdijk believes that the European Union now fills its historically grown boundaries, and that further extension might be "fatal", because the new members alone will have large need for financial transfer in the coming years that they will not be willing to share, say, with Turkey.

This argument seems weak to me. Once Slovenia is in, why should Croatia stay out? Once Croatia is in, why should Bosnia and Herzegovina stay out? And so on. Every final border drawn at the 'periphery' would be unjust.


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