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New Left Review 73, January-February 2012


What longer-term political dynamics underlie the current dramas of the Eurozone? Notoriously, they pose stiff analytic problems, requiring attention both to the ongoing development of a supranational polity with no real precedent and to the varied trajectories of the—still—intractably national states it overarches. One attempt in this field has been Perry Anderson’s New Old World, which follows a comparative survey of pre-capitalist Europe in two much earlier works, Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism and Lineages of the Absolutist State, with reflections on the continent at a high point of bourgeois rule, on the eve of the crisis that now grips the EU. To broaden debate on the nature of the institutional tensions within the Union, and the historical background to them, we publish below a three-part critical symposium on the book. Its contributors include the American Europeanist Philippe Schmitter, emeritus in Florence; the French jurist Alain Supiot, principal author of Beyond Employment (1999), commissioned by the EU to enquire into labour-law reform; and the German political scientist Jan-Werner Müller, who has written leading studies of the intellectual scene in his country. The symposium is followed by a reply from Anderson and a self-standing essay by Wolfgang Streeck, situating the turbulence of the Eurozone within the deeper contradictions of democratic capitalism that he analysed in NLR 71. The issues raised in these different interventions—the institutional incoherence of the Union; the economic disparities between its northern and southern tiers; the political gulf between its elites and popular classes; the sub-imperial pretensions of its regional policies—will continue to haunt the new Europe, whether the immediate emergencies of its monetary union are met or not. The zone that only yesterday was congratulating itself on combining prosperity, civility and democracy in a synthesis no other region on earth could match, has become a danger to the global stability of capital, watched not with envy but anxiety by its partners and rivals in the rule of the planet.

alain supiot


Since the sixteenth century, the New World has been the name given by Europeans to the continents discovered on the western route to the Indies; ‘christened’ after one of their number, Amerigo Vespucci, shortly before they exterminated its indigenous population and imported vast numbers of African slaves to cultivate the land. But if the New World was in some ways, therefore, a projection of the Old, it has always claimed to be liberated from the weight of the latter’s history and traditions. Emancipated from the past and entirely focused on the future, the United States of America in particular appears to have a special talent for suppressing the past, which never fails to betray itself in the most ingenuous way—for example, by using the Hiroshima epithet of ‘ground zero’ for the target of the 9/11 attacks; thus making America’s earlier victims in Japan disappear for a second time, so to speak.

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Alain Supiot, ‘Under Eastern Eyes’, NLR 73: £3

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