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Greece and Italy: Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again?
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2011-11-13 08:44:49
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My last contribution titled The Loss of Utopia and the Search for a New Social Paradigm focused on the loss of vision and imagination within Western civilization; a loss which renders the search for a new social paradigm and the discarding of misguided dehumanizing assumptions almost impossible. I examined there the present crisis of the EU exacerbated by the economic crisis of both Greece and Italy followed by this comment:  “On the surface it appears as a mere financial crisis, but I submit that such is merely a symptom of a deeper cancer eroding the very core of Western civilization and caused by an inability to imagine a radically different social paradigm.” I’d like to follow-up in the light of the new developments in the two above mentioned countries and what Thanos Kalamidas, the editor of this magazine, has articulated in his recent article of 11 November titled Why not Holli Rehn for Greek Prime Minister?

So we now have two brand new prime ministers: Lucas Papademos in Greece and Mario Monti in Italy, two colorless technocrats, the former a banker and the latter a former commissioner in the EU, who, because they are not ideologues are thought to be competent to bring about economic reforms and a semblance of order to the finances of both countries. Indeed math is math and the less politics involved in this process, the better. So goes the conventional wisdom.

But wait a minute, who exactly elected those two technocrats to their post as PMs? Nobody, they were not elected, they were chosen and appointed. By whom? Lo and behold, the choosers behind the curtain so to speak, are those who manipulate the levers of power in the EU: the bankers and the politicians; that is to say, those who will lend the money and dictate the conditions. At this point the question arises: is that what the EU founding fathers envisioned for the future of Europe? Is this a mere union of bankers and politicians accompanied by the circus of soccer games on Sunday to keep the people happy and entertained with bread and games; a prelude to the fall of the Empire? Will the Empire commit suicide in the very places where it began?

Eugenio Montale, an Italian poet and a Nobel prize winner for literature once said that a revolution would be all but impossible in Italy, because on Sunday Italians need to attend soccer games and the revolution would have to be suspended; and indeed he said a mouthful. What about democracy? Has democracy in the West become a mere fancy idealistic but meaningless word? Thanos Kalamidas has already supplied a few pertinent answers to those questions. What I’d like to do is to offer a few additional comments on the origins of the above mentioned cultural cancer eating at the very soul of the EU. For if we do not identity the right diagnosis a prognosis and a new paradigm is inconceivable.

What we see today, on both sides of the Atlantic, is the sad spectacle of politicians and bankers who have formed an unholy alliance, who have contempt for the people they allegedly represent and serve and whose only goal seems to be the obtaining and the retention of power. Where did this alliance originate? Of course, when it comes to obtaining and retention of power one could go back to Machiavelli of “the end justifies the means” fame, or closer to us to Nietzsche of “will to power” fame, but I’d like to focus on the bankers of “the economy is all” fame. Where did this attitude toward life come from? Marx, whose philosophy also operated under an economic paradigm, would identify it in the history of capitalism, beginning with the first bankers (the powerful Medici family in Florence) and the bourgeoisie city states in Renaissance Italy but I think the diagnosis would be more on target if one looked closely at the Calvinistic theology of the Puritans. Of course, there are very few Calvinist bankers left, they are all secular and even non-believers nowadays, but the buttressing theology to their weltanschauung is still there under the ashes of secularism.

Perhaps Calvinist theology can be better understood by contrasting it to another vision and another theology: that of a Saint Francis of Assisi who married Lady Poverty and proclaimed that one can be poor and retain one’s dignity and even be happy once the idol and the fixation on wealth and money has been removed from one’s life. He used to say that he gave up his inheritance as first son of Bernardone, his rich father, when he began to realize that the cause of so much unhappiness in his family was money. His brother who gladly inherited his father’s wealth would point out his begging brother in the streets of Assisi and proclaim to his friends: “there goes my crazy brother.” Need one say more?

The Calvinist theology, on the other hand, has little in common with the life-philosophy of Francis of Assisi; it is one of predestination. If one is pre-destined for hell, nothing will save one. But there are signs of such predestination. One of them is poverty. Poverty ensues when one is lazy and has no virtue. The industrious burger on the other hand is blessed by God with wealth and this is a sign of predilection and even of predestination. Enter the capitalist of the industrial revolution which does not begin in Italy but in the protestant Nord. The capitalist and the modern banker inherit this line of thought by proclaiming that they are the elites whom God loves, they are the “job creators” who dispense prosperity to the people. In other words, they are benefactors and philanthropists to the people. A true religion would remind people of this fact and keep people docile as they await the heavenly rewards while 99% of the pie here on earth is grabbed by the “benefactors” and the job creators. This would go a long way in explaining why Marx calls religion (which religion or theology one asks) the opium of the people. It would also go a long way in explaining the unholy alliance visible nowadays, especially in the US, between protestant evangelists and corrupt politicians. A Herman Cain can be accused of sexual assault on women but he will be forgiven by the evangelists who are also turning the table around and branding women as victimizers of the rich benefactor Herman Cain, and mind you, he is not only rich but a Republican to boot. The extreme right winger Anne Culter has already called the accusations a “high tech lynching” echoing Clarence Thomas’ defense against Anita Hill’s accusations. You get the picture.

The other day I watched a movie which echoes and illustrates the above described unholy alliance between rich CEOs and rich one per centers owning more than 50% of the country’s wealth, and corrupt politicians buttressed by Calvinist Puritanical Protestant theology. Actually before it was a movie it was a novel by Upton Sinclair titled Oil (1927) depicting the Tea Dome Scandal under President Harding’s administration. The novel is a social and political satire whose main characters are James Arnold Ross, Jr. (Bunny) and his father, a self-make oil millionaire.

The movie inspired by Sinclair’s novel is titled There will be Blood (2007) and is directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. It focuses on the father rather than the son: Daniel Plainview. The film follows the rise to power of Daniel Plainview - a charismatic and ruthless oil prospector, driven to succeed by his intense hatred of others and desperate need to see any and all competitors fail. When he learns of oil-rich land in California that can be bought cheaply, he moves his operation there and begins manipulating and exploiting the local landowners into selling him their property. Using his young adopted son H.W. to project the image of a caring family man, Plainview gains the cooperation of almost all the locals with lofty promises to build schools and cultivate the land to make their community flourish. Over time, Plainview's gradual accumulation of wealth and power causes his true self to surface, and he begins to slowly alienate himself from everyone in his life.

The second most important character in the story is Ely Sunday who has a passion for religion and salvation and predestination and eventually becomes an evangelical preacher. He stands in apparent opposition to Plainview’s search for power and wealth, but the opposition is only apparent as the viewers gradually find out. He is in fact Plainview’s nemesis. He is just as enamored of power and wealth and the manipulation and using of people as Plainview who is not taken in by him and in fact kills him at the end of the movie in a fit of rage after he has exposed his hypocrisy. As mentioned, this movie goes a long way in illustrating the unholy alliance between bankers and Calvinist Puritanical theology, in America known as Puritanism, still alive and well beneath a secular culture of bankers and corporate CEOs.

Be that as it may, at the end of these reflections I’ll personally choose Francis of Assisi’s theology any time over and above Calvinist theology. Italians and Greek should also consider opting for it and reject the Calvinistic-Puritan theology-philosophy of wealthy bankers, if they indeed understand their own genuine traditions. Then, I dare say, they will stand a better chance of discovering a new more imaginative and visionary paradigm better able to allow them and the whole of Europe and the whole Western world to preserve what is good in Western civilization and avoid the worst, for as the Roman used to say “corruptio optima pessima,” the corruption of the best is always the worst.

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Prof. R.Griffin, Ph.D.2011-11-16 03:00:29
Sorry to differ.
The earth and all we produce - including money - "are the Lord's."
"The love of money is the root of all evil."
Calvinism, Protestantism's version of Augustine's thought, including the paradoxes of "predestination."
is not inherently a defense of greed and has had its own history of workers and farmers.
As the gospel reminds us, God makes his rain to fall on the just and the unjust, on Job and also on his accusers.

Emanuel Paparella2011-11-17 13:22:49
May I suggest a reading of Max Weber's The Spirit of Capitalism?

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