How, then, to make sense of Greece’s absurdist trauma?
Our public space has been saturated with competing images of Greece over the past month. The Greek people are condemned in certain quarters as lazy, workshy and feckless, while being celebrated in others as tireless participants in a vivid public democracy; denigrated as tax-evading spongers, or lionised as resourceful, communitarian survivors. Meanwhile the Greek government, dominated since January by the left-wing SYRIZA party, is lampooned one minute as a rabble of Marxist provocateurs prepared to ruin their country’s economy to prove an ideological point, and then defended moments later as the only party capable of a serious-minded analysis of the economic mess bequeathed to them by their spendthrift predecessors. And as for the Greek state; well, it’s either a corrupt oligarchy leeching off the tax-payers of more fiscally-responsible Eurozone members, or the site of a cataclysmic takeover by antidemocratic elements in Brussels, Frankfurt and Berlin.
On my Twitter timeline, opinion is polarised between “they shouldn’t have run up all of those debts if they couldn’t afford to pay them back”, and “the Greek economy will never recover without debt cancellation”; between “German taxpayers shouldn’t have to subsidise a failed state” and “Greece forgave Germany’s debts in 1953 so Merkel should return the favour”; between #thisisacoup and #theyhaditcomingtothem.
While I acknowledge that my analysis will be of little interest today to a desperate Greek pensioner or an embattled Bundestag press officer, I humbly offer a perspective from political theory that (a) might help us find melody amidst the present cacophony, and (b) could offer a more ethically satisfactory foundation for future debates over debt. This is the idea of inter-generational justice, or our present obligations to future generations.
I will argue that the negotiations over Greece’s so-called ‘bailout’ and the wider public debates over the crisis have focused too much on the acts of past generations (mainly previous Greek governments) and present generations (Eurozone Finance Ministers and the SYRIZA government) and not enough on the impact of this issue on future generations (of Greeks and of Europeans in general). I’ll conclude with some suggestions about how we might protect the rights of future generations, and at the same time improve the quality of our own public lives.
(rejected titles for this post: Duty and the Greeks; Grights and Gresponsibilities; etc.)
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