For a Revival of Philhellenism

11/27/2012 02:14 pm ET | Updated Jan 27, 2013

Poor Greece!

There was a time, at the beginning of the 19th century, when all that Europe counted as artists, poets, and great thinkers, from Chateaubriand to Byron in Missolonghi, from Berlioz and Delacroix and Pushkin to the young Victor Hugo, rushed to the aid of Greece, actively campaigning for her liberty in what was known as the philhellenic movement.

Today, we are far from all that.

And everything is happening as though, while the Greeks must take up another battle against another form of decadence and subjection, the heirs of these great Europeans can find nothing better to do than to scold them, stigmatize them, knock them down to rock bottom and, from stringent program imposed upon them to austerity plan they are reduced to registering and applying, to rob them of this very principle of sovereignty they once invented.

In substance, that is what I came to remind some six hundred young and not so young people who came to listen to Jean-Marie Colombani and me speak, in principle about Libya, but rapidly, really, of Greece, at the Megaron Athens, the gigantic cultural center at the heart of the city, last Wednesday.

Shame on your carefree if not downright irresponsible political class that, for decades, and with your complicity, has wallowed in clientelism and then used the euro as a machine to create fictitious wealth and guaranteed income, I said.

Shame on this neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn, which, according to the polls, is poised to win over 10 to 15 percent of your electorate and whose existence with its blatant racism, its scarcely disguised swastika and its Nazi salute, its taste for violence, its cult of blood and soil, its negationist-leaning antisemitism, its promotion of the birth rate, is like spitting in the face of the Greece of Plato and Demosthenes or those who resisted the dictatorship of the colonels.

But shame as well on this bankocrat and heartless Europe that administers its remedies like a dose of hemlock and which is in the process of inventing, in the birthplace of democracy and its values, a political -- or rather anti-political -- model that has as yet no name but that some here do not hesitate to qualify as a regime of "colonization by debt."

What if, as is incessantly threatened, Greece ultimately ends up pulling out of Europe?

Everyone can always get out of everything, naturally.

The Greeks themselves, blinded by bad shepherds or by their own populist passion, can decide to take this headlong escape.

Moreover, a third of the country, which has returned to an economy of subsistence and barter, has, in actual fact, already left the euro.

But should the movement expand, pursuing to its end this insane logic whereby one sometimes has the feeling that the cure is scarcely less worse than the malady, should Greece actually become this Iphigenia sacrificed on the altar of universally revered Austerity, brooking no nuance, like a new and terrible idol, if the conjuncture of demagoguery on the inside and arrogance on the outside, of Germanophobia on the one hand and technocratic smugness on the other is such that Greece ends up, in a word, returning to the drachma -- it will be, not only for the Greeks, but for the world and, in any case, for Europe, not an alleviation but a tragic aggravation of the crisis.

For, what is Europe, basically?

It is an idea before it is a market.

More precisely, it is only a market because it is, first of all, an idea.

And it is, this idea, a knot of the three threads of the mind of Rome, of Jerusalem, and of Athens.

If one of these three threads is cut, it is the soul of Europe that will be lost.

If we should come to lack one of these three elements, Europe as a civilization and a culture will collapse.

We have seen the cost of the attempt to amputate its Jewish element; we know what the plan (which was also, on a smaller scale, that of Nazi paganism) to obstruct its Roman road nearly cost. Well, relatively speaking, and without comparing the incomparable, to cut off the Greek spring, to separate us from this Greek dawn that saw the birth of some of the founding principles of our collective republican existence could well be the new plan of those whom Nietzsche already called the bad Europeans. And the disaster that would follow would be not only an economic but a moral one, of which the current crisis would prove a mere foretaste.

We can turn the problem this way and that.

One does not play with symbols nor, even less, with the memory of peoples.

With its 3 percent of the European GDP, Greece is more essential to Europe than some of the countries dictating its law.

A word to the wise is sufficient: Only accountants and amnesiacs can ignore this truth.