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Bernard-Henri Lévy Headshot

The Pharmacy of Europe

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Is the European crisis the cause of the current financial crisis or the consequence?

In a sense, yes, perhaps it's the cause. Wasn't the Greek crisis the second detonator, after the subprime affair of 2008, the second phase of the combustion engine, the second twist of the downward spiral, the second virus -- European, this time -- of what we call "the" crisis? And when we say Greece, aren't we saying, unfortunately, a faulty entry into the European Community, a lack of criteria of convergence that should have governed that entry, a failure of all the radar, all the warning systems or, to paraphrase Walter Benjamin, of all the fire alarms Europe was equipped with and that, in this instance, did not function?

It's out of the question, naturally, to go to the extremes Mssrs Cameron and Obama have risked. Out of the question to interpret the euro zone's flaws of governance as the main threat pressing upon the global economy. But it is obvious that these failures of governance have played a role whereby, beyond the problem of Greece, the process of expansion that was and remains one of the loveliest utopias of our generation was poorly conducted, has produced perverse effects, and is contributing to the current malaise of civilization.

In another sense, of course, it's the consequence. It is easy to observe how the plummeting of the financial markets, the deregulation of the western banking system, the dead loss of wealth that ensued (216 billion euros as of Monday, October 3rd, for just the blue chip stocks of the French CAC 40), and speculation are in the process of accelerating the degradation, not only of Greece, but of Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy. And one begins to see how this chain reaction of degradation could render not yet plausible, but conceivable the catastrophe scenarios considered only yesterday as figments of political fiction or sovereignist wild hares.

The euro zone breaking up? A transition to a two-speed euro? A return to patriotic egotism? Retreating to the private domain of short-term, ill-thought-out national interests? Fortunately, it hasn't come to that. Up until now, the Franco-German couple has worked hard to ward off the temptation of the worst. But that this worst could be considered, that it figures, as a hypothesis, as an indicator of our times, that a number of individuals of good sense are even beginning to get used to the idea and simulating it -- all that says that henceforth nothing is impossible, including the slow death of this great European project we thought so deeply inscribed in an abstract and lazy "sense of history" that, ultimately, we neglected to develop its real, concrete, painstaking inscription upon the historical authenticity of the century.

But the truth is, especially, that, above cause or consequence, Europe should be the solution. The real truth is that to stay the course of Europe, not give an inch of what has been acquired and even set the machine in motion to further -- not lessen -- European integration and federalism is the sole chance we have to break the disastrous spiral, to keep from falling more and more deeply into deregulation and to prevent Europe from becoming, in any case, the depression zone of a world economy whose growth would no longer be led by the emerging economies of Asia and South American as well as, of course, by a United States that has recovered.

Concretely? This means not only a consented effort of solidarity but one of active support on the part of the wealthiest countries. (Greece's exit from the euro zone would be for all, as we must never tire of repeating, a plunge into the unknown of literally incalculable systemic effects.) It means a rigorous effort, no longer reluctantly accepted under constraint and duress, on the part of the most affected countries, one they take upon themselves, that is explained and accompanied by the mindset that must be part of it. (What good is an austerity plan unless it entails an authentic program to combat the negative spirit of cheating that has led to the edge of the abyss?)

And on the part of all, this harmonization of national rules, a convergence of fiscal and budgetary policies, this institution of a common economic government, even of a European Ministry of Finance, this securitization, as well, of the continental debt through oft-mentioned eurobonds -- in short, this new relinquishing of sovereignty without which chaos will be added to collapse and recession to chaos. (One dreams of a Europe where the bankruptcy of a member State would have no greater and no lesser consequences than California's failure to meet its financial obligations would to the United States.)

That Europe is both the name of what ails us and its remedy, that it is among the origins of the crisis and the means of surmounting it should come as no surprise to those who remember the lessons of our masters. At the origins of Europe, precisely in this Greece that was its cradle before becoming its sick man, didn't the same word, the same pharmakon signify both poison and its antidote, the lesion and its treatment, Socrates's hemlock and the happy means of accession to both eternal life and to the Idea, the bad drug and the beneficial potion? Well, it's the same thing today, Europe: the name of a temporary failure and, more than ever, of a hope for the future.