The Rage of Days
By Stirling Newberry
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Tuesday 07 June 2005
It came with dawn, a banging of pots. First one, and then another, until there formed an incessant chorus, like the waking of the birds. Wave upon pattering wave. In late 2001, the sound of banging pots came to Buenos Aires, and they sang the song of discontent. The Peso was in crisis, and within weeks it would be unpegged from the dollar, dropping to a fraction of its previous value. Early in the new year, men would be shuffled through the presidency, ending the comic parade with a huge default and a massive economic recession.
What followed was a rage of days, where presidents came and went, and confusion and uncertainty hung over the fate of the nation. In the wake of this collapse, an entirely unexpected political stability was reached. Foreign lenders were told to stand in line behind everyone else, and the standard prescription of "shock therapy" was ignored. Foreign economists would throw tantrums about the "Great Bank Robbery" and wring their hands about the problems of "moral hazard" in lending to developing nations. Desperation and gloom descended on the capital city, and people crowded into milongas to wash away their frustrations, immersed in the rhythms that reached to the roots of tradition: the tango. And in those halls, out of jostling fragments, there emerged a whirling motion, a hive of humanity captured by the swirls of the dance. Argentina debated its future as much in gesture as in words. There was something there, something beyond cogent enunciation, that did not flee with capital, and was not devalued with the peso.
It was in the solace of nation that Argentines eventually were to place their faith, and in the wreckage of the economy they found something that had been lost in the years of chasing the dollar: autonomy. They had taken their country back. And even though unemployment remained high, and poverty curled its fingers around the lives of hundreds of thousands who had not long before known affluence, this was the hard-won profit of their pain.
What was not understood at the time was that Argentina's fiscal crisis was Janus-headed: the end of one era and the beginning of the next. It was the last of the financial crisis moments, in which money fled a local currency for the safety of dollars. But in the aftermath came the rejection of the International Monetary Fund's shock therapy and an assertion that Argentines would go it alone into an uncertain future.
The "No" votes on the proposed European Constitution have been framed in ideological terms, with some blaming "socialism at the end of its tether" and others, an excess of "liberalisme." Instead, it should be seen as part of an ever-increasing torrent, a rejection of internationalism and the international institutions that were architected in the wake of World War II.
It should be seen as of a kind with America's growing unilateralism, expressed in going to war in Iraq. It should be seen as of a kind with the transformation of jobs riots in China into anti-Japanese riots. It should be seen as of a kind with Putin's re-nationalization of Russia's mineral resources. It should be seen of as a piece with the attempt to topple the Liberal Party of Canada by an alliance of the Bloc Quebecois and the Conservative Party - two parties seeking to dismantle the federal nature of Canada and break it into semi-sovereign states. Economic and political nationalism are not separate, but conjoined expressions of a deeper urge, an urge for a tie that binds people and power together by more than appeals to abstract self-interest.
Internationalism is, almost by its nature, a creature of reason and of 0arigor. It is explanatory and discursive. The European Constitution 0aasked to be graded by the pound. What it failed to convey was a sense 0aof the place that new Europe would be. Nor did the public sense what 0arhythms they would be able to dance to. The public of France and 0aHolland could not grasp what it meant, and so, they rejected it. Some 0apart of this was fear, and some part was motivated by a hard-core 0arevulsion toward what was seen as alien - whether Turkish nationality, 0amuslim culture, or English economics. But as much of what is "Non" 0awelled up from the diaphragms of French workers who did not see a 0aplace for themselves in the Europe that was coming to be.
The logic of nation is the logic of emotion. If it is to produce an authentic expression, this logic must go from turbulent and narrowing anger to an expansion of perception and that peculiar clarity that only crisis affords. It is too early to tell whether this moment of rejection is merely a convulsive reflex or the turning of a tide. However, it cannot be dismissed as a political movement of the fringes, because it has flowered in so many different places, in so many different forms. This rejection of internationalism is neither uniformly good nor uniformly bad but is, instead, a force unto itself that obeys a law unto itself. With the rejection of the EU Constitution, Europe enters into its own rage of days, without consensus as to direction or the means to solve its looming economic problems. For the time being, the centrifugal forces have overwhelmed the drive to convergence, and yet neither side can answer the simple question, "what next?"
What causes long-seething passions to break forth is a deep need, a need for people to be able to feel their way through the intricacies of the world, as the gestures of the tango allow men and women to thread their way from introduction to intoxication. If internationalism in its myriad forms is to survive, it must become this infinite dance within which people may find themselves. Otherwise, as has happened so often before, they will leave the larger public squares and crowd into smaller spaces whose shape they can understand, and whose forms are familiar to their hands and feet.
The international order has been very kind to some, opening doors and creating rivers of trade, created by flows of people, goods, and money. But it has not given millions and millions a sense of their place in it, nor has it given them any reason to believe that they even have a place in it. Without an inevitable emotional logic, there is no connection between the words written in documents and the will of the peoples that must enact those words.
And that is the crux of the matter, and only that.