Genealogy of a Crisis: Europe, Greece, and the Management of the Refugee Population

By Helen Makkas
2016, Vol. 8 No. 07 | pg. 2/2 |

Part II. The Nation-State's Tendency Towards Totalitarianism: National sovereignty, The Refugee Crisis and the Rise of Totalitarianism

In Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt posits that totalitarian movements in interwar Europe arose from the failure of national and international to ensure the protection of refugees and stateless people, which eventually led to violent assertion of sovereign authority.

Nation-states' constitutions were based on the Rights of Man.43 Arendt explains that the appearance of stateless people and minorities in interwar Europe threatened the legitimacy of the nation-state as a humanist, civilized political structure that is premised on the inalienable, universal Rights of Man. The inability of nation states to absorb the stateless proved that human-rights were the property of nation-states and that belonging to a nation-state was the precondition to ensure one's humanity,44 since “only nationals could be citizens and enjoy the full protection of legal institutions.”45

This is what Arendt deems the triumph of the nation over the state, “the transformation of the state from an instrument of the law into an instrument of the nation,”46 something that seems to be a consistent trend in the nation-state structure in times of crisis. In order to fully grasp this, we must first understand that for Arendt, there is a distinction between the nation and the state. The nation is an imagined political community that requires a certain level of cultural homogeneity, whereas the state is a legal and political organization, defined by a constitution and laws, that regulates its citizens in a bounded territory. The link between national consciousness and the principle of is what binds the nation and the state.47

In the absence of law, the stateless, or the undesirables of Europe, were subject to the arbitrary of the police apparatus. The police apparatus's “strength and emancipation from law and government grew in direct proportion to the influx of refugees.”48 “The clearer the proof of [nation-states'] inability to treat stateless people as legal persons and the greater the tension of arbitrary rule by police decree, the more difficult it was for states to resist the temptation to deprive all citizens of legal status and rule them with an omnipotent police.”49 In other words, the repressive and authoritarian climate of the times fostered the conditions for the rise of totalitarianism.

Moreover, “the constitutional inability of European nation-states to guarantee to the stateless” during the interwar period; or rather, I would say, the fact that the formation and consolidation of the nation-state and national borders itself was a violent process of exclusion that left a large number of people stateless without recourse to human rights, exposed the hypocrisy of the political and ideological structures of power. It was precisely this hypocrisy that legitimated “totalitarian movements' cynical claims that no such thing as inalienable human-rights existed.”50 Public cruelty was thus popularly favored against pretentious humanitarianism—a condition that is eerily evokes Donald Trump's current campaign platform.

The “decline of the nation state” as Arendt puts it, is a decline insofar as it is unable to manage the stateless population under the rule of law. To clarify, the stateless are not the reason for the nation-state's decline but the appearance of the stateless exposes the exclusionary violence inherent in the nation-state that is then enacted onto the stateless population. The decline of the nation-state is exemplified by its twofold inward movement: the nation-state first separates itself from the state (the law), and then from its territory (in the form of imperialism).51 This does not mean that national sentiment is curbed; on the contrary, it means that the nation is isolated and enhanced by compensatory power. Arendt uses the word 'decline' schematically as in the waning significance of the nation-state that is exposed through its hypocrisy and betrayal of its own values.

The appearance of extreme nationalist groups that pick up on this hypocrisy and use it to further isolate the nation from the liberal democratic state, are a symptom of the nation-state's decline. Sections of the national polity feel the need to overcompensate for this decline by employing a hyper-nationalist discourse. This protectionism in combination with the rejection of the liberal democracies that have proven hypocritical and incapable of protecting the national community from otherness led to the rise of totalitarian movements which came to replace liberal democracies in the form of Nazism.

How Arendt's Theory Resonates Today

The situation with the stateless population of Europe in the interwar period is akin to the displaced persons and refugees that have arrived in Europe today as a result of US-NATO wars perpetuated in the as well as the colonial and neo-colonial aftermath. The undocumented migrant and 'pending' refugee population in Europe today, represent Europe's historic other.

In her essay on “Indefinite Detention,” Judith Butler explains how emergency policies in a state of exception, such as preemptive and indefinite detention, involve the suspension of law as a new exercise of state sovereignty through the elaboration of administrative bureaucracies.52 The state of exception, is “the moment the executive branch assumes the power of the judiciary,”53 which hints at Arendt's discussion of the nation conquering the state in the name of national interest. This buttressing of the executive branch entails that officials are given the authority to arbitrarily deem suspected national threats, rather than representatives of courts bound by law.

As such, instead of there being limits on executive power, the courts are conceived “explicitly as 'an instrument' used in the service of national security.”54 Wendy Brown explains this as the “ungovernability of law and politics by the powers unleashed by and modern colonization,” such as mass migration and the production of refugees, “and a resort to policing and blockading in the face of this ungovernability.”55 This contributes to the rise of the police state, but more importantly, makes accountability diffuse and impossible to pinpoint the perpetrator of humanitarian crises and disasters.

Arendt says that modern power conditions during the interwar period, i.e imperialism, the pan-movements, are all things that “made national sovereignty a mockery.”56 Likewise, in Walled States, Waning Sovereignty, Wendy Brown suggests that nation-state sovereignty has been undermined by the forces of transnational capital, or as she puts it “neoliberal rationality which […] displaces legal and political principles with market criteria,” supranational economic and governance institutions like the IMF and the WTO, and finally, “international assertions of law, rights and authority,” such as the ECHR the UN and others.57

The effect of waning sovereignty is a kind of nostalgia for a lost nation with strict boundaries. The popular desire for “performances” of national sovereignty via the erection of walls and detention camps generate a “'reassuring world picture' in a time [that is] increasingly lacking the horizons, containment, and security that humans have historically required for social and psychic integration and for political membership.”58

Today, the combination of waning national sovereignty caused by the forces of global capital and supranational institutions combined with the failure of international and supranational institutions (EU and governing bodies) to ensure the human-rights that European political institutions proclaim to hold so dear, provides cynics with evidence of the EU's 'hopeless idealism' and political hypocrisy.59 Fascist leaders become popular because the of rights and political correctness is stripped from their speech, unveiling brute power cleansed of humanistic posturing.

To give an example, the Greek fascist party, the Golden Dawn,60 that has become very popular in the past five years running on an anti-immigrant platform, recently published an article entitled, “The rise of pseudo-humanism,” in which they compare their “genuine” demonstration of humanism toward impoverished Greeks with the “fashionable” humanist stance toward immigrants and refugees that Europe and the leftist government Syriza have taken on for “publicity reasons.”61 As Arendt observed “the language of the mob [referring to the Nazis] was only the language of public opinion cleansed of hypocrisy and restraint.”62 It is this aura of authenticity and forthrightness that the Golden Dawn attempts to give off by denouncing humanitarianism.

The cruel irony lies in that the EU was created as an a means of preventing the extreme that triggered WWII, and yet today, the EU seems to be one of the main forces that is producing it. In the past five years we have seen a resurgence of extreme nationalism in various EU member-states, and all of these extreme nationalist parties are Euro-skeptic and anti-immigrant. Xenophobia began to increase after the 2008 financial crisis, and was later exacerbated by the massive influx of refugees. The rise of xenophobic sentiment is related to EU policies regarding both the economic and refugee crises. The EU's 'moralizing' pressure on Greek sovereignty, in all its hypocrisy, is in fact directly tied to the rise of right-wing reactionism and fascist parties with anti-immigrant, anti-EU agendas like the Golden Dawn.

After the Wall Street Crash, the EU dealt with the debt crises that the crash precipitated in Southern Europe by imposing austerity measures, designed by neoliberal financial institutions. Not only did austerity measures have disastrous effects on Greece, they were also an obvious attack on national sovereignty. And this is the main problem with the EU: It is so much at the service of transnational capital embodied by technocrats, and financial institutions like the IMF and the ECB, that undermining the sovereignty of weaker states like Greece, becomes an inevitable outcome. In this way, the EU is shooting itself in the foot because the more it continues to undermine the political and economic sovereignty of member-states the more racist, Euro-skeptic, nationalist parties will rise, exacerbating the refugee crisis and pushing for the dissolution of the EU altogether.


Endnotes

1.) "Facts and Figures on Refugees." UNHCR: The UN Refugee Agency. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2016.

2.) "Mediterranean Migrant Deaths Reach 374; Arrivals in Greece Top 68,000 in 2016." International Organization for Migration (IOM). 05 Feb. 2016. Web.

3.) Foucault, Michel. "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History." Ed. Paul Rabinow. The Foucault Reader. New York: Pantheon, 1977 Page 78-79.

4.) Ibid. Page 80

5.) Aidi, Hishaam D. "The Interference of Al-Andalus: Spain, and the West." Social Text 24.2 (2006): Print. Page 69

6.) Gelvin, James L. The Modern Middle East: A History. 4th ed.: Oxford UP, 2005. Print. Page 52-53

7.) Graham, David A. "How Greece Became European." The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 7 July 2015. Web.

8.) According to the Ancient model Greek was a result of colonization by the Egyptians and the Phoenicians, and according to the Aryan model, Greece was invaded by the north, and Greek civilization is seen as the result of a mixture of Indo-European speaking Hellenes and their indigenous subjects.

9.) Bernal, Martin. "The Fabrication of Ancient Greece 1785-1985." Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization. Vol. 1. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1987. Page 8

10.) Ibid.

11.) Ibid. Page 29

12.) Park, Peter K. J. Africa, Asia, and the History of Philosophy: Racism in the Formation of the Philosophical Canon, 1780-1830. Albany: State U of New York, 2013.

13.) British intellectual, Lord Byron, wrote poems about Greece in which he evoked Ancient Greek symbolism for the purpose of promoting a Greek independence movement. He writes “I dream'd that Greece might still be free; for standing on a Persians' grave, I could not deem myself a slave.” also played a significance role in the construction of Islam as enemy and the designation of Greece as European.

14.) Gourgouris, Stathis. Dreams Nation: Enlightenment, Colonization and the Institution of Modern Greece. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1996. Print. Page 72

15.) Greece has defaulted on its external sovereign debt obligations six times in the modern era: 1826, 1843, 1860, 1894, 1932. Greece's continuous state of dependency on European loans and bailouts is exemplified by the current debt crisis.

16.) The Troika is comprised of the IMF, European Central Bank (ECB) and the EU. The Troika offered Greece a bailout loan multiple times since 2011 on the condition of the implementation of unpopular Austerity measures.

17.) Gourgouris, Stathis. Dreams Nation: Enlightenment, Colonization and the Institution of Modern Greece. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1996. Print. Page 143

18.) Koundoura, Maria. The Greek Idea: The Formation of National and Transnational Identities. New York: I.B. Tauris, 2007. Page 5

19.) Cabot, Heath. "European Moral Geographies." On the Doorstep of Europe: Asylum and Citizenship in Greece. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania, 2014. Print. Page 27

20.) “The process of producing a history external to the historical peoples and place […] ultimately makes the myth of the Greeks an Orientalist practice.”: Fourlas George. “The Invention of the Greeks and Colonization.” 2016. Page 4

21.) Aidi, Hishaam D. "The Interference of Al-Andalus: Spain, Islam and the West." Social Text 24.2 (2006): Print. Page 68

22.) Koundoura, Maria. The Greek Idea: The Formation of National and Transnational Identities. New York: I.B. Tauris, 2007. Page 6

23.) Graham, David A. "How Greece Became European." The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 7 July 2015. Web.

24.) The increased velocity of trade due to the Spanish conquest of the Americas (a) led to inflation in Eurasia and (b) shifted the gravity of world trade westward and the thus importance of the Atlantic economy surpassed the importance of the Mediterranean economy: Gelvin, James L. The Modern Middle East: A History: Pages 33-43

25.) Gourgouris, Stathis. Dreams Nation: Enlightenment, Colonization and the Institution of Modern Greece. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1996. Print. Page 56

26.) Ibid. Page 65

27.) Ibid. Page 66

28.) The “End of History” is an essay by Francis Fukuyama in which he argues that the end of the and prevalence of Western capitalist nation-states signal the endpoint of humanity's sociocultural and political evolution; that utopia has been reached.

29.) Ibid. Page 69: Wallerstein writes: “In this respect, clientelism in Greece...is not a remnant of Ottoman social relations but a 'modern' condition instituted along with the influx of a capitalist mode of social relations in an adamantly pre-capitalist context” (as is the case with all colonial societies).

30.) Aidi, Hishaam D. "The Interference of Al-Andalus: Spain, Islam and the West." Social Text 24.2 (2006).

31.) The inferiority complex that comes from not being fully qualified as a western, manifests in different ways according the various ideological standpoints that have polarized Greek society into those assuming the stance of the first world, and those resenting it.

32.) Interview with Stathis Gourgouris, “The Nation's Schizophrenia”: "Η Εθνική Σχιζοφρένεια." ΤΟ ΒΗΜΑ: 27 Jan. 2008.

33.) As I discuss in chapter 2, The EU's border control policy contradicts the EU's asylum policy: Cabot, Heath. "European Moral Geographies." On the Doorstep of Europe: Asylum and Citizenship in Greece.: Page 26

34.) Non-Refoulement is a principle of outlined in the Geneva Convention on the Rights of Refugees. It forbids nation-states from returning a victim of persecution to the country where they were persecuted.

35.) Taylor, Paul, and Alastair MacDonald. "EU Presses Greece over Migrants, weighs Schengen Threat." Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 02 Dec. 2015. Web.

36.) The alarmist discourse on Greece turning into an entry point for Jihadist terrorists “was manifest in various guises in news broadcasts and newspapers the days following the [Paris Attacks].” The passport ended up being fake, “It could be said that this was a perfect partnership between jihadism and European far-right, with Syrian refugees as the target: a “Folie à deux,” whereby one half fiercely rages against the other, but in fact the two complement each other.”: Papadatos-Anagnostopoulos, Dimosthenis. "Ahmad Al-Mohammad. Is Greece an Entry Point for Jihadists into Europe?" Analyze Greece: News and Left Politics. 21 Nov. 2015. Web.

37.) I discuss this topic at length in chapter 3

38.) The Dublin Regulation is a European law that determines the first EU country of entry responsible to examine an asylum application. Since the suspension of the Dublin Regulation however, responsibility has become even more diffuse because Greece has been absolved of its political responsibility to ensure asylum.

39.) B., Richard. "Dublin Is Over: The Rise of Europe's New Migrant Prisons." OpenDemocracy. 11 Oct. 2015. Web.

40.) Cabot, Heath. "European Moral Geographies." On the Doorstep of Europe: Asylum and Citizenship in Greece. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania, 2014. Print. Page 25

41.) In January 2011 the European Court of Human rights in the M.S.S v Belgium and Greece case, judged that Greece violated the European Convention on Human Rights with regards to Greece's asylum system and specifically the conditions under which detainees were held in detention camps

42.) Cabot, Heath. "European Moral Geographies." On the Doorstep of Europe: Asylum and Citizenship in Greece. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania, 2014. Print. Page 25

43.) The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789) is a fundamental document of the French influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment. It included the 'natural right' doctrine, the human rights were universal, and that citizens of a nation were protected equally by law.

44.) This inability of nation states to provide human-rights to stateless and minorities is exemplified by the following quote: “The representatives of the great nations knew only too well that minorities within nation-states must sooner or later be either assimilated or liquidated. And it did not matter whether they were moved by humanitarian considerations to protect splinter nationalities from persecution […] they were neither willing nor able to overthrow the laws by which nation-states exist.” Arendt, Hannah. "The Decline of the Nation State and the End of the Rights of Man." The Origins of Totalitarianism. Cleveland: World, 1951. Print. Meridian Books. Page 273

45.) Ibid. Page 275

46.) Ibid.

47.) Carens, Joseph. "Refugees." The of Immigration. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2013. Page 65

48.) Arendt, Hannah. "The Decline of the Nation State and the End of the Rights of Man." Page 287

49.) Ibid. Page 290

50.) Ibid. Page 269

51.) Bot, Michiel. "The Nation Principle." Hannah Arendt Center: Bard College. Nov. 2014. Web.

52.) Butler, Judith. "Indefinite Detention." Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. New York: Verso, 2006. Print. Page 51

53.) Ibid. Page 54

54.) Ibid. Page 95

55.) Brown, Wendy. "Waning Sovereignty, Walled Democracy." Walled States, Waning Sovereignty. New York: Zone, 2010. Print. Page 24

56.) Arendt, Hannah. "The Decline of the Nation State and the End of the Rights of Man." The Origins of Totalitarianism. Cleveland: World, 1951. Print. Meridian Books. Page 269

57.) Brown, Wendy. "Waning Sovereignty, Walled Democracy." Walled States, Waning Sovereignty. New York: Zone, 2010. Print. Page 22

58.) Ibid. Page 26

59.) “the very phrase 'human rights' became for all concerned—victims, persecutors, and onlookers alike—the evidence of hopeless idealism or fumbling feeble minded hypocrisy.” : Arendt, Hannah. "The Decline of the Nation State and the End of the Rights of Man." The Origins of Totalitarianism. Cleveland: World, 1951. Print. Meridian Books. Page 269

60.) Interestingly enough, the Golden Dawn appropriates Ancient Greek symbolism in its propaganda (I.e evoking Spartan warriors combatting the 'barbarian' Persians). As George Fourlas points out, “the Golden Dawn is a direct byproduct of the Aryanization of the Greek [genesis] myth.” [18]: Fourlas, George. “The Invention of the Greeks and Colonization.”

61.) "Η Άνοδος του...Ψευτο-ανθρωπισμού." Χρυσή Αυγη (Golden Dawn Website). N.p., 11 Mar. 2016. Web.

62.) Arendt, Hannah. "The Decline of the Nation State and the End of the Rights of Man." The Origins of Totalitarianism. Cleveland: World, 1951. Print. Meridian Books. Page 275

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