Emily Esfahani Smith profiles Victor Davis Hanson, who shakes his finger at the profligate Greeks and praises the generous and “prudent” Germans:
“What’s happening in Greece is fascinating. The Greeks started rioting because they couldn’t borrow more money from Germany to fund their incredible public payrolls, lavish pensions, and other goodies.” The Greeks, Hanson argues, were essentially acting like spoiled children; they should have been writing thank you cards to their fiscally prudent northern neighbors who facilitated their EU entry, but they instead took to the streets in violent protest, invoking images of the Germans as Nazis.
The suggestion that Greeks should thank Germans for entry into the Eurozone astounds. Adopting the Euro was a disaster for Greeks, of course, one that Germans permitted for reasons that were very much self-serving: Germany’s export-driven economy relies on consumers in the European south, and so the Germans fueled their own growth by loaning money to their customers. Whatever this was, it was no favor.
Hanson’s mistake is in viewing the Euro crisis first of all through moral categories of profligacy and responsibility. These ideas just don’t get us very far when analyzing the problems of monetary union among wildly divergent economies. In fact, taking a moralistic view of the Euro crisis can just as easily lead us to defend and praise the Greek position. Christopher Dawson’s essay “Catholicism and the Bourgeois Mind,” for example, can be read today as a stirring defense of Southern European excess and indictment of supposed German prudence:
It is indeed impossible to find a more complete example in history of the opposition of Sombart’s two types than in the contrast of the culture of the Counter Reformation lands with that of seventeenth-century Holland and eighteenth-century England and Scotland and North America. The Baroque culture of Spain and Italy and Austria is the complete social embodiment of Sombart’s “erotic” type. It is not that it was a society of nobles and peasants and monks and clerics which centred in palaces and monasteries (or even palace-monasteries like the Escorial), and left a comparatively small place to the bourgeois and the merchant. It is not merely that it was an uneconomic culture which spent its capital lavishly, recklessly and splendidly whether to the glory of God or for the adornment of human life. It was rather that the whole spirit of the culture was passionate and ecstatic, and finds its supreme expressions in the art of music and in religious mysticism. We have only to compare Bernini with the brothers Adam or St. Teresa with Hannah More to feel the difference in the spirit and rhythm of the two cultures. The bourgeois culture has the mechanical rhythm of a clock, the Baroque the musical rhythm of a fugue or a sonata.
The ideal of the bourgeois culture is to maintain a respectable average standard. Its maxims are: “Honesty is the best policy,” “Do as you would be done by,” “The greatest happiness of the greatest number.” But the baroque spirit lives in and for the triumphant moment of creative ecstasy. It will have all or nothing. Its maxims are: “All for love and the world well lost,” “Nada, nada, nada, ” “What dost thou seek for, O my soul? All is thine, all is for thee, do not take less, nor rest with the crumbs that fall from the table of thy Father. Go forth, and exult in thy glory, hide thyself in it and rejoice, and thou shalt obtain all the desires of thy heart. “
There’s more than one way to wield the broad cultural brush, which is why it behooves us to supplement it with the finer instruments of economic analysis.