Ever since the International Monetary Fund’s first bailout of Greece’s sinking economy in 2010, the phrase “Greek debt” has meant one thing to the country’s creditors. But for millions who claim to prize culture over capital, it means something quite different: the symbolic debt that Western civilization owes to Greece for furnishing its principles of democracy, philosophy, mathematics, and fine art. Where did this other idea of Greek debt come from, Johanna Hanink asks, and why does it remain so compelling today?
The Classical Debt investigates our abiding desire to view Greece through the lens of the ancient past. Though classical Athens was in reality a slave-owning imperial power, the city-state of Socrates and Pericles is still widely seen as a utopia of wisdom, justice, and beauty?an idealization that the ancient Athenians themselves assiduously cultivated. Greece’s allure as a travel destination dates back centuries, and Hanink examines many historical accounts that express disappointment with a Greek people who fail to live up to modern fantasies of the ancient past. More than any other movement, the spread of European philhellenism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries carved idealized conceptions of Greece in marble, reinforcing the Western habit of comparing the Greece that is with the Greece that once was.
Today, as the European Union teeters and neighboring nations are convulsed by political unrest and civil war, Greece finds itself burdened by economic hardship and an unprecedented refugee crisis. Our idealized image of ancient Greece dangerously shapes how we view these contemporary European problems.
Navigating Austerity addresses a key policy question of our era: what happens to society and the environment when austerity dominates political and economic life? To get to the heart of this issue, Laura Bear tells the stories of boatmen, shipyard workers, hydrographers, port bureaucrats and river pilots on the Hooghly River, a tributary of the Ganges that flows into the Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean. Through their accounts, Bear traces the hidden currents of state debt crises and their often devastating effects.
Taking the reader on a voyage along the river, Bear reveals how bureaucrats, entrepreneurs and workers navigate austerity policies. Their attempts to reverse the decline of ruined public infrastructures, environments and urban spaces lead Bear to argue for a radical rethinking of economics according to a social calculus. This is a critical measure derived from the ethical concerns of people affected by national policies. It places issues of redistribution and inequality at the fore of public and environmental plans. Concluding with proposals for restoring more just long term social obligations, Bear suggests new practices of state financing and ways to democratize fiscal policy. Her aim is to transform sovereign debt from a financial problem into a widely debated ethical and political issue. Navigating Austerity contributes to policy studies as well as to the understanding of today’s global injustices. It also develops new theories about the significance of state debt, speculation and time for contemporary capitalism. Sited on a single body of water flowing with rhythms of circulation, renewal and transformation, this ambitious and accessible book will be of interest to specialists and general readers.