Louis Jargow/Dissident Voice
In her recent book, Juridical Humanity: A Colonial History, postcolonial thinker Samera Esmeir examines the liberal, humanitarian, positive legal project of British colonial rule in Egypt, and its ability to construct the category of humanity, to provide the framework that constitutes what is good or bad for the colonized, and what bodies and behaviors are cast as (in)human. Esmeir argues that the colonial forces of interpellation in Egypt led to the positions of humans being increasingly framed by law.
Speaking about the transformation of bodies into a category of juridical humanness, Esmeir suggests that: “The end of colonialism and the termination of its constellation of forces signal, in these accounts, the reentry of the colonized into Universal Humanity. When modern law endows itself with the power of humanization and declares that its absence signals dehumanization, modern law effectively binds the living to the powers of the state. No longer a condition a condition of birth, humanity began to emerge as a juridical category; the human became the effect of the work of law.”
Esmeir is arguing that Juridical Humanity is the category of humanness increasingly measured and constructed by law and legalistic frameworks of the state. Another presupposition is that a person is supposed to exist within a particular regime that is able to produce the discourse of violence and attach that to certain nonhuman actors.
Thus, the humanity of colonialism is produced by a framework of laws that inscribes some bodies as good, rational and nonviolent, and others as irrational and less-than-human.
One of the major political projects of the book is to affirm the shedding of the category of human. What happens to those who rebel from this human/inhuman, law, and violence dialectics?
This radically important research of Esmeir is also applicable for the forms of political violence we see in Egyptian today which, in part, is a result of the replacement of local rulers and rules (sharia’h) with a centralized bureaucratic sovereignty that never formulated political community as an onto-political project.
The EU’s genesis can be traced back to 1957, just after WWII, when six Western European countries, France, Western Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy formulated the European Economic Community (EEC). The EEC’s goal was to provide economic integration, crucial after the war, as most of Europe’s economic infrastructure was destroyed.
In 1992, the nations that were a part of the then expanded ECC signed the Maastricht Treaty, officially creating the European Union and the euro. This treaty also famously set limits on sovereign debt, foreshadowing the troubles Greece would face 20 years down the road. In less than 50 years, the small trade association became one of the world’s most powerful economic and political alliances.
In 2000, Greece was accepted into the European Union, fifty years after the economic framework was developed in the ECC, the EU’s largest and most centrally organized political-economies, including Germany and France. As neo-liberalism waxed, Greece was advised to expand its dependency on foreign loans.
For much of Greece’s recent (pre-colonial) history, a very weak centralized government was far overshadowed by strong local and regional politics from craftspeople to general assemblies in most cities, most universities, and public political forums which reflect the deep democratic traditions which have their onto-genesis in Greece.
As the Global Economy collapses in 2008, the market contractions and ill-advised loan debt positioned Greece as the scapegoat, one of the “weak economies” that would sink the EU.
THEN CAME AUSTERITY
The EU asked Greece to cut the deficit from €24.7bn (10.6% of GDP) in 2009 to just €5.2bn (2.4% of GDP) in 2011. As is many Socialist states, most Greeks were dependent on cash, infrastructure, and incentives to flow in and out of the hands of the government. When the EU attempted to force Greece to further cut pensions after the family income had already dropped 40%, and the jobless rate had soared to 27.6%, rioting of the working class took off in Greece.
Hundreds of thousands of pensioners alone have taken to Syntagma Square almost every day since the introduction of austerity.
Regarding the collapsing University system in Athens and across Greece, Stathis Efstathopoulos, the President of the Federation of University Teachers, wrote to the prime minister, “With great angst we have ascertained that with the government’s decision to place specialist and much valued administrative staff into the mobility scheme our universities are at risk of collapse. Even if we accept that we have a surplus of personnel we cannot, from one day to the next, operate with 40% less staff.”
As Greek austerity set in, the birthrate has plummeted almost 15%, youth unemployment skyrocketed and waves upon wave of dissent and political violence marked the situation in Greece.
Golden Dawn arose and sparked a back-and-forth of extreme violence between Leftists, Fascists and their supporters, and the Greek police. Young anti-fascists have been detained and brutalized by the Greek police for opposing Golden Dawn.
My experiences in Greece revealed that there really were no Greek fat cats sitting on top of some Ponzi scheme, extracting wealth like they do in the US. Neoliberals identified Greece’s main problems as its robust middle class, wonderful free education program, and state funding of the museums and archives that take care of western culture’s oldest sites of democracy and theater. No, in fact, the only fat cats are the German banks sending Greece into a depression.
More than these political crises, the paternalistic discourses of the neoliberal EU talking heads is responsible for the transformations that Greece undergoes: becoming a colony of the Eurozone.
Greece’s forced entry into the EU reflects Samera Esmeir’s understanding of a colonized subject position: as being able to be articulated, ontologically, as human, or as less than human. Greece loses its status not only as a capable culture, but also, loses the ability to define itself, politically, economically, and ontologically.
The Greek narrative becomes portrayed as irrational and subhuman. In part, this occurs because of political violence that exists in Greece—which develops as a result of no other means of political recourse.
How does this narrative-producing capability of the EU and neo-liberalism position Greeks, juridically? What type of humanity have they lost or gained? At the very least, Greeks lose the ability to position themselves within a human narrative.
What does politics inject into the equation? What happens if we resist juridicality? What subject positions are reordered by the rupture within humanitarian discourse?
These questions are embedded in resistance with EU liberal, cosmopolitan epistemology. Resisting is a thing Greeks have been doing for a long time—from galvanizing of the political culture of Exarchia in Athens, the largest autonomously self-organized site of pre-figurative politics in Greece, to the appearance of local, alternative forms of currency based on trading goods and services, as the paper Euro became harder to find.
Looking towards manifestos and texts that situate us in an autonomist, anarchist, and separatist lenses, such as those that responded to the assassination of Alexis Koulgas in 2008.
We are an Image from the Future stems from recent Greek resistance to the EU and its avatar, the Greek Police State. This has led to investigating a new formation of Political Community in resistance to the depoliticizing and colonizing project of Western Empire. What juridical interpellations as (in)humans are able to be ruptured by resisting the legalizing frameworks?
A true revolutionary political rhetoric is one that undermines the legalistic and juridical frameworks on ontological grounds—those which frame our notion of what Being is. Orienting oneself towards commonness allows a radical rupturing from a rigid Individualizing Western ontology.
(Louis Jargow is a graduate student studying Postnational and Postcolonial Political Identities, with a particular focus on Contemporary Greece and EU Austerity Measures)