Will We be All Right in the End?

252px-Common_face_of_one_euro_coinDavid Runciman in the LRB:

The recent Brussels summit to save the euro was a strange affair, and not just because of the quixotic behaviour of the British delegation. It was presided over by two politicians who were giving out a very mixed message. Nicolas Sarkozy told the world in the run-up to the meeting that this was the moment of truth not just for the currency but for the future of democracy. Europe only had a few days to save itself: ‘Never has Europe been in so much danger,’ he announced. Get this wrong and ‘there will be no second chance.’ It was salvation or the abyss. Angela Merkel wanted people to know that it was important not to be rushed; any solution would take time. ‘The European crisis will not be solved in one fell swoop,’ she declared. ‘It is a process and this process will take years.’ So which one was it: now or never, or wait and see?

Probably it was both. The two halves of ‘Merkozy’ were simply reflecting the way most of us feel about this crisis. We are in a split mind about it. The whole thing is simultaneously deeply threatening and somehow remote. The worst-case scenarios are so ghastly that it’s almost impossible to fathom what they would mean, but for that reason it’s equally hard to imagine mature democracies deciding to walk off a cliff. This is what gives the crisis its peculiar character. We know we are in trouble but we don’t know how much trouble, because we have an underlying suspicion that we will pull back from the edge, if only we could be clear about where the edge is. Democracies often look like they are in a total pickle, but they always get out of the mess in the end. Don’t they?