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Luther, Calvin and Merkel with Sade

20 August 2015 - psychanalyse


-The financial linchpin of the Euro-zone is Germany.

-After WWII, Germany put in place a strict economic policy, inspired by American Neo-liberalism principles, designed to avoid a recurrence of the 1923 hyper-inflation trauma. Since then, all political parties have kept kept to this economic orthodoxy.

-When the treaty defining the Euro was being discussed, Germany demanded and obtained that its own economic principles be inscribed in it, thus de facto imposing them to the rest of the European Union. This was conditional to its participation to the Euro, and not negotiable.

-The European Central Bank is the top of the Euro financial pyramid. It is the source of all Euro liquidities, which it can issue in any quantity and at any time of its own choosing. It is located in Frankfurt. It has no political supervision, its policies are elaborated within closed doors, outside of any negotiation process. It is an autonomous governing and regulating entity.

-Greece owes the ECB 254 Billion Euros, and 44 Billion Euros to the private sector.

-Previous Greek governments had a generous public sector policy, with regards to paid holidays, pensions and wage increases.

– Angela Merkel was elected leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in 2000, and Chancellor of Germany in 2005. She is the daughter of a Lutheran pastor and theologian, Horst Kasner. She grew up in the then communist East Germany, where her father had accepted a posting in order to provide pastoral care to the isolated Christian community.


Assuming a Lutheran flavour to Merkel’s frames of reference, let’s turn to Weber’s The Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904/1905), and try and see if there are any correspondences with the way the German economy has been conducted.

Weber maps out links between the various forms of Protestantism (Puritans, Lutherans and Calvinists) and the changes in the spirit of Capitalism in Western Europe.

This spirit is a rational (i.e. based on scientific calculations) pursuit of accumulation of wealth. That wealth is not for personal enjoyment (the French translation uses the word Jouissance), but to contribute to and increase the glory of God (majorem Dei gloriam). Asceticism is taken out of the Catholic convents, and brought into temporal life. Weber mentions the case of a wealthy manufacturer, advised by his doctor to eat oysters as a remedy for his stomach aches. The patient was unable to follow this advice, given his moral misgivings about such a luxury.

The pursuit is constantly evaluated, just as individual salvation is. Work and certitudo salutis become the same thing: work through salvation and salvation through work constitute an existential Mobius strip. Resurrecting Thessalonians 3:11, divine calling (Beruf in German) becomes temporal, supersedes the idea of religious belief, and becomes an absolute end in itself, across all classes. Business is the highest moral activity Man can perform. The unintended consequence is that economic success becomes THE sign of salvation, despite the doctrine of predestination.

As an ethic characterised as both ascetic and rational, it is not “instinctive and spontaneous” but utilitarian. It is thus logical that it offers “some psychological benefits (of a non-economic character) extremely effective at ensuring that it is followed”.

Weber concludes by observing that “In the United Sates, in the very places of its paroxysm, the pursuit of wealth, stripped off its ethic and religious signification, tends to be associated to purely agonistic passions, which gives it the character of a sport”.


One aspect aspect of money outlined by Freud is its equivalence with faeces, in the context of potty training. It is the first bodily separation an infant will experience, and is turned into a gain, that of completing the mother’s desire, of becoming what she lacks, her phallus. Should she demand too much or not enough, the body co-ordinates become scrambled and she becomes THE devouring mother.

Freud also remarks that money and its accumulation are not part of a child’s wishes. The desire for and relationship to money therefore proceeds from an identification to the parental desire, all part of the Oedipus phase.

Weber’s notion of spirit can be interpreted as Freud’s notion of psychical determinant. In Lacanian terms, the question becomes: what is the structure of the jouissance of money?

For Weber, this jouissance is framed and staged, as its exercise is encapsulated into a moral duty or calling. Contributing to the glory of God becomes a phallus, a signifier located in the Ich-Ideal part of the Super-Ego, the psychical agency which directs my aspirations, my nice imagos of myself, my personal master signifiers. So far so good.

Yet, in the case of Germany’s participation to the Euro-zone and its attitude towards the so-called “Greek Debt”, it seems some slippage has occured and the phallus has passed over into the Ideal-Ich part of the Super-Ego, the phylogenetic agency of moral imperatives, of the Es Muss Sein. As a result, what works for a particular group is deemed to also work for all other groups, notwithstanding their particularities, capabilities or wishes. Evaluation is in reference to box ticking or formulas, not in reference to the singular of what is being evaluated. Debt is equated to sin, and the sin must be expiated in the form of a sacrifice to obscure gods. The form of the sacrifice is, of course, financial austerity.

The singular is squashed by an absolute, perverse and morbid jouissance. The real satisfaction is not so much the repayment of the debt, but the resulting hardships of the populations under the regime of austerity. It is a replay, on a much larger scale, of what happens when a work force is let go owing to a bad economy climate, apparently.

As foreseen by Weber, it is what happens when the Symbolic is smashed to pieces, and economy becomes a “purely agonistic passion”. It is truly do unto others as you would do onto yourself, since aggression is the primary drive, from which the Super-Ego feeds and becomes even more demanding.

As usual, it is in a time of serious discontent that the ferocious figure of the persecuting and perverse Other fully reveals itself, allowing the Real to flood the Symbolic of the social bond.

The Merkel solution is moral, not economic. That is what constitutes its attraction. And since the Euro is an integrated zone, the economic problems of one of its members are actually everyone else’s problems.

Behind the attraction of being part of that union, may lurk the danger of erasing the little differences on which narcissism is built.

Addendum-December 2015:
At any rate, all this money does not exist, it is a mere jeux d’écritures (French for book entries, and which literally means a game of writing).

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