John Keane | Greek debt: Is it morally binding? – ABC Radio National The Mindfield
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Greek debt: Is it morally binding? – ABC Radio National The Mindfield

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John Keane interview with ABC Radio National The Mindfield, 9 July 2015

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Image: Queuing for cash at a Greek bank (SAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Democracy was born in Greece out of a struggle against the oppressive conditions imposed by debt slavery. It is thus more than a little ironic that Greece today finds itself locked in a bitter democratic struggle against its European debtors.

And yet, as in Aristotle’s own time, the issue is not simply ‘debt’ but the sort of political conditions that usurious lending assumes and the sort of political community that debilitating indebtedness create. It is little wonder, then, that the rolling crisis in Greece is acting as a flashpoint for more thoroughgoing disagreement over the future of Europe itself.

For Aristotle, democracy depended on the establishment of civic institutions that would encourage virtue and commonality among its citizens and that would temper the excesses of the market. So what happens if we consider debt, not merely as a binding financial transaction, but as an anthropological phenomenon with profound moral and political implications? Could this wider frame of reference help us imagine a different way out of the present deadlock?