Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Greece, EU, and Constitutional Democracy: Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince

Today's vote in the Greek Parliament regarding "austerity measures"  is important to Greece's continued membership within the European Union (EU), although precisely how important is subject to debate.  Also subject to debate, and much protest in Greece, is whether such "austerity measures" will work.  Gavin Hewitt, whose coverage and analysis for the BBC has been excellent, notes with understatement today, "Greek democracy is under strain." 

This may be a good day to reread Antione de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince.  Not only is it Saint-Exupéry's birthday (he was born in 1900 in Lyons, France), but his best known work, The Little Prince may be relevant to discussions of constitutional democracy and the European Union. 

Greek prince

For example, Professor Mattias Kumm, in To Be A European Citizen? The Absence Of Constitutional Patriotism and The Constitutional Treaty, 11 Columbia Journal of European Law 481 (2005), discusses the ill-fated Constitutional Treaty  of 2004 when it seemed as if it would be ratified.  His theorizing about constitutional patriotism necessary to support the European Union (or even the Eurozone) still resonates.  As does the use of The Little Prince to discuss the withdrawal of nations from the EU:

The king was the sole inhabitant of asteroid 325. When the little prince arrived he was happy to see the little prince (Aha! A Subject!). “Clad in royal purple and ermine” and “seated on a throne at the same simple and majestic” he claimed to have absolute authority, though it was unclear over what and from where his authority derived. His air of authority sparked the curiosity of the little prince.

“Sire over what do you rule?”
“Over everything,” said the king, with magnificent simplicity.
“Over everything?”
The king made a gesture that took in his planet, the other planet, and all the stars.
“And the stars obey you?”
“Certainly they do,” the king said. “They obey instantly. I do not permit insubordination.”

The Little Prince then asks the king to order the sun to set, because he desired to see a sunset. At this point, the king starts to provide deeper insights into the nature of his authority.

“If I ordered a general to fly from one flower to another like a butterfly, or to write a tragic drama, or to change himself into a sea bird, and if the general did not carry out the order that he had received, which one of us would be wrong?”
“Accepted authority rests first of all on reason. If you ordered your people to go and throw themselves in the sea, they would rise up in revolution. I have the right to require obedience, because my orders are reasonable.”

“Then my sunset?” the little Prince reminded him ...

“You shall have your sunset. I shall command it. But, according to my science of government, I shall have to wait until conditions are favorable.”

When asked when that would be, the King consults a bulky almanac before informing the Prince that this evening favorable conditions would occur at twenty minutes to eight.

At this point, the little Prince was beginning to lose interest and wanted to leave. The king, however, refused to let him go because he was proud to have a subject. The little prince turns to the king and says:

“If Your Majesty wishes to be promptly obeyed he should be able to give me a reasonable order. He should be able, for example, to order me to be gone by the end of one minute. It seems to me conditions are favorable ...”

He then leaves, not without noticing the king's “magnificent air of authority.”

[image of The Little Prince in Greek translation via]

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