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Syriza in power: reflections of an accidental politician

Syriza’s electoral victory displayed the ability of the radical left to travel the path from resistance and revolt to rule, in the turbulent opening which is the Machiavellian moment.

Costas Douzinas’ Syriza in Power (Polity, 2017) carries a wondrous resemblance to Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince (1513). The latter is penned by a state official turned humanist philosopher; the former – by a humanist philosopher turned an accidental state official.

Both works scrutinise without moralization the world of politics at a critical historical juncture – the experimentation with republican rule in Italy and the experimentation with radical left rule in Greece, respectively. In both cases, the authors deem effective truth more important than abstract ideals. As they set out to expose the tensions between the logic of moral rectitude and the demands of public action, they advance positions that are in direct conflict with the dominant doctrines of the time. The insights into the world of politics are invariably delivered with flair and erudition that simultaneously seduce and intimidate.

Three narrative lanes: slow, fast, and furious

In Syriza in Power, three narratives compete for the readers’ attention – I will call them the ‘the fast’, ‘the slow’ and ‘the ‘furious’.

The first, ‘the fast’ one, is told by a venerable London-based Greek-expat academic who, to his own surprise, becomes a Greek politician to participate in the skandalon, the miracle-like event of the rise to power of Syriza – a small party hailing from the ‘Eurocommunist’ tradition.

Here Douzinas, Chair of the House Standing Committee on Defence and Foreign Relations, speaks as ethnographer of everyday politics and reports with no objectivity or neutrality, as he admits, on the fall of the ruling elite and its system of power in Greece and the spectacular ascendance of the radical left. “I left the comforts of pure conscience […] when I joined parliament”, he writes with aberrant frankness.

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