The Glasgow Legal Theory research group (GLT) was delighted to welcome Wolfgang Streeck to the University last week as the GLT Fellow for 2018. Streeck is emeritus Director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, and emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Cologne. A regular contributor to publications such as the Frankfurter Allgemeine, the London Review of Books and the New Left Review, he is widely regarded today as one of Europe’s leading public intellectuals.
Having begun his career writing mainly in the fields of industrial relations and labour law, Streeck has focused his attentions in recent years on developing macro-sociological theories of capitalist societies, especially since the end of the Second World War, and on analysing and critiquing the course of monetary union in the EU. In his 2014 book, Buying Time, he used the ideal types of the Tax State, the Debt State and the Consolidation State to chart the development of the political economy of EU member states over that period, demonstrating how the expansion of markets, and especially financial markets, has served to narrow very considerably the reach of democratic deliberation and decision-making. In 2017’s, How Will Capitalism End?, he considered the possibility that we are witnessing now a long and painful period of cumulative societal decay: of intensifying frictions, of fragility and uncertainty, and of a steady succession of normal crises.
On Wednesday 30 May, Streeck delivered the third annual Adam Smith Lecture in Jurisprudence to a packed-out Senate Room audience. His topic was The Politics of Political Scale, and his argument – constructed with reference to Smith and to his contemporary Edward Gibbon – that in this era of financialized capitalism, our best chance at holding on to democracy would seem to lie with small nation states; with the break-up, even, of existing larger ones.
On a beautiful early Summer evening, the lecture was followed by a wine reception in the west quadrangle. It was preceded, on Tuesday 29 May, by a day-long seminar on The Constitution of the Debt State hosted in the School of Law. Participants at the seminar included Marco Goldoni and Ruth Dukes, both of GLT, and in addition: Michelle Everson, Thomas Fazi, Christian Joerges, Agustin Menendez, Lorraine Talbot, Neil Walker and Wolfgang Streeck.
(Professor of Labour Law, School of Law)