Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Review of Habermas's book on the EU crisis

In "The Nation" (July 30 - August 6, 2012), Anson Rabinbach reviews "The Crisis of the European Union" by Jürgen Habermas:

"The Good European: On Jürgen Habermas"

Habermas’s most recent book, Die Verfassung Europas, has caused a stir in Germany since its publication by Suhrkamp in November; it has just been published here in an English translation as The Crisis of the European Union. But its appeal in Germany has rested not so much on Habermas’s justified indignation about the EU, but instead on his tempered optimism about the future of democracy in Europe. Die Zeit called Die Verfassung Europas “the book of the hour”; Der Spiegel, “a philosopher’s mission to save the EU”; and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a manifesto for “a second chance for a united Europe.” The near unanimous enthusiasm of reviewers probably reflected less a consensus about the book’s arguments than sheer relief, given the daily bad news from Europe, that Habermas had written a hopeful book. He affirms his longstanding commitment to a cosmopolitan Europe in which the dynamics of global capitalism can be remastered beyond the nation-state, at a supranational and global level, and he sees a radically altered European Union as a model - indeed, as the precursor - for a constitutionally sanctioned cosmopolitan world order based not on utopian illusions but on realistic assessments. [.....]

There is a wide gulf between Habermas’s despair at the growing rule of the “potentates” and his competing vision of a supranational constitutional democracy. The current crisis is hardly winning Europeans over to the eurocrats in Brussels and Strasbourg, and venues for the expression of the popular will are few. Nor do the decisions of the European Parliament have the force of international law. But for Habermas, there are still three reasons that the European Union points the way to a cosmopolitan community. First, the more populations that engage in the deliberative process of governing beyond the nation-state, the more likely it is that normative criteria will emerge and find general assent. Second, global citizenship, like European citizenship, does not require a global ethnicity or national identity: citizenship can just as well be based on shared principles, such as freedom of thought, political integrity, justice and the rule of law. Third, as in the EU, individuals simultaneously legitimize the new polity as citizens of their respective states and as citizens of the new commonwealth. States would no longer be fully sovereign powers, but would regard themselves as members of the international community. Because of its transnational character and the need for new communicative structures, the solidarity of world citizens would no longer be “embedded in the context of a shared political culture.”

Anson Rabinbach is Professor of History at Princeton University. He is the author of "In the Shadow of Catastrophe: German Intellectuals Between Apocalypse and Enlightenment" (University of California Press, 1997).  

See my previous posts on Habermas's book here (German edition), here (English edition), and here (reviews).

See also the review in "The Financial Times" (April 7, 2012).

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