Monday, January 18, 2016

Wolfgang Streeck reviews Jürgen Habermas

Wolfgang Streeck has uploaded a review of Jürgen Habermas's "The Lure of Technocracy" (Polity Press, 2015):

"What about capitalism? Jürgen Habermas’s project of a European democracy" [pdf]
[To appear in European Political Science]

An excerpt

"In Habermas’s world, the only possible explanation for today’s escalating crisis of European integration is cognitive and moral deficits on the part of both governments and the governed, while the only solution are stronger ‘pro-European’ leaders, wherever they may come from (Germany?), ready to stick ‘more Europe’ to the reluctant masses. That this might end up producing even more anti-Europe – something that a growing number of observers, surely not all of them ‘nostalgic fools’ (....), have for some time seen coming – is never even considered. Sadly enough, years of debate over the evolving empirical observables in Europe and the theories needed to make sense of them have had no impact on a political imaginary which, after all, must conceive of itself as dedicated to principles of discursive rationality.
The blind in Habermas’s anti-national Europeanism are interestingly linked to his system-theoretically neutered concept of capitalism. Having at some point in the evolution of his social theory granted immunity to a ‘globalized’ capitalist economy by redefining the interests vested in it into ‘problems’ calling for technically correct ‘solutions’, Habermas can treat really-existing politics – the rough and tumble of local, regional, national collective interests, histories, languages, experiences, identities, hostilities, cultures, idiosyncrasies and passions – as non-substantial illegitimate impediments on the way to democracy as it should be: universalistic, dispassionate, global, deliberative, cooperative, and apparently without any need to override obstinate interests in the unlimited accumulation of capital by use of collectively mobilized power and legitimate force (that is, of the very state capacity that Habermas, for whatever reason, denies his European democracy). What remains at the end are normative prescriptions of rational-cum-moral cosmopolitan political conduct for which there is no real world out there that could live by them. One must be afraid that all a theory of this sort can do is move the theorist into a position of moral superiority in relation to a political reality that has no chance but being found guilty of failing to verify theoretical predictions that are in fact moral commands."

See also
- Jürgen Habermas's critique of Wolfgang Streeck: "Democracy or Capitalism?" (2013)
- Wolfgang Streeck's response: "Small State Nostalgia?" (2015).

Wolfgang Streeck  is Emeritus Director at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne. His most recent book is "Buying Time" (Verso, 2014).

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