Saturday, March 26, 2011

Habermas on "The Political"

In a new book edited by Eduardo Mendieta and Jonathan VanAntwerpen, entitled "The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere" (Columbia University Press), you will find essays by Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, Judith Butler and Cornel West.

Here are some excerpts from Jürgen Habermas's contribution ""The Political": The Rational Meaning of a Questionable Inheritance of Political Theology" (pp. 15-33):

"In the welfare state democracies of the latter half of the twentieth century, politics was still able to wield a steering influence on the diverging subsystems; it could still counterbalance tendencies toward social disintegration. (....) Today, under conditions of globalized capitalism, the political capacities for protecting social integration are becoming dangerously restricted. As economic globalization progresses, the picture that systems theory sketched of social modernization is acquiring ever sharper contours in reality. According to this interpretation, politics as a means of democratic self-determination has become as impossible as it is superfluous. (....) "The political" has been transformed into the code of a self-maintaining administrative system, so that democracy is in danger of becoming a mere facade, which the executive agencies turn toward their helpless clients." [p. 15f]

"Today the social sciences lay claim to the political system as their subject matter; they deal with "politics" that is, with the struggle for and the exercise of power, and also with "policies" - that is, the goals and strategies pursued by political actors in different fields. Besides normative political theory, philosophers have long since lost their special competence for the "political system". "The political" no longer appears to constitute a serious philosophical topic alongside "politics" and "policies"." [p. 16f]

"If we continue to understand "the political" as the symbolic medium of self-representation of a society that consciously influences the mechanisms of social integration, then the expansion of markets (....) involves, in fact, a certain degree of "depoliticization" of the society at large. [p. 20]. (....) In Carl Schmitt's view, liberalism is the force that robs politics of its significance for society as a whole - on the one hand, a functionally differentiated society is emancipated from the shaping force of politics and, on the other, the state is decoupled from a privatized religion that has lost its sting. Schmitt, therefore, develops a new and provocative concept of "the political" that is superficially adapted to mass democracy but preserves the authoritarian kernel of a sovereign power with its legitimizing relation to sacred history." [p. 21f]

"Of course, Carl Schmitt's clericofascist conception of "the political" is a matter of the past, but it must serve as a warning to all those who want to revive political theology. (....) In one way or the other, the diagnosis of a progressive "negation of the political" does not seem to have been refuted. The remaining worry can be put in a nutshell: How can respect for the inviolability of human dignity, and, more generally, a public awareness of the relevance of normative questions, be kept alive in the face of growing and disarming systemic strains on the social integration of our political communities?" [p. 23]

"In a liberal democracy, state power has lost its religious aura. And, in view of the fact of persisting pluralism, it is hard to see on which normative ground the historical step toward the secularization of state power could ever be reversed. This in turn requires a justification of constitutional essentials and the outcomes of the democratic process in ways that are neutral toward the cognitive claims of competing worldviews. Democratic legitimacy is the only one available today. (....) This is, however, not to deny the great insight of John Rawls: The liberal constitution itself must not ignore the contributions that religious groups can well make to the democratic process within civil society. (....) Rawls .... offers, with his idea of the "public use of reason", a promising key for explaining how the proper role of religion in the public sphere contributes to a rational interpretation of what we still might call "the political" as distinct from politics and policies. The only element transcending administrative politics and institutionalized power politics emerges from the anarchic use of communicative freedoms that keeps alive the spring tide of informal flows of public communication from below. Through these channels alone, vital and nonfundamentalist religious communities can become a transformative force in the center of a democratic civil society - all the more so when frictions between religious and secular voices provoke inspiring controversies on normative issues and thereby stimulate an awareness of their relevance." [p. 24f].

"The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere" is based on lectures given at SUNY Stony Brook in October 2010. Materials related to this event, including audio recordings and transcripts of the panel sessions, are available here.

See my previous post on the book here.

See excerpts from Craig Calhoun's afterword to the book here.

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