Thursday, September 20, 2012

Bruce Robbins on Habermas's Book on the EU Crisis

In "Los Angeles Review of Books" (September 20, 2012), Bruce Robbins reviews "The Crisis of the European Union" (Polity Press, 2012) by Jürgen Habermas:

"Europe on the Brink: Habermas and the Currency Crisis"

For Habermas, “Europe” is a good idea that has fallen into the wrong hands. It’s time for the people to take the idea back from the bankers. The politics that matters now is less a demand for more democracy within the nation, where it takes familiar forms, than a demand for democracy beyond the nation, where it remains to be invented.  
This sounds pretty good. But is Habermas really ready to push for it? When he speaks of “politics,” what he often seems to mean is laws. A law is a principle that’s been agreed on. Politics aims at agreement and sometimes gets there, but at its heart is its “in the meanwhile”: an ongoing process of disagreement.
You can see the virtues of Habermas’s respect for law in his famous slogan “constitutional patriotism.” Anti-cosmopolitans argue that real solidarity will never emerge except from ethnic, religious, and national sameness. Habermas insists that people don’t need as much sameness as they think in order to feel solidarity with each other. Beyond ethnic or religious or national identity (the sort of thing that leads to intolerance and war), powerful loyalties can also get attached to the constitution as a guarantee of the equal rights of all. But Habermas’s faith in law has a disadvantage, and it’s a big one. It discourages political struggle based on fundamental differences of perspective and interest. And it’s only serious, long-term political struggle of this sort that could ever make transnational economic solidarity into a reality.

Bruce Robbins is Old Dominion Foundation Professor in the Humanities, Department of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University.

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

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