Thursday, November 17, 2016

Habermas: "For a Democratic Polarisation"

An English translation of a recent interview with Jürgen Habermas:

"For A Democratic Polarisation: How To Pull The Ground From Under Right-wing Populism"
(Social Europe, November 17, 2016)

Originally published in German in "Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik" (November 2016). 


"The new global disorder, the helplessness of the USA and Europe with regard to growing international conflicts, is profoundly unsettling and the humanitarian catastrophes in Syria or South Sudan unnerve us as well as Islamist acts of terror. Nevertheless, I cannot recognise in the constellation you indicate a uniform tendency towards a new authoritarianism but, rather, a variety of structural causes and many coincidences. What binds them together is the keyboard of nationalism and that has begun to be played meanwhile in the West. Even before Putin and Erdogan, Russia and Turkey were no “unblemished democracies.” If the West had pursued a somewhat cleverer policy, one might have set the course of relations with both countries differently – and liberal forces in their populaces might have been strengthened. (.....)

The economic globalisation that Washington introduced in the 1970s with its neoliberal agenda has brought in its wake, measured globally against China and the other emergent BRIC countries, a relative decline of the West. Our societies must work through domestically the awareness of this global decline together with the technology-induced, explosive growth in the complexity of everyday living. Nationalistic reactions are gaining ground in those social milieus that have either never or inadequately benefited from the prosperity gains of the big economies because the ever-promised “trickle-down effect” failed to materialise over the decades. (......)

As a sensible alternative (......) I would suggest there is only a supranational form of co-operation that pursues the goal of shaping a socially acceptable political reconfiguration of economic globalisation. International treaty regimes are insufficient here; for, putting aside completely their dubious democratic legitimacy, political decisions over questions of redistribution can only be carried out within a strict institutional framework. That leaves only the stony path to an institutional deepening and embedding of democratically legitimised co-operation across national borders. The European Union was once such a project – and a Political Union of the Eurozone could still be one. But the hurdles within the domestic decision-making process are rather high for that.
Since Clinton, Blair and Schröder social democrats have swung over to the prevailing neoliberal line in economic policies because that was or seemed to be promising in the political sense: in the “battle for the middle ground” these political parties thought they could win majorities only by adopting the neoliberal course of action. This meant taking on board toleration of long-standing and growing social inequalities. Meantime, this price – the economic and socio-cultural “hanging out to dry” of ever-greater parts of the populace – has clearly risen so high that the reaction to it has gone over to the right. And where else? If there is no credible and pro-active perspective, then protest simply retreats into expressivist, irrational forms. (.....)

In my estimate, domestic politicians mishandled right-wing populism from the start. The mistake of the established parties lies in acknowledging the battlefront that right-wing populism is defining: “We” up against the system. Here it matters hardly a jot whether this mistake takes the form of an assimilation to or a confrontation with “right-wing”. (.....)

One would therefore have to make contrasting political programmes recognisable again, including the contrast between the – in a political and cultural sense – “liberal” open-mindedness of the left, and the nativist fug of right-wing critiques of an unfettered economic globalization. In a word: political polarisation should be re-crystallised between the established parties on substantive conflicts. Parties that grant right-wing populists attention rather than contempt should not expect civil society to disdain right-wing phrases and violence."  

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