Habermas, the Last European

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A Philosopher's Mission to Save the EU

By Georg Diez




Jürgen Habermas has had enough. The philosopher is doing all he can these days to call attention to what he sees as the demise of the European ideal. He hopes he can help save it -- from inept politicians and the dark forces of the market.

He leans forward. He leans backward. He arranges his fidgety hands to illustrate his tirades before allowing them to fall back to his lap. He bangs on the table and yells: "Enough already!" He simply has no desire to see Europe consigned to the dustbin of world history .Jürgen Habermas is angry. He's really angry. He is nothing short of furious -- because he takes it all personally.

"I'm speaking here as a citizen," he says. "I would rather be sitting back home at my desk, believe me. But this is too important. Everyone has to understand that we have critical decisions facing us. That's why I'm so involved in this debate. The European project can no longer continue in elite modus ."
Enough already! Europe is his project. It is the project of his generation.
Jürgen Habermas, 82, wants to get the word out. He's sitting on stage at the Goethe Institute in Paris. Next to him sits a good-natured professor who asks six or seven questions in just under two hours -- answers that take fewer than 15 minutes are not Habermas' style.
Usually he says clever things like: "In this crisis, functional and systematic imperatives collide" -- referring to sovereign debts and the pressure of the markets.
Sometimes he shakes his head in consternation and says: "It's simply unacceptable, simply unacceptable" -- referring to the EU diktat and Greece's loss of national sovereignty.

'No Convictions'

And then he's really angry again: "I condemn the political parties. Our politicians have long been incapable of aspiring to anything whatsoever other than being re-elected. They have no political substance whatsoever, no convictions."
It's in the nature of this crisis that philosophy and bar-room politics occasionally find themselves on an equal footing.
It's also in the nature of this crisis that too many people say too much, and we could definitely use someone who approaches the problems systematically, as Habermas has done in his just published book.
But above all, it is in the nature of this crisis that the longer it continues, the more confusing it gets. It becomes more difficult to follow its twists and turns and to see who is responsible for what. And the whole time, alternatives are disappearing before our very eyes.
That's why Habermas is so angry: with the politicians, the "functional elite" and the media. "Are you from the press?" he asks a man in the audience who has posed a question. "No? Too bad."
Habermas wants to get his message out. That's why he's sitting here. That's why he recently wrote an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper, in which he accused EU politicians of cynicism and "turning their backs on the European ideals." That's why he has just written a book -- a "booklet," as he calls it -- which the respected German weekly Die Zeit promptly compared with Immanuel Kant's 1795 essay "Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch."
But does he have an answer to the question of which road democracy and capitalism should take?

A Quiet Coup d'État

"Zur Verfassung Europas" ("On Europe's Constitution") is the name of his new book, which is basically a long essay in which he describes how the essence of our democracy has changed under the pressure of the crisis and the frenzy of the markets. Habermas says that power has slipped from the hands of the people and shifted to bodies of questionable democratic legitimacy, such as the European Council. Basically, he suggests, the technocrats have long since staged a quiet coup d'état.
"On July 22, 2011, (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel and (French President) Nicolas Sarkozy agreed to a vague compromise -- which is certainly open to interpretation -- between German economic liberalism and French etatism," he writes. "All signs indicate that they would both like to transform the executive federalism enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty into an intergovernmental supremacy of the European Council that runs contrary to the spirit of the agreement."
Habermas refers to the system that Merkel and Sarkozy have established during the crisis as a "post-democracy." The European Parliament barely has any influence. The European Commission has "an odd, suspended position," without really being responsible for what it does. Most importantly, however, he points to the European Council, which was given a central role in the Lisbon Treaty -- one that Habermas views as an "anomaly." He sees the Council as a "governmental body that engages in politics without being authorized to do so."
He sees a Europe in which states are driven by the markets, in which the EU exerts massive influence on the formation of new governments in Italy and Greece, and in which what he so passionately defends and loves about Europe has been simply turned on its head.

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Never had the world seen such a fearless, adventurous thinker! I foresee this old fuck's insipid, commonplace inanities are going to shake the foundations of the EU to the ground.


You must admit he has nice hair.


Yeah, he has style, you have to give him that. That could be Morrissey in 80 years.

Bob Dylan Roof
Habermas is popular for concealing Marxist and Frankfurt School subversion beneath the conceptual dross of analytical philosophy, so his fame essentially rests on the ability to put old wine into new bottles. For example, the article points out that Der Zeit equated Habermas's latest pamphlet with Kant's 1795 article on Perpetual Peace . As if we needed another misguided utopian analysis of international relations!

His analysis of the crisis is so mundane that he has to resort to histrionics in order to elicit the public adulation he's used to. Further, Habermas is so blindly committed to the wisdom of the "public sphere," "communicative action," and representative democracy that he can only interpret the present crisis as the consequence of politicians having bad attitudes toward the utopian prospects for Eurocommunism. It could never occur to him that the current state of affairs was basically predetermined by the artificial, universalist institutions fabricated by perpetual peace liberals in Europe. Maybe Habermasians should ingest the principles of Schmitt's Verfassungslehre instead of Habermas's article so that they won't be as surprised as Habermas is now when the next set of prefabricated democratic institutions disappoints liberal expectations.

Well, maybe he's finally started to understand, almost...But his only solution is to bemoan the attitude of the present rulers.

True to form as an academic Marxist, Habermas is first and foremost the enemy of native European labor.

Maybe it's the Asperger's that prevents Habermas from fully understanding the "normative consequences" of "coercion-free discourse" with the masses.

You have to hand it to him for being so optimistic. Even though the great weight of philosophy, political science, and economics/public choice theory speak against his faith in democratic decision-making, he acts as though we're just one set of good-faith leaders away from utopia.