Sunday, November 12, 2006

Habermas: An enemy of German nationalism

"Last month, the intellectual historian Alan Ryan, writing in the New York Review of Books, described Jürgen Habermas, Germany's leading political philosopher and a public intellectual of unrivaled influence, as the "philosophical conscience" of Gerhard Schroeder's Red-Green government. Judging from the intellectual trajectory of both Habermas, who has moved (roughly) from a radical critique of market society to a humanistic liberalism not unlike that of the late John Rawls, and Schroeder, the student agitator turned Third Way poster-boy, the characterization makes a good deal of sense. Yet if Habermas is indeed the Red-Green government's philosophical conscience, Schroeder and Joschka Fischer, the Green foreign minister who has overshadowed his Social Democratic counterpart from the start, have a lot to answer for.

Since the late 1950s, Habermas has been best known not for his dense theoretical works but rather for his forceful public interventions, the most memorable of which have focused on questions of German national identity. Despite having spent most of his adult life criticizing German evasions and hypocrisies, Habermas has been the country's most vocal and passionate defender of the values embodied in its post-war constitutional settlement.


Habermas, Schroeder's "philosophical conscience," has articulated a very different vision for Germany. He has long been an enemy of German nationalism, choosing instead to endorse a universalistic constitutional patriotism grounded in the rights and liberties guaranteed by the Basic Law. In this sense, he is, ironically for a man of the left, the last partisan of Adenauer's Bonn Republic. His is a better, more humane vision, one compatible with a diverse European federation that lives up to its humanitarian obligations, an imaginable utopia (if only just) that may or may not emerge in the years to come."

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