"In his recent collection of interviews and articles*, Jürgen Habermas - doyen of European social theory for several decades now - reminds us of just how deep are the roots of this disengagement. The rise of the modern nation state coincided with the discrediting of religion as a means of restraining organized aggression, obliging Enlightenment thinkers to put forward what could only be a rational approach to preventing war. In 1795 Immanuel Kant's Perpetual Peace: a philosophical sketch duly provided the foundation of a debate which in Europe continues to this day, and which has been deepened, fuelled and enriched by the spectacle of extreme national self-assertion of the Nazi period, the experience of Soviet communism and the patient process of constitution-building in the post war world.
Habermas contrasts a number of lines of thought. Have we for example to accept, as Kant at first suggested, that supranational institutions must take the form of a global republic? Habermas thinks not: not a global electorate, but a global public committed to universal human rights may be enough hold international actors to account. How do we move towards such a situation? Certainly not through the "hegemonic unilateralism" of a dominant superpower seeking to extend its own legal system to encompass the world as a whole. Even a benign democratic hegemon could, as Habermas puts it, "never be sure whether it is really distinguishing its own national interests from the universalizable interests that all other nations could share"."