Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Divided West (Polity, 2006)

"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"."

from here

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