Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Going beyond universalism and particularism

Kant does not sufficiently differentiate the conception of cosmopolitan conditions from the concretistic notion of world republic. Kant ignores the fact that a world republic would require a concrete lifeworld in order to function properly. Such a lifeworld does not exist. Moreover, it seems to be a conceptual ‘impossibility’. Lifeworlds, no matter how much decentration they might have gone through, are inherently particularistic. A global lifeworld would never be thick enough to support and sustain the working of a universal state. Such a state would require the use of coercive force which is nevertheless deemed legitimate by the actors themselves. The production and reproduction of legitimacy requires a very thin conception of lifeworld which is based on shared values, shared history, shared memories, and shared language etc.

Habermas’ critique of the Kantian notion of world republic shows his appreciation of the role of particularities in sustaining human life and its organization. Although true to his universalism he claims that all human beings are brothers and sisters, nevertheless, he also knows that there can not be a universal lifeworld shared by everyone, a lifeworld thick enough to sustain a world republic.

Habermas considers a middle way between ethnocentric universalism of the current American administration and the concretistic universalism of Kant. Habermas instead proposes a post nationalistic constellation whereby the nation state does not lose its relevance but is nonetheless opens towards the other. The whole notion of the withering away of the nation state does not appeal to Habermas because he recognizes the supreme significance of particularities in organizing and sustaining human life and its organization.

As mentioned above, Habermas is also against closed particularities. The notions of closedness and openness are relative and are to be understood historically. With this proviso, openness is important for two reasons: First, it is the basis of autonomy, a key notion which underpins Modernity. Second, it is important because with the evolution of capitalism and advent of globalization, the state risks irrelevance if it does not open up to the other. However, this opening up or generalization must be based on respect for particularities, i.e. it should emerge from within.

Related posts:

Does Habermas break his own rule?

Particularity, generality and Rationality

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