The Crisis of the European Union: A Response Hardcover – 1 Jun 2012
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"One of Europe′s most prominent intellectuals, a social political theorist of the highest standing. In pinpointing the lack of democratic participation, he builds a case that Europe′s leaders will sooner or later have to answer."
"A trailblazer of an emerging debate in international political theory."
"A vital injection into the public debate on the future of the EU since it brings our attention to a central political dimension of this project, which seems to have been lost. It is also a thought–provoking contribution to several debates in political theory."
European Political Science
"The Crisis′ demand for a politicised and democratised Europe is a welcome tonic to an event currently marked by its lack of vision."
"We should rejoice that a philosopher like Habermas is not giving up, but calling the European elite to order. He sees an opportunity in the crisis. ′With a little backbone the crisis of the single currency can bring about what some once hoped for from a common European foreign policy, namely a cross–border awareness of a shared European destiny.′"
"One of the most famous living philosophers."
"There is something refreshingly honest about Jurgen Habermas′s take on the European Union."
"For at least a generation Jurgen Habermas′s work has made a significant impact on a variety of important debates in philosophy and the social sciences."
"No–one articulates the ′European′ ideal with greater intellectual clarity, philosophical acumen and humanist fervour than Jürgen Habermas."
About the Author
Jürgen Habermas is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University of Frankfurt and one of the most influential social and political thinkers in the world today.
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Top Customer Reviews
As to the content, Habermas is super pro European. Fine, ok, it could be that we could view this catastrophe as an opportunity for democratisation in a cosmopolitan federal Europe. We could alternatively land on Earth and see the truth. The European project has always been a project of elites, determined behind closed doors. The responses to the crisis only help accenuate the depoliticising and undemocratic trajectory of pro-market policies that form the core of the Treaties.
Habermas' wishes are noble, but remain fiction. Is this book worth reading? Who cares, it was not meant for you anyway.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Jürgen Habermas wants to get his message out loud, that's why he just wrote in the Frankfurter Allgemeine accusing EU politicians of turning their backs on the European ideals, "That's why he has written a book, a booklet, as he calls it, which the elite German weekly Die Zeit promptly compared with Immanuel Kant's 1795 essay; Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch."
"In July 2011, German Chancellor and French President agreed to a vague compromise between German economic liberalism and French statesmanship." wrote Habermas, "All signs indicate that they would both like to transform the executive federalism enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty into a supremacy of the European Council that runs against the spirit of the agreement." This is what I felt, during a three weeks tour of north Italy ending in Switzerland, with an intellectual companion, and was appalled.
Upon returning home, I picked "On Europe's Constitution," the German title of his new booklet, on the crisis of the European union. In the long essay on how the European democracy has twisted under the pressure of the Euro crisis and the markets insanity. Habermas shows that power has slipped from the hands of the European people, to bureaucratic bodies of pseudo-democratic legitimacy, such as the European Council, suggesting, the technocrats have long since staged a silent coup d'éurope.
Habermas refers to the adjustment that Merkel and Sarkozy have attempted during the crisis as a "post-democracy." But he aims at the European Council, which was given a central role in the Lisbon Treaty, that he views as a 'peculiar oddity'. He describes the Council as a 'governmental body that engages in politics without being authorized to do so'. So European sovereign states are now driven by the markets. The EU exerts massive influence on the form of rescue governments for Greece, and Italy!
What he loves about Europe, and so passionately defends, has been simply turned on its head. And, while the activists of the Occupy movement deny to form even an objective demand, Habermas pronounces out clearly why his vision for Europe as a project for civilization which must not be allowed to collapse. He claims that the 'global community' is not only feasible, but necessary to reconcile democracy with capitalism. Otherwise, we run the risk that the countries will simply be driven by the markets.
"I understood that the process of expansion, integration and democratization doesn't automatically move forward of its own accord, that it's reversible, that for the first time in the history of the EU, we are actually experiencing a dismantling of democracy, I didn't think this was possible," says Habermas. That's why he seems so angry: with the politicians, and the media. "That's why I'm so involved in this debate. The European project can no longer continue in elite modus."Jürgen Habermas
Habermas’ purpose is “…to use the means at my disposal to try to remove metal blocks that continue to hinder a transnationalization of democracy.” If you’re unfamiliar with Habermas, he is an ideologue whom most people would find out of touch with how and why human societies and institutions work. He is an academic but does not shy away from commenting on the real world, so I was interested to hear his views on the EU in crisis. I’ll think better of it next time. Habermas recognizes that “the European Union has been sustained and monopolized by political elites,” and he feels they should give way to politicians who will be forthright and sell the European project to their voters on its merits. I don’t know how he expects them to do that, when he is unable to express those merits clearly himself in 70 pages.
It wouldn’t be helpful for me to comment on this essay in detail, as I am not debating Mr. Habermas here. Suffice it to say that there is to be a “sharing of constituting power between EU citizens and European peoples”, as each individual plays a dual role. There is a lot of talk of “cross-border democratic will-formation”, the “EU as a further stage in civilizing state power,” “supranational expansion of civic solidarity,” and that is before he gets to the part about world government, to which he applies the same principles. By the time he starts talking about how a world parliament, Security Council, and courts would function, his ideas have gone from being exasperatingly –and perhaps willfully- blind to being comical.
In his second essay, Habermas asserts that “human dignity” is “the moral ‘source’ from which all of the basic rights derive their sustenance,” and tries to demonstrate that. I was never entirely sure what his definition of “human dignity” is, but it is a term used in German law. In English, the phrase is so vague that it would be useless in any legal context. Habermas is including what he considers to be social, cultural, and civil rights, in addition to what most people would think of as “human rights.” He does acknowledge that military action in the name of human rights “reinforces the suspicion that the programme of human rights consists in its imperialist misuse,” but I don’t think he is actually against military intervention, so long as it goes through the proper democratic process. This essay is tangential to his comments on the European Union.
Habermas believes that the Eurozone crisis is in some ways fortuitous, because it prodded Europeans who had been apathetic to become more engaged in European affairs. He hopes that the euro crisis can bring about “a cross-border awareness of a shared European destiny.” It is primarily in the second part of the Appendix that he discusses the Eurozone. It is evident that Mr. Habermas follows European politics closely, but he has no economic expertise and is poorly qualified to comment on the viability of the euro. He gives no hint how nations of disparate industrial capacity, practicing different forms of free market economy, and chronologically at different stages of social, economic, and political development might successfully use a common currency to their advantage.
As for the other subjects, Habermas quotes Kant a lot and speaks of democracy in terms that I might have expected from the United States’ Founding Fathers more than two centuries ago. Enlightenment terms. Our Bill of Rights notwithstanding, most of those ideas were repudiated in the 19th century. In the 21st century, democracy tends not to be viewed favorably in the developing world on account of its economic mismanagement and general corruption. The challenge is to find a better and more adaptable way for the social, political, and economic contracts of any given people to be negotiated and, when necessary, codified, while keeping tyranny at bay. And this guy is still in the 18th century.
The style of the first essay is very turgid. The author tends to use fifteen words when five will do. It took much longer to read than I imagined, as I frequently had to read sentences two or three times to extract their meaning from the tortured prose. I don’t know if this is a feature of Habermas’ writing or of the translation by Ciaran Cronin. It’s possible that Cronin was put upon to preserve every detail of the meaning and sacrificed fluidity to that end. The other essays are more intelligible.
There is so much that can be done in an essay. Even this review is a superficial one; my hope is to let the reader gauge a level of interest, even at the risk of being tedious myself.
Besides this important essay, Habermas has an interesting Appendix which consists of an interview and a few more topics that do not fit into his essay's tight organization. He has other papers. The reader might be looking for more in the way of detailed proposed next steps. No, this essay is made to argue two closely linked positions with some historical and some sociological support. He writes mainly in that idiom of formal philosophy to a degree that many will find tediously meticulous. But I had to give a full five stars because of cogency, immediacy and criticality. It is from such essays and other papers that more gripping things come, if you remember the Federalist Papers, Common Sense, The Rights of Man and other such seditious works. Others certainly will give fewer than full marks because of the style and the limited scope.
Habermas believes that self-contradictory (as opposed to merely contradictory - see what I mean?) forces are at work, creating or reinforcing mental blockages against dealing with this crisis. For example, retreating into the elite European Council works against the same democratic focus that opposed the Euro in the first place. Such Executive Federalism is self-authorizing, thereby removing the authority of all democratic processes.
Bizarrely, the long silent proponents of a tightly coupled EU are repeating the fiscal failure by trying to get there via this imposition of a "core" of states named the European Council. We see how smashingly effective such a strategy has been in the U.N. Security Council. Habermas insightfully calls hopeless this pitting as alternatives the "Nation State" and the "Federal State" - false alternatives, to be sure. Habermas is not underestimating the perversity of this Gordian Knot.
The only way out, he argues, is to introduce for the first time in this European Project, democratic processes. Only the overt call to action to each individual can create the supranational hope for the future; problem being that this necessary introduction is anathema to the ancien regime of elitist power that has always caused so many horrors to countless souls for so many centuries before.
Habermas speaks also to Germans directly. The government, he writes, has insisted upon unilateral responses, one country at a time. German citizens are fed-up with this never ending parade of bailouts. Imagine dealing with the whole mess together? Ah, here is the rub. He is smoking out the destructive rapture, a childishly or a sinister one that waves the Romantic Banner of the purist Freiburgian school of ordoliberalism. The key: Purist Free Market Absolutism does not allow for the people to shape government or society by democratic initiatives. Here, mere artifice claims the same prior right as gravity, as magnetism or as even the very winds that blow.
Habermas argues that the progress of law and international relations in Europe since WWII make it practical to construct iteratively a transnational democracy. So just why is this far-fetched solution not merely another Romantic bloom on that thorny bush of political economy?
Habermas is calling for what may be the impossible (or at least the unprecedented) evolution of a multi-member treaty into a true constitution of geographically European citizen constituents. He calls for an EU with the legitimate teeth of law.
Habermas points alarmingly at the focus on banking and debt. He admits that the objectives of economic cooperation have been wedged apart by the competitiveness of international competition. The weak Euro has been a boon to the already flourishing export business that showcases German excellence. Why bother with that Greecey kids' stuff? Why further annoy the voters with more palaver over bailing out this one and then that one? Re-unification was not exactly Oktoberfest, you know.
Just because there are no existing remedies to fix this narrow yet deadly financial fiasco, is there any reason to believe the EU members will stand back from the blaze and take time to build a fire truck now? Just because legally non-binding agreements take all the pluck from the bow? Again, Habermas sees that the normal behavior of self-serving, insulated and cowardly governments, caught between groveling before the big banks and hiding from the seething contempt of their subjects, is to double-down. Pile on more of the same while hoping for a completely different outcome.
Both executive fiat and non-binding resolutions are illegitimate and unworkable. But a federation born of a constitution ratified by each member's citizens can secure the future. The Euro and many other rules were rammed, jammed into place because pretending to ask for forgiveness is more fun than begging for the voluntary compliance through democratic processes.
Combining perpetual unanimity for any statutory revision with perpetual non-binding resolutions was a lure and a pretense to the strong guarantee of retaining nationalist sovereignty. Without maturation, it guarantees only perpetual weakness and inefficacy. As the Articles of Confederation were similarly attractive to American colonies, (who never had any common currency, even from their various parents) so can Lisbon, lead to a revision of Maastricht and thereafter to a stable and amendable democracy. The preservation of culture becomes a local decision and responsibility. You want Walloon? You want Frisian or Basque or Corsican; of course you can.
He says that law is the grammar of democratic legitimacy. It is by Habermas, the civilization of violence. The force of legitimate law is peaceful. The absence of war on the continent has allowed many peoples to exhume their former identities from Scotland to Slovenia. The rise of nations obliterated hundreds of European societies.
The 22nd July 2011 pact between Sarkozy and Merkel to ramp up Executive Federalism has resulted in his being turned out of office, with Merkel already harvesting some regional defeats. Paradoxically, this populist backlash has further weakened European Solidarity, to the delight of the financial media.
Professor Habermas concludes with his section on Human Dignity. As with his concept that law civilizes violence, so law can, in turn, transform the negative struggle against violent oppression and closed door subjugation into positive assertion of claims and rights. People in collective agreement overcome the boundaries of fiat. Thus comes dignity.
One place he falls down badly is on the problem of the refugee, here only implicitly as the non-European refugee. Here is his elephant in the butter dish. He can do nothing more than drop a paisley napkin in a hopeless attempt to hide. I spare you his Kantian response and thank you for your patience.
He has certainly done that, but not in a manner or form that I had been expecting.
Most readers would presumably be aware of the current crisis in the Eurozone caused through the effects of highly indebted Greece, and some would have a greater awareness of the difficulties of other Eurozone countries such as Eire or Spain. There may even be a broader awareness of the even more serious level of debt incurred by the United Kingdom which led to a change of government two years ago.
The reality is that the Eurozone Crisis must be located in the global economic crisis which began four or five years ago and where the scene of the crime, as it were, was found in the United States.
I need to offer a more global outlook in order to situate Professor Habermas book more correctly.
He offers a tantalising journey through the European journey through several Treaties and identifies an internal conflict between what is termed the "Democratic Deficit" Democracy and Dissent: The Challenge of International Rule Making and the reality of the governance of the European Union through undemocratic elite rule. He develops the nature of the conflict by introducing the impact of globalisation which not only highlights sensibilities of nationalism but also encourages populist demands for a greater say in European decision making through democratisation. Of course, this is resisted by the elite leadership who do not want to abdicate their power and priviledge.
So far, so good. At this juncture the author begins to take his argument along a more torturous route and sets out his views on the legitimacy of the elite rulers transcending the popular will of the majority. Establishing a base on the fundamental aim of the creation of Europe as a means of ending all wars upon the continent, Habermas constructs an almost labyrinthian logic which leads to his assertion that what is needed is a de facto world government. In this way he avoids any real discussion of an end to the euro crisis through the missing link of the European Monetary System, a full fiscal union of the Eurozone member states, and instead shows his true colours as an advocate of the same intellectual ground as the Occupy movements.
I do not have an issue with the aims of those who subscribe to these views save than they are a travesty of the notions of representative government which may not be perfect but have been shown to be at least marginally better than other alternatives. The problem is that they are long term objectives and will do nothing to resolve the issues of finance and governance in the European Union in the medium term. There are great potential problems caused by the re-emergence of a unified Germany as the predominant power and player in the European Union given a much weakened France where the new President must confront it's own mounting public expenditure crisis which his predecessor was unable to deal with and an increasingly isolationist Britain, preoccupied with it's own financial crisis and growing nationalisms. Added to that the strains on the other major economies in Europe and the stage is set for further conflict.
This is, I must admit, an admirable little book where the author, in a long tradition of quality not quantity, makes his case and sets out forcible arguments for it. While I may disagree with his conclusions it is a notable contribution to the debate.
Globalized markets are outstripping politics. There is a precarious relationship between law and power. Law has rationalizing effects, channelling the exercise of political authority. The power of international organizations undermines democratic procedures in nations. The constitution connects law and politics. Bringing political authority under democratic legislation civilizes violence.
In theory citizens could make decisions as members of the EU and members of a nation-state. There is original shared sovereignty and there is no supreme constitutional authority at the European level. Up to now, Habermas asserts, the EU has been monopolized by the political elites. The Internet and tourism renders borders porous. Financial markets have developed beyond the control of even powerful nations. Politics today have a cross-border character. Core functions of the U.N. include peace-keeping and the development of a human rights policy.
It was after World II that the concept of human dignity became part of the national constitutions. The concept of human dignity means in the modern context that all citizens are subjects of equal actionable rights. The framework of the constitutional state is created by the citizens themselves using the means of positive law.
Please note that some of the most important parts of this excellent work appear in the appendix. An interview with Habermas and Thomas Assheuer after the collapse of Lehman Bros. and just prior to the election of BaracK Obama is not to be missed. The author outlines the world economic and political crisis succinctly and clearly. This is splendid.
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