Professor Habermas, philosopher, sociologist and geographer is one of our elder thinkers. His extended essay (it runs a hundred dense pages in the Frankfurter academic tradition) has two objectives. He first argues that Europe, based upon the Lisbon Treaty, is capable of transitioning to a transnational democracy. His secondary but crucial argument is that the current financial crisis cannot be overcome without repairs to the monetary framework of the better known Maastricht Treaty. He has, in Churchill's words, embarked upon a very considerable undertaking.
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.