home page Habermas on Europe

gary e. davis
October, 2007 / November, 2006 (Dec. 4, 2006)

October, 20, 2007 Preface

Yesterday, a new “treaty” for Europe was finalized, which is intended to antedate the controversy and prospects for the EU constitution that was finalized in Greece, 2005 (?). In the wake of 2006 failures of national referenda for the EU constitution, Habermas had occasion to speak to the issue. My discusssion below is an American’s “reading” of Europe, relative to Habermas’ speech, “Opening Up Fortress Europe.” My discussion provides a view of Europe relative to world affairs that is independent of the particular issue of ratification of the EU constitution. So, the existence now of a new EU treaty is as relevant to the following discussion as the issue of an unratified EU constitution was, especially inasmuch as the new treaty implies annulment of the prospects of the EU constitution. Indeed, I believe that the following discussion becomes even more relevant!

Anyway, the new treaty announcement yesterday caused me to read Habermas’ 2005 essay, “A political constitution for the pluralist world society?” in terms of yesterday's event, and I wrote a discussion in light of my reading (link upcoming). My new discussion tacitly embraces the following discussion, both as comment now on a 2005 essay (before the 2006 context below) relative to the 2007 event (after); and as addendum to the following that may be read to presume the following, but in more global terms (in keeping with Habermas’ essay) than the European focus of the following, which gained its own short addendum as a March, 2007, preface.

March, 2007 Preface

March, 2007, Habermas was interviewed about “what Europe needs now,” which, I find, corrorborates my view below about “opening up fortress Europe.” I have no vested interest in my view being corroborated. Quite the contrary, I would expect a leading European citizen's view of Europe to instruct my outsider view. This would thrill me, as it would help ensure that my view of Europe was more accurate, and I can revise the below discussion accordingly. But the Habermas interview does corroborate the view below. This is a tacit recommendation of the following discussion (though I have absolutely no reason to believe that Habermas is aware of my discussion, and there is nothing in his interview that connotes that). I could dwell on that interview, for its own sake, but also as corroboration. But the following remains as it was, early December, 2006

The following was written mostly during mid-November, but sections 1 through 3 were substantially revised Dec. 3 and 4, including minor revisions elsewhere.


Jürgen Habermas provides some insightful views of European affairs in his recent presentation, “Opening up Fortress Europe” at receipt of the North-Rhine Westphalia prize. But below I’m questioning his stance toward intra-EU conflicts, as expression of my interest in some important themes, but hopefully providing a tenable alternative reading of the EU situation, relative to Habermas’ views.

First of all, it’s not obviously the case that “an introverted mood” in European nation-states has “devalued...the theme of Europe” any more than introversion in lives devalues neighborhood solidarity. Here, Habermas is generalizing over cultural, economic, and political issues that each get some attention in his speech. The EU, it seems to me, lacks cultural unity for good reason, lacks economic unity for good reason, and lacks constitutional unity for good reason—notwithstanding specific problems that deserve the attention that Habermas gives to them.

Quite obviously, the EU is alive and well as an economy, just not as a burgeoning United States of Europe (which Habermas advocates) and not as a generically “European” culture outside of shared Christian backgrounds. (Of course, there is richly shared culture across Europe, but this aggregate European history doesn’t obviously define a specifically “European” culture. More commonly, “European” associates to Westernity, but that’s now disseminated to the western hemisphere.) The “benedictory European dynamic” pluralizes values, such that each European nation has its own path to make toward a good balance of value pluralism (national vs. continental). Whatever EU identity genuinely emerges from that (bottom up, rather than top down) remains to be seen, of course, but political conceptions of unification may not follow from some integrative multicultural identity, if that multiculturality is globally invested. One should want to see political unity emerge from Europe’s evolution, rather than being imposed. The recent ratification processes for an EU constitution at least attest to a prematurity of the comprehension of a generally European political unity, amplified (if not caused by) the cultural and economic issues involved. Habermas argues against national trends, claiming that there is good reason for national trends to change. But is there appropriate reason? How good can proffered reasons be if their appeal isn’t effective?

A keynote of Habermas’ conception is cosmopolitan, which may be antedated by the increasingly metropolitan (thus regional or city-state) character of modern geographies, which are increasingly globalized societies in local variation. Europe has long been prevalently a singular network of metropolitan regions that may not be especially invested in the difficulties of its linguistic-ethnic regions, apart from economic interests shared with their less-modernized, rural surrounds. Highly individualized metro Europe doesn’t normally need endorsement by the political ethnocentrism of its rural surrounds, as long as those regions remain economically viable enough (thanks to metro gravities) to let metro Europe be metro Europe. There may be a metro-rural divide (with increasingly inter-metropolitan solidarity of membership in the continental economy) that is leaving the modernization of each metro’s surrounding region behind, exhibited in the lack of rural-regional mandate for transnational constitutionality, which would anyway benefit the continental metropolitan network more than rural regions. So, the metro-led EU constitutional process got a reality check in the ratification process of 2005.

While increased individualization leads to increased democracy, European rural life lacks the horizon-expansive (globalist) individualization that urges continental constitutionalization of inter-metropolitan globalization (due to retarded regional modernization, rather than nationalist state loyalty—or nationalism as the displacive mask of resistance to globalist modernization that threatens to dissolve rooted identities). This dosn’t lead to an EU constitution nor an EU voice in world affairs, but “the theme of Europe” seems to be thriving in the globalized multiculturalism of metro Europe (not as “European”, but as the globalized multiculturalism of Europe, the continent). Each metropolitan topography has its own set of issues, having more to do with the regional individuality of rural-urban social relations than with linguistic nationalism itself. My conjecturing here is based on what I see happening with states in the U.S., as metropolitan regions have more in common with each other than their surrounding regions. (The “blue state” / “red state” divide in the U.S. is basically a matter of metropolitan-rural proportions in state demographics.)

But the real issue to Habermas, of course, is European capability in global affairs (though the subtext seems to be anxiety about European competitiveness). Does Europe really need to be a continental force in world affairs? Habermas is arguing “Yes” against the trend that, in effect, answers “No”. Europe certainly needs to be competitive (e.g., improving its non-competitive universities), but the EU is already a strong economy. What will constitutionality do for securing the future of that?


Re: “the integration problem”: Habermas’ point, I believe, is that intra-state issues of integration inhibit inter-state integration required for EU constitutionality, thus for EU singularity or force in global affairs. The political economics of immigration/integration are continent-wide, while the cultural conditions for urging EU constitutionality are regional. Habermas calls the issue the “nation-state” factor, but it may really be the metro-rural factor (i.e., metro-anchored issues of rural modernization). The “territorial” (cultural geographic) factor that EU identity faces—the metro-rural divide of multiple regions (the multiple identity factor that trends away from unifying identity due to strengthening metro anchors via each’s global relations)—seems to outstrip the nation-state frame of mind that Habermas apparently presumes (as if it is commitments of state that inhibit commitments to EU constitutionality). The apparent issue of nationalism could be a front for metro-dominated regional issues of rural modernization.

By the way, Habermas apparently doesn’t believe that “creation of...national consciousness” in various European regions was a genuine result of its cultural background, i.e., political consolidation in accord with linguistic regions; rather, he finds nation-states to have been “forced” through something “romantically inspired”—which is an odd notion: When was the last time you were forced (i.e., did something you would otherwise resist) by romantic inspiration? It seems to me that romantic inspiration draws one into its appeal with no resistance at all. It seems natural (i.e., genuine) that cultural tradition would inspire political opportunity to constitute a nation-state. Anyway, that was long ago. The failure of metro Europe to inspire transmetropolitan integration for the sake of global efficacy and competitiveness through an EU constitution may be less deeply a matter of nationalism now (albeit via nationalist rhetoric) than a lack of rural modernization shared across national borders by threatened localities.

So, “national” interest (actually regional interest) vis-à-vis an already-effective metro European economy inhibits interest in strong, top-down federalism (i.e., EU constitutionality that overrides national constitutions) because the locus of regional interest is more about metro-rural relations (accidently associable with national borders) than being about formalizing state relations under strong federalism (i.e., “nationalism” is not about loyalty to the state, but loyalty to landed regionality). Perhaps a further factor is that the metropolitan regions are strengthened by the increasingly global character of their immigration-based economic relations with foreign markets. Nation-state arrangements in the global market are becoming led by metro-regional relations with other markets, independently of state mediation and continental policy. This increasingly annuls the urgency of continental political integration, as “Europe” becomes the aggregate effect of its metropolitan network geography in the global economy, which needs neither cultural nor political integration at the continental level. The global character of metropolitan multiculturalism in Europe may favor linguistic-to-foreign-homeland bilateralism in political-economic relations, contrary to perceived need for continental political integration vis-à-vis other continents or economic blocs. Again, the problems of European integration are urban or metropolitan, not national or nation-state; and the problem-solving here takes place in global terms (re: immigrant-to-homeland relations). For example, the problem with Turks in Germany is strongly related to Turkey’s problem (thus emmigrant Turks’ problems) with European values (made statutory for EU membership, but operative as norms for immigrant Turks) as well as the well-noted problem of German welfarism’s duty of care toward German Turkish difficulties gaining employability. Generally, Europe’s problem with Islamic life is as much Islam’s problem with modernization outside of Europe as it is Britain’s or France’s or The Netherlands’ or Denmark’s duty of care toward its Islamic communities’ difficulties gaining employability. EU political unity can’t address that, since employability problems have to be addressed by locally-based initiatives, due to the nature of education-business partnerships in economic development (which can’t be designed top-down or be straightforwardly translated from other regional successes).

Europe’s future may be largely relative to the Middle East, analogously as U.S. states increasingly relate bilaterally with Latin American and Asian regions (but, of course, the U.S. political sphere is already continentally integrated). California, in particular, operates like a nation in its relations with Latin America. Likewise increasingly for other U.S. regions. The internal (or “introverted”) problems of pan-European integration may be more an external problem of “Europe’s” relationship with post-colonial Islamic homelands (i.e., the image of Europe created historically by nation-based colonial adventures), while the EU is the Middle East’s primary interface with modernity (notwithstanding the distractive value of anti-Americanism for Arabist local solidarities). Turkey’s problems with human rights, trade fairness, and Cyprus, as well as Turkey’s recent overtones of economic blackmail if it’s not accepted into the EU. (NY Times, Nov. 9, 2006), affects Turkish immigrant life in Europe.


Habermas seems to take a top-down attitude toward cultural integration as well as toward political integration. But there will be no “broadening of our own horizons” in “a reciprocal learning process” as long as “the liberal state demands” recognition of religious pluralism, etc.; or as long as it “must demand that the compatibility of faith and reason be imposed” [my emphasis]. [This point inspires a tangent about argumentation generally, which I’ll extract and develop further later:]

“[A] self-reflexive opening of our national ways of living” calls not for regulative demands, but for educationally effective appeals.

Perhaps more than self-reflection (certainly more than polemic against failure), what’s needed is learning new ways of living together, e.g., successful Islamic immigrant mentoring of struggling Islamic neighborhoods. That’s a kind of distributed self-reflexivity, but the self-reflexivity is secondary or supplementary to there being a social (cultural, economic, and political) learning process based in effective models for living together. Demands for recognition don’t teach anyone anything. Instrumental action itself doesn’t teach; it trains. Communicative action teaches. Instrumental action (e.g., demands for recognition) either serves communicative action or else it works counter to learning via compliance regimes that foster alienation.

This kind of point concurs with Habermasian insights about primacy of understanding. But it seems that Habermas has always had a focus on regulative force that tends to become counterproductive for lifeworld efficacy or social learning. Education, trial law, and marketing know that argumentative force (“logic”) is never ordinarily convincing. Case-making is efficacious—is “the better argument”—through the audience-appreciating appeal of the case (whether effectively teaching or not) that opens deliberation to new perspective. For example, Habermas says that “the liberal state demands of all religious communities without exception that they recognise...the competence of institutionalised sciences in questions of secular knowledge.” But God-fearing Creationists’ response has been to successfully organize against secularism. Their unconfessed problem of illiteracy against secular literacy will not be solved through demands, as this only breed counterdemands. (I see in Habermas’ recent lecture, “Religion in the Public Sphere,” a demand for reason prevailing over appreciation of the developmental issues involved in cultural education. The deontic, regulative resort compensates for non-programmatic senses of cultural education.)

The better cohering makes the better case (which employs various modes of validation or acceptable implicatures), but perceptibility of coherence is developmentally relative—even, generally, cultural-evolutionarily relative. Educational processes are paradigms of case-making (attuned to the developmental stage of the audience), which at best instill capability for appreciating the logic and validities that deserve recognition. Appreciation brings recognition, not the converse. A developmental-educational approach to case-making should prevail over deontic-regulatory approaches (thus, in the abstract, articulating the developmental issues). It’s not by the force of argument (against resistance) that beliefs change, but by the appeal of better views and better-fitting options, relative to increasing capability to appreciate differences. On that basis, on the one hand, cases earn their force against resistance that is weakly founded in the first place. But, on the other hand, a great appeal dissolves resistance and creates the unforced opening to initially contrary views and claims because it educates effectively in how to think differently. Good arguments change views by eduction of reframing (like the Socratic maieutic) which teaches self-management of reframing, thereby enhancing ability to gain cognitive field independence. Logical force in argument is instrumental for the cohering appeal that opens one to learning new ways of understanding, thus instilling new views and their promise via new ways of thinking.

Matt Bai, in the NY Times, Nov. 19, notes:

As Andrei Cherny and Kenneth Baer, editors of the new policy journal Democracy, warned in the days after the [U.S.] election: “Democrats had a good day. To have a great decade, they need an agenda that captures the public imagination and responds to the looming challenges facing the country.”
(“The Last 20th-Century Election?”)

A “theme of Europe” is yet to be sounded that can instill the appeal of continental meaningfulness for rural areas that are losing economic viability to workforces on other continents that their metropolitan hubs are already busy addressing. What can Brussels do about that, beyond what metro Europe is already doing? Perhaps metro Europe can work with the WTO better than Brussels. There’s perhaps nothing that Brussels can do culturally for the metro-rural divide beyond supporting metropolitan efforts to modernize their own regions.


I see nothing especially “social darwinistic” about contemporary competitions in global society; competition is not as such social-darwinistic. In sports, the better player deserves to win! So it goes in the WTO, given fair play, of course. Just where, then, is the social darwinism so worrisomely emerging? Who’s strongly naturalizing their success in world affairs? (Maybe Habermas is speaking strictly to Germans.) Indeed, Habermas seems to correctly associate himself with “we Europe alarmists,” though of course he intends to be polemical with that allusion. The displaced warrant for such alarm may be anxiety about European prospects in global competitions, especially as the Pacific rim is gaining more economic potential than the Atlantic. The decline of European population and its problems with immigration vis-à-vis the U.S. increase of population, with general lack of difficulty with immigration, may add to anxiety toward U.S. geopolitical engagements. Moreover, the less problem that Europe may come to have with integration, the more diffuse becomes the historical sense of “European” identity, thus Europe becomes more a set of metro-hubbed hybrids of global processes, which further diffuses the urgency for constitutional integration which is necessary for a stable EU voice in world affairs. In other words, metropolitanization of a cosmopolitan ethos dissolves the need for strong federalism, due to the hybridizing and localist globalizing effects of planetized modernity. Anymore, continental political integration is a vestige of nationalism. Continental constitutionalism worked for the U.S. before economics became truly globalized. But planetary evolution may have antedated the EU’s U.S.-envious dream of a United States of Europe.

So, the EU constitutional process is “stuck”, thus the EU can’t have formally legitimated leadership in world affairs. But that doesn’t seem to terribly bother European members (a fact that Habermas acknowledges, but which seems to bother him, since recent events counter prospects for a U.S. of Europe): At this writing, Portugal, Italy, and France are engaging together in Middle East problem-solving. The “Quartet” in the Palestinian issue includes an integral European component without an EU-unified voice. I don’t see that France and Germany’s problem with Russia in the Iran nuclear affair is related to the lack of EU unity; rather, it may be more a matter of market competition for future access to an Iran-led regional caliphate. (Once again, the central issue for Europe is external, not internal).

Habermas bemoans the thinness of the “European public sphere,” but his evidence speaks against the worry, since (apparently) European nation-states are seeing no serious problem with “decisions...being made in Brussels,” which looks to me analogous to the relationship that U.S. states have toward Washington, D.C.: It causes regular back-and-forth contests on “states’ rights”, but the issue belongs to federalism itself (i.e., evolving controversy about levels of authority); it’s not itself a special problem entailing need for strong federalism. Again, Habermas may be alarmist.


To say that “the government in Washington has gambled away its own moral authority” (which recalls his sense of “shattered normative authority” in the U.S.-British-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein) seems to be just empty posturing that doesn’t show cognizance of the Iraqi-based problem. But it gels with his European anxiety about EU competitiveness and lack of influence in world affairs (by the way, “thanks” to Europe’s crusading colonial legacy throughout Arabia and its welfare-utopist reliance on the U.S. for military security).

Iraq is a social-evolutionary work-in-progress that further proves that the world works bottom up (or fails bottom up), rather than top down (though Iraq dramatically lacks top-down competence). An earlier Iraqi Return of The Repressed (2003-2004), which non-Iraqi insurgents exploited via Saddamist anger, devolved (2005-2006) into the sectarian conflicts that, fed by Syria and Iran, today portend generalized civil war. A long-term tribal/regional developmental process of modernization, repressed for decades by Saddamism, now battles over lost opportunities and sectarian ground. Was the idea of “Iraq” always top-down? Apparently, because ethnic regionalization—the dissolution of the idea of Iraq—seems today to be the inevitable resolution. If anything, U.S.-British moral authority (i.e., genuine interest in enabling Arab-led democracy) has been betrayed by Iraqi sectarianism (fanned by Syrian Baathism and Iranian Shi’ism). More troops in the beginning would have reeked of British colonialism. The Iraqis have to learn what real self-government requires of them.


It seems to me that the problem of UN reform has less to do with Europe than with avaricious developing nations who would lose authoritarian options in the process. Also, France and Britain should need to give up Security Council membership in place of an EU seat, but, ha, Hell will freeze over first.


Re: Habermas’ short comments on economics: The idea of a “global domestic policy” or “world economic order” doesn’t (apparently) recognize the WTO (World Trade Organization)-based economic order that is well-established and evolving. His notions are by now vague abstractions of the mid-20th century—outdated top-down concepts that are contrary to the bottom-up nature of social evolution and fair market economics. The global economy is well-established as a network of bilateral and regional relationships under the umbrella of the WTO. This is a small planet; its world order is largely complete: historical customs, UN, NATO, WTO, Internet, African Union, Association of Pacific Economic Cooperation, etc. Critique should need to be specific about real relations. The romance of expansive cosmopoly has been antedated by the reality of our tiny planetarity.


Planetarily speaking, our current era may be a wonderful threshold into a peaceful set of centuries, if only we can soon resolve regional problems that inhibit fully planetary focus on global warming, relative to which all other issues may have to be gauged for decades to come. No other complex of issues so naturally invites planetary thinking (which antedates cosmopolitan thinking), for the sake of the common ground presupposed in any notion of public sphere. The solutions here are all accessible; a “Manhatten Project” in environmental engineering can set in place the solutions to global warming within decades that solve the problem forever (since we’ll be beyond the economics of oil when hydrogen-fueled vehicles, breeder reactors, and space-based capturing of solar power become practicable).

But first, we have to love long-term thinking over short-term thinking. We should need to think of our presence in terms of lifespans, rather than present convenience. (What you do to yourself—or with your life—in youth destines the quality of your late years). We should need to think of each decade in terms of the century ahead. (Your grandchildren will live in the 22nd century.) This is “self-reflexive opening of our national ways of living” in a more horizon-expansive sense than Habermas apparently has in mind. Habermas’ thinking has yet to be planetary, but that’s the scale that best provides common ground. In light of loving the long-term, local sacrifices may seem relatively minor compared to the security about our children’s futures that will be ensured (which, by the way, is a typical attitude of voluntary immigrant families).

We all might take to heart that Earth is all the heaven there is, and the afterlife belongs to our children.