Burdens of the Double Past

Burdens of the Double Past

We print here a substantial part of the testimony given in May of this year by the political philosopher Jurgen Habermas at a public hearing of a Commission of Inquiry of the German Parliament on “the history and consequences of the SED dictatorship” (SED is the German acronym for Socialist Unity party, the Communist party that ruled East Germany). Habermas used this opportunity to present his ideas on “constitutional patriotism,” civil rights, and the need for a complex and open engagement with German history. We have edited the translation for American readers; elisions are clearly marked. —EDs.

The two previous hearings were concerned with the interpretation of facts. The final discussion treats a question of another nature: How are we to…foster a political culture that will stabilize the democratic constitutional state? Because this question possesses a normative character, I will not assume the role of a scientific expert, but rather will view myself as an intellectual participating in a public discussion. For with this final hearing, the commission itself has joined that public process of “coming to terms with the history of the two German dictatorships” that we have chosen as our subject. You have divided the question of the importance of this process for the continued existence of democracy into four subquestions, to which I will respond in order.

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Wurgraft | University of California Press Lima