“Perhaps I am confusing Joschka Fischer and Jürgen Habermas,” admitted then French interior minister Jean-Pierre Chevènement in a debate on Europe with Fischer in the summer of 2000. Not surprisingly, this “confusion” flattered the German foreign minister. After all, during the mid-1980s Fischer ran seminars with Germany’s premier public philosopher. Every Monday a motley crew of Green activists, Frankfurt School critical theorists, and journalists met in the backrooms of “Dionysos,” a Frankfurt Greek restaurant. Subsequent to such theoretical (and, presumably, Apollonian) exercises, Fischer went on his astonishing journey from down-and-out left-wing radical to European statesman. Habermas became a leading advocate for a genuine European-wide democracy, as one step toward establishing a just cosmopolitan world order.
Fischer and Habermas often appear to act in political-philosophical tandem. Fischer sparked a Europe-wide debate with his call for the full constitutionalization of the European Union in a speech at Berlin’s Humboldt University in May 2000. Having long been one of the most influential voices in the seemingly interminable debates about “German identity,” Habermas recently took to the European stage. He now calls ever more incisively for a European constitution to create a novel European “state of nation-states.” This European Union should, in Habermas’s view, act as a counterweight to the United States, which Habermas calls a “callous superpower.”
Habermas’s new role culminated in his controversial appeal for a “renewal of Europe” co-signed by Jacques Derrida, in May 2003. According to Habermas and Derrida, the “rebirth of Europe”-its Fourth of July, so to speak-occurred on February 15, 2003. On that day, millions marched on the streets in Rome, Madrid, Paris, Berlin, and London against the impending war with Iraq. Habermas claimed this was the moment when a common European consciousness came into focus. This consciousness is supposedly based on shared, and for the most part painful, historical memories of violence and atrocity sparked by past national rivalries. In addition, the history of intra-European conflicts (and their eventual resolution) has given Europeans a peculiar capacity for recognizing-and accepting-differences today. Finally, according to Habermas (and, for that matter, political analyst Robert Kagan), Europeans have become much more sensitive to violence. Against the background of the experience of totalitarianism and the Holocaust, they are said to have developed a stronger awareness of threats to personal and bodily integrity. This explains the European opposition to capital punishment. Above all, it explains why the continent’s problematic past may now, paradoxically, allow the European Union to be a “civilizing” counterpart to the United States.
For just $19.95 a year, get access to new issues and decades' worth of archives on our site.
Print + Online
For $29.95 a year, get new issues delivered to your door and access to our full online archives.