Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Jurgen Habermas, famous German philosopher and sociologist on the European Union


Berlin - Jurgen Habermas is a famous German philosopher and sociologist now 86 years young. He still believes in the possibility of rational discourse on issues and rejects post-modernist views.
Unlike many modern thinkers Habermas does not reject the Enlightenment but considers it an "unfinished project" to be corrected and added to rather than discarded as a basis for understanding. Although Habermas was influenced by the Frankfurt School of Marxism he moved beyond it and rejected postmodernism as well considering it too pessimistic and radical. He was influenced by American pragmatism, and the analysis of speech acts in philosophers such as John Searle, and John Austin and numerous other groups. One of his talents is to meld together diverse threads of thought into some type of unity. Habermas has always spoken out on important issues of the day often in language that is much simpler and clearer than in his academic writing.
Lately he has been speaking out on the issue of Europe. He sees what he thinks of as the European ideal as being destroyed by inept politicians and forces of the market. In a discussion at the Goethe Institute in Paris Habermas says:"I'm speaking here as a citizen. I would rather be sitting back home at my desk, believe me. But this is too important. Everyone has to understand that we have critical decisions facing us. That's why I'm so involved in this debate. The European project can no longer continue in elite modus."
Habermas finds that the EU dictating debt terms to Greece violating its sovereignty "simply unacceptable". He lashes out at politicians complaining that they have no political substance and aspire to nothing except to be re-elected. He accuses EU politicians of cynicism and rejecting European ideals. He recently wrote a booklet on the issues facing Europe "On Europe's Constitution".
Habermas argues that under the pressure of markets the essence of democracy has changed. As a result political power has shifted from the people and voters to bodies that have questionable democratic legitimacy such as the European Council. One might add the European Central Bank. Habermas claims that power has been usurped by technocrats. This is seen in Greece where in return for a bailout Greece must bend to the will of the Troika with the legislature simply being an instrument to legitimize what is commanded.
Habermas argues that an agreement between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and then French president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2011 gave political supremacy to the European Council creating what he calls "post-democracy" in Europe. The European parliament he sees as having little influence. Habermas sees a Europe driven by markets with the EU technocrats exerting huge influence on formation of governments in Italy and Greece. Habermas seems to have forgotten the most elementary aspects of Marxist analysis. It is not markets that are driving the changes but the needs of capital. The power structure is meant to serve the interests of the ruling class. When these interests are seen as deregulating labor markets, reducing welfare costs and social programs etc. then this is what is demanded using debt as leverage. The technocrats are simply servants of these interests. Of course there are opinion differences on what these interests are with some liberal economists wanting to save capitalism from itself and anti-austerity programs that they regard as against the interests of capital. It has nothing to do with markets per se. Indeed free trade agreements have as a key feature enforcement of intellectual property rights that are intended to reduce market competition not foster it.
Habermas is a voice in the wilderness with his continuing belief in reason and the power of public uncoerced discourse in the public sphere. He is not one to try make himself a spectacle or a performer as with a philosopher such as Slavoj Zizek. He believes people discussing political issues and then being able to act within a democratic framework can make things better. He is angry that this is not happening and feels he must speak out with others as a way of eventually changing the situation. He offers no magic bullet to a better future, the only way forward is through discourse and the creation of structures that make the democratic will powerful again.

No comments: