Germany: Habermas stokes debate on Europe
9 November 2011
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
The future of democracy in Europe has once again come to the fore in the German press, with Jürgen Habermas adding weight to some of the arguments leveled by an incendiary article in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, which attacked the destruction of democracy in Europe implied by criticism of the ill-fated Greek referendum.
In the columns of the same newspaper, the internationally renowned philosopher writes of “the need to save the dignity of democracy,” and describes outgoing Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou as “the archetype of a politician who came a cropper attempting to bridge the widening rift between financial experts and citizens; [between] the systemic imperatives of unbridled financial capitalism – which politics has untethered from the real economy – and the electorate’s complaints about empty promises of social justice."
In the context of a crisis that has made it impossible to sit on the fence, Habermas argues that the politicians should clearly explain the situation and restore power of decision to citizens: “this is not only a question of democracy, but also a question of dignity."
He continues: "the Greek disaster should act as a warning against the post-democratic strategy adopted by Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy. The concentration of a power in the hands of an inner circle of government leaders who impose their agreements on national parliaments is not the way forward": what is needed is a new European constitutional process with an integral role for citizens…
Other commentators have been quick to respond to the philosopher’s article, notably Spiegel Online’s star columnist, Jan Fleischhauer, who furiously accuses Habermas to be "the latest heavyweight among a number of well-meaning German intellectuals" to have joined “the camp of hysterics with a penchant for the apocalypse”.
"In his account of the euro crisis, politicians have been crushed by the economy to the point where they have become zealous underlings of financial capitalism. […] But when it is time to make concrete demands, Habermas runs into the same problem as the one encountered by the Occupy Wall Street activists, who, like him, have nothing to say except that wealth should be redistributed in some way. In truth, the sole aim of all of this rhetorical effort is to absolve politicians of their responsibility, so that they are free to implement their policies undisturbed."