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Habermas talks international law, European politics

The principle of state equality is an important goal of international law and a point of contention in European politics, Jürgen Habermas, philosopher and professor emeritus at the Goethe University Frankfurt, said in a lecture on Thursday.

Habermas explained that in international law, the principle of state equality guarantees an equal standing to all states and governments.

In contrast to Americans, the people of Europe do not want a large federal state, Habermas said. Although he noted that though Europeans would like to see a state emerge with a “supranational quality” in the abstract, he added that Europeans believe the supranational level of government should not overwhelm the national level.

Noting that Europeans have been living in their respective nation-states for centuries, he explained that there are a variety of reasons why the process of European unification is stalling, primarily including the unwillingness of different countries’ middle classes to recognize other countries as equals. This lack of trust, Habermas added, poses serious problems for establishing a unified constitutional framework in Europe.

“We should not confuse the informal solidarity that perpetually develops in families and between political communities with the legally constituted forms of civic solidarity,” Habermas said. “[In] the European states, at least those that emerged from national unification movements, a national consciousness … was produced by students, the military, nationalists, on and on, during all of the 19th century.”

Habermas explained that democratic states derive their legitimacy not only from the will of the people being represented but also from the existence of a deliberative process to exchange ideas and enact policy, adding that transnational states face the challenge of having to replicate fairly both of those elements. He noted that transnational states must avoid the possibility that entire peoples could be subject to laws to which they did not consent.

“Nations are composed of citizens and form political communities that cannot be developed spontaneously,” Habermas said. “Contrary to the international ideologies that would try to subtract this, the political level of civic integration acquires a way entirely of its own.”

Despite these obstacles, a relatively high level of political inclusion has been achieved in Europe in recent times, Habermas noted. He added that Europeans also share many values and traditions in common.

“Nation-states owe the fragile resource of free and relatively equitable living conditions to democratic processes and liberal institutions,” Habermas said.

The lecture, entitled “The Transnationalization of Democracy: A European Experiment,” took place at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday in McCosh 50.

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