The concept of European Identity in: “February 15, or WhatBinds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common ForeignPolicy, Beginning in the Core of Europe” by Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida

Maximilian L. Berkenheide 

Abstract:The concept of European Identity is analysed by Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida. The significant topics Common Foreign Policy, the Core of Europe as well as what binds Europeans together are presented in the essay after the critical reading.

Keywords: European identity, Common Foreign Policy, the Core of Europe, Jurgen Habermas, Jacques Derrida.

Introduction:

For Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida [1] the Europe-wide demonstrations against the IraqWar February 15, 2003, marks the “birth of a European public sphere” [2], the war as a“catalyst” [3] of populations being deprived of initiative and political power,overwhelmed by a transatlantic militaristic cooperation, uncoupled from public control. Intheir opinion, “the war made Europeans conscious of the failure of their common foreignpolicy” and therefore can be recognized as a moment of a common politicalarticulation. While this conclusion points out a particular problem of the political system ofEurope – the lack of a common policy – it implies at the same time the need for a bindingbase for a common policy:If Europe is not to fall apart, these countries [core Europe nations, M.B.] will haveto make use of the mechanisms for ‘strengthened cooperation’ created in Nice as away of taking a first step toward a common foreign policy, a common foreign policy,and a common defense policy [4].

The concept of European Identity presented by Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida

In other words: the need for a broad identification beneath the countries of Europe or a

European identity.

According to Habermas, the development in the European Union and therefore in the biggest

part of Europe itself and, at the same time, the most attracting and dynamic part of Europe,has come to a key point: The binding and reformative effect of the “construction of acommon market” is “exhausted” [5] and therefore demands for a change in policy, a“transformative politics” [6] fostered by the member states by forming a common willtaking recourse “to the motives and the attitudes of the citizens themselves” [7]. Tosucceed with this endeavor, the current situation of “unity without commitment”  [8] –probably being the product of the mere economical approach of the past – has to be alteredby a “consciousness of a shared political fate, and the prospect of a common future” [9] being a crucial point not only for national identity, but especially in forming a sense ofsupranational identity: “The population must so to speak ‘build up’ their national identities,and add to them a European dimension. […] The citizens of one nation must regard thecitizens of another nation as fundamentally ‘one of us’” [10] the following I will only cite with the number of the page(s) in brackets since it’s only about a single text.

However, the project of constructing a European identity is paved with obstacles: Since the

history of Europe is best characterized by “ongoing rivalries between self-conscious nations”

with “National consciousness, formed by national languages, national literatures, andnational histories”, it seems difficult to establish any kind of common sense or vision.

While there certainly are some shared features beneath the nations of Europe, and especially

beneath the “core European nations” [11], which he considers to be the “locomotive” [12] for the fate of the European Union, like

Christianity and capitalism, natural science and technology, Roman laws and theCode Napoleon, the bourgeois-urban form of life, democracy and human rights, thesecularization of state and society, […] [a] Western form of spirit, rooted in theJudeo-Christian tradition, […] individualism, rationalism, activism. [13]

These traits don’t necessarily serve as unique parts of a common identity, since theseachievements lost their identity-forming character by their worldwide success (cf. ibid) [14].That’s why, for Habermas, there are two essential components in building up a truly unifiedEurope by identity: Putting weight on the question how to establish this identity and‘equipping’ this process of actively forming an identity with historical experiences.

Therefore, he acknowledges, but at the same time emphasizes, the necessarily artificiality ofsuch an identity. He promotes consciousness of such a constructed, artificial identity being,on the one hand, only honest about the natural character of identity, and, on the other hand,to enable a consensual and reflected identity, derived from a controversial historical legacywithout hiding aspects of or deforming history but actually, in some way, learning andprofiting from it: “Distinguishing between the legacy we appropriate and the one we wantto refuse demands just as much circumspection as the decision over the interpretationthrough which we appropriate it for ourselves” [15]. That approach implies simultaneouslythe importance of a public sphere, in which, after all, the historical selection and evaluationcan take place, where a vision “must articulate itself from out of the wild cacophony of amulti-vocal public sphere” [16], fostered by intellectuals, reflecting the plurality of theEuropean sphere.

In the course of his article, he points out several “candidates” for such an historicalfundament, underlining that “historical experiences are only candidates for self-consciousappropriation; without such a self-conscious act they cannot attain the power to shape ouridentity.” [17]One applicant is represented by the historical synchrony, to a certain extent, of historicalphenomena like nationalism, as well as numerous national conflicts “between town andcountry, sacred and secular authorities, […] the competition between faith and knowledge,the struggle between states and antagonistic classes”, which might have led to an“acknowledgement of differences” [18] serving as part of the solution for the dilemma ofintegrating highly autonomous and diverging nations.

Others are:

1) Secularization, to a certain extent, since “citizens here [in Europe, M.B.] regardtransgressions of the border between politics and religion with suspicion” [19],which is strongly connected with state’s neutrality.

2) The “evaluation of politics and market” e.g. “Europeans’ trust in the civilizing powerof the state, and their expectations for its capacity to correct ‘market failures’” [20]as the result of the French Revolution and the triumph of capitalism. [21]

3) “Sensitivity of citizens to the paradoxes of progress” [22]), enforced by thedevelopment of the party system during the French Revolution (conservative, liberal,socialist) evaluating and dialectical reflecting the ambivalence of modernity.

4) A certain “ethics of solidarity […] against the individualistic ethos of market justice”,born out of the experience of mass poverty during the industrial dawn of capitalismand emerged collective social fights and achievements. [23]

5) “Sensitivity to injuries to personal and bodily integrity” as “the moral basis ofpolitics” [24]. A product of the totalitarian regimes of Europe and the epochalcatastrophe and fall of European civilization of the Shoah.

6) The “domestication of state power” and “a mutual limitation of sovereignty, on theglobal as well as the national-state level” during the “supranational forms ofcooperation after the Second World War” [25] in the form of the UN or the EUitself.

7) A “reflexive distance from themselves” and “rejection of Eurocentrism” for the sakeof a “global domestic policy”, due to the experience of “imperial power” of severalleading, actually the “core European”, nations, and “the loss of its empire” [26].

Furthermore, he points out specific European traits by stating that Europeans would have“keen sense of the ‘dialectic of enlightenment’; they have no naively optimistic expectationsabout technological progress” [27], while “The threshold of tolerance for the use of forceagainst persons lies relatively low.” [28]

Indeed, I very much support Habermas’ goal of forming a European public sphere in orderto develop a conscious and critical civic society and find it compelling to use the historicdifferences and experiences of otherness not as an obstacle, but rather as unifying aspect ofplurality. Only I have serious doubts how the long-term alienation not only of the ‘EuropeanUnion people’ from ‘its’ institutions carrying a lack of democratic representation [29]from the

beginning anyway, but of the broad public from the political and likewise the intellectualsphere in the particular nations could be mended and transformed into a configuration ofmutual trust and influence again. Observing the European nations, especially the easternEuropean nations, still struggling with their own definition of the relationship betweenpeople and politics, not to mention their enormous opposition concerning the delegation ofnational rights to a supranational level[30], but even “core European nations” like Spain, GreatBritain, Austria, Germany – both on the political as well as on the public level, regardingmovements like “Pegida” in Germany – re-establishing national borders, crying and cravingfor national or even regional autonomy[31], dismantling the ground of their own prosperity,the Schengen area facing the so-called “refugee crisis”, I get the impression of centrifugalforce, rather than unifying plurality.

I frankly fear the expanding distance between popular discontent increasing into dangerousanger and the particular national political strata, abandoning all historical stories ofconnection in some way while, ironically, facing otherness on a whole other scale. Beingconfronted with ‘outer Europeans’ not only seem to overwhelm any imagined values oftolerance and “cosmopolitan order” [32]but reveals the deep differences within Europeitself, even overlaying the almost ‘traditional’ racism against southern and eastern Europeancountries fed by a persistent ugly feeling of superiority especially in Germany, which couldbe seen exemplary in the public rhetoric during the expansion of the EU and Schengen intoeastern Europe.

In a similar light I criticize Habermas’ impression of Europeans often critical positiontowards technological progress. Where he describes a “keen sense of the ‘dialectic ofenlightenment’”, I wonder, especially regarding his descent from the Critical Theory, andmust oppose since I rather observe a deep-rooted anti-Western attitude and anti-Americanism in particular, almost inseparable connected with suspicion against modernity and technology development, especially beneath the European Left and the eastern Europeancountries for decades distorted by a perverted Socialism.

In this sense I feel also obliged to criticize his statements about “old Europe” beingchallenged by the hegemonic politics of the United States[33] and the European supportof liberation, but rejection of illegality [34]. On a political level, this might be truewithout a doubt, but on a public and even personal level I see the same mechanisms asdescribed above, criticizing treaties like TTIP not only because of its embarrassing lack ofdemocratic control, but rather because of its threatening ‘Americanism’ of liberality andeconomy.

Conclusion:

Concluding I wish that one time a – economically as well as in terms of values – unified or

at least closer connected Europe can come into existence, not for the sake of a“counterbalance” of the USA, but furthermore in establishing a model of internationallevelling overcoming the intellectually and economically disturbing world of borders and bythis I want to emphasize also on a future abolishment of the European outer border guardedby the tacitly accepted inhuman existence of institutions like FRONTEX. But before thedeep gap between individuals and people and the strata of political decision is not resolved,Europe and its idealistic vision is to erode and vanish.

References and Notes:

[1] In the following, I will name Habermas as origin of the quotations, since he is the main author while Derrida is only co-signatory.

[2] Habermas, Jürgen: February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe. In: Constellations, vol. 10, Oxford and Malden 2003, 291-297, p. 291. In the following I will only cite with the number of the page(s) in brackets since it’s only about a single text.

[3] Habermas, J. & J. Derrida (2003). February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe. In: Constellations, Vol. 10, N 3, Oxford and Malden 2003, p. 292.

[4] Habermas, J. & J. Derrida (2003). February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe. In: Constellations, Vol. 10, N 3, Oxford and Malden 2003, p. 292.

[5] Habermas, J. & J. Derrida (2003). February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe. In: Constellations, Vol. 10, N 3, Oxford and Malden 2003, p. 293.

[6] Habermas, J. & J. Derrida (2003). February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe. In: Constellations, Vol. 10, N 3, Oxford and Malden 2003, p. 292.

[7] Habermas, J. & J. Derrida (2003). February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe. In: Constellations, Vol. 10, N 3, Oxford and Malden 2003, p. 293.

[8] Habermas, J. & J. Derrida (2003). February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe. In: Constellations, Vol. 10, N 3, Oxford and Malden 2003, p. 293.

Habermas, J. & J. Derrida (2003). February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe. In: Constellations, Vol. 10, N 3, Oxford and Malden 2003, p. 293.

[9] Habermas, J. & J. Derrida (2003). February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe. In: Constellations, Vol. 10, N 3, Oxford and Malden 2003, p. 293.

[10] Habermas, J. & J. Derrida (2003). February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe. In: Constellations, Vol. 10, N 3, Oxford and Malden 2003, p. 294.

[11] Habermas, J. & J. Derrida (2003). February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe. In: Constellations, Vol. 10, N 3, Oxford and Malden 2003, p. 292.

[12] Habermas, J. & J. Derrida (2003). February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe. In: Constellations, Vol. 10, N 3, Oxford and Malden 2003, p. 292.

[13] Habermas, J. & J. Derrida (2003). February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe. In: Constellations, Vol. 10, N 3, Oxford and Malden 2003, p. 294.

[14] Habermas, J. & J. Derrida (2003). February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe. In: Constellations, Vol. 10, N 3, Oxford and Malden 2003, p. 294.

[15] Habermas, J. & J. Derrida (2003). February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe. In: Constellations, Vol. 10, N 3, Oxford and Malden 2003, p. 295.

[16] Habermas, J. & J. Derrida (2003). February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe. In: Constellations, Vol. 10, N 3, Oxford and Malden 2003, p. 293.

[17] Habermas, J. & J. Derrida (2003). February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe. In: Constellations, Vol. 10, N 3, Oxford and Malden 2003, p. 295.

[18] Habermas, J. & J. Derrida (2003). February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe. In: Constellations, Vol. 10, N 3, Oxford and Malden 2003, p. 294.

[19] Habermas, J. & J. Derrida (2003). February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe. In: Constellations, Vol. 10, N 3, Oxford and Malden 2003, p. 295.

[20] Habermas, J. & J. Derrida (2003). February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe. In: Constellations, Vol. 10, N 3, Oxford and Malden 2003, p. 296.

[21] Cf also: „Europeans have a relatively large amount of trust in the organizational and steering capacities of the state, while remaining skeptical toward the achievements of markets.” (295).

[22] Ibid. Habermas, J. & J. Derrida (2003). February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe. In: Constellations, Vol. 10, N 3, Oxford and Malden 2003, p. 296.

[23] Cf. also: “They maintain a preference for the welfare state’s guarantees of social security and for regulations on the basis of solidarity” (ibid).

[24] ibid. Habermas, J. & J. Derrida (2003). February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe. In: Constellations, Vol. 10, N 3, Oxford and Malden 2003, p. 296.

[25] ibid. Habermas, J. & J. Derrida (2003). February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe. In: Constellations, Vol. 10, N 3, Oxford and Malden 2003, p. 296.

[26] Habermas, J. & J. Derrida (2003). February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe. In: Constellations, Vol. 10, N 3, Oxford and Malden 2003, p. 297.

27] Habermas, J. & J. Derrida (2003). February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe. In: Constellations, Vol. 10, N 3, Oxford and Malden 2003, p. 295.

[28] Habermas, J. & J. Derrida (2003). February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe. In: Constellations, Vol. 10, N 3, Oxford and Malden 2003, p. 295.

[29] A fact that came to the surface during the financial crisis of 2008 and especially the modus operandi regarding Greek. Of course an experience, which took place after the article like the following and therefore more an ex post critic from a whole other historical point of view.

[30] Which was already recognized by Habermas himself 2003, at this time not even being members of EU (cf. 292).

[31] Cf. separatist movements like Catalonia or Scotland carry Habermas’ statement: „In the framework of the future European constitution, there can and must no separatism.” (292) ad absurdum.

[32] Habermas, J. & J. Derrida (2003). February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe. In: Constellations, Vol. 10, N 3, Oxford and Malden 2003, p. 294.

[33] Habermas, J. & J. Derrida (2003). February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe. In: Constellations, Vol. 10, N 3, Oxford and Malden 2003, cf. 293.

[34] Habermas, J. & J. Derrida (2003). February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe. In: Constellations, Vol. 10, N 3, Oxford and Malden 2003, cf. 295.

Bibliography:

Habermas, J. & J. Derrida (2003). February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe. In: Constellations, Vol. 10, N 3, Oxford and Malden 2003, pp. 291 – 297, http://platypus1917.org/wp-content/uploads/archive/rgroups/2006-chicago/habermasderrida_europe.pdf, Retrieved on 10.01.2017.

Сп. „Реторика и комуникации“, брой 27, март 2017 г., http://rhetoric.bg/

Rhetoric and Communications E-journal, Issue 27, March 2017, http://journal.rhetoric.bg/

 

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