what about capitalism? jürgen habermas’s project of a european democracy

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  1. 1.

    The last chapter in this sequence, Chapter 7, is a review of a book published by this author in 2013. The review is unenthusiastic enough in parts for it to be included in the following discussion. For an extensive response to it see Streeck (2013; English translation 2014).

  2. 2.

    Of course this has for several years now been the official Brussels position, where the would-be rulers of the ‘ever closer union of the European peoples’, while refusing to take part in the building controversy over what is the finalité of European integration, strictly deny that what they have in mind is a ‘United States of Europe’. Obviously this is to pacify the citizens of member countries who in their vast majority find this prospect horrifying. Perhaps Habermas’s renunciation of a state-building project may also be political rhetoric to mislead the uninitiated. In this case, however, one wonders if he has understood the other function of the recent anti-statism of Brussels, which is to reassure international capital that the new European entity will not undertake to domesticate it in the way the nation-state has tried to and may still return to trying.

  3. 3.

    Even though he is very well aware of all or most of the problems of the EMU. See 8 and passim.

  4. 4.

    In the only place where Habermas discusses this – in an interview with an Austrian weekly newspaper – he refers to his personal ‘knowledge of history and the political life experience of a German of my generation’ to argue that ‘it would be demoralizing if the currency union were to fail for clear reasons of national egoism’ (69) – which, the context suggests, means that the Euro would fail, if it did, because of German national egoism, making it a German responsibility not to be ‘egoistic’ for the sake of European unity. That the Euro might fail because it would turn out to be an economic disaster for some of its member states while being a boon for others is not taken into consideration since, presumably, whatever economic problems it might produce could be cured by German altruism motivated by the haunting memories of the German past. Habermas also predicts that a ‘failure’ of the Euro ‘would provide the starting signal for the right-wing populism that has undergone a revival in all of our countries’ (ibid.). This misrepresents the causal relationship as it was and is the defence of the Euro that gave the ‘starting signal’ for ‘anti-European’, sovereigntist movements in several countries, where it was not least fear of German hegemony that led to popular demands, for example, in France, for the Euro to be rescinded rather than saved.

  5. 5.

    A sort of leadership it has now sought and found also in a second field, that of humanitarian charity, by masterminding the European ‘refugee crisis’.

  6. 6.

    Note that Iceland, while hit hardest by the financial crisis, was able, having kept its own currency, to devise the probably most socially compatible solution to it (International Monetary Fund, 2015). Consider also the United Kingdom, where monetary sovereignty helped the country avoid what would otherwise have been an even more severe crisis.

  7. 7.

    Which, so Habermas in a surprising adaptation of European technospeak, would also, on top of it all, ‘promote growth and competitiveness in the Eurozone as a whole’ (28).


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  2. Habermas, J. (2013) Im Sog der Technokratie. Kleine Politische Schriften XII, Berlin: Suhrkamp.

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Correspondence to wolfgang streeck.

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streeck, w. what about capitalism? jürgen habermas’s project of a european democracy. Eur Polit Sci 16, 246–253 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1057/eps.2016.3

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