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July 21, 2013
July 21, 2013

Interview with Habermas

Author: Tasos Tsakiroglou Translator: Elli Siapkidou
Source: EfSyn  Category: Dialogues
This article is also available in: esel
Interview with Habermas

“The conditions in Greece resembles the later period of the Weimer Republic”

“Only a Europe that is politically united and has a robust economy, can tame this wild economic capitalism”. This was one of the points the German intellectual stressed in Ef.Syn, a few days before his arrival in Athens, in order to participate in the International Conference on Philosophy, which takes place for the first time in Greece. J. Habermas criticises German policy, stressing that it should have borne the burden of a redistributive policy for its own interest, while adding that a change of policy at European level is key to solving Greek problems. Finally, he attacks the troika, in that they “do nothing else but to translate the banks’ and financial markets’ demands into bailouts and austerity measures”.

EfSyn: The gap between citizens and politics is wider than ever and euroscepticism seems to be the only basis for the union of European citizens today. Can Europe transform itself into a political entity with the participation of citizens? 

J.H.:The European Treaties foresee a path for constitutional review: The European Council, which consist of the Heads of State and Government calls for a summit in which the member states negotiate a Constitution for closer cooperation and integration and this draft document is then submitted for approval in all participating states. Such a development tends to polarise public opinion in the European countries, or even lead to a brutal battle of opinions, one may argue. In this case, the issue is to create a wider democratic will and consensus. And this is the least important issue. The procedure to Treaty review takes time and the crisis agenda will have to follow the pace of this change. However, if European governments had chosen this road in May 2010, at the peak of the Greek crisis, things today would be different.

EfSyn: Your alternative to the European crisis is for the monetary union to evolve into a real political union. “This would lead, for the first time, to a differentiation between a ‘European core’ and a ‘periphery’”, as you recently stated. Why?

J.H.: Look, political integration cannot move forward without an economic impetus. And Eurozone members are called to deepen their cooperation, under the pressure the crisis creates. Any other alternative, except for a political integration for the European core of the Eurozone, would not be realistic.

EfSyn: How can this be achieved?

J.H.:The German federal government needs to stop implementing a policy of confusion without prospect and initiate the procedure of Treaty review. A long-sighted government, unlike the one we have, would admit that Europe can stand on its feet only through common policies. Germany and the other member states should in this case and for their own long-term interest, accept costs in the short and medium term of redistributive policies. If Germany could lead such an effort of “solidarity”, public opinion in most EU member states would respond in a positive way to the expected restrictions on national sovereignty. When all pros and cons are set out, I am sure we would discern clear results. Even the resistance of the deeply rooted French national-republicanism would be broken in front of the economic pressures.

EfSyn: And what if Britain and other countries vetoed such a move?

J.H.: To the extent that Eurozone exhibits the political will for “more Europe”, even in the most extreme case, we could overcome the legal impediments moving towards a re-launch of the European Union, based on the current Treaties and institutions.

EfSyn: How and why is the international financial system completely autonomous from the real economy? Can societies regain control?

J.H.: Today we know in full detail that the imposition of a neo-liberal agenda in a global scale was the result of political decisions made in the US and the UK. We cannot undo economic globalisation, which also brings important benefits. However, had economic globalisation been the result of a political decision, the uncontrolled financial markets could be placed under political control. Only a Europe which is politically united and is economically robust can initiate such a process, i.e. tame this wild economic capitalism. This is something that needs to be understood by the close-minded Left, which tends to focus on a“nation state” perspective.

EfSyn: What is your position on the “Greek problem”? Is it a structural problem for the EU or does it have some other characteristics?

J.H.: Without doubt, the sovereign debt crisis in Greece has to do with the non-realistic cheap lending towards the Greek government, within a largely non-rational economic policy. On the other hand, the structural inequalities between the national economies that entered the monetary union and their dependence on the same exchange rate are also part of the Greek problem, as is the case in Spain, Portugal and Ireland. In the case of Greece though, these issues are added to the problem created by Greece itself. I have to admit that I was quite surprised and curious with the way the state mechanism works in Greece.

Efsyn: In Greece, legislation is produced through presidential decrees and legislative acts, essentially bypassing parliamentary accountability. Refugees and immigrants are being attacked from supporters and members of the nazi party Golden Dawn and austerity is used as a way to redistribute the wealth from the poor to the rich and the powerful. What is your position regarding these threats to democracy?

J.H.: These conditions remind me the situation of the later period of the Weimer Republic, which brought the resolution of a series of problems. The key is not transferring the problems to the countries that are facing the crisis. Of course, some of the urgent reforms in Greece are necessary and they should be implemented in order to benefit Greeks themselves. The political crisis becomes worse when one does not wonder first where he himself went wrong, before blaming others for his situation. However, democracy cannot work when the majority of the population feels they are under the supervision of a “troika”, whose only job is to translate the demands of the banks and the financial markets into austerity and bailouts. This is not the way that Greek citizens can achieve their democratic self-realisation, which is so necessary if they are to resist the collapse of their civic civilisation. There is a need for an intelligible crisis management agenda. Such an agenda would give Greeks a prospect, as well as the feeling that they are treated with respect, as fellow citizens by citizens of other member states, who are in solidarity with them.

EfSyn: A few days back it was revealed that NSA has internet access to users’ website history, e-mail content, data transfer and even live chats. As we already living in an Orwellian society where we are fully watched and supervised?

J.H.: I belong to a generation that still recalls that anti-Americanism, at least for us in Germany, was related to the worst political movements and the most intense feelings of resentment. I think the NSA stance was the result of the special circumstances and political climate that was created in the US after the 9/11 attacks. The then President George W. Bush and his administration’s hawks used the hysteria of a nation that was wounded, not only to wage a war against international law, but also to approve the very problematic “Patriotic Act”. Regarding this piece of legislation, there is suspicion that it violated American citizens’ basic rights. I presume that based on this legislation, the NSA completely lost proportion in implementing its duties. Something like that can only be corrected in the US. From our point of view, we are bold enough to openly criticise it.


Who he is:

Jürgen Habermas currently ranks as one of the most influential philosophers in the world. He was born in 1929 in Dusseldorf. Habermas embraced the critical theory of the Frankfurt School, a position that views contemporary Western society as maintaining a problematic conception of rationality inherently destructive in its impulse toward domination.Bridging continental and Anglo-American traditions of thought, he has engaged in debates with thinkers as diverse as Gadamer and Putnam, Foucault and Rawls, Derrida and Brandom. His extensive written work addresses topics stretching from social-political theory to aesthetics, epistemology and language to philosophy of religion, and his ideas have significantly influenced not only philosophy but also political-legal thought, sociology, communication studies, argumentation theory and rhetoric, developmental psychology and theology.

XXIII World Congress of Philosophy
The World Congresses of Philosophy are organized every five years by the International Federation of Philosophical Societies in collaboration with one of its member societies. The xxiii World Congress of Philosophy will be held from August 4 through August 10, 2013, in Athens, Greece, under the auspices of the Hellenic Organizing Committee, which has been constituted by the Greek Philosophical Society.

The Congress has several aims, which are to be understood as complementary:

• To inquire into the world’s philosophical traditions and compare them in terms of their diverse contributions and possible mutual cross-fertilization.

• To reflect on the tasks and functions of philosophy in the contemporary world, taking account of the contributions, expectations, and gaps in philosophical awareness associated with other disciplines, with political, religious, social, economic, technological, etc., activities and with diverse cultures and traditions.

• To emphasize the importance of philosophical reflection for public discourse on global issues affecting humanity.

Because of its cultural history and geographical situation, Athens is an ideal location for stimulating encounters between scholars from across the world. The main theme of the 2013 Congress, ‘Philosophy as Inquiry and Way of Life’, emphasizing both theory and practice, recalls the declaration of Socrates that the unexamined life is not worth living.

The 2013 Congress invites discussion of the nature, roles, and responsibilities of philosophy and philosophers today. It is committed to paying heed to the problems, conflicts, inequalities, and injustices connected with the development of a planetary civilization that is at once multicultural and techno-scientific.

The main theme of the Congress will be developed, according to the tradition of the World Congresses, in the following four plenary sessions and seven symposia.

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