A Habermasian Culture

Influential sociologist and philosopher Jürgen Habermas ponders the question in Friday’s New York Times of whether recent high-profile media incidents involving anti-Muslim sentiment in Germany represent a “revival” of “‘old’ mindsets.” Habermas says today’s controversy is not a case of bringing back the Nazism of the 1930s, but rather a “rekindling of controversies of the early 1990s,” involving asylum seekers from what-was-then Yugoslavia. But it’s still a cause for concern. Habermas contends that the anti-immigration sympathizers (proponents of “leitkultur,” meaning basic, core or leading culture) want immigrants to “assimilate the ‘values’ of the majority culture and to adopt its customs,’” in addition to learning the language and “accepting the principles of the Constitution.” If that’s not bad enough, the philospher writes, the leitkulturists have added the element of religion, appealing to the “Judeo-Christian tradition” (which, he notes, is “an incredible disregard for the fate of the Jews suffered in Germany.”).

In fact, the whole discussion of xenophobia is just his intro for what he regards as “of greater concern: the growing preference for unpolitical figures on the political scene” who appeal to the masses because of their lack of political experience and charisma.

And Habermas is even more worried about recent protests over a planned demolition of an old, historic train station in Stuttgart, recalling “extraparliamentary opposition of the 1960s” but this time incorporating “people from all age groups.” The problem here is that the protestors (numbering in the “tens of thousands”) want to preserve “a familiar world in which politics intervenes as the executive arm of supposed economic progress.” And the “self-enclosed and ever more helpless” politicians made matters worse by failing to “provide sufficient information” to the public about their plans.

Habermas finishes with a plea for the European political class to overcome “its own defeatism”—represented in the rise of German anti-immigration sentiment, the Stuttgart protests and the preference for nonpolitical, charismatic leaders—with a bit more perspective, resoluteness and cooperative spirit.”

In the Washington Post, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat writes that Israeli settlements have demolished the possibility of a Palestinian state. He calls a “full and comprehensive settlement freeze” a “litmus test of Israel’s seriousness” that the Israelis have thus far failed. Erakat thinks it’s the only way to inject desperately needed “credibility” into the peace process.

Also in the Post, columnist Michael Gerson rejects the argument that a greater slice of American society should be involved in bearing the nation’s military burden in order to bridge the gap between civilians and the military. Bringing back the draft would ruin the professionalism of the U.S. military—and anyway, Gerson says, most of America’s youth is too fat to be drafted. He argues that today’s soldiers “don’t need the rest of” society’s help, and don’t want it.