Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Nationalism 003: Haabermas: Citizenship and Nationality

I think that I am finally beginning to understand Jorgen Habermas.

In the course on political philosophy, we were given:

Jürgen Habermas, “Citizenship and National Identity: Some Reflections on the Future of Europe”, as reprinted in Between Facts and Norms, Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1996.

And, the first two times I read it, it was as if somebody had changed the meanings of all English Language words and strung them together in sentences that LOOKED like English sentences, but did not make any sense.

Reading it a couple of times, a good night's sleep, and a review of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Habermas, I think I am starting to get it.

We have these two things. They are 'national identity" and "citizenship".

People have a bad habit of thinking that there is some conceptual link between them - that to be a citizen is to partake in a national identity.

Habermas says that this is not the case. The two are distinct.

People might think that they are the same because they grew up together. There were people who shared a culture, language, and history who got together and created a form of government to rule over them. Viola! A nation state made up of citizens who shared a common culture, language, and history.

However, current events - Habermas points specifically to the United States, India, and the European Union (which was just forming at the time this article was being written) showed that these concepts were drifting apart. A person's citizenship had little to do with shared culture, language, and traditions. Instead, a country was made up of citizens with different cultures, languages, and traditions, who have decided on a common set of rules and institutions that aimed to help them to get along with each other.

People were given the liberty to live their lives in whatever social spheres they were comfortable in. The government existed to help these social spheres get along with each other and to decide on policies and practices that required their mutual cooperation.

This, by the way, was an essential part of democracy, according to Habermas. Political legitimacy required that the people see the laws of the state as something that came about through their own action - as something that they made. Thus, they had what business strategists now call "ownership". Because it was theirs - because they helped build it - they valued it.

Now, let us look at these trans-national organizations such as the European Union.

These democracies also need some way to foster cooperation and peaceful coexistence among diverse groups.

Well, we could do the whole war thing which, now that we have nuclear weapons and the like, could get out of hand. And we can continue to do harm to the environment where one country's emissions completely destroys cities and countries on the other side of the world (but still profits from the activity.

However, if we are assuming that we want to avoid these things, then perhaps discovering a way in which we can talk to each other and make decisions that are a benefit to people generally.

Habermas does not seem to support the idea of a global democracy where people participate in global debates the way that they currently participate in national debates. Instead, as I read him, he holds that the relationship between states and this super-state organization through which states come to mutual agreements is like the relationship between citizens and their government. Each "state" is a citizen in this super-state organization as each citizen is a citizen of the state.

After all, Habermas is a big fan of the idea of there being a "right answer" (or at least an answer that reasonable people can agree on if everybody who is effected will just sit down, hear each other out, and agree to come to a decision). The same, I would wager, is true of states (or state representatives) working out common plans among them.

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