Germany’s Most Renowned Philosopher Sends Love Letter To Europe

Among the most influential living thinkers, Jürgen Habermas has a timely new treatise on Europe. He sees beyond the “crisis” a Europe leading the way for a coming world based on supranational institutions.

Germany's Jürgen Habermas, one of today's best-known thinkers
Germany's Jürgen Habermas, one of today's best-known thinkers
Eckhard Fuhr

BERLIN – How is Europe doing? The answer will depend on whether you focus on the present political and economic crisis, and the accompanying media noise, or – looking some 50 years down the line – on the long-term fate of institutions and treaties with which Europe has opened a new chapter of its history.

In 2009, the arrival of the Lisbon Treaty was celebrated with fireworks – and for German sociologist and philosopher Jürgen Habermas, it represented an important milestone in shifting the competencies of national states to supranational institutions.

If you answer the question about how Europe is doing strictly from the present, it could prompt anger at a potential scenario that has become all too real: that the whole "Europe project" could fail. If you answer it from the second perspective, pride mixes with hope, knowing that more political wisdom is inherent in the European Union than its current political players and public opinion together can muster. More has been achieved towards a European constitution than most Europeans realize. And that Europe is not only too big, it's far too valuable to fail.

In his newly-published Zur Verfassung Europas -- Ein Essay (On Europe's Constitution – An Essay), Habermas uses this double perspective like 3-D glasses to take a look into Europe's future, even as he reaches back to explore the history of democracy. His essay is nothing less than an attempt to set the ground for a new European narrative that frees the continent from its 20th century experiences of war and destruction by transcending them – and looks ahead to a time when lasting peace is a "cosmopolitan right" (Kant).

The crux of his argument can be summed up in this sentence: "The European Union should be seen as a first decisive step toward a politically constitutionalized world society." Habermas is not so concerned whether those who hold sway right now are the Europeans currently busy trying to rescue the continental project, or the skeptics, anti-Brussels populists and nostalgic fans of the D-Mark hoping it will fail. Still: even if the model of Utopian realism that Habermas applies seems foreign in the 24-hour news cycle of blitz reactions and drastic shifts in stock prices, it would be wise to let it in.

Habermas is a realist. He shows that much has already been accomplished towards achieving a "transnational democracy" in Europe, even if the Lisbon Treaty is a pact among states, not a constitution written by the European people.

According to Habermas, Europeans themselves don't yet understand their Europe. Habermas pins responsibility for that on politicians as well, saying that instead of sealing themselves off at summit meetings, they should be tackling the European project in an up-front "shirt-sleeves, noisy and opinionated" way.

The media too has failed in their job of presenting a vision of the future, presenting the prerequisites for Europe's citizens to develop feelings of cohesion and solidarity. In this regard, the "quality" press is a particular disappointment to Habermas. Could it be, he wonders, that even high-minded observers just don't comprehend that structural change is at hand?

Read the full original article in German

Photo - Wikipedia

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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