9-16: Jurgen Habermas, Philosopher

Jürgen Habermas: A Biography

By Stefan Müller-Doohm; Daniel Steuer, trans.

Following are portions of a review of A Lion in Winter, a biography of philosopher Jurgen Habermas. The article was written by Peter E. Gordon and appeared in Nation magazine.

It begins:

Jürgen Habermas remains an indispensable guide to the unfinished project of democratic consciousness and enlightenment.

Not far from Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate lies the Holocaust Memorial, a vast grid of nearly 3,000 concrete blocks that span a field of 19,000 square meters and vary in height. Some rise only to the knees; others loom above the head as one descends the sloping plain to its center. The memorial was built only after a protracted debate as to whether such a sobering reminder of the darkest chapter in Germany’s past should stand at the heart of the nation’s newly refounded capital.

Following the memorial’s inauguration in May 2005, a reporter for the weekly Die Zeit took note of a solitary visitor, “a gentleman with snow-white hair” who was standing near an ice-cream van. “His hand is pensively holding his chin. He is looking at the people surging amid the stelae, the catch-me-if-you-can games of the pubescent, the photo-shooting fathers, exhausted pensioners. The man is standing there in silence.” He observes the whole scene “as if he were watching a sociological experiment.” But he has an air of dissatisfaction. “What is he thinking? ‘No comment.’” says the man. “He does not want to talk about it in public, not yet.” As the reporter leaves, the man’s “white hair can still be seen among the crowd.”

The pensive man with the snow-white hair was the philosopher and social theorist Jürgen Habermas, who for more than six decades has played the part of gadfly in modern Germany, just as Socrates did in ancient Athens. Even at his ripe age—he is now 87—Habermas’s passion remains undiminished. As a public intellectual, however, he may seem an unlikely hero. We live in an age when what some of us still fondly call “the public sphere” has grown thick with personalities who prefer the TED Talk to the printed word and the tweet to the rigors of rational argument. For Habermas, it’s clear that without the constant exercise of public deliberation,

democracy will collapse

and this means that citizens must be ready to submit their arguments to

the acid bath of rational criticism

The debates that preceded the construction of the Holocaust Memorial brought bitter memories to the surface—the novelist Martin Walser complained of “a monumentalization of our disgrace”—but for Habermas,

a willingness to engage productively in self-criticism is a prerequisite for democratic consciousness

. National pride in the conventional sense leaves him cold: In an essay for Die Zeit, he responded to Walser, emphasizing that “anyone who views Auschwitz as ‘our shame’ is more interested in the image others have of us than in the image German citizens retrospectively form of themselves in view of the breakdown of civilization, in order to be able to look each other in the face and show each other respect.” Habermas argues instead for “constitutional patriotism,” a sense of loyalty to the principles and procedures of the modern democratic state.

The review continues for several thousand words, but I’ll leave it at this point … and repeat Habermas’ basic definition of constitutional patriotism: “a sense of loyalty to the principles and procedures of the modern democratic state.”

It would be ideal if the modern democratic state–starting right here in the USA–truly stood for the rights and well-being of all our countrymen, and then extended to the entire world. Polyannaish, I know, but worth dreaming of and working toward.

Connection to PTSD

Habermas demonstrates that deep, dark feelings can extend beyond the individual, that an entire country/culture can fall into malaise. Atrocities of war will do that.

The first step to recovery is to acknowledge the existence of a problem.



5-9: Kent State, War at Home

May, 1970 was a turbulent time in the U.S. with students protesting the war in Vietnam on campuses all around the country, most infamous among them, Kent State University (Ohio), where National Guardsmen killed four students and wounded another nine. No arrests or convictions ever resulted from the incident and, to my knowledge, the soldiers remain anonymous.

Having been out of Vietnam for less than three years, seeing fallen American citizens on American soil forced me to realize how fragile my own psyche had become. The paragraphs below follow no particular order. Rather, they are a stream of what I recall as my consciousness at the time.

Students. I was in my final semester, a month away from graduation. One of my courses, the last elective I had, was “Government and Politics in the Far East.” There were no anti-war events on my campus, ever, that I was aware of. About to enter the civilian workforce as a teacher, I thought I had gotten my life pretty much back on track. As if Vietnam didn’t really happen, didn’t really affect me. Kent State forced me to recall wicked thoughts. Over there our jungle fatigues identified us as U.S. soldiers, and every day we encountered any number of Vietnamese in civilian white or black “pajamas.” Some could have been VC, we just never knew. Just so at Kent State, young men in military garb identified them on campus as soldiers, not one of the civilians, however, not one was an enemy. Continue reading 5-9: Kent State, War at Home

4-29: Close Guantanamo

Rebecca Gordon wrote a lengthy article for The Nation magazine. It’s title and subtitle read:

The CIA Waterboarded the Wrong Man 83 Times in 1 Month

None of the allegations against Abu Zubaydeh turned out to be true. That didn’t stop the CIA from torturing him for years.

The entire piece can be found at: http://www.thenation.com/article/the-cia-waterboarded-the-wrong-man-83-times-in-1-month/.

Mostly Gordon focuses on the horrific case of Abu Zubaydeh, but she also has plenty to say about President George W. Bush, his administration, and agencies, particularly the CIA, who carried out the war crimes.

As stated previously in this space, I am 100% in favor of closing the torture hole at Guantanamo Bay. I would go even further and add that we should close the camp, leave the island, and cede the entire territory to Cuba. Any tactical measures that the Navy is performing there now can be done just as easily and proficiently from Florida.

Instead, by its very existence Guantanamo symbolizes America’s hubristic belief that international law does not apply to a superpower. We now have stockpiles of evidence that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld at least knew about the torture and at worst one or all of them approved and maybe even ordered “enhanced techniques” be applied to prisoners.

I can’t even think of torture without getting goosebumps. It is the thing I feared most when I was in Vietnam. I know now that I was wrong, but I couldn’t imagine that the US would perpetrate such atrocities. That’s what made us better than them. Right? Wrong. I guess when it comes to acts of war we are no different than our foes. Think about it. Despite all the nastiness of tyrants and dictators and such over the centuries, the United States is the only country to ever drop an atomic bomb. We are culpable and we are capable. Continue reading 4-29: Close Guantanamo