«A. Dirk Moses Whoever thou art... by ceasing to take part... in the public worship of God, as it now is (with the claim that it is the ...»
Well, it does exist; but because we have murdered or broken its bodily carriers, and because, in a climate of an unbinding reconciliation, we are in the process of letting everything be forgiven and forgotten too.... we are now forced into the historical irony of taking up the Jewish question without the Jews.”72 Habermas made it his mission to embody this spirit, to pose the Jewish question in a Germany virtually bereft of Jews and to defend it against its enemies. In the 1950s and 1960s these enemies were the former conservative revolutionaries like Carl Schmitt, Arnold Gehlen, and Helmut Schelsky, and their postwar successors, the liberal positivists of the technocratic intelligentsia like Hermann Lübbe and Hans Albert.
After the 1980s and, above all, during the Historikerstreit and uniﬁcation debates in the early 1990s, Habermas attacked conservative memory politics that he saw running counter to his postnational philosophy of history and the lessons of Auschwitz. His non-German German philosophy of history took the following form. The central event of modernity was the French Revolution because it actualized a new principle of sovereignty, the nation rather than the dynastic monarch. This historical progress brought its own problems because the “nation”—hitherto the appellation for a prepolitical ethnic community—became the deﬁning term of citizenship within the state.
So while the “nation-state” provided the legal forum for its democratization,
71. Ibid., 41–42. 72. Ibid., 42.64 Dilemmas of Identity after the Holocaust
this process occurred at the expense of ethnic minorities because a “sovereign people” presupposed a common will and therefore a homogeneous population. From its inception, then, the nation-state contained the contradictory principles of the prepolitical attachment to particular ethnic and cultural life forms (which restricts full membership to its own) and the universalistic implications of a democratic constitutionalism (which conceives of the nation as a community of citizens, i.e., citizenship is conferred on those who consent to certain procedures and processes of government irrespective of their ethnic or cultural background).73 The historical process in Western Europe since the French Revolution has been constituted by the untangling of these contradictory ideas of the nation. The German problem was that this process had been obstructed: ever since the so-called Wars of Liberation against French occupation, the nationalist principle has dominated the democratic one. National Socialism was the ultimate apotheosis of the nation conceived in prepolitical, racial terms. Germany was able to develop into a civic community only after it had experienced a radical caesura with its past in 1945, by abandoning the Romantic tradition with its anti-Semitism, obscurantism, and Deutschtümlerei (hyper-Germanness) for the universalism of the Western Enlightenment.74 Indeed, the conclusion that Habermas drew from Auschwitz was that “the Germans have forfeited the right to base their political identity on grounds other than the universal principles of citizenship in whose light national traditions are no longer unscrutinized but are appropriated only critically and self-critically.”75 Since the Holocaust, Germans could have not a national identity but a constitutional patriotism, because they could not “rely on the continuities of history.”76 The constituJürgen Habermas, “Citizenship and National Identity: Some Reﬂections on the Future of Europe,” Praxis International 12 (1992): 2–3.
74. Jürgen Habermas, Die nachholende Revolution (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1990), 99, 162.
75. Ibid., 220; Jürgen Habermas, “Historical Consciousness and Post-traditional Identity,” in The New Conservatism: Cultural Criticism and the Historian’s Debate, by Jürgen Habermas, trans.
Shierry Weber Nicholsen (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994), 259: “Every identity that establishes membership in a collectivity and that deﬁnes the set of situations in which those belonging to the collectivity can say ‘we’ in the emphatic sense seems to be part of an unquestioned background that necessarily remains untouched by reﬂection.”
76. Jürgen Habermas, “Der DM Nationalismus,” Die Zeit, March 30, 1990; Habermas, “Die zweite Lebenslüge der Bundesrepublik: Wir sind wieder ‘normal’ geworden,” Die Zeit, December 11, 1992; Habermas, “Historical Consciousness and Post-traditional Identity,” 255. For commentary on Habermas and uniﬁcation see Howard Williams, Catherine Bishop, and Colin Wright, “German (Re)uniﬁcation: Habermas and His Critics,” German Politics 5 (1996): 214–39.
A. Dirk Moses 65 tional patriot’s reading of the past was necessarily critical, with he or she appropriating only what accords with the universal principles of democratic constitutionalism.77 Only a constitutional patriotism, with its renunciation of the German Sonderweg, could ensure the country’s continued attachment to the Western community of values. And such a patriotism could be secured only if consciousness of Auschwitz were placed at the center of collective identity, because it was the thorn in the ﬂesh that provokes critical reﬂection and dissolution of the national “we.”78 To be effectively normal, it was imperative to consolidate the critical culture that broke through with the Historikerstreit, the controversy that embedded the proposition in public culture that the Holocaust was unique. The historian Jürgen Kocka expressed this position in 1988 with his elegantly framed formulation that “this break [from German tradition] stands at the center of our [Federal Republican] tradition.”79 The problem with (re)uniﬁcation in 1990, Habermas feared, was that it threatened to undermine this nascent anamnestic culture that non-German Germans had developed in the Federal Republic. He was referring to the antinationalism that had been developing slowly in West Germany since the 1950s, which had culminated in the country as “civilian power” and “human rights society” committed to demilitarization and multilateralism.80 His views were not isolated; they characterized the leftist intelligentsia generally. Grass famously pronounced that Auschwitz had disqualiﬁed Germany from having a united nation-state, while the Social Democratic chancellor candidate Oskar Lafontaine said that such an ideal had been historically superseded.81 Prominent journalists in major newspapers like Die Zeit also
77. Jürgen Habermas, “On the Public Use of History: The Ofﬁcial Self-Understanding of the Federal Republic Is Breaking Up,” in Forever in the Shadow of Hitler? Original Documents of the Historikerstreit, the Controversy concerning the Singularity of the Holocaust, trans. James Knowlton and Truett Cates (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities, 1993), 166.
78. Jürgen Habermas, “A Kind of Settlement of Damages: The Apologetic Tendencies in German History Writing,” in Forever in the Shadow of Hitler? 43; Habermas, “Historical Consciousness and Post-traditional Identity,” 264.
79. Jürgen Kocka, “Deutsche Identität und historischer Vergleich: Nach dem ‘Historikerstreit,’” Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte, September 30, 1988, 28.
80. Habermas, Die nachholende Revolution, 159, 215; Hanns W. Maull, “Germany and Japan:
The New Civilian Powers,” Foreign Affairs 69, no. 5 (1990): 91–107; Hans Karl Rupp, Politik nach Auschwitz: Ausgangspunkte, Konﬂikte, Konsens (Münster: Lit, 2005), 5. See also Timothy Garton Ash, In Europe’s Name: Germany and the Divided Continent (London: Vintage, 1994).
81. Jochen Fischer and Hans Karl Rupp, “Deutsche Vereinigung und NS-Vergangenheit,” Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte, October 19, 2005, 41.
66 Dilemmas of Identity after the Holocaust applied this philosophy of history to the new geopolitics of the initial post– Cold War years. Europe must move beyond the divisive paradigm of the nationstate, the journalist Theo Sommer insisted. Germany, in particular, could not rehabilitate its nation-state “but must overcome it in Europe.”82 German nationalism, however tempered, was ultimately incompatible with European peace.
The nation’s size and economic power would eventually manifest itself in military terms, he warned. Should a “normal” relationship to the past develop, it would be only a matter of time before the old German policies reemerged.83 Germany could lead the way in renouncing sovereignty. “Our goal must be, ﬁrst, to overcome the nation-state—in all of Europe. The hope of the future does not lie in nation-states; not in the compromise-less representations of particular self-assertions, nor in the vain jockeying for national proﬁles. It lies in combination and cooperation, in the progressive abandonment of national sovereignty to supranational institutions in common issues.”84 Rather than see the Berlin Republic as a continuation of the Bismarckian project, Habermas invited Germans to believe that the former Federal Republic’s history had more in common with Italy, France, and the United States than the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). What mattered was the universalist political principles of democratic constitutionalism, not the prepolitical bonds of ethnicity or culture. “Their [East Germany’s] history is not our History.”85 He viewed German uniﬁcation in 1990 as an exercise in extending liberal democracy and civil rights to unfree lands rather than in terms of “the prepolitical unity of a community with a shared common historical destiny.”86 In other words, the political consciousness Habermas entreated was entirely ahistorical. Once the reﬂexive move was made, political consciousness became purely procedural, allowing a tolerant pluralism of other, non-German life forms. “[This identity] exists only in the method of the public, discursive battle around the interpretation of a constitutional patriotism, which must be
82. Theo Sommer, “Unser nunmehr fertiges Vaterland,” Die Zeit, June 29, 1990; Ulrich Greiner, “Das Phantom der Nation: Warum wir keine Nation sind und warum wir keine werden müssen,” Die Zeit, March 16, 1990.
83. Theo Sommer, “Keine Sehnsucht nach Stahlgewittern,” Die Zeit, August 31, 1990; Peter Glotz, “Wider den Feuilleton-Nationalismus,” Die Zeit, April 19, 1991. Although Eberhard Jäckel cannot be placed in the leftist camp, his reading of European history leads him to much the same conclusions. See his essay “Deutschland zwischen Geschichte und Zukunft,” in Deutschland in der internationalen Politik, ed. Hartmut Wasser and Norbert Kruse (Weingarten: Pädagogische Hochschule, 1992), 87–103.
84. Sommer, “Keine Sehnsucht nach Stahlgewittern.”
85. Jürgen Habermas, “Die andere Zerstörung der Vernunft,” Die Zeit, May 10, 1990.
86. Habermas, “Citizenship and National Identity,” 2–3.
A. Dirk Moses 67 concretized in particular historical circumstances.”87 For that reason, he greeted with alarm the debate in the early 1990s about restricting political asylum while welcoming ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe. Germany was becoming more instead of less German: the “repressed feeling that Germany is becoming more German has a paralyzing effect.”88 Habermas was well aware that Germans could not cut themselves off from the national past even though the Federal Republic marked a radically new and positive departure in German history. Although not directly culpable for the Nazi misdeeds, Germans could not wash their hands of the past with the fatuous excuse, used by Helmut Kohl, of their “late birth.” They were collectively liable for what happened by historical and cultural—familial—
Our own life is linked to the life context in which Auschwitz was possible not by contingent circumstances but intrinsically. Our form of life is connected with that of our parents and grandparents through a web of familial, local, political, and intellectual traditions that is difﬁcult to disentangle— that is, through a historical milieu that made us what and who we are today.
None of us can escape this milieu, because our identities, both as individuals and as Germans, are indissolubly interwoven with it.89 There is a glaring contradiction in his approach, symptomatic of the impossibility for the non-German German subjectivity to be conceived in isolation from the society it seeks to transform. On the one hand, Habermas asked Germans to remember their continuing responsibility for Auschwitz, which meant demanding that they understood themselves historically as a prepolitical national community. But on the other, he insisted that Germans understand themselves politically as an ahistorical, democratically self-willed, political collective. Alternatively: Germans were held responsible (guilty?) for the Holocaust because of their national-family connections, but they were forbidden to experience other (positive?) national feelings and ascribe political relevance to them. Not for nothing did the political scientist Walter Reese-Schäfer
87. Habermas, “Der DM Nationalismus”; emphasis added. See the withering critique of Mark Lilla, who accuses Habermas of Rousseauian antiliberalism: “The Other Velvet Revolution: Continental Liberalism and Its Discontents,” Daedalus, no. 123 (1994): 129–57.
88. Jürgen Habermas, “Gelähmte Politik,” Der Spiegel, July 12, 1993, 54. Curiously, this quotation does not appear in the English translation of this essay: “Afterword (May 1993),” in The Past as Future, by Jürgen Habermas, ed. and trans. Max Pensky (London: Polity, 1994), 143–65.
89. Jürgen Habermas, “On the Public Use of History,” in New Conservatism, 233.
68 Dilemmas of Identity after the Holocaust point out that such a paradoxical anti-/postnationalism contained a religious dimension. Proscribing national feelings as a form of historical punishment made sense only to those for whom the nation mattered.90 To be sure, Habermas linked national and postnational consciousness by arguing that Auschwitz reminded Germans that they could not build their political identity on the former, but who or what was the “we” that was supposed to do the remembering in the long run? The community of penance was bound to disappear in the multicultural future he envisaged for Germany.