Time of Transitions
Time of Transitions
Time of Transitions, which bears the subtitle "Short Political Writings IX" in the German, is the ninth in a series of volumes devoted to the author's essays and interviews on current political events stretching back to the 1960s. This testifies to the remarkable span of time during which the German-reading public could count on one thing: no matter how tempestuous and unpredictable the course of German politics, no matter how deep or frequent the debate, controversy, or crisis, an essay by Jürgen Habermas would address it with a distinctive combination of analytical insight and political passion. For more than 40 years, from the earliest efforts at rebuilding a democratic culture out of the rubble of totalitarianism, through Germany's struggle with its identity as it re-emerged as a major economic and political power, to the politics of unification and the united Germany's role as an influential global political actor, Habermas's status as an indispensable voice in the German public sphere has remained one of the rare constants.
The present volume differs from other recent collections of his political writings, such as The Inclusion of the Other or The Postnational Constellation , in blending essays and interviews on contemporary German politics and society with more wide-ranging studies. An important source of thematic unity is, as the title implies, a concern with processes of transition that have shaped or are currently shaping the course of European and world history. The transition which provides the context for all of the others discussed is the process of social modernization which has penetrated and transformed every aspect of life in Western societies while extending inexorably to ever-further reaches of the globe. Habermas's social and political thought has been devoted to the theoretical understanding of this process and to the articulation of its rational moments on which more just and humane conditions of social life could be founded. In this, he has shown particular sensitivity to the pathologies of modernization, its capacity to destroy the cultural resources necessary for a human existence worthy of the name, and its extraordinary potential for violence, injustice, and inhumanity as witnessed by the history of the twentieth century.
A more restricted historical context for the essays is provided by the process of globalization and the resulting need for a transition from the classical international order of sovereign nation-states to a transnational political order, which Habermas argues should take the form of a "global domestic politics without a world government." A still more narrowly circumscribed context is the transition toward greater political integration within an expanding European Union, a process wth important implications for political developments at the global level. And, finally, there are the longer- and shorter-term transitions of the Federal Republic of Germany which have been the focus of some of Habermas's most impassioned political interventions: the still incomplete postwar transition from the barbarity of the Nazi period to a functioning constitutional democracy, a learning process marked by denials and regressions, but also by notable, if painfully won, achievements; the post-1989 transition from a divided to a "reunited" Germany and the challenge of forging a democratic collective identity under the ambivalent aegis of a "Berlin Republic"; and the transition just begun from a necessarily restrictive understanding of Germany's role in European and world politics to the more expansive role demanded by its economic strength, its importance for European political integration, and its proximity to actual and potential crisis zones in Eastern Europe.
A major question posed by all of these transitions for Habermas is the extent to which the autonomous political practice of demo-cratic citizens, rather than