“One Would at Least Like to Be Asked”

Habermas on Popular Sovereignty, Self-Determination, and German Unification

in German Politics and Society
Peter J. Verovšek Senior Assistant Professor, University of Groningen, The Netherlands p.j.verovsek@rug.nl

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As the leading public intellectual of postwar West Germany, Jürgen Habermas was a prominent opponent of the unification of the two Germanies after 1989. While his fears regarding the identity, collective memory, Western orientation, and economic power of a united Germany are important, in contrast to the existing literature, I argue that Habermas's objections are primarily procedural, focusing on the normative deficiencies in Chancellor Helmut Kohl's executive-led, administrative approach to reunification. In Habermas's eyes this procedure short-circuited the democratic processes of public opinion- and will-formation necessary to fulfill the normative presuppositions of popular self-determination. Methodologically, I make this point by reading Habermas's “short political writings” alongside his theoretical writings, especially his early postwar readings of the German constitutional theory. In addition to reframing the debate over his opposition to unification, I also oppose realist critiques of his work by showing that Habermas's theoretical writings have direct implications for contemporary politics.

Contributor Notes

Peter J. Verovšek is Senior Assistant Professor (UD1) in the History and Theory of European Integration at the University of Groningen and author of Memory and the Future of Europe: Rupture and Integration in the Wake of Total War (2020). From 2019 to 2021 he was British Academy Mid-Career Fellow. His intellectual biography of Jürgen Habermas as a public intellectual is forthcoming with Columbia University Press. His work on twentieth-century continental political thought, critical theory, collective memory, and European politics has been published in such journals as Perspectives on Politics; the Review of Politics; the Review of International Political Economy; the Review of International Studies; the Journal of European Public Policy; Theory, Culture & Society; Political Studies; Constellations; and Memory Studies. p.j.verovsek@rug.nl | ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8946-2014.

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