In This Review

A Berlin Republic: Writings on Germany
A Berlin Republic: Writings on Germany
By Jurgen Habermas
University of Nebraska Press, 1997, 187 pp

Political philosophers spend more time building cathedrals of theory than commenting on policy issues. How refreshing to find that Habermas, whose "discourse theory" of rational deliberation in an open public sphere can be awesomely abstract, is also a subtle, wise, and effective public intellectual. In this slim collection of addresses, interviews, and articles written after the great divide of 1989, he insists on "de-stasification" in the East as essential for the production of a liberal political culture, and he rejects the tendency to look at both West and East Germany before 1989 as intellectual and political satellites of their respective superpowers. Equally impressive is his conviction that "a liberal political culture could develop in a culturally highly civilized society such as Germany" not only after Auschwitz but "because of Auschwitz, because of reflections on the incomprehensible." He also pleads for "equal opportunity to exercise formal equal rights," which leads him to support quotas and hiring preferences, asserts the universality of human rights, which entails a defense of the right of asylum, views the nation-state as the source of political legitimacy and the locus of cultural identity, yet also as both dangerous (because of nationalism) and increasingly obsolete, and pleads to Europeans "for halting within their own societies the decline of existing social standards."