In This Review
The Postnational Constellation: Political Essays

The Postnational Constellation: Political Essays

By Jurgen Habermas

MIT Press, 2001, 216 pp.

The renowned German philosopher Habermas has spent his career articulating a universalist vision of political life. He has long advocated a "postnational" Germany where shared identity is attached to nonterritorial values of constitutionalism and democratic rights. Humans possess a rational capacity to reason and communicate, he believes, and therefore they can come to agreement on the basic institutions of law, values, and politics. In this book, he turns to the dynamics of globalization and welcomes the declining relevance of the nation-state. But Habermas is not an unalloyed optimist. Globalization alone does not contain the seeds of a better political order, he writes, and democracy may not necessarily survive a "postnational" world. Habermas is at his best in elaborating the dilemmas and ambiguities inherent in modernization. But he is less clear on how popular sovereignty and the collective will of global citizenry can take shape in a stateless world.

And his view that transnational networks of communication, nongovernment organizations, and popular political movements can legitimately underpin popular rule and global solidarity is problematic at best.