The Divided West

In This Review

The Divided West

by Jürgen Habermas
Polity, 2006
248 pp. $59.95
Purchase

To understand Habermas' analysis of "the divided West," it helps to first understand his broader worldview, which is spelled out in dense detail in the second half of this book. One of Germany's most prominent philosophers, Habermas is a Kantian who believes that world peace can be achieved only on the basis of a "cosmopolitan" constitution in which all the world's citizens are granted equality. Not surprisingly, then, Habermas has no time for the Bush administration, which he accuses of breaking with the American tradition of support for international law and global governance. By pursuing "hegemonic liberalism" -- the assumption that the liberal United States knows best and has the right to impose its will on the world -- the unilateralist Bush administration has not only deferred the "cosmopolitan project" but also irresponsibly split what was once known as "the West." The theory is coherent yet divorced from reality. Habermas exaggerates the degree to which the United States was ever a "pacemaker in the evolution of international law toward a cosmopolitan condition," and his assumptions about a common European identity (based in part on Europe's rejection of the Iraq war) are premature at best. He concedes that "even today" nation-states "do not at all want to give up [their] freedom of action," yet ignores that irritating detail in this complex and highly abstract book.