“One Would at Least Like to Be Asked”; Habermas on Popular Sovereignty, Self-Determination, and German Unification

Peter J. Verovšek*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-43
Number of pages22
JournalGerman Politics and Society
Volume41
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Keywords

  • 1989
  • German unification
  • Jürgen Habermas
  • popular sovereignty
  • self-determination

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