Jürgen Habermas

Rare Praise from a Philosopher

Juergen habermas by Axel Schmidt ddp
Habermas, the German government's newest fan.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Jürgen Habermas praises Germany’s open stance on immigration as an example of moral leadership.

  • Facts


    • Philosopher Jürgen Habermas works on critical theory and pragmatism in the Frankfurt School tradition and is known for writing about communicative rationality and the public sphere.
    • The Kluge Prize is presented by the Kluge Center at the Library of Congress for work in the humanities and social sciences.
    • Mr. Habermas won the prize for his lifetime achievement together with Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor.
  • Audio


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Sociologist and philosopher Jürgen Habermas was awarded the Kluge prize on Tuesday, the equivalent of the Nobel prize for philosophy, for his work in the humanities. Sitting in a wood-paneled guest room in Washington’s Library of Congress before the beginning of the award ceremony, he talked with Handelsblatt about Germany’s actions towards Greece and in the refugee crisis – and the success or failure of Europe as a whole.

Handelsblatt: Professor Habermas, you criticized the German government for behaving like the “Europe’s chief disciplinarian” during the Greece debt crisis. Has Chancellor Merkel redeemed herself with her generosity in the refugee crisis?

Jürgen Habermas: I’m as surprised as I am delighted. For years, I haven’t been thought as highly of our government as I have since late August. Now, here in America, I keep referring to something she said which also keeps being mentioned in the German press.

You mean when she said, “we can manage?”

No, I mean her statement, “If we also have to apologize for showing a friendly face in emergency situations, then this is not my country.” That’s a very strong sentence. Who would have expected that from Ms. Merkel, who has stuck to pragmatic, hesitant statements, oriented towards popular opinion for years? That was a decisive, normative sentence. I was so happy when I read that. And it wasn’t only Ms. Merkel, it was the whole government, and supported by different statements, visits to Heidenau and so on.

You’re all enthusiasm…

What delights me is that once our government finally made a normative statement and took a stand – and then the public reacted in an almost fairy tale way.

You said Berlin was taking a “hegemonic attitude” with Greece, for the first time in the post war era. Now, the right wing is making this same criticism about immigration policy, calling Ms. Merkel’s welcome culture “moral imperialism.”

Well, it’s not surprising that there’s been a reaction to Germany’s decisive policy of opening the borders and our emphasis on the normative content of our already restricted right to asylum. But I can’t take that seriously, the idea that this policy is being associated with a hegemonic attitude from Germany. It’s true that Ms. Merkel’s immigration initiative was a solo effort – followed by a justifiable attempt to create a shared European response.

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