The cause of the Trumpian dissolution of Europe is the increasing – and, God knows, realistic – awareness among the European population that the credible political will to break out of this destructive spiral is lacking. Instead, the political elites are being sucked into the timid, pollster-driven opportunism of short-term power maintenance. The lack of courage to form even a single idea of one’s own for which a majority must first be won is all the more ironic because a majority prepared to demonstrate solidarity already exists as a fleet in being. I believe that the political elites – first and foremost the despondent social democratic parties – underestimate the disposition of their voters to engage themselves for projects reaching beyond narrow self-interest. The fact that this view isn’t just a reflection of unfulfilled philosophical ideals can be seen in the most recent publication by the research group led by Jürgen Gerhards, who for years has pursued wide-ranging and intelligent comparative studies on solidarity in 13 EU member states. He has not only found indicators for a shared European identity distinct from national identity, but also an unexpectedly high willingness to support European policies that would imply redistribution across national boundaries.
Simply looking back at the eternal rise and fall of the empires since Antiquity misses the novelty of the current situation. Despite continuing to grow together, global society remains politically fragmented. This frailty of politics provides a sense of the threshold before which people around the world recoil and shy away. I am referring here to the threshold of supranational and yet democratic forms of political integration that ask of voters that they, before casting their ballots, consider the perspectives of all citizens, even across national borders. The advocates of political realism, who have nothing but scorn for such a concept, often forget that their own theory is rooted in the Cold War conflict that involved two rational actors. Where, though, can rationality be found in today’s political arena? Viewed historically, the overdue step toward an effective Euro Union is part of the same learning curve that already took place once before with the development of national consciousnesses in the 19th century. Then too, the cognisance of national belonging beyond town, city and region did not evolve in any “natural” way. National identities were, rather, purposefully created by leading elites by adapting the shared consciousness of the populations to the already existing and wider ranging functional contexts of modern territorial states and national economies. Today, national populations are overwhelmed by the politically uncontrollable functional imperatives of a global capitalism that is being driven by unregulated financial markets. The frightened retreat behind national borders cannot be the correct response to that challenge.
(Jürgen Habermas won the German-French Media Prize in early July. This (Are we still good europeans?) is his acceptance speech in Berlin first published by Die Zeit. English translation by Charles Hawley.)