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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great explication of liberal internationalism by way of Habermas, September 15, 2011
This review is from: The Divided West (Paperback)
This was the second piece of literature I ever read by Jurgen Habermas, the first being Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida. Although I enjoyed that book, I realized that I still didn't quite understand what Habermas' theory of communicative reason really was. I received this book as part of a scholarship, and although I was appreciative, I was a little worried that "The Divided West" was focused on specific issues relating to the post 9-11 world, and therefore wouldn't necessarily be a good introduction to Habermas' political philosophy. Fortunately, I was proven wrong. Here, Habermas delivers on three accounts: His critique of neo-conservatism, his defense of liberal internationalism, and the relationship his own political philosophy has to these issues. In the process, he both clarifies his own personal defense of progressive modernity while helping the reader understand the broad issues that face international law and the prospect of peace between nations.

Habermas covers a wide variety of issues, from intra-European relations after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the challenges of "policing" international law, to cross-Atlantic tensions that have resulted from the upsurge of Hobbesian, or, "might makes right" attitudes in American academia. As an American, the latter issue interested me the most, and I imagine it would be the most engaging subject within the book for most readers. Habermas tells the story of liberal internationalism starting with the philosopher Immanuel Kant's early sketches of a possible liberal international order to the dual roles played by America and Europe in the construction of the United Nations and other international institutions. Habermas takes to task the trendy conservative American perception that Americans are hard-headed warriors while Europeans are soft, coddled lefties, showing how Kant's initial dream of a liberal international order was largely made possible by American leadership, and that the Bush administration's disdain for international law is simply a characteristic of a certain political faction within American conservatism. It's refreshing to see someone set the record straight on these issues, and from a man who has personally witnessed a good portion of the history of global liberalism.

Although the entire book is well-argued, the final section "The Kantian Project and the Divided West" was the most useful to me, and if you're interested in learning more about Habermas' thought, this section is well worth checking out. He compares and contrasts both the Kantian and the Hobbesian understanding of political culture. Habermas identifies Carl Schmidt as the modern representative of the Hobbesian current in Western politics, while implicitly presenting himself as the representative of the Kantian current. Habermas argues that human political culture is constantly undergoing a dialectical evolution that allows it to continually pursue new possibilities for the future. Although both Kantian theory and Hobbesian rationalism agree on the brutish origins of the state and Western politics, Kantian theory (by way of Habermas) argues that political culture is capable of genuine innovation, and isn't constrained by the violent origins of the state. In Habermas' case, and this is where his own philosophy shines through, the possibilities of the Kantian project stem from human language's dexterous abilities. Basically, Habermas argues that the construction of a political dialogue where all classes, ethnicities, and segments of society are allowed to contribute will have a mitigating effect on global society's ills, while also opening up new possibilities for the development of meaningful, well-enforced international law.

I'd like to point out that although I appreciated this book and am giving it 5 stars, I don't actually agree with Habermas' thesis. In terms of his practical politics, I'm aggravated that he sees almost no structural component to social inequality. His over-emphasis on "language" causes him to have a debilitating blind-spot in this area, and as the recent Great Financial Crisis showed all of us, questions of political economy are perhaps more important than ever in order to understand the nature of the international order. On a more theoretical level, he assumes that international bodies can be politically neutral. The exploitative histories of the IMF and the World Bank should make us skeptical of this faith. However, this is a well-argued book that will teach readers lots about the theoretical aspects of international law while simultaneously serving as a good first look at Habermas' own political philosophy.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Honest and thoughtful, but a tad bound up., August 4, 2009
Patrick McCormack (New Brighton, MN USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Divided West (Paperback)
This series of essays and interviews is very interesting, if a bit frustrating to read. A reader of Habermas's philosophy sees those longer works referred to herein with a shorthand style.

Habermas struggles to deal with the terroristic attacks, and is honest enough to acknowledge the bankruptcy of terrorists. Yet as he struggles to carefully note the negatives of the Bush worldview, and to criticize neo-conservativism, he fails to see the beam in his own eye.

At one point, a question is asked, is his theory of communicative action vitiated by events. He does not engage in answering this question, and instead moves past it. Almost as if there is a point here, that his worldview is becoming undone by events.

One quote about his theory: "Communicative rationality: this is communication that is "oriented to achieving, sustaining and reviewing consensus - and indeed a consensus that rests on the intersubjective recognition of criticisable validity claims."

Sounds like people talking and creating a new communication based rationality. Will these people blow up buildings over grievances? This book seems a bit tired, and there is no real defense of this utopian and clever theory in light of the hard edges of the way people act.

At another point, Habermas notes that the fire fighters of 911 in New York are heroes, but quotes Bertol Brecht to the point that a society that needs heroes is lamentable. What a droll, self-satisfied response, two months after 911 occurred!

His discussion of 911 rightly notes that the start of World War I was probably more of a breaking point in history. What the heck, Napoleon approaching Jena was momentous, as were many other points. This is true, but indicative of his desire not to be swayed by the moment. This is both good from a philosopher, and a bit much to ask of the rest of us... Such events cry out for clear thinking, not treacle, and sometimes not vague and lofty perspective.

This style of Habermas becomes a sort of superiority complex, a sort of very mild and very careful sneering. It is couched, but one gets the sense that Habermas cannot quite say that there are heroes, that communicative action has historical limits, that events have, as they always seem to do, proven this philosophical argument to be incomplete.

The result is a constipated discourse, in which Habermas is not at his best. It is hard for a philosopher, at the end of a long worthy life, to see the nature of his work clearly, especially in historic light. This book suffers from that problem, but he is honest, and he is interesting, if frustrating to this reader.
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5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most cogent indictment to date of the neoconservative agenda of the last 8 years., November 24, 2008
This review is from: The Divided West (Paperback)
This is probably Habermas' most readable text. A combination of interviews and essays which are expertly designed and ordered within the text allowing the reader a clear and at the same time intellectually elevated critique of neoconservative ideology. By far, The Divided West, is one of Habermas' most readable and enlightening books.
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1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for people who really wants alternatives for a change., June 17, 2009
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This review is from: The Divided West (Paperback)
Jurgen Habermas is one of the most important thinkers of the XX and XXI century. I admire his acurate analysis of global issues and his sheer honesty on his positions about Western civilization vis a vis the rest of the world. It's really admirable that at his age he could still look the world problems so clearly.
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The Divided West
The Divided West by Jurgen Habermans (Hardcover - September 5, 2006)
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