Habermas on the Economic Crisis

Jürgen Habermas on the economic meltdown in These States, & in Ole Europa, from a signandsight translation of an interview conducted by Thomas Assheuer which originally appeared in Die Zeit on 6 November, 2008. You can read the full interview here.

You recently lectured at Yale University. Which images of this crisis impressed you most?

A seemingly endless loop of melancholic Hopperian images of long rows of abandoned houses in Florida and elsewhere with “Foreclosure” signs on their front lawns flickered across the television screens. Then you saw buses arriving with curious prospective buyers from Europe and wealthy Latin Americans, followed by the real estate agent showing them the closets in the bedroom smashed in a fit of rage and despair. After my return I was struck by the sharp contrast between the agitated mood in the United States and the calm feeling of “business as usual” here in Germany. In the US the very real economic anxieties coincided with the hot end-spurt of one of the most momentous election campaigns in recent memory. The crisis also instilled a more acute awareness of their personal interests in broad sectors of the electorate. It forced people to make decisions that were, if not necessarily more reasonable, then at least more rational, at any rate by comparison with the last presidential election which was ideologically polarised by “9/11.” America will owe its first black president – if I may hazard a prediction immediately before the election – and hence a major historical watershed in the history of its political culture, to this fortunate coincidence. Beyond this, however, the crisis could also be the harbinger of a changed political climate in Europe.

What do you have in mind?

Such tidal shifts change the parameters of public discussion and in the process, the spectrum of political alternatives seen as possible. The Korean War marked the end of the New Deal, Reagan and Thatcher and the waning of the Cold War the end of the era of social welfare programs. Today, with the end of the Bush era and the bursting of the last neoliberal rhetorical balloons, the Clinton and New Labour programs have run their course too. What is coming next? My hope is that that the neoliberal agenda will no longer be accepted at face value but will be suspended. The whole program of subordinating the lifeworld to the imperatives of the market must be subjected to scrutiny.

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