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Jürgen Habermas (1929 – ) is a German philosopher in the traditions of critical theory, pragmatism, communicative rationality, and the public sphere. The uncertainty of the danger belongs to the essence of terrorism.
Quotations from Jürgen Habermas
Global terrorism is extreme both in its lack of realistic goals and in its cynical exploitation of the vulnerability of complex systems.
Each murder is one too many.
After September 11, the European governments have completely failed. They are incapable of seeing beyond their own national scope of interests.
The state is in danger of falling into disrepute due to the evidence of its inadequate resources.
Since our complex societies are highly susceptible to interferences and accidents, they certainly offer ideal opportunities for a prompt disruption of normal activities.
A threatened nation can react to uncertain dangers solely through administrative channels, to the truly embarrassing situation of perhaps overreacting.
Disappointment over nationalistic authoritarian regimes may have contributed to the fact that today religion offers a new and subjectively more convincing language for old political orientations.
What was new was the symbolic force of the targets struck. The attackers did not just physically cause the highest buildings in Manhattan to collapse; they also destroyed an icon in the household imagery of the American nation.
The uncertainty of the danger belongs to the essence of terrorism.
If the September 11 terror attack is supposed to constitute a caesura in world history, it must be able to stand comparison to other events of world historical impact.
From a moral point of view, there is no excuse for terrorist acts, regardless of the motive or the situation under which they are carried out.
Partisans fight on familiar territory with professed political objectives to conquer power. This is what distinguishes them from terrorists.
I cannot imagine a context that would some day, in some manner, make the monstrous crime of September 11 an understandable or comprehensible political act.
Perhaps at a later point important developments will be traced back to September 11. But for now we do not know which of the many scenarios will actually hold in the future.
One never really knows who one’s enemy is.
The difference between political terror and ordinary crime becomes clear during the change of regimes, in which former terrorists become well-regarded representatives of their country.
I consider Bush’s decision to call for a war against terrorism a serious mistake. He is elevating these criminals to the status of war enemies, and one cannot lead a war against a network if the term war is to retain any definite meaning.
Historically, terrorism falls in a category different from crimes that concern a criminal court judge.
Perhaps September 11 could be called the first historic world event in the strictest sense: the impact, the explosion, the slow collapse – a gruesome reality literally took place in front of a global public.
Egalitarian universalism, from which sprang the ideas of freedom and social solidarity, of an autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, of the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct heir of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation. To this day, there is no alternative to it. And in light of the current challenges of a postnational constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage. Everything else is just idle postmodern talk.
COMMENTS on Jürgen Habermas
The uncertainty of the danger belongs to the essence of terrorism. This statement is more of an observation than a statement of philosophy, but by attaching the word “essence” it gives it an aura of philosophical depth. It is an important observation, and a counterproductive one too, in that it gives the destroyers of civilizations a clarification of how to be more effective. This same observation can be said about the enforcement of ordinary civil and criminal law, in that it is the uncertainty of enforcement that does more to keep most citizens obeying the laws, than the actual punishments meted out.
The direct heir of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. … To this day, there is no alternative to it. This Habermas statement blithely jumps right over the fact that the modern European and American ideal of egalitarian universalism is largely based on Roman Law, and that law largely predates Christianity as it has come down to us, and is remote from Judaic Law.
Disappointment over nationalistic authoritarian regimes may have contributed to the fact that today religion offers a new and subjectively more convincing language for old political orientations. This statement is absurd. It is the exact opposite of the reality of the decade since the 9/11 attacks. The obvious fact is that religious fanaticism isn’t a new and better response to our modern problems; instead it is the modern methods of coping with problems. Instead of generating a closing down of dialogue and a forcing of rigid reactions, that the religious fundamentalists foster, the modern nations have since 9/11 reduced the military death rate to perhaps one fiftieth (1/50th) of what it averaged for the 20th century. Another proof of the health of modern society is that the world’s population has been growing by eighty million people per year this century, and that couldn’t happen if the world wasn’t stable and coping with its problems reasonably well.
One never really knows who one’s enemy is. As Sun Tzu says in his chapter on spying, it is the spy within the organization of the competing entity that is one’s greatest friend, and the one within one’s own organization that is one’s greatest enemy. That is, the individual that seems to be one’s greatest friend within your group, if he is giving information on how you are going to act in a coming conflict, he is in fact your greatest enemy. The declared enemies are known and the methods of coping with them are reasonably constrained, because they realize that after your present struggles you must return to a state of living in some degree of harmony. This relationship doesn’t exist with an internal spy, and so he is the greatest enemy. Habermas doesn’t appear to develop that idea to its logical conclusion.
Historically, terrorism falls in a category different from crimes that concern a criminal court judge. The physical crimes themselves are within the criminal codes, but the motivations for the acts are not for the satisfaction of a private nature, but are for the transmission of an ideological idea. It is a belief of the perpetrator that their victims’ society will respect them more after the attacks, but if that society is capable of fighting back the results will often just bring chaos, with little hope of returning to a new level of comfortable living for anyone involved.