In his preface to Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch (1795), Kant, Habermas’s distinguished predecessor in all things cosmopolitan, offered this brief instruction for users: “If a practical politician assumes the attitude of looking down with great self-satisfaction on the political theorist as a pedant whose empty ideas in no way threaten the security of the state, inasmuch as the state must proceed on empirical principles; so the theorist is allowed to play his game without interference from the worldly-wise statesman.” Ironically, Habermas’s brief for a renewed EU as the basis for a transnational democratic order is in no small degree a measure of the EU’s incapacity to deal with fundamental issues of immigration, freedom of movement and, perhaps more serious, the drift toward authoritarianism, especially in Hungary. But the particular charm of his utopian vision is its genesis in a passionate and combative engagement with the dispiriting state of today’s European Union. Sometimes the theorist can play his game while keeping an eye on “the worldly-wise statesman.”
Sarkozy is now gone from the Élysée. Since May, Greece has had not one but two elections with no clear outcome, and Spain’s precarious financial position threatens to undermine further the political architecture of Europe. These developments hardly diminish the force of Habermas’s argument. The mismanagement of the fiscal crisis by the EU elite has not only eroded its own legitimacy in virtually all member states, but has also made the European Parliament less relevant and fueled discouragement with democratic politics throughout Europe.