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Saturday, January 17, 2004

Habermas on the Bush Doctrine

I'm still working on my prospectus for "The Bush Doctrine and Norms of Deliberation," a paper for a conference I'm attending in DC in a few weeks.

Thursday, I found an interesting article in Constellations: an international journal of critical and democratic theory (September 2003) by Frankfurt School philosopher J├╝rgen Habermas that addresses the Bush Doctrine and war on terror.

Surprise: Habermas thinks that America's new preemptive war doctrine creates deliberative requirements. He also offers a lethal critique, pointing out that its reliance upon unilateral use of military is bound to be illegitimate -- even if some advocates claim that they are helping to democratize the world.

First, by making new claims about self defense, the Bush Doctrine creates the need for public justification. This snippet is from a translation on-line at Interactivist Info Exchange:
this connection of hegemonic unilateralism with defense against an insidious danger mobilizes the additional argument of self-defense.

At the cost however of then being saddled with a new burden of proof. The American administration had to seek to convince world public opinion of contacts between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaida.
We know how that turned out.

A few paragraphs later, Habermas added this thought about the audacity of America speaking for the world on matters of shared security and democracy:
There's no way of avoiding the question of the justification of the war in general. The decisive controversy revolves around the question whether justification in the light of international law can and should be replaced by the unilateral global politics of a self-empowering hegemon.
Some of the criticisms offered by Habermas focus on practical concerns, while others are moral and legal:
A nation which reduces all options to the dumb alternatives of war and peace runs up against the limits of its own organizational powers and resources. It also leads the negotiation with competing powers and foreign cultures in false channels and pushes the coordination costs to dizzying heights.

Even if this hegemonic unilateralism were realizable it would still have side-effects which would, by its own criteria, be morally undesirable. The more that political power manifests itself in the dimensions of military, secret service and police, the more does it undermine itself -- the politics of a globally operating civilizing power -- by endangering its own mission of improving the world according to liberal ideas.

In the United States itself, the permanent regime of a "War President" is already undermining the foundations of the rule of law. Quite apart from the practiced or tolerated torture methods beyond its borders, the war regime is not only denying the prisoners of Guantnamo Bay the legal rights conferred on them by the Geneva Convention. It confers powers on the security services which encroach on the constitutional rights of its own citizens.
However, the best argument against the regime-toppling element of the Bush Doctrine is its failure to deliver on its own premises. After pointing out that Kuwait's "liberation" did not include democratization, the German scholar concludes,
"It is the very universalistic core of democracy and human rights itself which forbids its universal propagation by fire and sword....'Values' -- including those for which one could expect global recognition -- don't hang in the air; they become binding only in the normative order and practices of specific cultural forms of life....even the good hegemon (presuming for itself trusteeship in the name of the common good) has no way of knowing whether the actions it claims to be in the interests of others is indeed equally good for all.

There is no meaningful alternative to the further cosmopolitan development of an international system of law in which the voices of all concerned are given an equal and reciprocal hearing."
Habermas can make for difficult reading, but I think his point is pretty clear. And spot on.

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