First Alice Schwarzer and Sahra Wagenknecht, now Jürgen Habermas. The voices calling for negotiations between Ukraine and Russia as a goal of German foreign policy are growing in number shortly before the first anniversary of the Russian attack on its neighboring country. In the “Manifesto for Peace”, jointly written by “Emma” editor Schwarzer and “Die Linke” politician Wagenknecht, it was recently read that we citizens had to remind the Chancellor of his oath: “Revert damage from the German people.” she and almost 70 first signatories combined the demand "to stop the escalation of arms deliveries" and to push for a ceasefire and peace negotiations.
Apparently, one also feels legitimized by the fact that the majority of Germans are in favor of a diplomatic settlement to the Ukraine war. This is confirmed by a more recent INSA study that one of the signatories, Martin Sonneborn (The Party), just shared on Twitter. Meanwhile, Infratest Dimap reports that 59 percent of Germans are very concerned that their country could be drawn directly into the war. Schwarzer and Wagenknecht also write: “Many people across Europe are afraid of the war escalating. They fear for their future and that of their children.”
We should now warn against a direct translation of opinion trends and moods in government actions, even if those in government should not treat them with ignorance. Finally, the case is also conceivable in which damage to the people is averted precisely by not implementing 1 to 1 what, according to opinion polls, appears to be the people's will at a certain point in time. Or what corresponds to the fears of the majority of the population. This is called representative democracy.
Much more serious is that the authors of the "Manifesto" failed to state unequivocally that "the Russian government and the Russian army alone are to blame for the outbreak of this war". The writer Christian Baron ("Schön ist die Nacht") wrote this in the weekly newspaper "Der Freitag" when he explained why he signed anyway. Baron is right. To write, as Schwarzer and Wagenknecht do, about the “Ukrainian population brutally attacked by Russia”, to whom “our solidarity” now applies, is of course not just a far too lukewarm admission of Russian war guilt. It ignores principles of international law, such as the territorial integrity of sovereign states, as if they were meaningless. The initially administrative German-sounding talk of an "attacked Ukrainian population" tends - especially when the attack is described as "brutal" - to dangerous kitsch. With its revisionist vibes, it also accommodates those who can imagine a Ukrainian population living in a Greater Russian state.
The refusal to clearly name facts and monstrosities under international law puts the “Manifesto for Peace” in more than murky waters. It is precisely the emphasis on the feared damage to their (own) people that fuels the suspicion that Schwarzer and Wagenknecht are practicing what the two Hungarian sociologists Balint Magyar and Balint Madlovic call “populism”. They define his promise as “collective egoism” that should get along without disturbing pangs of conscience.
That the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" on 15.2. a double-page “Plea for Negotiations” by the philosopher Jürgen Habermas with a reading key by the former editor-in-chief Kurt Kister seems to want to counteract the impression that the author could have signed that “Manifesto” right away. He didn't either. And whether Jürgen Habermas meant Schwarzer and Wagenknecht in the phrase "thoughtful voices" must remain a matter of speculation.
The "plea" is Habermas' second detailed statement on the war. In April 2022, the 93-year-old had already expressed himself in the "Süddeutsche Zeitung". The fact that the new essay by the "world's best-known living German philosopher" (so Kister in an explanation) quotes Kister and his editorial colleague Sonja Zekri and the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" only twice raises a suspicion: Is it possible for Habermas to look at someone who has been mugged? State that is not called Germany, to cross the editorial borders of the medium in which it lets this gaze wander, but ultimately not those of its own country?
In contrast to Schwarzer and Wagenknecht, Habermas never tires of emphasizing that Ukraine, as a sovereign state, was attacked in violation of international law. And the philosopher would refuse to call him an egoist. The “Manifesto” authors too, of course, since they emphasize altruistic motives for their initiative (“every day lost costs up to 1,000 more human lives”). However, these are immediately supplemented by a threat scenario (“and brings us closer to a 3rd World War”) that includes Germany. On the question of altruism and egoism, Habermas says that it is too “simple to reduce positions on the contentious question of the timing of negotiations to the simple opposition of morality and self-interest.”
The mood is also an argument for Habermas. "Half of the German population" does not have a say in the discussion about the Ukraine war, he writes. Public theorist that he is, he cites a concrete reason for such a silence: the “bellicistic tenor of a concentrated published opinion” in Germany. The critical theorist will be aware that by distinguishing between public and published opinion he is approaching the finding of a “spiral of silence”, which is also increasingly being attempted in the conservative camp.
One reason for Habermas' current intervention was the Munich Security Conference beginning on January 17, with a German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius as a participant for the first time. At the meeting, which will also be attended by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Poland's President Andrzej Duda and France's President Emmanuel Macron, it will once again be about red lines. Keyword air defense and arms deliveries to Ukraine.
Habermas is also concerned about lines that should not be crossed. Specifically, he is interested in the difference between two of the war goals he identified, which dominated the discussion in Germany in particular. They look confusingly alike: they are called "Defeat Russia" and "Ukraine must not lose the war". For the philosopher, a complete difference: From Habermas' perspective, the political camp is divided, "which considers the Western alliance not only entitled, but politically obliged to support Ukraine in its courageous fight with arms deliveries, logistical support and civilian services". , based on these two war aims.
Pacifists who refuse to even pick up a gun are left out in Habermas. A fundamental rejection of military force “plays no role for those two perspectives that differ from each other according to the weighting of the war victims”, Habermas then also specifies and makes it clear that there can of course be no war without victims. He immediately assures us that the Ukraine must not lose the war, this sentence is correct and takes one of those two sides, which he has certainly observed correctly, but which, in favor of their sharp contrast, each portrays very monolithically.
It is important to look closely at how the discourse theorist Habermas understands the imperative that Ukraine must not lose the war - and at the same time to understand what it would mean for Habermas to bet on a victory for Ukraine against Russia. Fuzziness in his text doesn't make that easy. On the one hand, he accuses the “Western” alliance of “willfully leaving Russia in the dark about the aim of their military support from the start”. This confronted Putin with the possible threat of a “regime change” in Russia. On the other hand, he wants to align the position of “victory” bets with the goal of restoring the territorial integrity of Ukraine (including Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014).
But what does it mean then not to let Ukraine lose the war? In Habermas' explanations, the status quo ante is the decisive mark, i.e. February 23, 2022 - the day before the Russian invasion. The philosopher believes that if the defenders of Ukraine had communicated this goal from the start, possible ceasefire or even peace negotiations would not be so bad today. Because even in a "Plea for Negotiations", the theorist of communicative action has to admit: "For the time being there are no signs that Putin would get involved in negotiations." For Habermas, however, Putin himself is not primarily to blame for this muddled situation, but the West's lack of precision in communicating those war aims that are being supported with arms deliveries.
Not only that Habermas' distinction between the goal of defeating Russia and that of not letting Ukraine lose is a problem with his text. The essay also implies that the goals of the West in this war cannot and must not be identical to those of the Ukrainian state. Because after all, he admits, Putin "with the annexation of the eastern provinces of Ukraine ... created facts and cemented claims that are unacceptable for Ukraine." It would therefore be unacceptable for the western alliance of Ukraine supporters, to promote a situation in Ukraine that is acceptable to Ukraine itself.
In addition, Habermas insists that it was unclear signals from the West that motivated Putin's current refusal to negotiate. That doesn't go well with a very clever observation by his "SZ" exegete Kister: "Not every debate about," Habermas quotes him as saying, "when partisanship could actually turn into partisanship" can be "killed with the argument that you alone just by such a debate do Russia's business".
The war is obviously too much for Habermas' thinking, which is still geared towards the ideal of successful communication. A statement like that made by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, according to which we “save lives with our weapons” must appear monstrous to Habermas in two senses. Also monstrous, because where guns speak, communicative reason must remain silent. An excursion into international law in his text leads to the heart of this excessive demand: the United Nations Charter, which came into force on October 24, 1945, obliges all states, writes the philosopher, to settle their international disputes through peaceful means. The doctrine of just war had to give way to the discriminatory concept of war that has been in force since then, which “was abolished except for the right of self-defense of the attacked”.
Habermas' argument can be summarized here that the basis of this revolution in international law was the will to avoid war casualties. And this will, according to Habermas, was strong enough, based on the historical experiences of two terrible world wars, to focus less on questions of war guilt than on the moral condemnation of the war itself. For Habermas, it is “above all moral reasons that urge an end to the war”. And Habermas writes this too: “The hesitant formulation of ‘not being allowed to lose’ calls into question a friend-foe perspective that, even in the 21st century, considers the bellicose solution to international conflicts to be ‘natural’ and without alternative.”
The "friend-foe" perspective, that was Carl Schmitt's view of politics. By transferring war into the sphere of responsibility of morality, Habermas makes it tangible for the first time from the perspective of the social philosopher. And above all from this perspective, he can consider it a bad option to want to achieve the Ukrainian war goal, as he identifies it, with further arms deliveries. Because he insists on the moral responsibility of those who deliver them. "Even the West, which enables Ukraine to continue the fight against a criminal aggressor, must not forget either the number of victims, the risk to which the possible victims are exposed, or the extent of the actual and potential destruction caused for the... legitimate goal must be accepted with a heavy heart. Even the most selfless supporter is not exonerated from this consideration of proportionality.”
This is certainly correct as a description of a moral dilemma and should not be shouted down, as is already happening on social media. Because such social media resonance only confirms Habermas' speech of a "bellicistic tenor" that silences other voices. Except that yelling is not an acceptable form of criticism, not of Habermas and not of Schwarzer or Wagenknecht. For a political analysis that would also have to deal with the necessary security guarantees from the West for a Ukraine within the borders of February 23, 2022, what Habermas offers in terms of analyzes and arguments seems to be insufficient. Also, the fact that the philosopher withholds from us the counter-calculation for supporting Ukraine with the weapons supplied by the West, yes: has to withhold it because it remains obscured by the war itself, makes his intervention a manifesto of very eloquent helplessness.