In the historians’ dispute of 1986, Jürgen Habermas warned of the “NATO philosophy” of German historians; 36 years later he criticizes the enthusiasm for war of younger intellectuals. The portrait photo of the philosopher was taken in 2012 at a conference on his life’s work at the University of Wuppertal.
Image: Edgar Schoepal

The essay “War and Outrage” by Jürgen Habermas misjudges the normative mechanisms of international law in its fixation on the danger of nuclear war for Germany.

Jürgen Habermas has rendered outstanding service to the intellectual level of public discourse on political and ethical issues like no one else in the history of the Federal Republic. For this reason alone, his essay on the war in Ukraine in the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” of April 29 deserves all the attention it is given. Under the title “War and Outrage”, Habermas defends the German government’s position in support of Ukraine against Russian aggression, the illegitimacy of which he never even remotely questions. Nevertheless, the tenor of the text is irritating. He identifies the calls for stronger support for Ukraine with the caricature of a naïve, emotion-driven ethic that ignores the consequences, while for his part he largely ignores the possible consequences of a reserved position for Ukraine, the post-Soviet space and the international legal order as a whole.

The essay begins with an attempt at a historical classification that is so obviously distorted by German sensitivities that it had to be corrected just a few hours after publication. “After 77 years without war and 33 years after ending a peace that was only preserved in the balance of terror, albeit threatened, the disturbing images of war have returned – on our doorstep and unleashed at random by Russia.” A meaningful interpretation of this sentence is not easy. For whom are 77 years without war on February 24th – or just without disturbing images of war? – ended? Certainly not for Ukraine, which was invaded by Russia back in 2014. Russia cannot be meant either, above all because of its involvement in the war in Syria.

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