Europe and its Jews: a Cosmopolitan Journey with Jürgen Habermas


After the Holocaust European antisemitism did not simply vanish into thin air and critical theorists drew attention to the new or secondary forms of antisemitism that arose in the postwar period. Among them Jürgen Habermas, a leading figure in the younger generation of critical theorists, is remarkable for confronting the legacy of European antisemitism in his his vision of a new Europe. His approach to the postnational constellation emphasised the importance of ongoing engagement with the history of European antisemitism and of reconstructing political community in ways that should make antisemitism less feasible in the future. While this paper endorses much of Habermas’ analysis, it is critical of cracks in the edifice of his reconstruction which allow back in a certain form of European chauvinism and which make it possible to reach the premature judgement that the problem of antisemitism has been solved in Europe. The last part of the paper addresses the actual ways in which the cracks in the postnational edifice have provided footholds for the unwelcome return of the ‘Jewish question’ to Europe and have made it difficult for critical theory to understand new forms of antisemitism emerging on the European landscape. The signs of an inversion of the cosmopolitan project - from critical engagement with the legacy of European antisemitism to an idealized image of European success in overcoming antisemitism - points to a misappropriation of cosmopolitanism that needs to be challenged.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i20356609v8i3p718

Keywords: Antisemitism; cosmopolitanism; Europe; Habermas; Holocaust; Jewish question; postnationalism


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