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Democratic Community, Constitutional Patriotism, and the German Experience

Per Helldahl
Uppsala Universitet
Per Helldahl
Uppsala Universitet
Open Panel

Abstract

On a national as well as on a supra-national level, Europeans today are finding themselves struggling with the problem of political community. The processes of globalization, not least the phenomenon of large-scale migration, mean that inherited notions of community are, more than ever, subject to renegotiation. While the recent electoral success of populist parties in an increasing number of European countries bear witness to a resurge in traditional nationalism, the normative problems of nationalism, as well as its untenability in a world where cultural boundaries are becoming increasingly porous, theorists and policy-makers alike are turning to other sources of democratic community. Jürgen Habermas’ theory of constitutional patriotism is an example of such a ‘post-nationalist’ response to the challenge of democratic community in a globalized world. However, Habermas’ writings on this subject, while fruitful, are somewhat truncated and undeveloped, and open up to various interpretations. In my proposed paper, I argue that one particular such interpretation of constitutional patriotism offers a normatively and analytically valuable theoretical model of democratic community. I conduct this analysis with continuous reference to the context in which the theory of constitutional patriotism was first developed: Post-War Germany. I will try to show that the German experience in the wake of the atrocities of the Nazi regime, is of particular relevance to Europe at large, as it has fostered a democratic political culture which is characterized by a willingness to continually question any aspect of its own identity as well as a sense of responsibility to engage with the difficult challenges of critically dealing with the past and shaping a common future.