Date01 September 2019
Published date01 September 2019
Alexander Somek*
Jürgen Habermashas turned 90 this year. To mark the occasion,the European Law Journal solicited a number of papers
that more or less closelyaddress a key idea that he introduced in orderto designate historical transitions that have left
theirmark in the course of both globalisationand Europeanisation.The idea is capturedin the concept of the postnational
constellation, whichis the title of the core essaythat was published in the book bearing the same name in1998.
The use of the term constellationindicates the legacy of the Frankfurt School of critical theory. Adorno devel-
oped it in conversations with Walter Benjamin and used the astronomical metaphor in order to account for a loose
and historically contingent connection of elements inherent in a situation.
Accounting of a constellation, thus under-
stood, entails abstaining from synthesising a manifold into the unity of a coherent whole. Habermas chose this met-
aphor aptly for his essay, which discusses a whole range of issues before it turns to the central question of what might
become of democracy and solidarity once social integration moves beyond the nation state. Against the backdrop of
the idea that societies are capable of directing themselves democratically, the postnational constellation confronted
everyone with overwhelming complexity giving rise to widespread cluelessness.
Both the constraints faced by nation
states finding themselves exposed to the economic forces of international competition, and the waning faith in the
legitimacy of isolated national selfdetermination that creates externalities for outsiders, raised the question of which
set of institutions might restore a type of democratic control that can be both effective and legitimate. On both
counts, Habermas realised, the nation state required reembedding into a broader transor supranational context.
When he was writing The Postnational Constellation, European integration was believed to provide a model for the
step that had to be taken in order to establish inclusive supranational political control. Even though at that time the
European Union was at the top of its game and, in a sense, booming, Habermas was already then aware of shortcom-
ings that were to play out only later. Nevertheless, for years to come, Habermas remained a highly sympathetic and
critical observer of the European Union and wrote a number of influential essays concerning its constitution.
recently has he grown ever more sceptical of the executive federalismshowing its authoritarian face in cases of
crisis management and more pessimistic in the face of the Union's inability to rein in centrifugal nationalist forces.
We thought that it would be fitting, 20odd years on, to revisit Habermas's ideas. Given the stature of Habermas
as a public intellectual, it should not come as a surprise that the contributions concern themselves with the overall
political and social situation of our time.
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This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons AttributionNonCommercial License, which permits use,
distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited and is not used for commercial purposes.
© 2019 The Authors. European Law Journal published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
* University of Vienna, Department of Legal Philosophy, Vienna, Austria.
See Jürgen Habermas, Die postnationale Konstellation: Politische Essays (Suhrkamp, 1998), 91169; The English version was published by MIT Press in 2001.
The full title of the essays reads The postnational constellation and the future of democracy.
See Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialektik (Suhrkamp, 1966), 162.
Habermas, above, n. 1 (German edition), 95.
See, for example, Jürgen Habermas, Europe: The Faltering Project (Polity, 2009); Jürgen Habermas, The Future of the European Union: A Response (Polity, 2013).
Received: 10 September 2019 Accepted: 11 September 2019
DOI: 10.1111/eulj.12339
476 Eur Law J. 2019;

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