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The Day the Earth Stood Still? – Reading Jürgen Habermas' Essay “February 15” Against Ian McEwan's Novel Saturday

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 March 2019


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The third essay in Habermas' collection The Divided West is entitled “February 15, or: What Binds Europeans.” The essay regionalizes the global claims Habermas makes in the longer chapter “Does the Constitutionalization of International Law Still Have a Chance?” That is, in “February 15” Habermas makes the case for a European post-national order that he hopes will become the vanguard for the emergence of universal cosmopolitanism. Habermas concludes that all that is lacking for the achievement of this beachhead from which Europe can, in its turn, champion a “community of free and equal citizens” in a “global public sphere,” is a “European identity.”

Research Article
Copyright © 2009 by German Law Journal GbR 


1 Jürgen Habermas, February 15, or: What Binds Europeans, in The Divided West 39 (Ciaran Cronin trans. 2006).Google Scholar

2 Jürgen Habermas, Does the Constitutionalization of International Law Still Have a Chance?, in The Divided West 115 (Ciaran Cronin trans. 2006).Google Scholar

3 “Europe must throw its weight onto the scales at an international level and within the UN in order to counterbalance the hegemonic unilateralism of the United States. At global economic summits and in the institutions of the WTO, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, it should bring its influence to bear in shaping the design of a future global domestic politics.” Habermas, supra note 1, at 42.Google Scholar

4 Habermas, supra note 2, at 131.Google Scholar

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6 Habermas, supra note 1, at 42 (Habermas explains that European political unity will require overruled minorities to imagine themselves in solidarity with the majority. “However, that presupposes a feeling of political belonging. The peoples must ‘build,’ so to speak, a new European dimension onto their national identities. The already quite abstract civic solidarity which restricts itself to fellow-nationals must in future be extended to include European citizens of other nations. This poses the question of ‘European identity.'”).Google Scholar

7 See, e.g., Neil Fligstein, Euroclash: The EU, European Identity, and the Future of Europe (2008); Schmidt, Vivien Ann, Democracy in Europe: The EU and National Polities (2006); European Identity: Theoretical Perspectives and Empirical Insights (Ireneusz Pawel Karolewski and Viktoria Kaina eds., 2006); Debeljak, Ales, The Hidden Handshake: National Identity and Europe in the Post-communist World (2004); Transnational Identities: Becoming European in the EU (Richard K. Herrmann, et al. eds., 2004); Euro-skepticism: A Reader (Tiersky, Ronald ed., 2001). But see Armin von Bogdandy, The European Constitution and European Identity: Text and Subtext of the Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe, 3 Int'l J. Const. L. 295 (2005).Google Scholar

8 Alan Cowell, Threats and Responses: Protests; 1.5 Million Demonstrators in Cities Across Europe Oppose a War Against Iraq, N.Y. Times, Feb. 16, 2003, available at Scholar

9 McFadden, Robert D., Threats and Responses: Overview; From New York to Melbourne, Cries for Peace, N.Y. Times, Feb. 16, 2003, available at Scholar

10 “Police in London, England, said turnout Saturday was 750,000, the largest demonstration ever in the British capital. The organizers put the figure at 2 million.” Cities Jammed in Worldwide Protest of War in Iraq,, Feb. 16, 2003, available at Google Scholar

11 Smith, Craig S., Threats and Responses: The Scene – Paris; Throwing a Party with a Purpose, N.Y. Times, Feb. 16, 2003, available at Scholar

12 James, Barry, In Cities Worldwide, Marchers Demand Peaceful Solution: Millions Join Rallies Against a War, International Herald Tribune, Feb. 17, 2003, available at Scholar

13 Cities Jammed in Worldwide Protest of War in Iraq,, Feb. 16, 2003, available at Scholar

14 Habermas, supra note 1, at 40.Google Scholar

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20 Habermas was not alone in remarking the unifying force of the opposition to the American war. The New York Times concluded that “it is almost as if President Bush and his administration have unwittingly brought about a popular unity on [the European] continent that belies the sharp differences among Europe's governments, …” Richard Bernstein, Threats and Responses; For Old Friends, Iraq Bares a Deep Rift, N.Y. Times, Feb. 14, 2003, available at Europe's seeming unified opposition to the war also served as the basis for Robert Kagan's best-selling treatment of the opening transatlantic divide. See Robert Kagan, Of Paradise and Power (2003). But see the contributions to the German Law Journal special issue “The New Transatlantic Tension and the Kagan Phenomenon,” Vol. 4, No. 9 (2003).Google Scholar

21 Habermas, supra note 2, at 143.Google Scholar

22 Habermas, supra note 1, at 39. The title of the essay is footnoted and the note explains that “[t]his essay was published jointly with Jacques Derrida as part of an initiative in which Umberto Eco, Adolf Muschg, Richard Rorty, Fernando Savater, and Gianni Vattimo participated simultaneously in a number of European newspapers.” Id. at 39 n.1.Google Scholar

23 Id. at 40.Google Scholar

24 Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference (Alan Bass trans., 1978); Derrida, Jacques, Deconstruction Engaged: The Sydney Seminars (Paul Patton and Terry Smith eds., 2001).Google Scholar

25 “The more societal complexity increases and originally ethnocentric perspectives widen, the more there develops a pluralizaron of forms of life accompanied by an individualization of life histories, while the zones of overlapping lifeworlds and shared background assumptions shrink… [P]rocesses of social differentiation necessitate a multiplication and variation of functionally specified tasks, social roles, and interest positions… Such a situation intensifies the problem: how can disenchanted, internally differentiated and pluralized lifeworlds be socially integrated…?” Jürgen Habermas, Between Facts and Norms 25–26 (William Rehg trans., 1996).Google Scholar

26 Habermas, supra note 1, at 40–41.Google Scholar

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34 Ian McEwan, Saturdy (2005).Google Scholar

35 “An habitual observer of his own moods.” Id. at 5.Google Scholar

36 Id. at 71.Google Scholar

37 Id. at 243.Google Scholar

38 Id. at 13–19.Google Scholar

39 Id. at 35, 69, 107108.Google Scholar

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41 Id. at 50–51.Google Scholar

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44 Id. at 99–117.Google Scholar

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46 Id. at 152–167.Google Scholar

47 Id. at 169–172.Google Scholar

48 Id. at 76.Google Scholar

49 This is a device McEwan deploys in much of his work. The novel On Chesil Beach (2007), which followed Saturday, focuses on newlyweds’ stumbling sexual encounter on their wedding night.Google Scholar

50 This accusation was repeated in the popular media (some of which is decidedly Euro-skeptical) following the French and Irish “no” votes on, respectively, the EU Constitution and the Lisbon Treaty. See, e.g., Richard Bernstein, News Analysis: Europeans in Revolt Against EU's Elites, International Herald Tribune, June 3, 2005, available at; MacDonald, Margo, Irish Sunk Elite EU Power Grab, Edinburgh Evening News, June 18, 2008, available at; The Future of the Europe After the French and Dutch Referendums, THE Economist, June 2, 2005, available at; Charlemagne, Going Dutch, The Economist, May, 2008, available at The question of the role played by European elites in the EU project was given more serious scholarly treatment at a conference at the University of Bremen in 2005 entitled “Elites and EU Enlargement.” The conference program is available at For an interesting survey of European elites’ reactions to the European Union's struggles since 2005, see George Ross, What Do European Think? Analysis of the European Union's Current Crisis by European Elites, 46 Journal of Common Market Studies 389 (2008).Google Scholar

51 McEwan, supra note 34, at 72.Google Scholar

52 Id. at 72.Google Scholar

53 Id. at 113.Google Scholar

54 Id. at 113.Google Scholar

55 Id. at 115.Google Scholar

56 Id. at 62.Google Scholar

57 Id. at 63.Google Scholar

58 Id. at 72–73.Google Scholar

59 Habermas, supra note 1, at 45.Google Scholar

60 Perowne asks “[a]nd now what days are these?” McEwan, supra note 34, at 4.Google Scholar

61 Id. at 180–181.Google Scholar

62 Id. at 77.Google Scholar

63 Id. at 182.Google Scholar

64 Id. at 185.Google Scholar

65 Id. at 185.Google Scholar

66 Id. at 187.Google Scholar

67 Id. at 191.Google Scholar

68 Id. at 81–99.Google Scholar

69 Id. at 207–233.Google Scholar

70 Id. at 220–222.Google Scholar

71 Id. at 227–228.Google Scholar

72 Arnold, Matthew, Dover Bearch, available at (emphasis added).Google Scholar