The European crisis and the intellectuals: Habermas and Vargas Llosa


Habermas: photograph by Wolfram Huke, licensed under Creative Commons

Jürgen Habermas, long a promoter of a common European identity and values, has responded to Brexit by restating his call for a ‘core Europe’. Angela Merkel, he said in a newspaper interview, had ‘throttled the very idea of further European integration at birth’ by insisting on involving all the 27 other states, ‘knowing full well that a constructive agreement with authoritarian nationalists like Orbán or Kaszyński is impossible’.

Based on the Eurozone nations, Habermas believes that the values of his new core Europe would win over the ‘polarised populations of all the member states’, including those currently outside the Eurozone. Within a single currency zone, the nation state can no longer guarantee social welfare or democracy. As a precondition, Germany must abandon its ‘resistance to closer cooperation in financial, economic and social policy’.

So far, so familiar: Habermas is simply saying what he has often said before. The interview sheds no new light on the Leave vote, other than as a specific example of a Europe-wide phenomenon. As for hostility to Europe, Habermas understands this as the product of ‘drastically increased social inequality and the feeling of powerless, that one’s own interests are no more represented among the political classes’. It will, be believes, be resolved through a common social policy and stronger democracy.

Mario Vargas Llosa, who lives in Spain but comes from Peru, has drawn parallels between between diminishing popular support for the EU and the fate of Venezuela. Again, he was speaking in an interview, in response to a question about the range of current protest movements in Europe. Vargas Llosa described these movements, from Syriza and Podemus to Pegida and le Front national, as speaking to a yearning for ‘the small community’ which ‘supposedly offered more security, spoke the same language, went to the same church, drank the same beer’.

For Vargas Llosa, the electoral popularity of the socialist Hugo Chávez represented an ‘obscure nationalism’ which appealed to a people who rejected ‘the unpredictable, the unmanageable, against globalisation and capitalitm’. Chávez’ period in office ‘poisoned the climate with neighbours, caused isolation even in foreign policy – all with the segen des volkes, who believed that they could remove themselves from the wider direction of the world, and return to a predictable because closed society’. His conclusion: ‘Venezuela today is corrupt, one of the poorest countries in the world, Caracas the city with the hightest crime rate’.

I’ve provided my own translations, on the assumption that some other people might be as interested as I am in knowing what these thinkers make of the current crisis in Europe. If you want my opinion on the interviews, I find them both a little underwhelming. But just don’t ask me to do better!



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