GHDI logo

Social Philosopher Jürgen Habermas on the Meaning of Critical Memory (November 7, 1986)

page 2 of 4    print version    return to list previous document      next document

This dispute is not about encumbered remembrance but about the rather more narcissistic question of how we should position ourselves—for our own sakes—toward our own traditions. If we cannot face our own traditions without illusion, then the remembrance of the victims will become a farce. In the officially announced self-understanding of the Federal Republic there was until now a clear and simple answer. It did not sound any different from Weizsäcker than from Heinemann and Heuss. After Auschwitz we can create our national self-understanding solely by appropriating the better traditions of our critically examined history. We can only perpetuate a national context of life that once allowed an incomparable destruction of the substance of human community in the light of healthy traditions. These are the traditions that hold their ground through a perspective trained and made suspicious by moral catastrophe. Otherwise we cannot respect ourselves and cannot expect respect from others.

The official self-understanding of the Federal Republic has until now borne this premise. The consensus is today being abrogated by the Right. One fears one consequence in particular. A critical appropriation of our traditions does not promote naive trust in the moral righteousness of accustomed ways; it does not help in the identification with untested models. Martin Broszat correctly sees the point here where the problems can arise. The Nazi period will be all the less likely to block us from our past the more we view it as a filter through which our cultural tradition must pass, inasmuch as it is adopted deliberately and consciously.

Today, Dregger and those who think like him are against this continuity in the self-understanding of the Federal Republic. As far as I can tell, their discontent feeds on three sources.

first page < previous   |   next > last page