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Freedom and Democracy in a World Governed by Finance: Habermas and the Crisis in Europe -- A Free Labor Response

Posted: 16 Dec 2012 Last revised: 2 Oct 2017

Gary Minda

Brooklyn Law School

Date Written: May 2, 2013


Jürgen Habermas has recently warned that the sovereign debt crisis in Europe is transforming democratic governments into ‘economic government’ threatening not only economic disaster but the end of the world’s first supranational project — the European Union. And, according to Habermas, Europeans seem not to understand their Europe, and instead have used economic austerity as an excuse for denying democratic and constitutional possibilities at submit meetings, bailouts and new anti-democratic economic agreements. Habermas encourages his readers to understand the lessons of the past while looking ahead to new cosmopolitan possibilities freed from the twentieth century experiences of world war and economic depression. And, yet, few seem to be listening or heeding Germany’s most renowned political philosopher. European leaders focus on fiscal integration, Europe-wide banking supervision, and tighter economic policies, but little concern is given to citizen participation in governance. Without democratic integration, the European project risks creating economic, not democratic government. What are at stake are the basic social arrangements created in the post-World War era for sharing the wealth, the burdens and the responsibilities of workers and investors essential to a constitutional democracy. This Review Essay argues that Habermas’s response to the European crisis is relevant to the debt crisis in America, but his democratic aspirations need to be grounded in work, worker organizations, and the reality of workplaces, and not some ideal space for democratic discourse or commutative action. Habermas’s vision for a democracy at the transnational level is not a possibility so long as economic government re-creates social conditions that look more like the one created by nineteenth-century privilege of the discredited peonage system than twenty-first-century democracy.

Keywords: Habermas, democracy, free labor, sovereign debt, Europe, Austerity

JEL Classification: N3, N33, N32, P10,052, N40, N43

Suggested Citation

Minda, Gary, Freedom and Democracy in a World Governed by Finance: Habermas and the Crisis in Europe -- A Free Labor Response (May 2, 2013). Rutgers Journal of Law and Urban Policy 2013; Brooklyn Law School, Legal Studies Paper No. 337. Available at SSRN: or

Gary Minda (Contact Author)

Brooklyn Law School ( email )

250 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
United States
718-780-7956 (Phone)

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