Habermas @ Leuven: the EU as enormous labor union?


None other than Jürgen Habermas has come to speak at Leuven, and about nothing less than the future of the European Union – to be precise, “Solidarity, Democracy, and the European Union”. God bless him, Habermas is nigh unintelligible when he speaks (fortunately, the university distributed copies of his lecture), but no one can question that his heart is in the right place. The question is whether his heart possesses the best possible argument; that seems doubtful to me.

Arguably, Habermas is famous among philosophers, social scientists, and activists for making a Golden Age out of the Enlightenment era, and drawing abstract models therefrom. The best example is his famous description of how the public sphere and liberal democracy came to emerge. Historically, a crucial institution was the coffeehouse, which philosophically becomes liberal democracy in ideal form: a common, agreed-upon space wherein interlocutors agree to rationally and coolheadedly debate an issue to a consensus. Elections, in their best form, resemble such a debate; so, too, legislative discussions.

With respect to the European Union’s present troubles and its future solution, the historical model for Habermas, at least as I understand him, appears to be the late-nineteenth century labor union, which philosophically becomes supranational democracy in ideal form. This time, the idea is of forging a cohesive fraternity with a democratic (i.e., rational, deliberative) but still collective decision-making process with a wealth-sharing agenda. I presume that because everyone is acting and thinking in solidarity, and because the European Union’s various institutions are driven to work for the best interests of this collective, the notorious “democracy deficit” that besets the Union today would evaporate. So too would disappear the clash of national self-interests that are threatening, says Habermas (and we all sort of feel it), to rend asunder the northern and southern economies.

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Leuven, Louvain, Katholieke, Catholique — Ik weet het niet, Je ne sais pas!

Word in the Belgian press is that the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven shall be Katholieke no more — well, somewhat.

Although it’s still to be decided this week, officially, our Dutch name shall be “KU Leuven”, with the “K” no longer signifying anything (humorously, university officials like to emphasize that we shall also no longer be “K.U. Leuven”, either). Apparently, our English name shall be “The University of Leuven — KU Leuven” or “The University of Leuven (KU Leuven)”. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in terms of letterhead, website design, curriculum vitaes, etc.

This decision is part of the ongoing mixture of market- and identity-politics here in Belgium. It has been presaged by earlier identity problems (or continuities, depending on your view): previously, we were the Studium Generale Lovaniense (from our founding in 1425 to 1797), the Université d’État de Louvain (until the 1830s, with a brief closure during the Napoleonic regime), then the Université Catholique de Louvain/Universitas Catholica Lovaniensis until the political crisis of 1968 resulted in two universities with the same charter: the Flemish-Dutch Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in historical Leuven, and the Université Catholique de Louvain in the purpose-built town of Louvain-la-Neuve in southern Francophonic Belgium.

The latest change has been justified along two lines: first, that the Catholic Church is interfering with stem cell research (apparently, the change shall also entail removing the archbishop as chairman, leaving him as chancellor); and second, that the “Katholieke” adjective hurts our reputation in the United States, as it supposedly gives the wrong impression of us, i.e., that in order to have a degree from here means one must subscribe to the Catholic faith. Proponents for the change also argue that the university is becoming more and more pluralistic (that remains to be seen in some faculties, but as an official intention this is true).

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I’ve been following the tragic events in Southern Kyrgyzstan all weekend and coordinating neweurasia‘s English coverage.   It took me a while to re-establish contact with our team in Osh and Jalalabad, at least one of whom appeared to be hiding in his house.  The videos have been heartbreaking: entire neighborhoods burned down.

The whole disaster has cast a dim light back onto the society in which I currently find myself, Belgium.  This country also has long standing difficulties between its two major constituent ethnicities, and it has has just undergone an election in which apparent separatists emerged triumphant. Many of my friends here are alarmed by the results and fear for the future of their nation.

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Quantum religion 2

Was Averroes right: do the activities of science and religion somehow ontologically resonate?  In my last post I lightly explored what this might mean for the content of scientific theory and religious belief vis-à-vis each other. Therein I tentatively proposed a “quantum religion”, which solicited responses both positive and negative, including comparisons to Deepak Chopra and Roger Penrose.  I’m taking a controversial stance for sure, but also a dangerous one.

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Schwartz the swami

I try to stretch often.  In the past,  it was my habit to do full body stretches every morning, but that hasn’t been happening all that frequently lately.  Fortunately, my muscles remain quite limber.  This pose is good for parts of the underside of the thigh and, of course, the butt; it works better when I have a rail to rest my leg upon.

I worry that I’m risking health problems when I’m older, perhaps from hypermobility, but I just can’t stop, nor do I want to.  I really enjoy the feeling of a deep stretch.  Like a deep, digging massage, it doesn’t really register as pain with me, and when the stretch is done, I always feel more at ease and at home in my body.

Thanks to Gabriela for the photos; that’s her rooftop in Leuven.  Oh, besides having history’s veiniest arms, that’s a favorite shirt of mine.  It’s one of the few short-sleeved shirts I own that actually looks half-way decent on me.

The hidden river


“It is in the watches of the night that impressions are strongest and words most eloquent; in the day-time you are hard pressed with the affairs of this world.” — Quran, sura 73

It’s a full moon over Leuven tonight. The small city is quiet, gently illuminated. Between the Question and the Debate, between the why do i exist? and the contest of faith and reason, there is another space. And underneath the quivering ego’s thirst for justification flows a river, subterranean and brisk — the one true drink.