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New Left Review I/219, September-October 1996

Jürgen Habermas

National Unification and Popular Sovereignty

Since the collapse of the Soviet empire, new states have been emerging in fast-moving sequence—whether through the secession of formerly ‘autonomous’ territories, or through the reunification of national states that had fallen into dependence and partition. [*] This is the text of the Tseo-nam lecture delivered at Seoul National University, May 1996 These would appear to be only the clearest symptoms that a phenomenon more or less forgotten, or anyway neglected, in postwar Europe has plenty of life left in it. A colleague of mine describes the situation as follows: ‘With the break-up of the imperial realms, the world of states is re-forming at borders marked by the origins of those states, whose contours are to be explained in national-historical terms.’ [1] H. Lübbe Abschied vom Superstaat, Berlin 1994, pp.33f. Today, the political future again seems to belong to the ‘ancestral powers’—primarily, religion and the nation. In the social sciences, the talk is of ‘ethno-nationalism’ which is a way of stressing a common heritage, whether in the physical sense of common descent or in the broader sense of a common cultural tradition.

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