Power of the past : a Habermasian approach to the study of collective war memories in international relations illustrated by recent Franco-German relations
The central question of this thesis is how to conceptualise the impact of collective war memories in international politics. The main theoretical argument developed in the work is that Jurgen Habermas' Critical Theory, in general, and his two concepts of social learning and political legitimacy, in particular, are useful and hitherto unexplored ways of advancing our knowledge concerning that question. Based on this premise the thesis highlights the importance of political memory groups for the formulation of practical imperatives in politics and develops a theoretical concept of social learning that can be applied to the remembering of past wars. It further argues that societies can learn to remember past wars in different stages and that those stages can be identified in the history of Western Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This is illustrated by the cases of Germany and France in that period. Delving further into the question of how collective war memories may or may not legitimate international politics and foreign policy decisions, the dissertation develops a notion of political legitimacy that is based on Habermas' theory of communicative action. The discussions in France and Germany concerning both the attempts to form a European Defence Community (EDC) in 1954 and the European Monetary Union (EMU) in 1991-1992 are used in this work to illustrate the application of this notion of legitimacy. The thesis concludes that Habermas' Critical Theory not only helps to advance our theoretical knowledge of the impact of collective war memories on international politics, but also provides useful insights into possible ways to critically and consciously transform such an impact.