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A More Perfect Union

Inclusive Norms and the Future of Liberal Unity
Benjamin Seymour
Brown University
Ginevra Bulgari
Vance Kelley
Julia Rock
Jakob Wells
Spring 2018

This essay analyzes the most dire threats to political unity today by critiquing historical approaches to this subject.

Given the sprawling apparatus of the modern state, it’s easy to wonder how such an entity—one that requires the complex and cumbersome coordination of complete strangers every day—exists and persists at all. Indeed, endless tomes of regulations guide this bureaucratic behemoth’s daily affairs; and yet, these volumes seem inadequate to address the philosophical question of what motivates humanity to come together despite differences and form a project directed toward mutual advantage and a common good. An answer to this question would need to identify a more essential aspect of our constitution as persons, a continuity that underlies the diverse interests and identities that coexist in a state. Generations of political theorists have grappled with the problem of national unity and, through their attempts to theorize this fundamental impulse, realized that unity is the sine qua non condition of possibility for the state; therefore, upholding this unity is of vital importance for national stability and longevity.

The German political theorist Carl Schmitt, who was an active member of the Nazi party, virulent anti-Semite, and chief architect of the Third Reich’s justificatory underpinnings, was chiefly concerned with national unity. He uses his principle of national unity as homogeneity and exclusion to challenge the inclusive liberal notion of unity through shared values, by arguing that the liberal approach poses an existential threat to the survival of the state. Despite the clarity and thoroughness of Schmitt’s critique of liberalism, liberal political thinkers such as John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas remain unconvinced by Schmitt’s account and instead defend the liberal conception of unity, which avoids the drastic conclusions and totalitarian implications of Schmitt’s thought. While Rawls’ responses to Schmitt’s normative arguments prove compelling, Habermas, by recognizing the central importance of identity in Schmitt’s critique, lays the groundwork for a new defense of liberal unity that retains a substantive interest in questions of national identity.

To reformulate and reaffirm the liberal notion of unity, this paper will: (I) explore Schmitt’s notion of national unity through enmity as a critique of liberal inclusivity; (II) examine Rawls’ account of overlapping consensus as a foundation for social unity that resists Schmitt’s most problematic commitments; (III) clarify how Habermas’ preoccupation with identity further strengthens the Rawlsian notion of liberal unity against Schmittian ethno-nationalism; and finally (IV) realize Habermas’ conception of inclusive unity by, counter-intuitively, embracing the very fragmentation of social identities that appears to be the greatest threat to national unity today.

Rooted in radical exclusion and the constant threat of violence, Schmitt’s conception of the political situates unity in a homogenous populace’s allegiance against a common enemy. As an inheritor of German existentialist thought, Schmitt analyzes political life with a systematic approach that emphasizes an ontological and philosophical hierarchy, wherein certain concepts are metaphysically prior to higher-order notions. The absolute foundation of this hierarchy, from which all political entities ultimately derive, is Schmitt’s conception of the political. Indeed, the first sentence of his treatise, The Concept of the Political, confirms this hierarchical approach: “The concept of the state presupposes the concept of the political” (Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, 19). For Schmitt, a concept only derives its meaning by referring to a concrete reality in the world. While the referent of the more intuitive concept of the state is the state’s sprawling apparatus and daily operations, Schmitt believes that his more fundamental notion of the political denotes an equally tangible reality.

Schmitt’s famous friend-enemy distinction instantiates the concept of the political within his system. As a theorist whose philosophy is defined by its political principle of radical negation and exclusivity, Schmitt believes that every discourse is defined by an insoluble antithesis or distinction. Like the contrasts between good and evil in ethics, beautiful and ugly in aesthetics, and profitable and unprofitable in economics, Schmitt contends that the political is defined by the antithesis between friend and enemy. Such a reductionist analysis establishes the political as independent from moral questions and postulates the friend-enemy distinction as ontologically irreducible:


The political enemy need not be morally evil or aesthetically ugly; he need not appear as an economic competitor, and it may even be advantageous to engage with him in business transactions. But he is, nevertheless, the other, the stranger; and it is sufficient for his nature that he is, in a specially intense way, existentially something different and alien, so that in the extreme case conflicts with him are possible (Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, 27).


The dehumanizing and fascistic possibilities of a conception of politics based on a distinction that treats another person as existentially alien marks Schmitt’s philosophy as a clear antipode to liberal notions of equality and intuitive morality. But Schmitt’s existentialist conception of meaning imbues his notion of the political with a dangerous urgency, as the concrete referent of the friend-enemy distinction, and thus the very concept of the political itself, is the constant and real possibility of physical violence with the enemy. By establishing a principle of difference, negation, and enmity as the foundation of his conception of politics, Schmitt makes his principle of unity the ontological epicenter of his philosophical project.

Fully aware of the power of the fear and hostility on which his notion of the political is founded, Schmitt contends that only the sheer force of the friend-enemy distinction is sufficient to fuse a collection of individuals into a genuine social unit. Schmitt’s emphasis on collectivity is likewise essential to his understanding of the political. The friend and enemy of Schmitt’s antithesis necessarily refer to collectives, transforming these enemies into public enemies and these friends into the other members of one’s political group. Thus, the concept of the political only becomes efficacious by virtue of the shared quality of the friend-enemy distinction. But when a group of individuals is united, through a common and homogenous sense of who the friends and the enemies are, it partakes in the sublime force of the political, which transfigures this collective into an entirely new kind of entity—a people. In Schmitt’s ontological hierarchy of politics, a people are second only to the political antithesis that defines and unites them. Yet a new property emerges at the higher metaphysical order of a people that both allows for the possibility of an organized state and proves significant to another dimension of Schmitt’s critique of liberalism: “If such an entity [of a people] exists at all, it is always the decisive entity, and it is sovereign in the sense that the decision about the critical situation, even if it is the exception, must always necessarily reside there” (Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, 38).  By virtue of its sovereignty, which Schmitt equates with an ability to make certain decisions, a homogenous people becomes capable of forming the institutions and norms of a state.

Like his conception of political unity through radical exclusion, Schmitt’s formulation of sovereignty similarly challenges another fundamental liberal tenet: the commitment to norms exemplified by the rule of law. As set forth in his collection of essays, Political Theology, Schmitt’s notion of sovereignty receives a succinct expression in the book’s famous first sentence: “Sovereign is he who decides on the exception” (Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, 5). Related to the idea of a state of emergency, the exception refers to an abnormal situation in which the Schmittian sovereign decides that the general rules do not apply. In this exceptional situation, the sovereign then suspends the general norms and acts by virtue of its own authority. Thus, for Schmitt, a law or norm is only legitimate when it is recognized by the ontologically prior sovereign power, yet this recognition consists precisely in the sovereign acknowledging its own authority to suspend or violate this rule in exceptional cases. By arguing that norms are only defined by their exceptions and limits, Schmitt undermines the liberal commitment to the rule of law, which insists that sovereign powers are not exempt from their own laws and norms. Schmitt’s critique of liberalism thereby rejects a normative approach to politics that extends back to the Magna Carta and inscribes authority within definite bounds.

An even more disturbing feature of Schmitt’s notion of sovereignty, however, is that the ambiguous phrase “on the exception,” means not only that the sovereign decides in exceptional cases, but also that the sovereign decides which cases are to be treated as exceptional. As Schmitt writes: “He [the sovereign] decides whether there is an extreme emergency as well as what must be done to eliminate it. Although he stands outside the normally valid legal system, he nevertheless belongs to it, for it is he who must decide whether the constitution needs to be suspended in its entirety” (Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, 7).  The sublime and even transcendent authority that Schmitt attributes to the sovereign is problematic beyond merely challenging the rule of law, which forms the very foundation of the liberal constitutional state—since sovereign authority ontologically derives from the political, Schmitt argues that the unchecked power of the sovereign must therefore serve to maintain and strengthen this antagonistic principle of unity.

Thus, according to Schmitt, the state must act in such a way that most promotes the homogenous unity of the political, upon which the very possibility of a state depends. Schmitt’s ontological hierarchy, by exalting his notion of the political as the unity of a sovereign people, imbues political entities with a telos. The political, as the foundation of all public associations and institutions, also becomes their vital principle and their ultimate purpose. In Constitutional Theory, Schmitt’s most influential legal text, the sinister principle of national unity assumes a more concrete and recognizable form. Fundamental liberties, as established in this text, are usually non-political in the sense that they attach to individuals in their private lives or in a non-social manner. For example, freedom of worship is a basic liberty that, according to Schmitt, should be respected by the state as long as one’s religious views or practices merely affect one’s private behavior. This right could be suspended if members of a certain religion used their faith as a vehicle for political change, as in the case of the Civil Rights Movement or the Indian Independence Movement.

While Schmitt recognizes that there are often de facto limits to the political in a state, there is no limiting principle to stop the intrusive expansion of the political. Thus, the reach of the political can and even should expand if it serves to strengthen national unity. To pursue our example, the sovereign could decide to suspend even the right to privately believe in a certain religious doctrine if the sovereign decides that this doctrine is affiliated with its Schmittian enemy. This expansion of the realm of the political, if continued, culminates in what Schmitt celebrates as the ideal of the “total state,” in which all aspects of life are re-politicized and thereby subsumed into an all encompassing friend-enemy distinction: “Every religious, moral, economic, ethical, or other antithesis transforms into a political one if it is sufficiently strong to group human beings effectively according to friend and enemy” Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, 37). The total state in which everything reflects and strengthens the friend-enemy distinction would, for Schmitt, possess the highest possible degree of political unity, as its people would have a completely homogeneous sense of friend and enemy. It requires no small leap of the imagination to see how Schmitt’s ideal of the total state coincided with Nazism, which attempted to build an empire based on an ethnic friend-enemy distinction that indeed encompassed all aspects of life. Yet despite this repulsive extremism, Schmitt’s model is a considerable challenge to liberalism—one that requires a liberal response that can defend an inclusive account of national unity and a norm-based approach to politics that leaves the rule of law intact.


Rawls provides a liberal antidote to Schmitt by formulating an inclusive conception of national unity based on shared norms. John Rawls proved to be a preeminent liberal philosopher by offering analyses of the principles underlying modern constitutional democracies, distinguished by Rawls’ interest in promoting the just and fair treatment of all members of these societies. Indeed, Rawls’ background in Kantian moral philosophy is evident in his persistent belief in the equal dignity of persons—a liberal tenet that Schmitt rejects through the ontological inequality imbedded in his friend-enemy distinction. In place of the exclusion and homogeneity that suffuse Schmitt’s conception of the political, Rawls affirms an inclusive principle of unity that is woven into the very fabric of his philosophical system as a crucial background assumption. In Political Liberalism, Rawls describes how he assumes a plurality of different worldviews to be a fundamental feature of liberal democracies: “the diversity of reasonable comprehensive religious, philosophical, and moral doctrines found in modern democratic societies is not a mere historical condition that may soon pass away; it is a permanent feature of the public culture of democracy” John Rawls, Political Liberalism, 36). Rawls defines comprehensive doctrines as complete and fully realized normative worldviews. In his assumption, Rawls flatly rejects the homogeneity that Schmitt argues is the essence of political unity. Though this assumption appears to be a factual claim about the nature of liberal democratic societies, Rawls gives this claim normative weight by distinguishing between the notion of mere pluralism—wherein members of a society subscribe to different comprehensive doctrines—and that of reasonable pluralism. For Rawls, reasonable pluralism refers to the idea that free institutions actually promote a diversity of comprehensive doctrines that a reasonable person could subscribe to. As a radically pluralistic and inclusive notion, reasonable pluralism, as a fundamental feature of liberal democracies, creates the space in which democratic

deliberation and debate can occur. As a vital condition for the proper functioning of a democratic and liberal society, reasonable pluralism ensures that inclusivity and diversity occupy a fundamental position in Rawlsian liberal society. But this rebuke of Schmitt’s notion of the political, as defined by the friend-enemy distinction, does not yet provide an alternative account of national unity.

Through his notion of overlapping consensus, Rawls proposes a theory of national unity grounded in shared norms and similarity across difference. Given the profound diversity of individuals’ values within a liberal society that reasonable pluralism implies, national unity, at least from the perspective of Schmitt’s critique, appears precarious. Yet Rawls denies that national unity is unattainable in liberal democracies, by exploring the distinction between an individual’s comprehensive doctrine and their non-comprehensive political views. Along these lines, two individuals—for example a Christian fundamentalist and a socialist atheist—could deeply disagree over many issues by virtue of their conflicting comprehensive doctrines; however, they might also hold some political views in common, like a commitment to the right to free speech. Thus, despite the radical heterogeneity and diversity of worldviews in a multicultural liberal society, there are certain principles that Rawls argues would be shared amongst opposing but reasonable comprehensive doctrines. These shared principles, to which any reasonable person would assent, constitute Rawls’ notion of the overlapping consensus, which unites individuals whose comprehensive doctrines may nonetheless be extraordinarily different. As establishing a common national commitment to certain principles, the overlapping consensus serves to unite a reasonably pluralistic society around inclusive norms. Rawls also frames his discussion of the overlapping consensus in explicitly normative terms, beyond the mere fact that the overlapping consensus is a collection of normative principles, by relating the overlapping consensus to liberal notions of legitimacy and autonomy:


     Since political power is the coercive power of free and equal citizens as a corporate body, this power should be exercised,      when constitutional essentials and basic questions of justice are at stake, only in ways that all citizens can reasonably be

     expected to endorse in the light of their common human reason (Rawls, Political Liberalism, 139-140).


Rawls’ insistence on certain limiting conditions under which coercive political power should be employed reveals a striking divergence from Schmitt’s unlimited notion of sovereign authority. Only authority exercised within these limits is legitimate in the Rawlsian sense. Furthermore, Rawls’ particular formulation of legitimacy is intimately related to the notion of autonomy, which literally means self-lawgiving. Since political coercion is only legitimate when any reasonable individual would assent to it, the state’s sovereign authority is strictly limited by the overlapping consensus, i.e. what reasonable citizens would mutually agree to. In stark contrast to Schmitt’s unlimited notion of sovereignty as rooted in a unifying principle of profound exclusion and homogeneity, Rawls outlines a liberal notion of unity through an overlapping consensus that emphasizes shared norms across reasonable differences and inscribes the state’s coercive authority within determinate limits.

Rawls’ insistence on the rule of law and an inclusive notion of national unity becomes even more apparent through the concrete and realized form it assumes in Rawls’ reflections on the importance of constitutions for liberal societies. For Rawls, constitutions perform the essential function of codifying certain shared and fundamental values—aspects of the overlapping consensus—to ensure that they are consistently respected. In contrast to Schmitt, Rawls is an adamant supporter of the rule of law, who affirms the importance of consistently and impartially upholding rules. In A Theory of Justice, Rawls devotes a section to the rule of law, wherein he provides a simple and intuitive counter-argument to Schmitt’s contention that a rule is essentially defined by its ability to be suspended in exceptional cases: “The rule of law also implies the precept that similar cases be treated similarly. Men could not regulate their actions by means of rules if this precept were not followed” (Rawls, A Theory of Justice, 237). Indeed, under a regime whose laws are frequently suspended or changed by the sacrosanct power of the sovereign, it would be prohibitively difficult to follow laws at all, given their constant mutability. Like Schmitt, however, Rawls argues that constitutions should and do reinforce his notion of national unity in important ways. First, the constitution provides specific procedures for conflict resolution that diffuse intra-societal tensions, instead of merely redirecting these antagonistic energies toward a common enemy. Second, Rawls claims that a state’s constitution, when successful, can reinforce reasonable pluralism and foster a positive feedback loop that stabilizes and unites the diverse members of a liberal society under their shared values and institutions:


     The basic political institutions incorporating these principles and the form of public reason shown in applying them

     when working effectively and successfully for a sustained period of time (as I am here assuming)—tend to encourage the

     cooperative virtues of political life: the virtue of reasonableness and a sense of fairness, a spirit of compromise, and a

     readiness to meet others halfway, all of which are connected with the willingness to cooperate with others on political

     terms that everyone can politically accept (Rawls, Political Liberalism, 163).


In a gesture similar to Schmitt’s claim that the constitution must serve the telos of his exclusive conception of national unity, Rawls maintains that the constitution can be an important component in securing unity in a pluralistic liberal society by strengthening certain common virtues that promote inclusivity. Rawls therefore formulates a liberal conception of national unity that offers an attractive alternative to Schmitt’s vision of unity through a mutual enemy. Indeed, Rawls’ response to Schmitt also seems far better equipped to handle the multicultural realities of an increasingly globalized world, whose largest and most prominent states are and continue to become ever more pluralistic.

While Rawls’ responses to Schmitt fail to explicitly address the problematic role of identity in Schmitt’s critique of liberal unity, Habermas addresses this issue from a liberal perspective similar to Rawls’. Although educated in different philosophical traditions, Rawls and Habermas share commitments to many fundamental liberal values. Like Rawls, Habermas begins with the factual assumption that contemporary liberal democracies are defined by their multiculturalism and plurality of worldviews. Given this diversity, Habermas likewise claims that these disparate groups can be brought together through shared norms and an inclusive attitude that rejects the radical homogeneity of the Schmittian political. Despite these shared preoccupations between Rawls and Habermas, their divergent emphases reveal crucial aspects of their philosophical vantage points. For example, Habermas imbues the question of national unity with an urgency and importance comparable to Schmitt. Although Rawls undeniably thought about and wrote on the question of national unity with acuity and insight, Schmitt and Habermas examine the threat of political fragmentation as fundamental because of their shared German inheritance of a national history marked by perennial partition and disunity. In contrast to both Schmitt and Rawls, however, Habermas turns to a nation’s constitution to provide—not merely a supportive element in fostering a unified national community—but a veritable foundation for a unified and inclusive liberal state. Referring to this political model as “constitutional patriotism,” Habermas proposes an alternative liberal principle of unity, one highly related to and coherent with Rawls’ liberal project, that Habermas argues can challenge Schmitt’s claim that liberal inclusivity cannot provide a substantive identity to the members of a society.

Habermas’ groundbreaking essay, “The Postnational Constellation and the Future of Democracy,” explores how globalizing forces have fundamentally altered identity-forming processes in a way that renders unity through nationalist identities no longer viable. By reflecting on the contemporary prevalence of immigration, the complex ways in which localities interact with globalized mass media, and the ease of communication across national and cultural lines, Habermas arrives at the conclusion that people have adapted a new sense of identity in response to these multifarious forces. Because ‘traditional’ modes of identity, in the nineteenth century for example, were more stable and consistent across localities, identifying with a particular town, religion, nation, and worldview was a more socially unifying and coherent process. Habermas contends that today, however, a single individual might identify with multiple hometowns, two or more national heritages, and a familial as well as a personal religious identity. Habermas vividly describes:


     [T]he dynamic image of an ongoing construction of new modes of belonging; new subcultures and lifestyles, a process

     kept in motion through intercultural contact and multiethnic connections. This strengthens a trend toward

     individualization and the emergence of ‘cosmopolitan identities,’ already evident in postindustrial societies Habermas,

     "The Postnational Constellation and the Future of Democracy," 76).


This process, whereby interaction with global forces leads individuals to adopt layered identities, simultaneously threatens traditional models of national unity and underscores the need for a more inclusive and norm-based model of political unity. Undoubtedly, Schmitt’s conception of political unity would qualify as a ‘traditional,’ model of national belonging, whose unqualified insistence on the importance of national homogeneity does not seem capable of prevailing under these new conditions. Indeed, Habermas writes that Schmitt’s friend-enemy distinction most often appears along ethnic lines, as in the case of National Socialism, although for Habermas this is a historically contingent fact. Regardless, Habermas considers Schmitt’s notion of the political a reflection of the ethnonationalist conception of national identity whose unity is predicated on a sense of belonging to a shared heritage: “‘ethnonationalism’ blurs the traditional distinction between ‘ethnos’ and ‘demos.’ This expression emphasizes the proximity between an ‘ethnos,’ a pre-political community of shared descent organized around kinship ties, on the one hand, and a nation constituted as a state that at least aspires to political independence on the other” (Habermas, "On the Relation between the Nation, the Rule of Law and Democracy," 130). The absolute nature of Schmittian homogeneity, especially when considered along ethnic lines, appears all the more reactionary and unviable in light of Habermas’ account of contemporary, complex identity formation.

Thus, Habermas proposes constitutional patriotism as an inclusive way of identifying with the national community that opposes Schmittian ethnonationalism. Like the liberal commitment to shared norms and inclusive pluralism outlined by Rawls, Habermas’ constitutional patriotism entails a national culture that identifies with the values embodied by that nation’s constitution. Since liberal democratic constitutions use highly generalized language in order to encompass as many situations as possible, constitutional norms embrace the tolerance and equality that Habermas sees as vital to ensuring national unity in the contemporary, globalized world. In contrast to constitutional patriotism, Habermas characterizes ethnonationalism as entailing a pathological and exclusive fusing of the national culture with mere majority culture. Consider the case of Germany, wherein a conception of German identity that relies on a certain ethnic, religious, or even linguistic affiliation would exclude significant portions of the populace. For Habermas, the immediate gains of the Schmittian exclusionary approach will in fact undermine national unity on the long run, due to the unstoppable process of global connections forging complex identities within societies whose homogenous histories are quickly becoming relics of the past. Habermas therefore arrives at a normative claim intended to provide a solution to the problem of achieving unity through identity in a contemporary liberal state: “the majority culture must detach itself from its fusion with the general political culture in which all citizens share equally; otherwise it dictates the parameters of political discourses from the outset” (Habermas, "The Postnational Constellation and the Future of Democracy," 146). Constitutional patriotism is realized in this very act of uncoupling majority culture from national culture, wherein the national culture transforms into the identification with the shared norms and inclusive equality of constitutional values. Only then can national unity be achieved without resorting to Schmittian ethnonationalism, which Habermas argues excludes vast communities within contemporary liberal democracies. Although Habermas himself acknowledges that constitutional patriotism is more abstract than the primitive power of Schmitt’s friend-enemy distinction, he embraces it as a normative necessity that citizens of liberal democracies should undertake, to ensure the stability and longevity of their nation’s political culture.


By arriving at a moral injunction, Habermas fails to provide an adequate incentive for the majority to adopt constitutional patriotism; however, a Habermasian approach that more fully embraces the aforementioned fragmentary identity-forming processes solves this issue by pointing the way towards the dissolution of majority culture itself. The prospect of uncoupling national from majority culture is undeniably daunting, as the widespread introduction of constitutional patriotism as a national identity would involve the loss of significant privilege, status, and power for those who are current members of this majority culture. The roots of ethnonationalism continue to grip the political foundations of ostensibly liberal democratic societies, less because the public is convinced by the ideas of thinkers like Schmitt—although segments of these populations undoubtedly are, as the so called “alt-right” has recently demonstrated in the US—but rather because the majority gains an elevated status through exclusionary forms of national unity. The ethical cost of this exaltation of the majority culture on a national scale is the demeaning alienation of minority communities and, while Habermas is right to advocate for a more inclusive national identity that would remain faithful to liberal values, it seems unlikely that the majority would freely give up its status by adopting constitutional patriotism only to benefit the greater good. If one believes that people tend to act out of self-interest instead of morality, then the incentive to preserve the connection between majority and national culture itself must be nullified before constitutional patriotism can prevail.

The tools for solving this problem are present in Habermas. To take Habermasian thought a step beyond Habermas himself, one can imagine what the process of complex identity fragmentation and formation would look like in the long term. In this scenario, the majority of people would no longer subscribe to a singular or even predominant identity. On the contrary, the very fragmentation that Habermas argues unsettles national unity would transform the populace of a liberal democracy into a vast network of many small communities, whose individual members would each belong to a great multitude of them. Such a nation would be so deeply fragmented that any given aspect of one’s identity would not provide a sufficiently large community to establish a majority. Instead, majority decisions would be made entirely by heterogeneous coalitions whose interest overlap for the time being, but who remain fragmentary constellations of various communities without a single or cohesive identity. Under such conditions of extreme fragmentation and individualization, Schmitt would argue that the nation itself has ceased to exist, even if its political institutions persist. From a Habermasian perspective, however, everyone would finally have an incentive to adopt constitutional patriotism, as the majority culture itself has dissolved. To some, this thought experiment may appear extreme, unfounded, or idealistic; but, by revealing a path to constitutional patriotism that does not rely on the mere moral goodness of an entire population, it offers a compelling reason to embrace the fragmentation that Habermas himself ambivalently describes. In doing so, the positive potential of fragmentation provides the possibility of a more hopeful future, in which liberal unity can be fully realized through the widespread adoption of identities as malleable, personal, and idiosyncratic as their individual subscribers. Thus, the future of liberal unity can only be attained through a confrontation and embrace of the very fragmentation that political theorists have feared for far too long.

A Habermasian solution to the problem of national identity’s role in fostering political unity thereby completes the liberal project, developed by Rawls and Habermas, of formulating an adequate response and alternative to Schmitt’s critique of liberalism. As the nation-state continues to assert its relevance in the global consciousness of the 21st century, the naïve question to ask would be when the nation-state will fall into obsoleteness and thereby cease to exist. On the contrary, the deep political impulse in humanity and the social need for some form of unifying structure mean that the future of the liberal state will entail a transformation instead of an extinction. But the new political arrangement awaiting humanity at the end of this metamorphosis is yet undecided—making the path to be pursued all the more crucial. By recognizing that national unity as we know it will need to be radically reshaped and may even appear in the guise of what we now perceive as fragmentation, a new path toward this future emerges that rejects neither globalizing fragmentation nor the national community. Only through such affirmation can the enduring negativity of exclusion and perpetual violence someday be overcome.



1 Readers may question the philosophical value of engaging with a theorist as reprehensible and repulsive as Carl Schmitt; however, I remain convinced that vigilant opponents of fascism must constantly challenge its foundations, not only to demonstrate the intellectual illegitimacy of totalitarianism, but also to better discern the fascistic modes of thought insidiously purveyed by alleged proponents of liberalis
2 This empirical claim is disputable, but simply assumed in this paper. I ask that skeptical readers grant it arguendo.




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Habermas, Jürgen. “The Postnational Constellation and the Future of Democracy.” The Postnational Constellation: Political Essays. Trans. Max Pensky. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2001. Print.

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