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The Princess of Asturias Foundation

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Laureates  

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Jürgen Habermas

Prince of Asturias Award for Social Sciences 2003

Your Majesty, Your Royal Highness, dear colleagues (if I may use the word "colleague" in its literal sense), ladies and gentlemen:

I much appreciate the honour bestowed upon us on behalf of the Prince of Asturias and presented to us by the Prince in person. Spain's highest distinction arouses different thoughts in each of us. In me it arouses memories of an experience I had during a trip to Iran not so long ago.

In Shiraz, a place of pilgrimage in honour of the great poet Hafiz, I chanced to meet a young Muslim lady wearing a veil over her face - my guide - who turned out to be a voracious reader. What foreign authors might have reached such a student under the rule of the Mullahs? Who did she know through translations? To my surprise, her interest lay in a Spaniard, whom she wanted to know everything about: Miguel de Unamuno. She could never have guessed the curious coincidence of our life experiences: fifty-five years ago, Unamuno was also the leading Spanish writer for me. Then, in the aftermath of the Second World War, existentialist philosophy was the sounding board of the Life of Don Quixote and Sancho. The intellectual climate has since changed, but Unamuno's writing has not aged.

For example, the text called Cómo se hace una novela (How to write a novel) is post-Modernist in its structure. It was written in the twenties, when Unamuno, emigrating to France, stopped at the border, overcome by nostalgia for his native Basque land. In this proto-novel, Unamuno reflects upon the work of the writer, and analyses the literary devices employed in works of fiction, commenting upon their effects on the reader. The main character, poor Jugo de la Raza, is so appalled on reading a novel that he burns it; but then, seized by curiosity, he races to get another copy, to rekindle his fears as to how the story ends. The true nature of fiction is highlighted in this reader's ambivalence. On the one hand, the author depends on the imagination of the reader, because only the reader breathes Life into Literature. On the other hand, the reader can only bridge the gap between Literature and Life by obviating his daily existence. As he devours the novel, he should allow himself to be consumed by a life of fiction.

Far from taking this paradox lightly - as Italo Calvino does - Unamuno approaches it with an existential concern forged of the profoundest of Catholicisms, as set in stone in El Escorial. Only one book, the Bible, is on a par with the abyss between Literature and Life. The reader - if he is a believer and assimilates the message of the Bible - can withdraw from his thoughtless life in the hope of a new life. Having to imitate this model of the "Book of books" in vain is the writer's tragedy.
* However, Unamuno was not only a writer. One might ask whether the tragic consciousness of existence of Unamuno the writer also affects the fiery political nature of Unamuno the philosopher, who rebelled against tyranny in all its guises and accepted exile as the price to pay. The philosopher is influenced more by the abyss between Theory and Praxis than by the abyss between Literature and Life. Let us now take a completely different example, that of a failed lecturer in distant Germany who exerted considerable political influence in Spain.

The man, Karl Christian Friedrich Krause, used to teach Philosophy at Jena alongside Schelling and Hegel, but failed to obtain professorships at either Jena, Berlin or Göttingen. He was a learned humanist, a pedagogue and a mason from the school of thought of Kant and Fichte, and he was ahead of his time in his passionate beliefs in the World State, the Confederation of Mankind, the global legal system and the transformation of international relations into world-embracing domestic policy. In Germany, Krause was thought of as being a rather eccentric loner. Only in the land of Don Quixote was he to achieve posthumous recognition and influence. Julián Sanz del Río became the founder of Spanish Krausism in 1860, a liberal tradition of major consequence for political Spain.

There is no doubt that Unamuno embodies the writer and the philosopher, but perhaps he failed to distinguish clearly enough between the fictions of the former and the visions of the latter. What a philosopher conceives need not necessarily become a visionary's dream transformed into a novel. A vision can also become a reality. On July 24th 1817, Kraus instructed his compatriots as follows: "You must consider Europe your extended home country, and each European [] a compatriot on the next level up from you". True, it has been a long time in the making. But since 1976 the Pyrenees are no longer a barrier. Spain is as close to the Germans as France and Italy are, as close as we Germans are to the Spanish. A Constitution for a common Europe is up for discussion. The project must not be destroyed at the last moment by national egocentricity. Nor should the Atlantic storm caused by a war that flies in the face of International Law once again split new democratic Spain from the Old Continent. A modern society has been created in this vibrant country in only a few years. Liberal institutions constitute a framework within which all problems can be solved without violence, and above all, without terrorist violence. We European peoples also place our trust in this respect in the creative spirit of the Spanish.

 

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