After The Event

Perry-andersonPerry Anderson responds to critics of his The New Old World in New Left Review:

Most of the literature on the EU, as noted in [The New Old World's] foreword, is highly technical, enjoying little currency among non-specialists; in addition much of it is so ideologically uniform as to stifle, rather than arouse, any interest in the variety of political conflicts and cultures across Europe. The result, reinforced by a widespread conformism of media opinion, remains a surprising intellectual parochialism—a lack of any genuinely European public sphere. This will only be remedied when political curiosity can cross national borders in a natural to-and-fro of the kind that marked the continent’s republic of letters in the time of Montesquieu or Hume, even that of Curtius or Benda, not to speak of its revolutionary versions in Trotsky or Gramsci. The aim of writing about the core countries of the Union, and its Eastern Question, on the plane where politics retains vastly greater popular meaning than in the rarefied machinery of Brussels, was to offer some reminder, however diminished, of this tradition.

To national introversion has corresponded, over the same period, continental self-satisfaction. This was the second target of The New Old World. If in the case of the first, the critical intention was performative, in that of the second it could hardly be more demonstrative. The book is a systematic attack on the European narcissism that reached a crescendo in these years: the claim that the Union offers a ‘paragon’—in the formula of the late Tony Judt, echoed by so many other pillars of European wisdom—of social and political development to humanity at large. Since 2010, the lacerations of the Eurozone have left their own cruel commentary on these vanities. But have they, for all that, disappeared? That it would be premature to think so can be seen from an august example. Jürgen Habermas has just published another book about the eu, now following Ach, Europa (2008) with Zur Verfassung Europas (2011). [2] Its centrepiece, an essay entitled ‘The Crisis of the European Union in the Light of a Constitutionalization of International Law’, is a remarkable illustration of the patterns of thought indicated. Some sixty pages in length, it contains around a hundred references. Three quarters of them are to German authors. Nearly half of these, in turn, are to three associates whom he thanks for assistance, or to himself. The residue is exclusively Anglo-American, dominated—a third of the entries—by a single British admirer, David Held of recent Gaddafi fame. No other European culture figures in this ingenuous exhibition of provincialism.

More arresting still is the theme of the essay. In 2008 Habermas had attacked the Lisbon Treaty for failing to make good the democratic deficit of the eu, or offer any moral-political horizon for it. The Treaty’s passage, he wrote, could only ‘cement the existing chasm between political elites and citizens’, without supplying any positive direction to Europe. Needed instead was a Europe-wide referendum to endow the Union with the social and fiscal harmonization, military capacity and—above all—directly elected Presidency that alone could save the continent from a future ‘settled along orthodox neo-liberal lines’. Noting how far from his traditional outlook was this enthusiasm for a democratic expression of popular will that he had never shown any sign of countenancing in his own country, [3] I commented that, once the Treaty was pushed through, Habermas would no doubt quietly pocket it after all.