The European Coup

Perry Anderson in the LRB:

By repute,​ literature on the European Union and its prehistory is notoriously intractable: dull, technical, infested with jargon – matter for specialists, not general readers. From the beginning, however, beneath an unattractive surface it developed considerable intellectual energy, even ingenuity, as contrasting interpretations and standpoints confronted one another. But for some sixty years after the Schuman Plan was unveiled in 1950, there was a striking displacement in this body of writing. Virtually without exception, the most original and influential work was produced not by Europeans, but Americans. Whether the angle of attack was political science, economics, law, sociology, philosophy or history, the major contributions – Haas, Moravcsik, Schmitter, Eichengreen, Weiler, Fligstein, Siedentop, Gillingham – came from the United States, with a singleton from England before its accession to the Common Market, in the pioneering reconstruction of Alan Milward.

This has finally changed. In the last decade Europe has generated a set of thinkers about its integration who command the field, while the US, increasingly absorbed in itself, has largely vacated it. Among these, one stands out. By reason of both the reception and the quality of his work, the Dutch philosopher-historian Luuk van Middelaar can be termed, in Gramsci’s vocabulary, the first organic intellectual of the EU. Though related, applause and achievement are not the same. The Passage to Europe: How a Continent Became a Union, which catapulted van Middelaar to fame and the precincts of power, is a remarkable work. The tones in which it was received are of another order. ‘There are books,’ a Belgian reviewer declared, ‘before which a chronicler is reduced to a single form of commentary: an advertisement.’ The author himself has posted forty encomia on his website, in seven or eight languages, tributes ransacking the lexicon of admiration: ‘supremely erudite’, ‘brilliant’, ‘beautifully written’, ‘a gripping narrative of personalities and events that reads like a Bildungsroman’, ‘all the fields of human knowledge and culture are convoked in abounding richness’, ‘near Voltairean’, ‘a Treitschke with the tongue of Foucault’. Even the austere European Journal of International Law thought it ‘read like a thriller’.

More here.