Katherine Elliot van Liere

title.none: Pagden, The Idea of Europe (Katherine Elliot van Liere )

identifier.other: baj9928.0401.015 04.01.15

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Katherine Elliot van Liere , Calvin College,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Pagden, Anthony, ed. The Idea of Europe: From Antiquity to the European Union. Series: Woodrow Wilson Center Series. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Pp. xii, 377. $65.00 0-521-79171-5. ISBN: $23.00 0-521-79552-4.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.01.15

Pagden, Anthony, ed. The Idea of Europe: From Antiquity to the European Union. Series: Woodrow Wilson Center Series. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Pp. xii, 377. $65.00 0-521-79171-5. ISBN: $23.00 0-521-79552-4.

Reviewed by:

Katherine Elliot van Liere
Calvin College

What is Europe, and what has it meant to Europeans over the last two millennia? The map that adorns the cover of this eclectic but stimulating anthology hints at some of the difficulties latent in this question. Rather than a purely geographical outline, the editors have opted to show a map with national boundaries, which date the Europe pictured here plainly to the 1945-89 era. But the small states of Denmark and Luxembourg are swallowed up inexplicably by their neighbors, while the map's sharp eastern boundaries make the continent seem to float like a large archipelago. This image is thus immediately recognizable as Europe, yet it depicts an abstraction that never quite existed. Whether intentionally or not, this echoes one of themes common to the fifteen authors of this volume. If they share any one conviction, it is that the meaning of "Europe" not only changed over time, but cannot be defined precisely for any given historical moment. While some of these authors are mainly preoccupied with the contemporary socio-political problem of "constructing a European identity," several examine the historical roots of such an identity. A number of these contributions will be of interest to medievalists and to those scholars of Europe with an interest in the history of ideas, mentalities, or political thought. From a medievalist's point of view, however, this volume's overall treatment of the medieval contribution to European cultural identity will seem scanty, as most of the contributions deal exclusively with the post-Enlightenment era, and about half focus on post-1945.

This book's title self-consciously echoes Denis de Rougemont's The Idea of Europe (1966), as does some of its subject matter. Anthony Pagden and many of his contributors are unashamed Europhiles like Rougemont, keen on the cause of European political unity and eager to show that its roots reach much further back than 1945. The initial chapters by Pagden and J. G. A. Pocock, whose broad chronological and intellectual scope most resemble that of Rougemont, cover some of the same ground as the latter's work, beginning with the Greek myth of the rape of Europa and the paradox that Europe's mythical and cultural roots lie largely in Asia, and ending with questions about the relevance of eighteenth and nineteenth-century federalist ideas to the contemporary European Union. In between, they discuss the persistent geographical ambiguity of Europe (particularly where Russia and the Balkans are concerned); the crucial importance of Christianity as a unifying cultural force; the role of successive Islamic "others" in intensifying Europeans' sense of community; and the persistent tension in Enlightenment thought between European triumphalism (as in Gibbon and Voltaire's confidence that Europe represented the victory of civilization over barbarism) and cultural pluralism (as in Herder's insistence that "all cultures are of intrinsic worth"). This Enlightenment paradox is taken up at greatest length in philosopher James Tully's concluding chapter, which tries to reconcile Kant's rationalism with the post-Kantian liberalism of John Rawls and Jurgen Habermas. While many of these are familiar themes, treated elsewhere by Rougemont and others (not least in Pagden's own Lords of All the World), these chapters on the historical evolution of the idea of Europe constitute worthwhile additions to the existing literature.

Most interesting to medievalists will probably be William Jordan's chapter on the period 1050-1350, an era in which paradoxically, as Rougemont had pointed out, people seldom spoke of "Europe" although historians persist in locating the "birth" or the "rise" of Europe there. Jordan, like Denys Hay in his classic Europe: the Emergence of an Idea (1957), finds the answer to this paradox in the potent idea of Christendom. In the Middle Ages, Europe was effectively synonymous with Latin Christendom. While acknowledging broad social and economic diversity and the persistence of "localism" at many levels, Jordan ultimately offers a very traditionalist argument that "a set of ideals about the proper ordering of life" created a powerful sense of common identity throughout the regions that recognized papal authority. He concentrates on the role of the church and the universities in forging this cosmopolitan culture, a sensible choice if one has to condense the cultural history of Europe into less then twenty pages. It is a shame that the volume does not allot more space to this period, so that the suggestive hints Jordan makes about fields like architecture and painting (not to mention music and literature) could be expanded on. The same might be said for the role of Latin, and its demise, in shaping a cosmopolitan European identity, to which Pagden alludes briefly.

Perhaps even more pertinent, given the focus of most of the modern articles in this volume, it would have been valuable to have a medievalist consider fields like economics, political structures, and political consciousness in greater depth. Wilfried Nippel's chapter on Max Weber's notion of urban citizenship as a distinctive Western characteristic makes some suggestive observations about medieval society, but it is more an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of Weber's sociology than a well-rounded analysis of medieval Europe. This gives it a quality shared by several other chapters in this multidisciplinary volume: highly stimulating, but so deeply rooted in the literature and methodology of one specific sub-discipline that they do not integrate very smoothly with the rest of the book.

Something similar might be said of the one contribution specifically treating the early modern era. Hans W. Blom's "The Republican Mirror" examines the emergence of a kind of commercial republicanism in the seventeenth-century Dutch Republic, based on the private interests of citizens and on a "culture-oriented conception of civic life," which he sees as a worthy model for contemporary European federalist experiments. Although this article learnedly illuminates the varieties of early modern republicanism, readers without a prior knowledge of the literature may find the nuances of Blom's argument difficult to follow. A somewhat broader treatment of European notions of statecraft and political association in this critical era, when "Europe" as a common culture was subject to both centrifugal and centripetal forces, might have been more helpful for the wider audience for which this book was presumably intended. For the revolutionary and Napoleonic era, thankfully, Biancamaria Fontana provides just such a treatment, showing how both Napoleonic schemes for European unity and anti-Napoleonic nationalist movements created competing models (centralizing vs. pluralist) which still vie for the allegiance of Europeans today.

In part because the tension between these models remains unresolved, and in part because of the diverse ideological standpoints of these authors, the more modern contributions to this volume display the least agreement about what "Europe" means in a political or cultural sense. A few see contemporary "European identity" as relatively unproblematic, and take for granted "the consciousness that Europeans have a common culture, and that there exists a `European way.'" Philip Ruttley, the author of these words, sees no contradiction between a European cultural identity grounded in Greco-Roman and medieval Christian traditions, and an evolving European political identity that has no precedents in world history. (His chapter, "The Long Road to Unity," provides the best overview of the political history of European unification since 1945.) Ariane Chebel d'Appolonia takes a similarly optimistic and pro-European view of the present, arguing that the era of the nation-state is past and thus Europeans need to create a new "cultural program" to "generate new forms of allegiance." The more specialized contributions of Thomas Risse, Daniela Engelmann-Martin, and Elie Cohen describe more or less dispassionately how and why some aspects of European integration have been taking place over the last half century.

Not all are so sanguine about the prospects for European unity, however. From a liberal nationalist standpoint, Andres de Blas Guerrero suggests that for many Spaniards the Spanish nation- state still remains more relevant than "Europe," both politically and emotionally. At the other end of the ideological spectrum, Michael Herzfeld, Luisa Passerini and Talal Asad evince various postmodernist worries about the quest for a common European identity. Herzfeld and Passerini both tackle the problem of how to maintain "the self" against the hegemonic and homogenous pressures of European culture-- Passerini in largely literary, deconstructionist terms, and Herzfeld through an anthropological study of identity formation among modern Greek craftsmen. Asad, in "Muslims in European History," asks pointedly whether Europe will ever be able to overcome its traditional antipathy to Islam and allow Muslims to be fully integrated into modern Europe without ceasing to be Muslims.

Most of these discussions, while focussed on the late twentieth century, raise questions that beg to be explored in a much deeper historical context--which brings us back to the question of what a deeper medieval perspective might have added to this collection. This is especially true of Talal Asad's brilliant but somewhat maddening chapter, which offers too little of the "History" promised in its title. Asad insists provocatively that modern "secular" European culture has to come to terms with the persistence of religion as a social fact, without relegating it to the merely personal sphere, and that the only way to create social and political space for religion without elevating one religion to privileged status is to construct a "decentered pluralism" in which "everyone lives as a minority among minorities." He argues that this political paradigm (an explicit rejection of the modern, liberal nation-state) has medieval precedents. Which medieval polities might he be thinking of, and what did this alleged pre-modern pluralism look like in historical reality? On such questions a work like David Nirenberg's Communities of Violence will offer more answers than the present volume. Asad's piece also prompts one to wonder, is it really only the presence of Islam in modern Europe that forces the issue of religion? When exactly did "Christendom" cease to matter to Europeans (or did it?), and how has Christianity as a component of the European identity evolved since? The brief discussions by Risse, Engelmann-Martin, and Blas of the important role of Catholicism in twentieth-century Spanish and German politics, suggest a much larger iceberg that remains largely unexamined here.

One cannot, of course, expect a synthetic treatment of such issues in a volume arising out of a set of conference papers, a genre whose goal is normally to raise questions rather than to answer them. In its modestly stated aim "to add an historical voice to a conversation" about where European unity came from and where it is going, this book certainly succeeds on many levels.