New Money in the Old World:
On Europe's Neoliberal Disenchantment
In the current climate of Euro-conformism reflected in (mostly technocratic and government-funded) conferences and symposia about the future of Europe and the European Union, Perry Anderson has attempted to open up a democratic, lively public debate about the political and economic directions European countries are taking. The New Old World starts out by declaring Europe an “impossible object” of academic scrutiny because any attempts to grasp it dissolve into discontinuous and fragmented studies that are too broad and sweeping or else too insular and nationally based (xi). For Anderson, Europe is an “impossible object” of democratic politics also because its decisions are frequently not ratified by popular vote; more importantly, despite its stated commitment to vibrant exchanges of ideas across the European borders, its unanimity of “pensée unique” undermines any emergence of a healthy public, intellectual sphere (xvi). A collection of previously published essays that trace the development of the European Union over the past two decades, Anderson’s critical evaluation of Europe’s increasing neoliberalization aims to recreate just such an intellectual sphere — a true democratic “republic of letters” which would animate the stagnant political conformism in which Anderson sees Europe flailing (xvii).
Anderson is wary of idealistic proclamations about the European Union’s unique achievements as a supranational formation, including its self-congratulatory image as a paragon for world politics and embodiment of values higher than those of the United States. Primarily, his critique is directed at the neoliberal ascendancy that has gripped and subsequently privatized all of Europe, and the elitist political apparatus that doesn’t seem to enjoy much support among the populace. Nonetheless, he vehemently disassociates himself from Euroskeptics, particularly those on the Left (and perhaps implicitly, those in Britain), and instead repeatedly expresses his admiration for the project of European integration which he believes has no historical precedent and whose “grandeur continues to haunt what it has since become” (xv). These romanticizing proclamations about Europe, as we shall see, somewhat frustrate and undermine Anderson’s critical lens: throughout the book, the European Union is consequently accepted as an unquestioned good, and if animated political debate occurs, it is meant merely to resolve the current economic crisis and redefine European politics.
The book, thus, starts with tracing the historical roots of European integration, meticulously comparing actual post–World-War-II political decisions with concurrent theoretical elaborations of Europe’s ideal political makeup. This part of the book, “The Union,” offers an overview of conflicting ideas that eventually synthesize and birth the European integration. Anderson excavates the origins of an international Europe that some day, one imagines, might crystallize as “the history of EU” and replace or overshadow the narrowly national histories. The second part focuses on “The Core” of Europe — Germany, France, and Italy — which, according to Anderson, has carried the brunt of European integration politically and economically, and molded it intellectually and culturally. This focus on unity, progress, and common building of a European home is contrasted in part three, which carries a deliberately prickly title “The Eastern Question” and examines Europe’s attitude to traditional antagonists and peripheral “others”: its violent and contradictory interventions in Cyprus and its problematic treatment of Turkey. The history of European trials and tribulations is appropriately wrapped up in “Conclusion,” which, having examined various antecedents and prognoses for EU expansion, offers a relatively bleak vision of Europe’s future. This pessimistic discussion radically shifts the tone of much of the book, even as it holds out hope that Europe will be able to reform itself and survive the current crisis.
While Anderson’s task is ambitious and daunting in trying to create cross-border connections that so many studies of Europe fail to accomplish, his theoretical framework nonetheless replicates a traditional trajectory of a national history. As Nico Wilterdink has observed, the attempt to intellectually forge a European collective identity has led to the creation of a de facto nation of Europe, and a propagandist “Euro-nationalist” narrative that justifies European integration. Just like a traditional account of the birth of a nation, Euro-nationalism also focuses on a teleological progress from Europe’s distant past to the present, “uninterrupted cultural traditions,” “unique characteristics and special achievements that command the admiration of other nations,” and “major historical figures and important events.”1 Simultaneously, Wilterdink argues, Euro-nationalism ignores the relations of power that have determined intellectual and artistic achievements and downplays “wars, oppression, and genocide” that do not fit into the ideal national image.2 I do not mean to downplay, in turn, Anderson’s repeated focus on the devastation of a major world war as the very engine of European integration; instead, I wish to point out how his discursive framework itself ends up strengthening the ideology which he intends to subject to critique.
“The Union” begins precisely with such origins of the European idea which gradually morphs into reality from the 1950s onward. The major historical figure that becomes, effectively, the EU’s founding father is Jean Monnet, the man with a federalist vision of Europe that Anderson clearly admires. Anderson first highlights “neo-realist” historical accounts of European integration, which suggest that far from being an idealistic federalist enterprise, it was primarily a pragmatic solution to intergovernmental European relations in the wake of war devastation. One of the promoters of this perspective, historian Alan Milward, argues that the initial Steel and Coal Community was a French-German agreement designed to contain Germany’s economic and military power. According to Milward, other reasons behind banding together to create stronger economies include fears of the Cold War Eastern bloc and of popular unrest in Europe’s increasingly democratizing and demanding postwar societies. However, Anderson intimates, this pragmatic version doesn’t tell the entire story: what is missing is the federalist vision of Jean Monnet, who was not attached to the idea of the nation-state and moreover ignored the alleged intra-European fears and antagonisms which Milward highlights. Monnet was, nevertheless, a “stranger to the democratic process” and worked exclusively among the elites; this initial lack of popular participation in the “movement towards European unity” presages the EU’s current political framework (16). Overall, however, Anderson lavishes much praise on Monnet’s “genius” in designing an “unexampled objective — a democratic supranational federation” (24). This sapling European Union, in Anderson’s account, is not only exceptional because it allegedly transcends the framework of the nation-state, but also because it is divinely innovative and creative: instead of being “imitative,” it issues forth from itself.
Continuing with the broad historical-theoretical introduction, the book goes on to evaluate the contemporary outcomes of the process started more than fifty years ago. The prevalent theme of European post-German unification landscape and its subsequent monetary integration policy is the lack of democratic participation beyond the national level. As Anderson notes, the only formally elected body in the EU is the European Parliament. But even this parliament functions more as a “ceremonial apparatus” of government, as it has no permanent home, no power of taxation, no ability to initiate legislation, and no say over executive appointments (23). Anderson characterizes the EU legislative apparatus as a “customs union with a quasi-executive of supranational cast” (23). In this climate, Anderson speculates that the monetary unity — the enshrining of the European Central Bank as a financial authority whose dogged insistence on “sound money” overrules national protections — will create a political apparatus even more immune to and distant from popular pressures (30). Meanwhile, German unification is dangerously poised to upset the balance of power in Europe, making Germany powerful beyond containment and exposing implicit national animosities. For Anderson, this becomes apparent precisely in the process of deciding which former communist countries to admit into the Union: different Western European countries favored different post-communist candidates. Although, initially, there were equally conflicting attitudes to Yugoslavia’s disintegration, Germany’s hasty recognition of Croatia and Slovenia, which Anderson deems responsible for triggering the Yugoslav wars, prompted other Westerners to quickly follow suit. Anderson suggests that, in a way, this new peaceful Europe is in danger of replicating the old Europe of violence and competition: “In the past decade the Luftwaffe has returned to the Balkans, Einsatztruppen are fighting in West Asia, the Deutsche Marine patrols the Eastern Mediterranean” (51).
This imperial role that Europe is once again comfortable playing is also castigated in the account of European participation and/or endorsement of U.S. military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as in its housing of CIA prisons and downplaying of civilian casualties. While its foreign policy does not really present a humane alternative to the U.S., as some apologists of the EU would like to believe, its domestic decisions are also increasingly undemocratic and socially pernicious. Anderson repeatedly characterizes the EU as a democratic caricature given that most of its power structures are opaque to regular citizens and that fewer people vote in the EU parliament elections each year. More importantly, he laments the seismic shift from the legacy of social democracy to a neoliberal Europe dedicated to capital and a stable currency rather than public welfare benefits. Anderson seems nostalgic for a “social Europe” of Monnet and Jacques Delors, where, presumably, there would be no room for a “prefabricated consensus” or “deadly conformism,” and where “democratic participation and political imagination” would not be “snuffed out” (62). In other words, he imagines a Europe that is a shared community rather than a business.
Because of such a bleak evaluation of what the EU has degraded into, Anderson’s enthusiastic appraisal of the post-communist EU enlargement is all the more puzzling. It is clear that Anderson is no apologist for “really existing socialism,” despite his leftist sympathies and politics. However, his account of what has frequently been a socially devastating, quasi-colonial incorporation of former communist countries into the neoliberal circuits of the EU — and the rest of the world — downplays the negative consequences of this process. Not only does Anderson ignore the systematic dismantling of intricate social and economic welfare systems in former communist countries, but his assertion that former Eastern Europe plays the role of the American South given the similar business-friendly fiscal policies, “weak or non-existent labor movements [and] low wages” isn’t seen as contradicting his idealistic statement that its entry into the Union is “finally” a chance to leave behind a “millennial record, of repeated humiliation and oppression” (55, 54). Anderson acknowledges that Eastern Europe provides the rest of the Union with a new pool of cheap labor, but not much outrage is expressed over this: though these countries have low wages and no labor unions or welfare policies, Anderson is impressed by their “virtually frictionless implantation of political systems matching liberal norms — representative democracies complete with civil rights, elected parliaments, separation of powers, alternation of governments” (53). In the case of Eastern Europe, the dismantling of social welfare systems results in “good” neoliberal client states; here, an unflinching endorsement of the EU trumps Anderson’s otherwise astute political instincts.
Later on, Anderson identifies another potentially problematic outcome of post-communist EU expansions, which further threatens to dampen his optimistic evaluation: with the accession of Romania and Bulgaria, the Union’s overall coefficient of income inequality has transcended even that of the “arch-capitalist US” (114). This, combined with what Anderson sees as EU’s lackluster economic output and employment performance in the past several decades, has potential to destabilize the Union particularly in times of economic turmoil, as we’ve seen recently. Surveying major texts theorizing EU’s politics, economy, sociology, and other aspects, Anderson notes strangely elitist, virtually authoritarian tendencies: “Hostility to any smack of federalism; minimization of the bearing of classical democratic norms; preference for voluntary over mandatory regulation; rejection of welfare barriers to market dynamism” (118). Both theoretical and practical rollbacks of market regulations and democratic norms seem to work well only for EU elites, stretching from Romania to Ireland, but it is not clear how they will reduce pervasive international as well as intranational inequalities. At the end of the first section of the book, Anderson concludes that the language of class, indeed, “does not belong to the discourse of Europe” (131). But even as he says one should look for it beyond the bounds of liberal discourse on Europe, and therefore turns to the work of the Marxist Amsterdam School, he only spends two tantalizingly short pages on this discussion.
This raises the larger question of the text’s focus — if Anderson’s purpose is to analyze the lack of popular participation and social welfare benefits in the EU, why does he dwell in detail on discourses stretching from liberal to neocon, but pays only passing homage to Marxist (or any other leftist) contributions? While The New Old World helpfully illuminates the prevailing discourses on the EU, which certainly help explain its current political and economic mood, doesn’t such an approach itself suggest that there is no room for “the language of class” in his text? This top-down approach to the narrative of EU history continues in the second, “Core” section, where Anderson moves to the national level and zeroes in on three principal members of the EU: France, Germany, and Italy. For Anderson this selection is justified because these countries’ powerful economies and immense political weight have, locally as well as in Europe as a whole, crucially shaped the neoliberal ascendancy. Moreover, Anderson asserts, these three countries “enjoy, by common consent, the richest cultural and intellectual history” (xii).
Time and space constraints make it impossible to focus on each EU member, of course, and unfamiliarity with East European languages makes research on those countries difficult for Anderson. Nonetheless, this designation of the most powerful, populous, and richly intellectual “core” suggests that this is where real EU politics and culture will continue to take shape. What happens in German journals or in French cinemas comes across as more interesting and significant than what happens in their Latvian or Swedish counterparts. Such diligent focus on the traditional “core,” while seemingly convenient or justified, draws time and resources away from the analysis of understudied European societies — and languages — thus perpetuating academic inequality. This approach not only enshrines West Europe as “the” Europe, but also unwittingly belies a Euro-nationalist perspective I initially posited, by highlighting “major” players in historical events and occluding all sorts of “minor” phenomena, traditionally the disenfranchised social groups and events not deemed properly historical.
Thus, when we start reading about France’s political and cultural development since World War II onwards, it is repeatedly lauded for its exceptionalism — it is a land of grandeur, of resistance to NATO, of incredible intellectual achievement of the Foucault-Lacan-Derrida fame, as well as the only country where students repeatedly distrust the government and take to the streets (and what about Greece?). Anderson sees the current French climate as somewhat imaginatively depleted and looks with nostalgia to the times of vibrant intellectual and political debate of the 1960s and 1970s, especially to illustrious journals like Le Débat with its wide-ranging breadth of topics and influence on French public opinion. So his narrative traces the ups and downs of French liberalism, its subsequent disillusionment with radical leftist politics, and its downward artistic and cultural spiral from the heady, utopian times of Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Paul Sartre to the contemporary cynical visions of Michel Houellebecq. Even the onetime liberal thinkers and historians, like Pierre Nora and François Furet, gaze increasingly inward into the soul of France and become virtual architects of new French nationalism.
This cultural shift from an enchantment with leftist revolutionary politics to a more “sober” liberal attitude coincides with the steady neoliberalization of French economy, which begins with the quasi-socialist François Mitterrand. From then onward, each attempt to pare away the social benefits of the welfare state, Anderson notes, meets with wide popular resistance; nonetheless, France today is heavily privatized and its markets deregulated, regardless of who is in power. Thus, Anderson sees Jacques Chirac as a “symbol of futility and corruption,” misrepresented by the Left as a significant alternative to Jean-Marie Le Pen (177). On the other hand, the avowedly right-wing Nicolas Sarkozy, despite his Hollywood antics, receives a positive appraisal because his neoliberal reforms have been quite mild and his administration reflects a wide political and social spectrum, including large numbers of women, Maghrebis and Africans, and Center-Left representatives. Ultimately, however, Anderson laments Sarkozy’s current positive attitude to U.S. imperial wars and what he sees as the country’s increasing “intellectual parochialism” (185).
One might assume that Anderson’s lengthy discussion of Nora’s recent monumental history Rethinking France: Les Lieux de mémoire only supports his argument about French parochialism, in so far as he castigates Nora for a conservative investment in “Frenchness” and for downplaying French colonial violence, genocide, and conquest. However, Anderson’s own account of France is guilty of this rhetorical crime. While he doesn’t deny that France, crucially, lost its empire in the 1960s, he pays only passing attention to what might be arguably the most radical shift in French society since the war: huge postcolonial, non-French, and non-Christian immigration which is putting to daily tests French “exceptional” civilization and multiculturalism. Anderson briefly mentions the debates over multiculturalism in French journals, acknowledges the 2005 protests, and praises Pierre Bourdieu for supporting the rights of sans-papiers. But nowhere does he mention or quote from any one of the postcolonial Francophone intellectuals; they don’t even figure in the French postwar cultural or social space. Unless represented by Bourdieu or other luminaries of French high culture, they simply remain invisible.
The essays on Germany’s postwar politics feature a wider social range of class actors and perspectives, although the concurrent discussion of developing intellectual trends still largely focuses on high culture. Germany is also seen as exceptional among the European economic giants in that its social democrats both hail and draw significant support from traditional working classes and unions, unlike in France and Britain, whose intellectual middle-class social democrats are alienated from their constituencies. Also, German working classes have been less pulverized and preserved more manufacturing jobs following neoliberal reform, even in the face of increased unemployment, loss of social benefits, and wage stagnation. Nonetheless, Anderson argues, their expectations have been betrayed by each leftist-liberal party. The Greens, led by Joschka Fischer, former supporter of squatters’ rights and protester against Ulrike Meinhof’s death, have gradually abandoned radicalism only to accept NATO expansions and neoliberal reform, moving virtually to the right of SPD. In turn, SPD’s Gerhard Schroeder’s policies reflected, as in France, a “neo-corporatist entente between government, firms, and unions” aiming at wage restraint and a more flexible labor market (238). Today, CDU’s Angela Merkel no longer has to apologize for the ruthlessness of neoliberal reforms or for her support of the Iraq occupation. For Anderson, Germany has become a mini-U.S.: the land of increasing inequalities, gated communities, immigrant slums, and yuppie managers with little patience for trade-union talks. Its politicians’ joint endorsement of the humanitarian militarism in Yugoslavia and participation in the Afghanistan war have tarnished Germany’s image; Anderson believes that the reason for these dangerous policies is Germany’s wish to prove it is “a normal force for the good, as responsible as any power in the democratic West” (242).
Anderson also discusses innovative political developments in the East, where PDS, successor to East German SED, has evolved into a lively radical Leftist movement thanks to its charismatic leader Gregor Gysi. In recent years, they have combined with Western leftists into “Die Linke” coalition, unapologetically critical of both domestic economic and foreign militant policies. Nonetheless, Anderson’s account of Die Linke sounds fairly disenchanted; he doesn’t seem to put much credence in this movement as a possible resurrection of leftist politics in Europe. Nor does East Germany figure prominently elsewhere in Anderson’s discussion, except in the overview of its post-1990 social devastation, population decline, and widespread loss of labor rights. Anderson does give a voice to former GDR citizens who feel relegated to second-class citizen status following a practical economic and political colonization of the country by FDR (235). He also focuses on both East and West Berlin, primarily because the new German capital becomes a symbol of difficult decisions regarding the treatment of Nazi and GDR landmarks, reflecting both “guilt and nostalgia” and an “antiquarian masochism”(229). But he is completely silent on GDR’s political and cultural life pre-unification; instead, FDR’s longstanding politics of consensus and fear of excess come to representall German politics. Just as GDR does not contribute much to German politics, so the massive postwar immigration to Germany merits only a few sentences. Thus, Anderson only cursorily applauds Germany’s recent changes to the outdated jus sanguinis citizenship law which will facilitate the naturalization of the diverse groups of immigrants and help them participate more in political and social life.
When turning to the overview of Germany’s cultural trends, Anderson predictably remains with the familiar terrain of FDR, which comes to speak for GDR as well. Among intellectual developments, as is to be expected, Anderson focuses on the high culture of German journals and prominent philosophers. The radical landscape of the 1960s and 1970s is characterized by a revival of German Romanticism and a continued allegiance to the Frankfurt School, but this lively counterculture grows up into stodgy academia and critical journalism. Even Jürgen Habermas’s leftist-liberal endorsements of the Enlightenment sound like “sobering” alternatives to both Derridean poststructuralism, on the left hand, and to Ernst Nolte–type conservative German historiography, on the right hand. Anderson also analyzes at length the contemporary conservatism of what once used to be a radical journal Merkur. Sympathetic to the Frankfurt School and European Surrealism, and critical of FDR’s “pseudomorphosis” in the postwar period, it was transformed by Karl Heinz Bohrer and Herfried Münkler into a right-wing publication that seeks a new German “creative aesthetics” (268). These writers argue that postwar flagellation has stripped Germany of meaningful symbolic form, and believe that the solution lies in, unsurprisingly, Germany’s increased military role in a world beset by “terrorism.” Anderson describes this as “adjusting Prussian modes of thought to contemporary conditions” (274).
This increasing conservatism also characterizes the third core country, Italy, exceptional, according to Anderson, because of a fatal confluence of various political malignancies that only individually plague other countries: widespread corruption, politicians’ inconsistencies, and mafia violence (280). Anderson’s richly descriptive style reaches new heights when it takes on the absurdities of Silvio Berlusconi’s rise — and repeated returns — to power, resembling Rushdie’s luscious magical-realist prose in his allegory of twentieth-century Pakistani politics, Shame. The reader is taken for a dizzying ride through much political back-scratching and the serendipitous circumstances which combined to bring Berlusconi to a seemingly uncontested position of authority. Anderson, like many analysts before him, ascribes Berlusconi’s success to his dubiously-achieved financial control of all major Italian media as well as to his Reaganesque, glamorous media personality, embodying, ironically, the sensibility and popularity standards of the very media he owns. When Berlusconi’s Center-Right coalition — Forza Italia, united with Lega Nord and Alleanza Nazionale as unlikely bedfellows — alternates in power with the Center-Left forces led by Romano Prodi, Anderson does not see a qualitative shift in political or economic attitude. For instance, early Berlusconi is evaluated as very mild when it comes to neoliberal reform, and Prodi’s government is much more aggressive comparatively. While the Center-Left are credited with some attempt at the reform of the inefficient Italian justice system and legislative behemoth, they are ultimately faulted for failing to prosecute corrupt political practices of their Berlusconi predecessors and institute significant reforms to benefit the working and middle classes. When the Center-Right returns to power in 2008, it does so with a vengeance, Anderson argues: with blunt racist, anti-immigrant language, immunity for corrupt politicians, ruthless neoliberal reforms, and cuts to social and welfare programs, beginning with education.
Throughout, Anderson tries to solve the “puzzle” that is Italy, as he presents it: the cultural mentality of a country that seems so inured to double political standards that its voters can be indifferent to Berlusconi’s “flagrant reputation”(292). For Anderson, precedents are abundant: “the eminent theorist of democracy, universally respected as a personification of ethical principle, with no qualms about tanks bombarding the Russian parliament…the rising politician, declaring Mussolini the greatest statesman of the twentieth century at one moment, certified as a guardian of the constitution by a Resistance veteran at the next” (292). The Italian communist party, the PCI, is subject to the most stinging critique for such political opportunism: Anderson at turns qualifies it as Stalinist, out of touch with the democratic demands of 1968 student protests, too forgiving to postwar Fascists and clericalists whom it maintained in power, and steeped in high culture and ignorant of popular forms that appeal to its potential constituencies. The PCI is, for Anderson, primarily an intellectual affair, doomed as it was to an oppositional status for decades, gathering in its glow the giants of the Italian artistic scene such as Italo Calvino, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Luchino Visconti, and Gillo Pontecorvo (327). Intriguingly, Anderson concludes that the PCI was unprepared for Berlusconi’s appeal because it never bothered to engage with lowbrow culture as Godard or Rainer Werner Fassbinder had done (330).
Equally, Anderson here dedicates much attention to dissecting the factionalism within the PCI and its sympathizers, and consequently laments its departure from the intellectual impetus originally provided it by Antonio Gramsci. The PCI, in one way or another, purges itself of and/or inspires dissidence, whether in the shape of operaismo, autonomia, or Il Manifesto groups. Anderson sees the violence of the Red Brigades as another manifestation of popular dissatisfaction with the PCI. Major Italian leftist philosophers Antonio Negri, Giovanni Arrighi, and Giorgio Agamben are all distanced from its politics, and Anderson adds that many giants of Italian academia do not, in fact, reside in Italy. Overall, Anderson’s outlook for Italy is pessimistic, given its declining living standards, resurgence of traditional conservatism, significant unemployment rates and (shockingly) low education statistics. Nor does he see recent union and student protests against Center-Right reforms as effective: the “Left has adopted one symbol after another from the vegetable kingdom, or thin air — the rose, the oak, the olive, the daisy, the rainbow. Without some glint of metallurgy, it seems unlikely to make much headway” (351).
This militant rhetoric that qualifies the Italy chapters, but not the ones preceding it, continues to inform Anderson’s passionate defense of Cyprus’s opposition to British colonialism in “The Eastern Question.” The greatest value of the chapters on Cyprus and Turkey is their unmasking of the allegedly peaceful and human-rights rhetoric of the EU. In the case of Cyprus’s division, endorsed by the “civilized” EU, Anderson deliberately makes parallels with the Israeli occupation of Palestine. He details the Cypriot Greeks’ postwar struggle for unification with Greece which is repeatedly undermined by the British, reluctant to give up control of the island. Anderson greatly admires the rebellion-organizer and later president Archbishop Makarios, the priest with leftist sympathies who distanced himself from the Greek military junta and instead turned to non-aligned Second and Third World leaders. Historical memory is short when it comes to the UN treatment of Cyprus, Anderson suggests, just like it is in the case of Palestine and Israel: in both instances it becomes imperative to find a solution for a peaceful coexistence, disregarding the history of violence and occupation. But today’s appeals by the EU and UN to Cyprus to resolve their own “mess” obscure virtual British endorsement of the Turkish occupation of part of the island, and a successful campaign to pit the two ethnic groups against each other so as to weaken Greek claims for independence. It is this same Britain that — still — refuses to relinquish its Guantánamo-type bases in Cyprus as it determines Cyprus’s future in the EU.
In the case of Turkey, Anderson’s argument that, aside from protests by a few member states and anti-Islamic right-wing parties, the majority of EU political establishment has a vested economic interest in Turkey’s accession would be in conflict with the less optimistic prognoses for its future in the Union. Anderson offers a sweeping portrayal of Ottoman society so as to contrast it with the rise of Kemal Ataturk’s republicanism, which, despite industrial modernization and increased social rights, remained a one-party dictatorship, rooted in aggressive Turkish nationalism and explicit secularism which obscured a systematic repression of other belief systems. This gesture is necessary to Anderson to demonstrate the continuity of Turkish politics until today, with Center-Right parties in power which are (too) friendly with the superpower-of-the-moment, from Hitler’s Germany to Bush’s U.S. As in Cyprus, in Turkey, too, the “democratic” world powers conveniently overlook problematic policies — they are held responsible for endorsing the Greek and Turkish population “exchanges” post–World War I, not condemning repeated Turkish military rule and repression during the Cold War, and refusing to pass an international law condemning the Armenian genocide. Although the current Erdogan regime overtly flirts with Islamic conservatism and chauvinist Turkish nationalism, the EU, according to Anderson, desires Turkish accession both to deflect the lure of fundamentalism in this secular society and to use Turkey’s “difference” as self-immunization against claims of its Christian homogeneity.
Thus, the EU is more about pragmatic strategy than any egalitarian, idealistic concern of nations: Turkey would be “militarily, a bulwark against terrorism; economically, dynamic entrepreneurs and cheap labor; politically, a model for regional neighbors; diplomatically, a bridge between civilizations; ideologically, the coming of a true multi-culturalism in Europe” (470). This means that the multicultural EU will not differ significantly from any fortified empire that fears barbarians at its gates, using borderland peoples as bulwarks in the same way that the Austro-Hungarian Empire used Krajina Serbs to defend its borders from Ottoman Turkey, for instance. In light of this conclusion, as well as Anderson’s descriptions of increasing class antagonisms in a neoliberal Europe as evidenced in French and Irish rejections of the EU treaty, it is unclear what the worth and purpose of the EU project is, exactly. Even if its grand achievement of unification, as Anderson claims, overcomes Europe’s petty national conflicts, will it represent a significant alternative to erstwhile European colonial policies? The beginning of the book certainly seems to suggest so. But the ending, especially the “Prognoses” chapter, is far less enthusiastic. Uncannily, this chapter also contains about ten pages, which, for the first time in the book, focus in some detail on postwar immigration to the EU as one of the greatest tests for Europe’s claims to democracy and diversity. Anderson here tries to correct Europe’s “political myopia” — which, I have argued, also characterizes much of his book — and argue that immigration should certainly register “on the radar screen of the European elites” as a significant new development (528).
In a few broad strokes, Anderson highlights the undisputedly inferior economic and social position of immigrants across major EU host societies and is sympathetic to their plight. Nonetheless, he laments the fact that this has led to conflicts across ethno-religious lines, which have displaced the properly Marxist class conflicts, without offering a subtle analysis of how immigrant status in fact overlaps with lower-class status in many of the cases he describes. Also, while he denounces Western military involvement in the Middle East because it affects the growing dissatisfaction and alienation among Muslim immigrants in the EU, he unwittingly echoes neocon rhetoric which would group the various ethnicities that arrived since the war as undifferentiated “Muslims,” itself a scare-word of European and American racism. In “Fanatics in Europa,” Aamir Mufti historicizes this rhetorical shift, saying that twenty years ago, in Britain, for instance, immigrants would have been referred to (not without racism) as Pakistanis, Somalis, West Indians, Turks, or Arabs, but today they are seen as a “universal and homogeneous community” of Muslims.3 In other words, the problem is not merely with “Muslims” being accepted or rejected in Europe, as Anderson states, but with the very reductions of unaccountably rich immigrant lives to “Muslim” markers of identity.
Overall, throughout his affectionate yet prickly analysis of the EU project, Anderson does not seem to think of the EU as a new empire, but rather as a positive supranational force which should turn its back on neoliberal reforms that have gone wild. Nonetheless, one does not get a sense that this would necessarily involve an alternative to capitalism, but rather some sort of humanized capitalism, along the lines of social-democratic welfare policies preceding the times of Reagan and Thatcher. Still, it is only toward the end that Anderson considers the EU problem in the context of its global economic policies, leading to “Inequality within Europe; inequality between Europe and the worlds it once dominated” (538). He continues:
Were Europe genuinely concerned by the fate of the rest of the world, it would be spending its resources on disinterested aid to the regions where immigrants come from, not casually importing and then ejecting their labor for its own convenience. But that would indeed require a collective will capable of a true project, instead of the blind workings of the market (538).
This collective will, however, does not exist yet; and it is unlikely that it will arise, barring some future global catastrophe that forces it upon an unwilling EU.
- Nico Wilterdink, “The European Ideal. An Examination of European and National Identity,” Archives européennes de sociologie 34 (1993): 122.
- Wilterdink, “The European Ideal” 123.
- Aamir Mufti, “Fanatics in Europa,” boundary 2 (2007): 21.