Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The telescope of scholarship: Walter Benjamin

For Future Friends of Walter
by Brían Hanrahan

    As for me, I am busy pointing my telescope through the bloody mist at a mirage of the nineteenth century, which I am trying to reproduce based on the characteristics that it will manifest in a future state of the world, liberated from magic. Of course, I first have to build myself this telescope.

    — Walter Benjamin, letter to Werner Kraft, October 1935.


In 1942, Gershom Scholem, the oldest friend of the German writer and philosopher Walter Benjamin and his unofficial literary executor, wrote to Benjamin's ex-wife Dora, in exile in London: "We are almost the last who knew him when he was young […] and who knows how much longer we will survive in this apocalypse." Two years previously, Benjamin had committed suicide in police custody at the French-Spanish border, overdosing on morphine in fear of what might happen upon his transfer to the German authorities. But in spite of the bleakness of the moment — Benjamin dead, his library and papers scattered, his writings banned, burned, and lost — Scholem was determined to think of the future. He asked for donations of letters and other materials for his Benjamin archive in Jerusalem, for the sake of those who never knew Benjamin, but who might someday read his work: "for future friends of Walter."

Even with his resolute optimism, in 1942 Scholem could hardly have imagined the flourishing of Benjamin's posthumous reputation. After a slow beginning in the immediate aftermath of the war, Benjamin's standing and influence have risen with every decade. With his associations with revolutionary Marxism now largely removed, defused or ignored, Benjamin holds an unshakable position as an icon of the academic humanities. "Benjamin Studies" is a thriving sub-discipline, comfortable with its status as a professional specialism. In German, early, limited anthologies have been replaced by two generations of Collected Works. Where the first was comprehensive, the second is forensic in the vast scope of its philological completism: including color facsimile volumes, the full run of this Critical Collected Works, due for completion in 2018, will cost over $2000. In English, the turn-of-the-century publication of an acclaimed, four-volume Selected Works and the translation of the thousand-page Arcades Project greatly expanded the Anglophone oeuvre, and introduced new generations of "Walter's future friends" to the breadth of his writing. New French and Italian editions are in progress. And in spite of —or because of — tough times for the publishing business, there is a steady stream of Benjamin books, from scholarly and trade presses: new selections (an English Early Works last year), monographs and biographies, introductions and facsimiles, essay collections, lexicons and semi-fictional ruminations, even the occasional polemical counterblast. The marketing hook this year is the 120th anniversary of his birth. Not such a round number, but why wait for 125? One way or another, Benjamin is an intensely popular figure, and a good commercial bet.

But beyond the name and the famous melancholy face, it is not easy — it has never been easy — to sketch the contours of Benjamin's work and thought, or for that matter his life and personality. There are various reasons for this, not least the sheer scope and diversity of his writing. Among many other things, Benjamin wrote metaphysical treatises, literary-critical monographs, philosophical dialogues, media-theoretical essays, book reviews, travel pieces, drug memoirs, whimsical feuilletons, diaries and aphorisms, modernist miniatures, radio plays for children, reflections on law, technology, theology and the philosophy of history, analyses of authors, artists, schools and epochs. His intense, precise, enlightening intellectual engagement grasped miniscule events and tiny details — a motto on a stained-glass window, 17 types of Ibizan fig — while at the same time, in the same movement, retaining a sense for history's longitudinal waves and metaphysics' worlds behind the world. Although he often lamented his own indolence, as both a writer and a person Benjamin was mobile, endlessly inquisitive and engaging, and exceptionally productive. Looking back on his friend's capacity for churning experience into thought, the philosopher Theodor Adorno saw something depersonalizing, almost inhuman, in this prodigious apparatus of absorption and reflection: "Despite extreme individuation [...] Benjamin seems empirically hardly to have been a person at all, rather an arena of movement in which content forced its way, through him, into language."

Second, much of his writing was unpublished during his lifetime and comes in fragmentary, draft or multiple forms. More than most, Benjamin's oeuvre forms an open system: ideas and passages migrate between different texts, letters morph into essays and vice versa, texts are so heavily rewritten that they contradict their previous versions. There are unfinished books, unstarted books, abandoned books, aborted books. Even the more settled and public texts — the semi-autobiographical vignettes of Berlin Childhood around 1900, say — rarely fit their own apparent genre; they are often curiously loose and modular, parts not quite subordinate to the whole. Moreover, Benjamin's startling mental and verbal facility has had its own decompository effect. His writings contain ideas and images which are both memorable and ambiguous — the artwork's aura, the flâneur in the streets, the angel of history, the decay of experience, the flash of messianic Jetztzeit, among many others — and which have, as a result, readily taken on a life of their own. Finally, throughout his writing, Benjamin continually reflects on these questions: on text and context, author and oeuvre, reading and writing, language and history, on the production and collection of texts, on their fragmentation and decay, reconstitution and re-constellation. Think about Benjamin, the writer or the thinker, and he has almost always been there first, and written ahead of you.


So, for example, we find Benjamin in 1919, in a letter to his former school friend Ernst Schoen, discussing the autonomous life of published correspondence. Individual letters, he says, can detach themselves from their authorship, becoming abstract, but collections of letters have a different kind of posterity. A writer's letters are an index of a life as it unfolded, but the telescoping of events into a few pages, and the compression of lived time into short minutes of reading, brings something else into existence. The letters contain the author's afterlife, but an "afterlife that is already embedded within the life," something which in one sense is already there, but in another, is produced in the unknowable and never-finished encounter between writer and his unknown later readers, between a fluid now and a fluid then.

Two closely-related themes are at work here: first, Benjamin's abiding preoccupation with the complexity of temporal experience and form, with how past and future communicate through the present, but do so, in a sense, behind the present's back; and second, his strong sense for the de- and re-composition of phenomena in time, with bits and pieces detaching to form themselves anew, accumulating in new configurations, working to rhythms and by dint of forces unknown to the momentarily stable world of beings and things. In addition, and again this is typical Benjamin, the idea of letters' afterlife is graced with an unusual self-reflexivity. His letter, in making a general point about the life of letters and of letter-writers, seems to invoke — indirectly but knowingly — specific past futures and future pasts, both its own and that of its author.

But the complex temporality of experience is just not a private matter; it unavoidably coincides and intersects with public, historical time. This crossing of public and private temporalities can be seen in Benjamin's own editing of authors' letters: nearly twenty years later, his last German publication (pseudonymous, to circumvent his status as a banned author) was an edition of letters between German writers, a collection of minor texts tracing a counter-historical line through the nineteenth century. The book is often seen as a letter in its own right, an exemplary message sent to Germany from exile, under the ironic, quietly admonitory title of Deutsche Menschen (translated as "German Men and Women"). As well as preserving small, intense moments of friendship and lived affect, the letters often — like Benjamin's introductions to each exchange — combine learning with a wise, unpretentious, ethical sensibility: a posthumous portrait of civilized living, sent anonymously to a culture now defined by hero cults, brutality and murder.

Benjamin's own letters were first collected in the late 1960s, under the joint editorship of Scholem and Adorno. His correspondence, like all of his writing, was immediately drawn into the agonistic political culture of the time, as the mutual suspicion and incommensurable standpoints of Benjamin's interwar friends — caricatured as Scholem the Jewish mystic, Adorno the prissy dialectician-aesthete, Bertolt Brecht the manipulative leftist bully — were replayed in highly politicized responses to the work. Adorno, back from American exile and head of the reconstituted Institute for Social Research (the Frankfurt School), was mistrusted on the left, who saw his mandarin Marxism as quietist collusion with the ruling class. At the moment when Adorno was publishing his correspondence with Benjamin, radical students were appropriating his friend's name: the Frankfurt University literature department was occupied and temporarily renamed the "Walter Benjamin Institute." (Adorno's own institute was occupied too; famously, he called in the police.) Samizdat copies of the then-little-known 1930s essays — "The Author as Producer," "Program for a Proletarian Children's Theatre," "The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility" — carried slogans on their covers aligning Benjamin with contemporary political and psychochemical revolt. In this climate, Scholem and Adorno were accused of abusing their position, downplaying Benjamin's sharp left-political turn, editing out correspondence with Brecht, even of deliberately suppressing late work, supposedly too explosive to be released from the archives.

Suspicions of censorship waned as scholarly editions were published in the following decades, including a six-volume German Collected Letters. It became clear that the limitations of the earliest volumes of correspondence were mostly attributable to the simple unavailability of material. A revised single-volume Letters appeared in the late 1970s, incorporating newly available material; it soon came out in an excellent English translation. This volume, now published in English paperback for the first time, offers a generous sampling of Benjamin's life and correspondence in over 600 pages. Beginning before the First World War — Benjamin in 1910, 18 years old, traipsing around the Alps near Liechtenstein, writing to school friends, full of beans, full of opinions, fond of exclamation marks (!!) — it runs until just before his death in 1940, its last pages documenting the years in France, colored by poverty, illness and internment, but dominated by an unchanged devotion to his work. Largely made up of letters to male friends and colleagues, the collection is testimony to passionate intellectual engagement and to sheer epistolary stamina: Benjamin seems never to have stopped writing words on paper. But there are limits to the collection: no correspondence with his family, nothing from his love affairs or his marriage. (Benjamin married Dora Pollak in 1917. They had a son in 1919 and a bitter, expensive divorce in 1930.) The closest to love letters are some mildly flirtatious notes to an ex-girlfriend, the sculptor Jula Radt. Many rediscovered letters published separately are not included; while we can read some of the chatty letters to Adorno's wife Gretel here, there is none of the correspondence with Siegfried Kracauer, fellow analyst of popular culture and later his fellow exile in France. (In a prefatory note, the publishers point out restrictions on revising the original German Letters.)

Letters formed an extension for Benjamin's undoubted gift for friendship, but they were also a particular mode of thought, driven and shaped by what Adorno, in his introduction, calls their "mediated, objectified immediacy": letters' particular compound of absences and presences, at once temporal, spatial and communicational. In the letters, ideas appear, form and develop at different rates and in different registers. Writing to Scholem and Florens Christian Rang in the earlier years, and in the scintillating later correspondence with Adorno, there are pages of sustained theoretical reflection, rehearsing arguments and sometimes drafting passages he will use in the work "proper." But at times, a single word, an observation or an aphorism announces the tiny presence of a germ of thought. For the reader of the "afterlife," knowing what is to come, these moments of emergence can have the force of dramatic entrances, as when, in January 1928, he tells Scholem in passing that he intends a short piece on the nineteenth-century arcades of Paris. The topic, in all its ramifications, would dominate his work for the rest of his life.

Benjamin's letters to Scholem form the basis of the collection. The two had been students together, neighbors in Basel and Munich during the war, passionate co-readers of philosophy and literature. Their long, affectionate letters contain fascinating quotidian stuff — malicious gossip, complaints of bad luck, apologies for poor handwriting, accounts of illnesses and travels — but above all, they teem with collaborative thought: to no one else does Benjamin write of his work with such ease and excitement. The fervent discussion of books and ideas is inseparable from a more material bibliomania. Famously, Benjamin was a collector; above all else, he was a collector of books. His library was an extension of his self, its condition an index of his fortunes, its maintenance a central task of his existence. It would be, he writes to Scholem, the sole "material epitaph of my existence." Early on, confident in the future, he constantly visits dealers and auctions, buys first editions with money he doesn't have, complains about inflation-hedgers distorting the market. Later, biographical vicissitudes take their toll. In the divorce, he loses his beloved collection of nineteenth-century children's literature (he wrote later: "it is growing steadily even today, but no longer in my garden."). He manages to have half his library shipped out of Germany, but is then forced to sell it off bit by bit. The text "Unpacking My Library" — among his most charming essays, an account of the pleasures of re-finding books, of sorting and ordering them — is, in part, a fantasy of his books' homecoming, and his own.

On one level, Scholem's emigration to Palestine cemented the separation from Benjamin. On another, their relation took on new and deeper form: in Jerusalem, Scholem appointed himself Benjamin's archivist and first reader, the keeper of his thought; his letters contain the earliest attempts to grasp the shape of Benjamin's work as a whole and assess its historical significance. Back in Europe, Benjamin is a loyal correspondent, but not always a perfect friend. He takes advantage now and again: Scholem arranges a stipend to learn Hebrew, Benjamin takes the money, but not the classes. Scholem continually suggests a move to Palestine: Benjamin doesn't want to go, but won't come straight out and say so. By the 1930s, the relation in letters remains immensely important for both, but on Scholem's rare visits to Europe, Benjamin seems to be going out of his way to avoid him.

Disagreements over politics and Benjamin's friendship with Brecht were the biggest problem, disagreements that are both the theme and the reason for the small number of letters to Benjamin included here. These, by Scholem and by Adorno, ultimately turn on the place of politics in Benjamin's work and his life: their inclusion is partly a response to the 1960s disputes, the editors' gesture of retrospective self-justification. Scholem thought Benjamin's deepening Marxism a desperate and masochistic self-delusion, with isolation and frustration underlying what he saw as a profound betrayal of intellectual principles. "You issue a currency in your writing that you are […] simply incapable of redeeming," he writes, "…your desire for community places you at risk, even if it is the apocalyptic community of the revolution that speaks out of so many of your writings […] [in] imagery with which you are cheating yourself out of your calling." Adorno took a similar, if more nuanced line, and certainly shared Scholem's distrust of Brecht. For him, Benjamin's turn to history and to politics risked robbing his work of philosophical force. Worse still, his new-found and insufficiently dialectical enthusiasm for technology, popular culture, and the masses ultimately ran the danger of "identification with the aggressor": collusion with historical forces of untruth, reification and delusion.


This tension between religiously-infused metaphysics and radical politics coalesces with a second tension in Benjamin's life and work — between philosophy and literature, as modes of writing and understanding and as academic disciplines. For many of Benjamin's biographers, the year 1924 is both a biographical turning point and the moment when these tensions begin to ratchet up. The more dramatic accounts of the shift have Benjamin vacationing on Capri, where, in quick succession, he reads Georg Lukács's History and Class Consciousness and falls in love with the "Latvian Bolshevik" Asja Lacis, Brecht's former stage manager, whom he then pursues to Riga and then Moscow. The current scholarly consensus, well summarized in Uwe Steiner's introduction to Benjamin's thought, downplays notions of epiphanic readings and life-changing encounters, suggesting instead the expansion of intellectual horizons, and the application of existing metaphysical methods to concrete historical themes, with spectacularly productive results.

What is clear is that Benjamin's mid-twenties "turn" was as much a becoming-worldly as it was a straightforward politicization: it involved new ideas and new identifications, but also new geographies (his appetite for travel only intensified as the years went on) and a new professional identity. Benjamin had trained both as a literary scholar and a philosopher; it was as the former that he first sought professional advancement, and spectacularly failed to achieve it. Steiner sketches a vigorous portrait of Benjamin as an experimental and philosophical philologist, at odds with his institutional and cultural surroundings. Problems came to a head around his university Habilitation candidacy — a process somewhat akin to academic tenure — which centered on his study of Baroque theatre, The Origin of the German Tragic Drama. While the book carefully fulfilled academic convention, it was dense and demanding, its unorthodox conceptualizations of "origin" and "allegory" going far beyond the bounds of humanist belles lettres. In professional terms, it was a disaster. Benjamin was rejected even before his formal application.

Steiner describes the refusal as a combined result of academic politicking, anti-Semitism and blockheaded philistinism, and as a "tragedy for the German university." Perhaps it wasn't such a tragedy for Benjamin himself though: the refusal steered him all the more surely towards the avant-garde and the arcana of nineteenth-century life, in the direction of the Arcades Project. In any case, they would have kicked him out in 1933. As it was, his dismissal was yet another event marking a fork in the biographical path, if not a rupture in the structures of his thought. From here on out, Benjamin was a professional writer, his increasingly itinerant lifestyle matched by the eclecticism of his subject matter and the variousness of his publishers. As a freelance essayist in Germany, he made a good enough living; he had friends who commissioned for the newspapers and radio stations. Later, exiled in Paris and elsewhere, he continually struggled to make a living at all.

As his engagement with literary history had made clear, Benjamin's philosophical formation — marked above all by Kant, encountered directly and through the various post-Kantianisms of his day — suffused his writing across many topics. But as with Nietzsche, Benjamin's occasionalism, the quality of his prose and the breadth of his subject matter have cast doubt on his philosophical status. The question has continually been asked: what is the philosophy, and what exactly is philosophical, in his work's busy "arena of movement"? One approach, taken by two prominent recent Benjamin monographs, is to emphasize Benjamin as a philosopher of time. As implied in his comments on the temporality of published letters, for Benjamin, time can be seen — and should be written, and must be lived — as something more complicated and denser with potential than the homogenous, evenly sequential temporality to which we conceptually and experientially default. Hidden and possibly secret relations bind together the apparently personal time of inner experience, the larger-scaled, historical time of societal and anthropological existence, and the transcendent time of messianic intervention.

Peter Fenves's The Messianic Reduction: Walter Benjamin and the Shape of Time traces Benjamin's rethinking of experience and temporality to his formative years as a student of philosophy during and after the First World War. This Benjamin, not yet much taken with vernacular culture or avant-garde experimentation, writes in a difficult, abstract voice, but is fully and confidently engaged in the philosophical debates of his day. (Although Benjamin wrote prolifically while very young, he wrote almost nothing considered juvenilia, apart, maybe, from the Alpine letters.) Fenves's reading of Benjamin's early texts locates them in a dense network of influences and dialogues, a complex force field encompassing contemporary mathematical theory, various strands — Cohenist, Rickertian, Cassirerite — of neo-Kantianism, and, more unexpectedly, the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and his followers.

Benjamin's stance towards all these, and his readings of Husserl in particular, are already colored by the modernist messianism that became a hallmark of his later thought. The messianic, for Benjamin, was nothing so simple as a redeemer arriving to call time and distribute justice at the end of days. Rather, it referred to something like a structure of temporal experience, but an "experience" that goes beyond the individual and even the social. To use the Benjaminian terminology that Fenves brings into sharp relief, it is the immanent tension that is the fact and the force of divinity in the world, permanently present, endlessly mutable. This belief was the basis of Benjamin's particular take on Husserl's "phenomenological reduction," the program of rigorous mind-clearing phenomenology used to set aside the default "natural attitude" of consciousness, with its preconceived notions of causality, subject-object relations and mind-world distinctions.

For Benjamin, the "reduction" mediated a sphere of experience beyond the conditioned framings of conscious thought. But, as Fenves reads him, Benjamin granted this subjectless experience of pure receptivity a near-mystical valence. The "reduction" was an opening onto a kind of paradise; the stubborn "natural attitude" was both analog and agent of the fallen, guilty state of mankind. This also underlay Benjamin's disagreement on questions of method. Unlike Husserl's willed "bracketing" of philosophical assumptions — a carefully prescribed method for dismantling the self-evident — for Benjamin, getting beyond the "natural attitude" was not a matter of decision, for the philosopher or anyone else. Not that the impossibility of a chosen path implies the non-existence of the divine, or even, strictly speaking, its inaccessibility: the divine is something that can be thought and experienced, but always as the irruption or appearance of an outside, never commanded forth by a direct action of human will. The "reduction" was done to the philosopher, not by him.

The Messianic Reduction's difficult, but ultimately revelatory, analyses track the early Benjamin as he searches for islands of "reduced" experience within the fallen world. In his very early essays and fragments, Benjamin hones in on phenomena where experience is loosed from the wretched ballast of subjecthood and causality. Hölderlin's poetry is one privileged place. The practice of painting, with its relation of spatiality, perception, fantasy, and color, is another. The child's experience of color, as seeing subject and biological being, is a third. Notwithstanding its highly abstract idiom, Benjamin's writing here is often breathtakingly intense and original. There are extraordinary pages in which Benjamin — as if to look sentimentality full in the face — reflects on childhood innocence, transforming the theme into a bizarre and brilliant reflection on the paradoxical phenomenology of blushing. (For Benjamin, involuntary physical coloration does not express subjective interiority, it locally abolishes it.) Most abstractly, Fenves finds traces of "reduction" in Benjamin's — rather vague — references to advanced mathematical theory, which he encountered through his great-uncle Arthur Schoenflies, an early set theorist, and through Scholem, a student of mathematics. If phenomenology strengthened Benjamin's nascent critique of Kant's narrowly-drawn ideas of experience, avant-garde math seemed to offer new images of temporality, beyond the homogeneity of calendric sequence, beyond the this-then-that of simplistic causalities — images of time as cycloid, or planar, or, alluding to an early theory of fractals, as a continuously turning, tangentless curve.


In a coda, The Messianic Reduction fast-forwards to the 1940 essay, "On the Concept of History," finding the non-linear "shape of time" writ larger here in the late philosophy of history: now the messianic is the making-congruent of the local shape of time and the larger shape of history, and the messiah is a name for the force that accomplishes this temporal structuring. This soterio-temporal formalism, linking the early and the late work, also features in Eli Friedlander's Walter Benjamin: A Philosophical Portrait. But here things go the other way round. Friedlander's analysis centers on the Arcades Project, the vast, uncompleted — for some, uncompletable — work which consumed Benjamin in the 1930s, and which, in the form of sketches, sub-projects and spin-offs, gave rise to many of his best known essays and images. Friedlander reads the Arcades Project as the cohering, sense-making culmination of the oeuvre, its logical as well as its chronological terminus, which can — if the direction is reversed — reveal the coherence of Benjamin's philosophy, and the "unique spiritual character" of his thought. In the rigor and sobriety, but above all the unity and systematicity unveiled by this method, so goes the claim, inhere the fundamentally philosophical character of Benjamin's work.

For Friedlander, the Arcades' "convolutes," at first sight a sprawling taxonomy of notes and excerpts on nineteenth-century Paris, in fact respond to, and keep company with, the work of the greatest of philosophical system builders: Plato and Leibniz, Kant and Hegel. Interpretations of Benjamin's work as a compendium of brilliant, disconnected images and thoughts — epitomized by Hannah Arendt's image of Benjamin as a "pearl diver" rescuing strange thought-artifacts from the deep — are more than just wrong, they are "catastrophic misreadings." The eye-opening implication, in other words, is this: for all his vast, appreciative reception, Benjamin remains severely underestimated. Transcending every peer group except the most rarified philosophical canon, Benjamin is not, for Friedlander, just a writer or a thinker, he is a philosopher of world-historical significance, and his work is a vessel of the highest truth.

The book's title is accurate, but potentially misleading. This is not a "life and works" intellectual biography; it has no interest in what Benjamin looked like, where he lived, what he felt or ate, whom he loved or who he was: Friedlander wastes no time on Scholem's suggestion that one key to Benjamin's writing lies in his encoding of personal experiences. This is a very different kind of method than Fenves's dense net of readings, encounters and influences, the reconstruction of micro-capillaries in the social body of thought: the distinction between intellectual history and the history of ideas could hardly be clearer. "Walter Benjamin" in this second study should not be considered a person, but, first, as a prodigious structure of capacities, capable of gathering thought into form, creating written images which address, absorb and ultimately reshape historical time, and, second, as the corpus of significant texts made in the crucible of this knowledge. All that matters is what has been read and what comes to be written. There is no need, in this analysis, for Berlin or Port Bou, Dora or Asja, the angry father or the neglected son.

If the content of the life is irrelevant, the content of the late work — the Arcades Project and its accompanying train of essays and studies — is abstracted. On one level the Arcades can be seen to mark the furthest development of the shift — begun around 1924, where Fenves breaks off — away from philology and pure philosophy, and towards a new form of cultural history, both experimental and, in a complicated way, monumental. This entailed archaeology of modernity — its urban spaces, temporal structures, emergent media, dreamworlds of commodities and crowds — based on a much broader conception of experience and thought than normally accepted within philosophy's walls. But, like Adorno — or at least like one side of Adorno — Friedlander does not regard the Arcades as primarily or ultimately an investigation of Parisian history, commodity capitalism or phantasmagoric urban modernity. He takes his cue from a comment in Adorno's 1935 correspondence with Benjamin: "I openly confess to regarding the Arcades not as a historical-sociological investigation but rather as prima philosophia in your own particular sense […] I regard your work on the Arcades as the center not merely of your own philosophy, but as the decisive philosophical word which must find utterance today; as a chef d'oeuvre like no other."

For Friedlander, the Arcades Project's material and formal heterogeneity is no obstacle to the recuperation of its systematicity. The perfectly chosen cover photograph presents a visual manifesto for his profoundly ambitious essay: the photo shows one of the famous Parisian arcades, but only its framework, looking through the iron-and-glass grid of its roof to the sky beyond. The book's aim, accordingly, is ultimately to pass through the Arcades itself, to grasp the formal armature that gathers and shapes the content (its Darstellung, which Friedlander rightly stresses as "presentation" not "representation"), and divine its structure and philosophical significance. However, the form that, for Friedlander, bears the book's truth is not to be found in the actual arrangement of Benjamin's material. His analysis does not address particular taxonomies or juxtapositions; there is no investigation of the strata laid down by the book's successive organizational conceptions, from the original impulse lent by Benjamin's reading of Louis Aragon's Paris Peasant, to the infusion of deepening historical horror, and more explicit political reflection, as the 1930s wore on. Rather, the "presentational form" is a secondary formation, a constellation of concepts transcending the Arcades' content, as Friedlander's intricate presentation systematically reconstructs Benjaminian idea-material in dozens of interlocking sub-chapters.

Given the systematizing impulse, all here is connected to all else. But one concept stands out in the formation, the point towards and through which every path runs: the dialectical image. This difficult concept is central to the double task of Benjamin's late political-historical epistemology: first, understanding the relative motion of history and knowledge, and second, gathering past and present in an explosive interrelation, generating a flash of Jetztzeit, the time of the now. Concretely, it is clear that Benjamin wanted to apply the surrealists' "profane illumination" to historical writing, to deploy the alienated artifacts of a recent past to break up conventional historiography's commonsense epistemologies and inert temporal imaginaries, stupid and stupefying. But a stable definition of the "dialectical image" has proved elusive: generations of Benjaminians have struggled with the term as it oscillates between singular and plural, subjective and objective, method and metaphor, materialist construction and autonomous historical emanation. Moreover, the stakes for the dialectical image are set so high that Benjamin's own thought-images and historical objets trouvés — the July Revolutionaries turning their guns on the public clocks, say, or the flâneur at Notre Dame de Lorette, remembering with the soles of his feet, "like an ascetic animal" — have seemed inadequate, even paltry, next to the vaunted concept.

Friedlander's interpretation here is radical and univocal. There is one dialectical image, and its name is The Arcades Project. In Friedlander's reconstellation of Benjamin's work, the concept becomes the capstone of a metaphysical system, an homage to and elaboration of Benjamin's famous, near-posthumous observation:

    There is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one. Our coming was expected on earth. Like every generation that preceded us, we have been endowed with a weak Messianic power, a power to which the past has a claim.

Reflecting on his method, Friedlander alludes to Benjamin's notion of "origin," developed in The Origin of the German Tragedy: not the start of a linear development, but an intense vortex of transformation, in which elements of the past undergo a complex process of rearrangement and recognition, disappearance and endurance. Via restructuring, the dialectical image — Benjamin's work — appears as a higher form of origin, a node of immanent intensity in which the potentiality of created nature is made manifest, and truth and life are concentrated and brought forth anew. Time is crucial in this reading: it is more than the subject of Benjamin's philosophy, it is the medium in and with which it works. The Arcades Project, dialectical image of history, is a temporal artifact, first by virtue of the time crystallized in its monadic dream-images, and second as the arrangement of preserved time "held out into the stream of homogenous time," a material intervention in an overwhelmingly historicist episteme.

It is the forceful insistence of these metaphysical claims that, more than anything else, distinguishes Friedlander's book from other recent unpackings of Benjamin's philosophical baggage, as his intervention commits itself to an extraordinary degree, venturing far beyond the safe ground of academic analysis. In this reading, Benjamin's amalgam of temporalities fabricates a framework for the manifestation of "divine force," the display of "divine power." The divine here, as with the "messianic reduction," is not a transcendent or static godly presence; it inheres in the weave of earthly existence, immanent and intensive. Crucially, however, Friedlander's reparative vitalism is also a work of memory. The creation of the dialectical image bids farewell to the past in order that life — bare life, creaturely life, inorganic life, historical life — can go on. To put it in terms worn down from overuse — and at the risk of banalizing a book that is, whatever else, hardly banal — the force within Benjamin's work enables a coming to terms with the past. While never made entirely explicit, it is not hard to read Friedlander's book, above all his concluding chapter, as a response to the concrete atrocities and losses of twentieth-century history, with theories of trauma and memory wrought into a philosophy of history in which Benjamin's work serves as the central mediating device.

Friedlander's apparatus of mediation, with its intricate internal workings, is passionate testimony to the enduring generative power of Benjamin's writing. But it is impossible not to notice everything absent or removed from the system built here. Among the absences is the Arcades Project's concrete content: those who haven't read that book will learn little about its historical subject matter, whose dialectical passage into conceptuality seems uniformly and problematically smooth. Neither the reasons for Benjamin's choice of material, nor the political stakes of his work, then or now, ever becomes clear. Granted, it posits a construction of truth in one sense — located in the dialectics of recognition that passes between past and present — but historically specific regimes of truth are neither a fact nor a problem. The power that invests knowledge here is of a spiritual and divine order, emphatically not a social or socio-epistemological one. And as truth is re-enthroned, problems of textuality evaporate. In Friedlander's systematization, Benjamin's prose is put through an ascetic filter, its conceptuality emerging largely without remainder, its language tending always towards a higher univocality. Most of Benjamin's thought-images are stripped away or stripped down to their semantic core: when they occasionally sneak back in, they are often newly startling.

Profane aspects of Benjamin's work cannot survive this angelic atmosphere. As the work becomes the oeuvre and the oeuvre becomes the system, it becomes unimaginable that Benjamin could sometimes have changed his mind, or occasionally might have been wrong. Benjamin becomes a great natural given, to be explored like a cave system or a new continent. The writings of the author of "The Author as Producer" have no — and can have no — context of production here. Maybe none of these mere particularities, the shabby concrete stuff, count as "philosophical." But if so, it is because the term is defined to exclude them. The multiple begging of the question "what is philosophy?" comes to look like a rappel a l'ordre, as all the materiality of Benjamin's works, and all their worldly imbrication, are de-constellated, sublated out, remembered away. We can guess at Brecht's sardonic reaction: that the "divine force" discerned in the Arcades Project is nothing but the quickening pulse of the philosopher, hot on the scent of yet another interpretation of the world.


One odd fact of Benjamin's peripatetic life is that he never crossed the English Channel. (He sailed down it once, en route from Hamburg to Spain.) All the many journeys, all the years in Paris, and he never once went to Calais and took a boat for England. He was never in London, the rival "capital of the nineteenth century" just a couple of hundred miles away. In the last months of his life, his ex-wife Dora begged him to come over: it would have saved his life, but instead he went south, waited around in Marseilles with the other transitoires, stopped in Lourdes for a while before heading for the Pyrenees. But in one way at least, London was his future. In the late 1930s, along with Dora, Benjamin's twenty-year old son Stefan had also come to Britain. Their escape was a relief to Benjamin, whose late correspondence worries about their fate, first in Italy, later in Austria. London seemed for the moment like a much safer refuge, where Stefan could complete his disrupted education, and maybe even, Benjamin hopes in a letter to Scholem, be given a British passport. For Dora, things worked out — until her death two decades later, she ran a boarding house in Notting Hill. But some anomaly in Stefan's case led to a mysterious turn of events. A footnote in the Letters reports that in 1941 he was expelled from the country as an "enemy alien." He was deported by ship to Australia, a journey on which he was placed, according to Scholem, under "German Nazi" authority and traumatized by their brutal mistreatment. After the war, he somehow returned to London, where he became an antiquarian book dealer: the son taking up, professionally, the father's amateur bibliomania. He died in 1972, Benjamin's other posterity.


Bruce Cummings on Korea and the "asiatic mode of production"

From Louis Proyect's blog:

The primary academic McCarthyite was Karl Wittfogel

What follows is page 94-99 in Bruce Cuming's brilliant "The Korean War: a history", published in 2010. The book is not just a history of the war. It is a deeply insightful study of the politics and culture of the early 1950s, when the Korean War was raging. I simply can't recommend this book highly enough. This passage that deals with a side of Karl Wittfogel that was unknown to me gives you an idea of the breadth of his knowledge and his ability to put "orientalism" on trial even when the viewpoint was that of a noted Marxist scholar like Wittfogel as well as Leon Trotsky.


The primary academic McCarthyite was Karl Wittfogel, who had a strange trajectory out of the same milieu as Bertolt Brecht: he was the leading ideologue of the German Communist Party in the early 1930s, and the leading proponent of Karl Marx's theory of "the Asiatic Mode of Production." Stalin purged him for reasons that are not entirely clear, and Wittfogel came to the United States and established himself as a scholar with his magnum opus, Oriental: Despotism. Marx's theory appraised Asia by reference to what it lacked when set against the standard-issue European model of development: feudalism, the rise of the bourgeoisie, capitalism. A brutal satrap presided over a semiarid environment, running armies of bureaucrats and soldiers, regulating the paths of great rivers, and employing vast amounts of slave labor in gigantic public works projects (such as China's Great Wall). The despot above and the cringing mass below prevented the emergence of anything resembling a modern middle class.

Leon Trotsky, his biographer Isaac Deutscher, the Soviet dissident Nikolai Bukharin, and Wittfogel all likened Stalin to Eastern potentates, especially Genghis Khan, and thought his regime was a species of Oriental despotism, the worst features of the "Asiatic mode of production" coming to the fore. It is stunning to see Trotsky open his biography of Stalin with a first sentence remarking that the old revolutionist Leonid Krassin "was the first, if I am not mistaken, to call Stalin an 'Asiatic'"; Trotsky depicts "Asiatic" leaders as cunning and brutal, presiding over static societies with a huge peasant base. "Cunning" and "shrewd" were standard adjectives in stereotypes of Asians, particularly when they were denied civil rights and penned up in Chinatowns by whites-only housing restrictions, leading to uniform typecasting from a distance—peering over a high board fence, so to:speak. "Brutal" was another, at least since Genghis Khan, with Pol Pot and Mao reinforcing the image in our time. The broadest distinction, between static or indolent East and dynamic, progressive West, goes all the way back to Herodotus and Aristotle.

Marx never really investigated East Asia, but learned enough to know that if China fit his theory, Japan with its feudalism (and "petite culture") clearly did not. Wittfogel, however, applied his notions of Oriental despotism to every dynastic empire with a river running through it—China, tsarist Russia, Persia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Incas, even the Hopi Indians of Arizona. By this time he had done a full-fledged, high-wire tenko ( Japanese for a political flip-flop), reemerging as an organic reactionary and trying to re-produce himself in, of all places, Seattle—the most thoroughly middle-class city in America. Wittfogel wrote for many extreme-right-wing publications and played a critical role in the purges of China scholars and Foreign Service officers during-the McCarthy period. Hardly any scholars would testify against Owen Lattimore, Senator Joseph McCarthy's prime professorial target, but the University of Washington furnished three: Wittfogel, Nikolas Poppe (a Soviet expert on Mongolia who had defected to the Nazis in 1943), and George Taylor, a British scholar-journalist.

After teaching in the Philadelphia area in the mid-1970s– where I was pleased to meet Olga Lang, Wittfogel's first wife ("Why did you divorce?" I asked. "Irreconcilable political differences," she answered)—I wound up at the University of Washington, which has one of the oldest East Asian programs in the United States. Around that time Perry Anderson published Lineages of the Absolutist State. At the end of this magisterial book rests an eighty-seven-page "Note" on the theory of the Asiatic mode of production,' where Anderson shows that Marx's views on Asia differed little from those of Hegel, Montesquieu, Adam Smith, and a host of other worthies; they were all peering through the wrong end of a telescope, or in a mirror, weighing a smattering of knowledge about Asia against their understanding of how the West developed. Nor did Marx ever take the "Asiatic mode" very seriously; he was always interested in one thing, really, and that was capitalism (even when it came to communism). Anderson called Wittfogel a "vulgar charivari" and recommended giving this theory an unceremonious burial, concluding that "in the night of our ignorance … all alien shapes take on the same hue." I eagerly recommended his book to my colleagues: a good friend said, "He doesn't know any Chinese." Another responded, "Isn't he a Marxist?"—meaning Anderson, not Wittfogel.

The theory never really got a proper burial, though, it just reappears in less-conspicuous forms. It isn't politically correct to say "Oriental" or "Asiatic" anymore. Stalin is long dead, but Stalinism is apparently not, and it's still okay to say almost anything about Stalinism. Furthermore, lo and behold, one set of "Orientals" has kept it alive: journalists use the term time and again to describe North Korea, without any hint of qualifying or questioning their position. The idea that the DPRK is a pure form of "Stalinism in the East" goes back to the 1940s, and was constantly reinforced by Berkeley's Robert Scalapino, a Cold War scholar who came along in the late 1950s and benefited as Much as anyone from the post-McCarthy accommodation between the right and the middle. North Korean political practice is reprehensible, but we are not responsible for it. More disturbing is the incessant stereotyping and demonizing of this regime in the United States. When Kim II Sung died in 1994, Newsweek ran a cover story entitled "The Headless Beast." Assertions that his son is simply crazy abound, but when they enter the thinking of fine analyst such as Steven Coll in The New Yorker, a magazine with a venerable tradition of fact-checking [except when it comes to Bob Dylan quotes], you might ask which psychiatrist diagnosed Kim? Another expert recently wrote, as if everyone knows this, that North Korea is "a hybrid of Stalinism and oriental despotism.

Kim Jong Il, of course, specializes in do-it-yourself stereotyping, masquerading as the Maximum Leader of a Communist opera bouffe in elevator shoes and 1970s double-knit pants suit, fattening himself while the masses starve, which makes it hard to argue that "Oriental despotism" is not the name of his politics. But there is no evidence in the North Korean experience of the mass violence against whole classes of people or the wholesale "purge" that so clearly characterized Stalinism, and that was particularly noteworthy in the scale of deaths in the land reform campaigns in China and North Vietnam and the purges of the Cultural Revolution. Nonetheless, North Korea remains everyone's example of worst-case socialism and (until 1991) Soviet stoogery, leading American observers whether at the time or since to deem it impossible for the DPRK to have had any capacity for independent action in 1950.

In fact Kim and his late father, and the ideologues around them, continue the ancient monarchical practice in East and West of "the king's two bodies," a body politic and a "body natural." The latter is an ordinary, frail human being who happens to be king, who will go to his death like anyone else: Kim Jong II, in short, with the dyspeptic, cynical, irritated face of a man who, from birth, had no chance of living up to his father—yet he has to be king. The other is a superhuman presence, an absolutely perfect body representing the god-king, maintained through the centuries as an archetype of the exquisite leader. (And with this you get North Korean inanities such as Kim Jong Il scoring eagles on his first golf round.) In death the body natural disappears, but the soul of the god-king passes on to the next king. In Pyongyang this translated into Kim II Sung's "seed" bringing forth his first son, Jong II, continuing the perfect "bloodlines" that his scribes never tire of applauding. The family line thus becomes immortal, explaining why Kim Ii Sung was not just president-for-life, but remained president of the DPRK in his afterlife. The high-level defector Hwang Jang-yop told Bradley Martin that the two Kims "turned Stalinism and Marxism-Leninism on their heads by reverting to Confucian notions."'

North Korea is thus a modern form of monarchy, realized in a highly nationalistic, postcolonial state. "The social unity expressed in the 'body of the despot,'" Jameson pointed out, is political, but also analogous to various religious practices. That the favored modern practice of such regimes should be nationalism (the leader's body, the body politic, the national body) is also entirely predictable. But the Western left (let alone liberals) utterly fails to understand "the immense Utopian appeal of nationalism"; its morbid qualities are easily grasped, but its healthy qualities for the collective, and for the tight unity that postcolonial leaders crave, are denied. When you add to postcolonial nationalism Korea's centuries of royal succession and neo-Confucian philosophy, it might be possible to understand North Korea as an unusual but predictable combination of monarchy, nationalism, and Korean political culture.


Monday, July 30, 2012

Euro-hype remembered

Perry Anderson wrote this piece in 2007, and in April of that year it appeared in the London Review of Books.  A survey of the "how Europe will rule the 21st century" stream of books appearing at the time, it will generate many an amused chuckle today.

Depicting Europe
Perry Anderson

An epiphany is beguiling Europe. Far from dwindling in historical significance, the Old World is about to assume an importance for humanity it has never, in all its days of dubious past glory, before possessed. At the end of Postwar, his 800-page account of the continent since 1945, the historian Tony Judt exclaims at 'Europe's emergence in the dawn of the 21st century as a paragon of the international virtues: a community of values … held up by Europeans and non-Europeans alike as an exemplar for all to emulate'.[1] The reputation, he assures us, is 'well-earned'. The same vision grips the seers of New Labour. Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century declaims the title of a manifesto by Mark Leonard, the party's foreign policy wunderkind.[2] 'Imagine a world of peace, prosperity and democracy,' he enjoins the reader. 'What I am asking you to imagine is the "New European Century".' How will this entrancing prospect come about? 'Europe represents a synthesis of the energy and freedom that come from liberalism with the stability and welfare that come from social democracy. As the world becomes richer and moves beyond satisfying basic needs such as hunger and health, the European way of life will become irresistible.' Really? Absolutely. 'As India, Brazil, South Africa and even China develop economically and express themselves politically, the European model will represent an irresistibly attractive way of enhancing their prosperity whilst protecting their security. They will join with the EU in building "a New European Century".'

Not to be outdone, the futurologist Jeremy Rifkin – American by birth, but by any standards an honorary European: indeed a personal adviser to Romano Prodi when he was president of the European Commission – has offered his guide to The European Dream.[3] Seeking 'harmony, not hegemony', he tells us, the EU 'has all the right markings to claim the moral high ground on the journey towards a third stage of human consciousness. Europeans have laid out a visionary road map to a new promised land, one dedicated to reaffirming the life instinct and the Earth's indivisibility.' After a lyrical survey of this route – typical staging-posts: 'Government without a Centre', 'Romancing the Civil Society', 'A Second Enlightenment' – Rifkin, warning us against cynicism, concludes: 'These are tumultuous times. Much of the world is going dark, leaving many human beings without clear direction. The European Dream is a beacon of light in a troubled world. It beckons us to a new age of inclusivity, diversity, quality of life, deep play, sustainability, universal human rights, the rights of nature, and peace on Earth.'

These transports may seem peculiarly Anglo-Saxon, but there is no shortage of more prosaic equivalents on the Continent. For Germany's leading philosopher, Jürgen Habermas, Europe has found 'exemplary solutions' for two great issues of the age: 'governance beyond the nation-state' and systems of welfare that 'serve as a model' to the world. So why not triumph in a third? 'If Europe has solved two problems of this magnitude, shouldn't it issue a further challenge: to defend and promote a cosmopolitan order on the basis of international law' – or, as his compatriot the sociologist Ulrich Beck puts it, 'Europeanisation means creating a new politics. It means entering as a player into the meta-power game, into the struggle to form the rules of a new global order. The catchphrase for the future might be: Move over America – Europe is back!' In France, Marcel Gauchet, theorist of democracy and an editor of Le Débat, the country's central journal of ideas, explains, more demurely, that 'we may be allowed to think that the formula the Europeans have pioneered is destined eventually to serve as a model for the nations of the world. That lies in its genetic programme.'

Self-satisfaction is scarcely unfamiliar in Europe. But the contemporary mood is something different: an apparently illimitable narcissism, in which the reflection in the water transfigures the future of the planet into the image of the beholder. What explains this degree of political vanity? Obviously, the landscape of the continent has altered in recent years, and its role in the world has grown. Real changes can give rise to surreal dreams, but they need to be calibrated properly, to see what the connections or lack of them might be. A decade ago, three great imponderables lay ahead: the advent of monetary union, as designed at Maastricht; the return of Germany to regional preponderance, with reunification; and the expansion of the EU into Eastern Europe. The outcome of each remained ex ante indeterminate. How far have they been clarified since?

Of its nature, the introduction of a single currency, adopted simultaneously by 11 out of 15 member states of the EU on the first day of 1999, was the most punctual and systematic transformation of the three. It was always reasonable to suppose its effects would be the soonest visible, and most clear-cut. Yet this has proved so only in the most limited technical sense, that the substitution of a dozen monies by one (Greece joined in 2002) was handled extremely smoothly, without glitch or mishap: an administrative tour de force. Otherwise, contrary to general expectations, the net upshot of the monetary union that came into force in the Eurozone eight years ago remains undecidable. The stated purpose of the single currency was to lower transaction costs and increase predictability of returns for business, so unleashing higher investment and faster growth of productivity and output.

But to date the causes have failed to generate the results. The dynamic effects of the Single European Act of 1986, held by most orthodox economists to be an initiative of greater significance than EMU, had already been wildly oversold: the official Cecchini Report estimated it would add between 4.3 and 6.4 per cent to the GDP of the Community where in reality it yielded gains of little over 1 per cent. So far, the pay-off for EMU has been even more disappointing. Far from picking up, growth in the Eurozone initially slowed down, from an average of 2.4 per cent in the five years before monetary union, to 2.1 in the first five years after it. Even with the modest acceleration of the last three years, it remains below the level of the 1980s. In 2000, on the heels of the single currency, the Lisbon summit promised to create within ten years 'the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world'. In the event, the EU has so far recorded a growth rate well below that of the US, and has lagged far behind China. Caught between the scientific and technological magnetism of America, where two-fifths of all scientists – some 400,000 – are now EU-born, and the cheap labour of the PRC, where average wages are well over twenty times lower, Europe has not had much to show for its bombast.

Not only has the performance of the single-currency bloc been well below America's. More pointedly, the Eurozone has been outstripped by those countries within the EU which declined to scrap their own currencies, Sweden, Britain and Denmark all posting higher rates of growth over the same period. Casting a further shadow over the legacy of Maastricht, the Stability Pact which was supposed to ensure that fiscal indiscipline at national level would not undermine monetary rigour at supranational level has been breached repeatedly and with impunity by both Germany and France, the two leading economies of the Eurozone. Had its deflationary impact been enforced, as it was on Portugal, which was in less of a position to resist, overall growth would have been yet lower.

Still, it would be premature to think that any unequivocal verdict on monetary union had been reached. The advocates of EMU point to Ireland and Spain as success stories within the Eurozone, and look to the general economic upturn of the past year, led by Germany, as a sign that monetary union may at last be coming into its own. Above all, they can vaunt the strength of the euro itself. Not only are long-term interest rates in the Eurozone below those in the US. More strikingly, the euro has overtaken the dollar as the world's premier currency in the international bond market. One result has been to power a wave of cross-border mergers and acquisitions in Euroland itself, evidence of the kind of capital deepening the architects of monetary union envisaged. Given the volatility of relative regional or national standings in the world economy – Japan's is only the most spectacular reversal of fortune since the 1980s – might not the Eurozone, after somewhat over seven lean years, now be poised for their biblical opposite?

Here, clearly, much depends on the degree of European interconnection with, or insulation from, the US economy, which dominates global demand. The mediocrity of Eurozone performance since 1999, attributable in the eyes of economic liberals to statist inertias and labour-market rigidities that it has taken time to overcome, but that are now giving way, has unfolded against the background of a global conjuncture, driven principally by American consumption, which for the last five years has been highly favourable – world economic growth averaging over 4.5 per cent, a rate not seen since the 1960s. A large part of this boom has come from rocketing house prices. That holds above all for the US, but also for much of the OECD: not least such once peripheral economies as Spain and Ireland, where construction has been the linchpin of recent growth. In the major Eurozone economies, on the other hand, where mortgages are not so central to financial markets, such effects have been more subdued. But, as the exposure of European banks to the collapse of sub-prime markets in the US is currently showing, the lines of repackaged credit are now so diffused and entangled across financial markets that the Eurozone is unlikely to be sheltered from a transatlantic recession.

The role of Germany in the new Europe remains no less ambiguous. Absorption of the DDR has restored the country to its standing at the beginning of the 20th century as the strategically central land of the continent, the most populous nation and the largest economy. But the longer-term consequences of reunification have still to unfold. Internationally, the Berlin republic has unquestionably become more assertive, shedding a range of postwar inhibitions. In the past decade the Luftwaffe has returned to the Balkans, Einsatztruppen are fighting in West Asia, the Deutsche Marine patrols the Eastern Mediterranean. But these have been subcontracted enterprises, in Nato or UN operations governed by the United States, not independent initiatives. Diplomatic postures have been more significant than military. Under Schröder, close ties were developed with Russia, in an entente that became the most distinctive feature of his foreign policy. But this was not a second Rapallo Pact, at the expense of western neighbours. Under Chirac and Berlusconi, France and Italy courted Putin scarcely less, but with fewer economic trumps in hand. Within Europe itself, the Red-Green government in Berlin, for all its well-advertised generational lack of complexes, never rocked the boat in the way its Christian Democrat predecessor in Bonn had done. Since 1991, in fact, there has been no action to compare with Kohl's unilateral recognition of Slovenia, precipitating the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Merkel has moved successfully to circumvent the will of French and Dutch voters, but was in no position to accomplish this on her own: for that, governments in Paris and the Hague were necessary. The prospects of any informal German hegemony in Europe, classically considered, seem at present remote.

Part of the reason for the relatively subdued profile of the new Germany has been the cost of reunification itself, for which the bill to date has come to more than a trillion dollars, saddling the country for years with stagnation, high unemployment and mounting public debt. France, though no greyhound itself, consistently outpaced Germany, posting faster rates of growth for a full decade from 1994 to 2004, with more than double its increase in GDP in the first five years of the new century. In 2006, substantial German recovery finally arrived, and the tables have been turned. Currently the world's leading exporter, Germany now looks as if it might be about to exercise once again something like the economic dominance of Europe it enjoyed in the days of Schmidt and the early Kohl. Then it was the tight money policies of the Bundesbank that held its neighbours by the throat. With the euro, that form of pressure has gone. What threatens to replace it is the remarkable wage repression on which German recovery has been based. Between 1998 and 2006, unit labour costs in Germany actually fell – a staggering feat: real wages declined for seven straight years – while they rose some 15 per cent in France and Britain, and between 25 and 35 per cent in Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece. With devaluation now barred, the Mediterranean countries are suffering a drastic loss of competitiveness that augurs ill for the whole southern tier of the EU. Harsher forms of German power, pulsing through the market rather than issuing from the high command or central bank, may lie in store. It is too soon to write off a regional Grossmacht.

Germany has now been reunited for 16 years. A single currency has circulated for eight years. The enlargement of the EU is just over three years old: it would be strange if its outcomes were already clearer. In practice the expansion of the EU to the East was set in motion in 1993, and completed – for the moment – only this year, with the accession of Romania and Bulgaria. At one level it is plain why it should be perhaps the principal source of satisfaction in today's chorus of European self-congratulation. All nine former 'captive nations' of the Soviet bloc have been integrated without a hitch into the Union. Only the lands of a once independent Communism, in the time of Tito and Hoxha, wait to join the fold, and even there a start has been made with Slovenia. Capitalism has been restored smoothly and speedily, without vexing delays or derogations. Indeed, as the director-general of the EU Commission for Enlargement recently observed, 'Nowadays the level of privatisation and liberalisation of the market is often higher in new member states than old ones.' In this newly freed zone, rates of growth have also been considerably higher than in the larger economies to the west.

No less impressive has been the virtually frictionless implantation of political systems matching liberal norms – representative democracies complete with civil rights, elected parliaments, separation of powers, alternation of governments. Under the benevolent but watchful eye of the Commission, seeing to it that criteria laid down at the Copenhagen Summit of 1993 were properly met, Eastern Europe has been shepherded into the comity of free nations. There was no backsliding. The elites of the region were in most cases only too anxious to oblige. For their populations, constitutional niceties were less important than higher standards of living once the late Communist yoke was thrown off, although few if any citizens were indifferent to the humbler liberties of speech, occupation or travel. When the time for accession came, there was assent, but little enthusiasm. Only in two countries out of ten – Lithuania and Slovenia – did a majority of the electorate turn out to vote for it, in referenda which most of the population elsewhere ignored, no doubt in part because they regarded it as a fait accompli by their leaders.

Still, however technocratic or top-down the mechanics of enlargement may have been, the formal unification of the two halves of Europe is a historical achievement of the first order. This is not because it has restored the countries of the East to an age-long common home, from which only a malign fate – the totalitarian grip of Russia – wrested them after the Second World War, as the ideologues of Central Europe, Kundera and others, have argued. The division of the continent has deeper roots, and goes back much further, than the pact at Yalta. In a well-received book, the American historian Larry Wolff charged travellers and thinkers of the Enlightenment with 'the invention of Eastern Europe' as a supercilious myth of the 18th century.[4] The reality is that from the time of the Roman Empire onwards, the lands now covered by the new member states of the Union were nearly always poorer, less literate and less urbanised than most of their counterparts to the west: prey to nomadic invasions from Asia; subjected to a second serfdom that spared neither the German lands beyond the Elbe nor even relatively advanced Bohemia; annexed by Habsburg, Romanov, Hohenzollern or Ottoman conquerors. Their fate in the Second World War and its aftermath was not an unhappy exception in their history, but – catastrophically speaking – par for the course.

It is this millennial record, of repeated humiliation and oppression, that entry into the Union offers a chance, finally, to leave behind. Who, with any sense of the history of the continent, could fail to be moved by the prospect of a cancellation in the inequality of its nations' destinies? The original design for EU expansion to the East, a joint product of German strategy under Kohl and interested local elites, seconded by assorted Anglo-American publicists, was to fast-track Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into the Union, as the most congenial states of the region, with the staunchest records of resistance to Communism and the most Westernised political classes, leaving less favoured societies to kick their heels in the rear. Happily, this invidious redivision of the East was avoided. Credit for preventing it must go in the first instance to France, which from the beginning advocated a 'regatta' approach, insisting on the inclusion of Romania, which made it difficult to exclude Bulgaria; to Sweden, which championed Estonia, with the same effect on Latvia and Lithuania; and to the Prodi Commission, which eventually rallied to comprehensive rather than selective enlargement. The result was a far more generous settlement than originally envisaged.

What of the economic upshot of expansion for the Union itself? Thanks to the modesty of the regional funds allocated to the East, the financial cost of enlargement has been significantly less than once estimated, and the balance of trade has favoured the more powerful economies of the West. This, however, is small change. The real takings – or bill, depending on who is looking at it – lie elsewhere. Core European capital now has a major pool of cheap labour at its disposal, conveniently located on its doorstep, not only dramatically lowering its production costs in plants to the East, but capable of exercising pressure on wages and conditions in the West. The archetypal case is Slovakia, where wages in the auto industry are one eighth of those in Germany, and more cars per capita are shortly going to be produced – Volkswagen and Peugeot in the lead – than in any other country in the world. It is the fear of such relocation, with the closure of factories at home, that has cowed so many German workers into accepting longer hours and less pay. Race-to-the bottom pressures are not confined to wages. The ex-Communist states have pioneered flat taxes to woo investment, and now compete with each other for the lowest possible rate: Estonia started with 26 per cent, Slovakia offers 19 per cent, Romania advertises 16 per cent, while Poland is now mooting a best-buy of 15 per cent.

The role configured by the new East in the EU, in other words, promises to be something like that played by the new South in the American economy since the 1970s: a zone of business-friendly fiscal regimes, weak or non-existent labour movements, low wages and – therefore – high investment, registering faster growth than in the older core regions of continent-wide capital. Like the US South, too, the region seems likely to fall somewhat short of the standards of political respectability expected in the rest of the Union. Already, now that they are safely inside the EU and there is no longer the same need to be on their best behaviour, the elites of the region show signs of kicking over the traces. In Poland, the ruling twins defy every norm of ideological correctness as understood in Strasbourg or Brussels. In Hungary, riot police stand on guard around a ruler unabashed at vaunting his lies to voters. In the Czech Republic, months pass without parliament being able to form a government. In Romania, the president insults the prime minister in a phone-in call to a television talk-show. But, as in Kentucky or Alabama, such provincial quirks add a touch of folkloric colour to the drab metropolitan scene more than they disturb it.

All analogies have their limits. The distinctive role of the new South in the political economy of the US has depended in part on immigration attracted by the region's climate, which has given it rates of demographic growth well above the national average. Eastern Europe is much more likely to suffer out-migration, as the recent tide of Poles arriving in Britain, and similar numbers from the Baltics and elsewhere in Ireland and Sweden, suggest. But labour mobility in any direction is – and, for obvious linguistic and cultural reasons, will remain – far lower in the EU than in the US. Local welfare systems, inherited from the Communist past, and not yet greatly dismantled, are also potential constraints on a Southern path. Nor does the East, with less than a quarter of the population of the Union, have anything like the relative weight of the South in the United States, not to speak of the political leverage of the region at federal level. For the moment, the effect of enlargement has essentially been much what the Foreign Office and the employers' lobbies in Brussels always hoped it would be: the distension of the EU into a vast free-trade zone, with a newly acquired periphery of cheap labour.

The integration of the East into the Union is the major achievement to which admirers of the new Europe can legitimately point. Of course, as with the standard encomia of the record of EU as a whole, there is a gap between ideology and reality in the claims made for it. The Community that became a Union was never responsible for the 'fifty years of peace' conventionally ascribed to it, a piety attributing to Brussels what in any strict sense belonged to Washington. When actual wars threatened in Yugoslavia, far from preventing their outbreak, the Union if anything helped to trigger them. In not dissimilar fashion, publicists for the EU often imply that without enlargement Eastern Europe would never have reached the safe harbour of democracy, foundering in new forms of totalitarianism or barbarism. There is somewhat more substance to this argument, since the EU has supervised stabilisation of the political systems of the region. But this claim too exaggerates dangers in the service of vanities. The EU played no role in the overthrow of the regimes installed by Stalin, and there is little sign that any of the countries in which they fell were at risk of lapsing into new dictatorships, were it not for the saving hand of the Commission. Enlargement has been a sufficient historical annealment, and so far economic success, not to require claims that it has also been, counter-factually, a political deliverance. The standard hype demeans rather than elevates what has been achieved.

There remains the largest question of all. What has been the impact of expansion to the East on the institutional framework of the EU itself? Here the glass darkens. For if enlargement has been the principal achievement of the recent period, the constitution that was supposed to renovate the Union has been its most signal failure, and the potential interactions between the two remain a matter of obscurity. The Convention on the Future of Europe met in early 2002, and in mid-2003 delivered a draft European Constitution that was agreed by the European Council in the summer of 2004. Delegates from candidate countries were nominally included in the Convention, but since the Convention itself amounted to little more than window-dressing for the labours of its president, Giscard d'Estaing, assisted by a British factotum, John Kerr, the two real authors of the draft, their presence was of no consequence. The future charter of Europe was written for the establishments of the West, the governments of the existing 15 member states who had to approve it, relegating the countries of the East to onlookers. In effect, the logic of a constituent will was inverted: instead of enlargement becoming the common basis of a new framework, the framework was erected before enlargement.

The ensuing debacle came as a brief thunderclap to the Western elites. The Constitution – more than 500 pages long, comprising 446 articles and 36 supplementary protocols, a bureaucratic elephantiasis without precedent – increased the power of the four largest states in the Union, Germany, France, Britain and Italy; topped the inter-governmental complex in which they would have greater sway with a five-year presidency, unelected by the European Parliament, let alone the citizens of the Union; and inscribed the imperatives of a 'highly competitive' market, 'free of distortions', as a foundational principle of political law, beyond the reach of popular choice. The founders of the American Republic would have rubbed their eyes in disbelief at such a ponderous and rickety construction. But so overwhelming was the consensus of the continent's media and political class behind it, that few doubted it would come into force. To the astonishment of their rulers, however, voters made short work of it. In France, where the government was unwise enough to dispatch copies of the document to every voter (Giscard complained of this folly with his handiwork), little was left of it at the end of a referendum campaign in which a spirited popular opposition – without the support of a single mainstream party, newspaper, magazine, let alone radio or television programme – routed an establishment united in endorsing it. Rarely, even in recent French history, was a pensée quite so unique upended so spectacularly.

In the last days of the campaign, as polls showed increasing rejection of the Constitution among voters, panic gripped the French media. But no local hysterics, though there were many, rivalled those in Germany. 'Europe Demands Courage,' admonished Günter Grass, Jürgen Habermas and a cohort of like-minded German intellectuals, in an open letter dispatched to Le Monde. Warning their neighbours that 'France … would isolate itself fatally if it were to vote "No",' they went on: 'The consequences of a rejection would be catastrophic,' indeed 'an invitation to suicide', for 'without courage there is no survival.' In member states new and old 'the Constitution fulfils a dream of centuries,' and to vote for it was not just a duty to the living, but to the dead: 'we owe this to the millions upon millions of victims of our lunatic wars and criminal dictatorships.' This from a country where no risk was taken of any democratic consultation of the elector -ate, and pro forma ratification of the Constitution was stage-managed in the Bundesrat to impress French voters a few days before their referendum, with Giscard as guest of honour at the podium. As for French isolation, three days later the Dutch – told, still more bluntly, that Auschwitz awaited Europe if they failed to vote yes – threw out the Constitution by an even wider margin.

Such popular repudiation of the charter for a new Europe, not because it was too federalist, but because it seemed to be little more than an impenetrable scheme for the redistribution of oligarchic power, embodying everything most distrusted in the arrogant, opaque system the EU appeared to have become, was not in reality a bolt from the blue. Virtually every time – there have not been many – that voters have been allowed to express an opinion about the direction the Union was taking, they have rejected it. The Norwegians refused the EC tout court; the Danes declined Maastricht; the Irish, the Treaty of Nice; the Swedes, the euro. Each time, the political class promptly sent them back to the polls to correct their mistake, or waited for the occasion to reverse the verdict. The operative maxim of the EU has become Brecht's dictum: in case of setback, the government should dissolve the people and elect a new one.

Predictably, amid the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome that gave birth to the EEC, European heads of state were soon discussing how to cashier the popular will once again, and reimpose the Constitution with cosmetic alterations but without exposing it this time to the risks of a democratic decision. At the Brussels summit this June, the requisite adjustment – now renamed a simple treaty – was agreed. To let it disavow a referendum, Britain was exempted from the Charter of Fundamental Rights to which all other member states subscribed. To throw a sop to French opinion, references to unfettered competition were tucked away in a protocol, rather than appearing in the main document. To square the conscience of the Dutch, 'promotion of European values' was made a test of membership. To save the face of Poland's rulers, the demotion of their country to second rank in the Council was deferred for a decade, leaving their successors to come to terms with it.

The principal novelty at this gathering to resuscitate what French and Dutch voters had buried was the determination of Germany to ensure its primacy in the electoral structure of the Council. Polish objections to a formula doubling Germany's weight, and drastically reducing Poland's, had – for reasons that voting theory in international organisations has long made clear, as experts in such matters pointed out – every technical consideration of fairness on their side. But issues of equity were of no more relevance to the outcome than issues of democracy. After blustering that demographic losses in the Second World War entitled Poland to proportionate compensation in the design of the Union, the Kaczynski twins crumpled as quickly as the country's prewar colonels before the German blitz. Brave talk forgotten, it was all over in a phone call. For the region where Poland accounts for nearly half the population and GDP, the episode is a lesson in the tacit hierarchy of states it has entered. The East is welcome, but should not get above itself.

Not that crumbs are unavailable. As the British, Dutch and French rulers, so the Polish too received, with their postponed demotion, the fig-leaf needed to dispense them from submitting the reanimated Constitution to the opinion of their voters. It was left to Ireland's Premier Ahern – along with Blair, another of the conference's recent escapees from a cloud of corruption – to exclaim, in a moment of unguarded delight: '90 per cent of it is still there!' Even loyal commentators have found it difficult to suppress all disgust at the cynicism of this latest exercise in the 'Community method'. The contrast between such realities and the placards of the touts for the new Europe could scarcely be starker. The truth is that the light of the world, role model for humanity at large, cannot even count on the consent of its populations at home.

What kind of political order, then, is taking shape in Europe, 15 years after Maastricht? The pioneers of European integration – Monnet and his fellow spirits – envisaged the eventual creation of a federal union that would one day be the supranational equivalent of the nation-states out of which it emerged, anchored in an expanded popular sovereignty, based on universal suffrage, its executive answerable to an elected legislature, and its economy subject to requirements of social responsibility. In short, a democracy magnified to semi-continental scale (they had only Western Europe in mind). But there was always another way of looking at European unification, which saw it more as a limited pooling of powers by member governments for certain – principally economic – ends, that did not imply any fundamental derogation of national sovereignty as traditionally understood, but rather the creation of a novel institutional framework for a specified range of transactions. De Gaulle famously represented one version of this outlook; Thatcher another. Between these federalist and inter-governmentalist visions of Europe, there has been a continual tension down to the present.

What has come into being, however, corresponds to neither. Constitutionally, the EU is a caricature of a democratic federation, since its Parliament lacks powers of initiative, contains no parties with any existence at European level, and wants even a modicum of popular credibility. Modest increments in its rights have not only failed to increase public interest in this body, but have been accompanied by a further decline in it. Participation in European elections has sunk steadily, to below 50 per cent, and the newest voters are the most indifferent of all. In the East, the regional figure in 2004 was scarcely more than 30 per cent; in Slovakia less than 17 per cent of voters cast a ballot for their delegates to Strasbourg. Such ennui is not irrational. The European Parliament is a Merovingian legislature. The mayor in the palace is the Council of Ministers, where real law-making decisions are taken, topped by the European Council of the heads of state, meeting every three months. Yet this complex in turn fails the opposite logic of an inter-governmental authority, since it is the Commission – the EU's unelected executive – alone that can propose the laws on which the Council and (more notionally) the Parliament deliberate. The violation of a constitutional separation of powers in this dual authority – a bureaucracy vested with a monopoly of legislative initiative – is flagrant. Alongside this hybrid executive, moreover, is an independent judiciary, the European Court, capable of rulings discomfiting any national government.

At the centre of this maze lies the impenetrable zone in which the rival law-making instances of the Council and the Commission interlock, more obscure than any other feature of the Union: the nexus of 'Coreper' committees in Brussels,[5] where emissaries of the former confer behind closed doors with functionaries of the latter, to generate the avalanche of legally binding directives that form the main output of the EU – close on 100,000 pages to date. Here is the effective point of concentration of everything summed up in the phrase – smacking, characteristically, of the counting-house rather than the forum – 'democratic deficit', one ritually deplored by EU officials themselves. In fact, what the trinity of Council, Coreper and Commission figures is not just an absence of democracy – it is certainly also that – but an attenuation of politics of any kind, as ordinarily understood. The effect of this axis is to short-circuit – above all at the critical Coreper level – national legislatures that are continually confronted with a mass of decisions over which they lack any oversight, without affording any supranational accountability in compensation, given the shadow-play of the Parliament. The farce of popular consultations that are regularly ignored is only the most dramatic expression of this oligarchic structure, which sums up the rest.

Alongside their negation of democratic principles, two further and less familiar features of these arrangements stand out. The vast majority of the decisions of the Council, Commission and Coreper concern domestic issues that were traditionally debated in national legislatures. But in the conclaves at Brussels these become the object of diplomatic negotiations: that is, of the kind of treatment classically reserved for foreign or military affairs, where parliamentary controls are usually weak to non-existent, and executive discretion more or less untrammelled. Since the Renaissance, secrecy has always been the other name of diplomacy. What the core structures of the EU effectively do is convert the open agenda of parliaments into the closed world of chancelleries. But even this is not all of it. Traditional diplomacy typically required stealth and surprise for success. But it did not preclude discord or rupture. Classically, it involved a war of manoeuvre between parties capable of breaking as well as making alliances; sudden shifts in the terrain of negotiations; alterations of means and objectives: in short, politics conducted between states, as distinct from within them, but politics nonetheless. In the disinfected universe of the EU, this all but disappears, as unanimity becomes virtually de rigueur on all significant occasions, any public disagreement, let alone refusal to accept a prefabricated consensus, increasingly being treated as if it were an unthinkable breach of etiquette. The deadly conformism of EU summits, smugly celebrated by theorists of 'consociational democracy', as if this were anything other than a cartel of self-protective elites, closes the coffin of even real diplomacy, covering it with wreaths of bureaucratic piety. Nothing is left to move the popular will, as democratic participation and political imagination are each snuffed out.

These structures have been some time in the making. Unreformed, they could not but be reinforced by enlargement. The distance between rulers and ruled, already wide enough in a Community of nine or 12 countries, can only widen much further in a Union of 27 or more, where economic and social circumstances differ so vastly that the Gini coefficient in the EU is now higher than in the US, the fabled land of inequality itself. It was always the calculation of adversaries of European federalism, successive British governments at their head, that the more extended the Community became, the less chance there was of any deepening of its institutions in a democratic direction, for the more impractical any conception of popular sovereignty in a supranational union would become. Their intentions have come to pass. Stretched to nearly 500 million citizens, the EU of today is in no position to recall the dreams of Monnet.

So what? There is no shortage of apologists prepared to explain that it is not just wrong to complain of a lack of democracy in the Union, conventionally understood, but that this is actually its greatest virtue. The standard argument, to be found in journals such as Prospect, goes like this. The EU deals essentially with the technical and administrative issues – market competition, product specification, consumer protection and the like – posed by the aim of the Treaty of Rome to assure the free movement of goods, persons and capital within its borders. These are matters in which voters have little interest, rightly taking the view that they are best handled by appropriate experts, rather than incompetent parliamentarians. Just as the police, fire brigade or officer corps are not elected, but enjoy the widest public trust, so it is – at any rate tacitly – with the functionaries in Brussels. The democratic deficit is a myth, because matters which voters do care strongly about – pre-eminently taxes and social services, the real stuff of politics – continue to be decided, not at Union but at national level, by traditional electoral mechanisms. So long as the separation between the two arenas and their respective types of decision is respected, and we are spared demagogic exercises in populism – putting issues that the masses cannot understand, and that should never be on a ballot in the first place, to referenda – democracy remains intact, indeed enhanced. Considered soberly, all is for the best in the best of all possible Europes.

In an unreflective sense, this case might seem to appeal to a common immediate experience of the Union. If asked in what ways they have personally been affected by the EU, most of its citizens – at least those who live in the Eurozone and Schengen belt – would certainly not mention its technical directives; they would probably answer that travel has been simplified by the disappearance of border controls and the need to change currencies. Beyond such conveniences, a narrow stratum of professionals and executives, and a somewhat broader flow of migrant workers and craftsmen, have benefited from occupational mobility across borders, though this is still quite limited: less than 2 per cent of the population of the Union lives outside its country of origin. In some ways more significant may be the programmes that take growing numbers of students to courses in other societies of the EU. Journeys, studies, a scattering of jobs: agreeable changes all, not vital issues. It is this expanse of mild amenities that no doubt explains the passivity of voters towards rulers who ignore their expressions of opinion. For nearly as striking as the repeated popular rejection of official schemes for the Union is the lack of reaction to subsequent flouting of the popular decision. The elites do not persuade the masses; but, to all appearances, they have little to fear from them.

Why then is there such persistent distrust of Brussels, if so little of what it does impinges on ordinary life, and that quite pleasantly? Subjectively, the answer is clear. There are few citizens who are not banally alienated from the way they are governed at home – virtually every poll shows how little they believe in what their rulers say, and how powerless they feel to alter what they do. Yet these are still societies in which elections are regularly held, and governments that become too disliked can be evicted. No one doubts that democracy, in this minimal sense, obtains. At European level, however, there is all too obviously not even this vestige of accountability: the grounds for alienation are cubed. If the EU really had zero impact on what voters care about, their distrust could be dismissed as a mere abstract prejudice. But in fact the intuition behind it is accurate. Since the Treaty of Maastricht, the Union has not by any means been confined to regulatory issues of scant interest to the population at large. It now has a Central Bank, without even the commitment of the Federal Reserve to sustain employment, let alone its duties to report to Congress, that sets interest rates for the whole Eurozone, backed by a Stability Pact that requires national governments to meet hard budgetary targets. In other words, determination of macroeconomic policy at the highest level has shifted upwards from national capitals to Frankfurt and Brussels. What this means is that just those issues that voters usually feel most strongly about – jobs, taxes and social services – fall squarely under the guillotines of the Bank and the Commission. The history of the past years has shown that this is not an academic matter. It was pressure from Brussels to cut public spending which led Juppé's government to introduce the fiscal package that detonated the great French strike-wave of the winter of 1995, and brought him down. It was the corset of the Stability Pact that forced Portugal into slashing social benefits and plunging the country into a steep recession in 2003. The government in Lisbon did not survive either. The notion that today's EU comprises little more than a set of innocuous technical rules, as value-neutral as traffic lights, is a fatuity.

There was from the beginning a third vision of what European integration should mean, distinct from either federalist or inter-governmentalist conceptions of the Community. Its far-sighted theorist was Hayek, who even before the Second World War had envisaged a constitutional structure raised sufficiently high above the nations composing it to exclude the danger of any popular sovereignty below impinging on it. In the nation-state, electorates were perpetually subject to dirigiste and redistributive temptations, encroaching on the rights of property in the name of democracy. But once heterogeneous populations were assembled in an inter-state federation, as he called it, they would not be able to re-create the united will that was prone to such ruinous interventions. Under an impartial authority, beyond the reach of political ignorance or envy, the spontaneous order of a market economy could finally unfold without interference.

By 1950, when Monnet was devising the Schuman Plan that yielded the initial European Coal and Steel Community, Hayek himself was in America, and played little part in shaping arguments for integration. Later, rejecting the idea of a single currency as statist (he favoured competing private issues), he would come to the conclusion that the Community itself remained all too dirigiste. But in Germany there was a school of theorists that saw the possibilities of European unity in much the same terms as he had originally envisaged, the Ordo-liberals of Freiburg, whose leading thinkers were Walter Eucken, Wilhelm Röpke and Alfred Müller-Armack. Lacking Hayek's intransigent radicalism, they were close to Ludwig Erhard, the reputed architect of the postwar German miracle, and thereby had more real influence in the early days of the Common Market. But for thirty years, this was still a recessive strain in the make-up of the Community, latent but never the most salient in its development.

With the abrupt deterioration in the global economic climate in the 1970s, and the general neo-liberal turn that followed in the 1980s, Hayekian doctrine was rediscovered throughout the West. The leading edge of the change came in the UK and US, with the arrival of Thatcher and Reagan. Continental Europe never produced comparably radical regimes, but the ideological atmosphere shifted steadily in the same direction. The collapse of the Soviet bloc sealed the transformation of working assumptions. By the 1990s, the Commission was openly committed to privatisation as a principle, pressed without embarrassment on candidate countries along with other democratic niceties. Its most powerful arm had become the Competition Directorate, striking out at public sector monopolies in Western and Eastern Europe alike. In Frankfurt the Central Bank conformed perfectly with Hayek's prewar prescriptions. What was originally the least prominent strand in the weave of European integration had become the dominant pattern. Federalism stymied, inter-governmentalism corroded, what had emerged was neither the rudiments of a European democracy controlled by its citizens, nor the formation of a European directory guided by its powers, but a vast zone of increasingly unbound market exchange, much closer to a European 'catallaxy' as Hayek had conceived it.

The mutation is by no means complete. The European Parliament is still there, as a memento of federal hopes foregone. Agricultural and regional subsidies, legacies of a cameralist past, continue to absorb most of the EU budget. Services, over two-thirds of Union GDP, have yet to be fully liberalised. But of a 'social Europe', in the sense intended by either Monnet or Delors, there is as little left as a democratic Europe. At national level, welfare regimes that distinguish the Old World from the New persist. With the exception of Ireland, the share of state expenditure in GDP remains higher in Western Europe than in the United States, and the larger part of an academic industry – the 'varieties of capitalism literature' – is dedicated to showing how much more caring ours, above all the Scandinavian versions, are than theirs. The claim is valid enough; the self-satisfaction less so. For as the numbers of long-term jobless and pensioners have risen, the drift of the age has been away from earlier norms of provision, not beyond them. The very term 'reform' now means, virtually always, the opposite of what it denoted fifty years ago: not the creation but the contraction of welfare arrangements once prized by their recipients. The only two structural advances beyond the postwar gains of social democracy – the Meidner plan for pension funds in Sweden, and the 35-hour week in France – have both been rolled back. The tide is moving in the other direction.

Today's EU, with its pinched spending (just over 1 per cent of Union GDP), minuscule bureaucracy (around 16,000 officials, excluding translators), absence of independent taxation, and lack of any means of administrative enforcement, could in many ways be regarded as a ne plus ultra of the minimal state, beyond the most drastic imaginings of classical liberalism: less even than the dream of a nightwatchman. Its structure not only rules out a transfer, of the sort once envisaged by Delors, of social functions from national to supranational level, to counterbalance the strain these have come under from high rates of unemployment and growing numbers of pensioners. Its effect is to increase, rather than compensate for, pressure on national systems of social provision, as so many impediments to the free movement of factors of production. As a leading authority, Andrew Moravcsik, explains, 'the neo-liberal bias of the EU, if it exists, is justified by the social welfare bias of current national policies,' which 'no responsible analyst believes can be maintained' – 'European social policy exists only in the dreams of disgruntled socialists.' The salutary truth is that 'the EU is overwhelmingly about the promotion of free markets. Its primary interest group support comes from multinational firms, not least US ones.' In short: regnant in this Union is not democracy, and not welfare, but capital. 'The EU is basically about business.'

That may be so, enthusiasts might reply, but why should it detract from the larger good that the EU represents in the world, a political community that stands alone in its respect for human rights, international law, aid to the poor of the earth, and protection of the environment? Could the Union not be described as the realisation of the Enlightenment vision of the virtues of le doux commerce, that 'cure for the most destructive prejudices', as Montesquieu described it, pacifying relations between states in a spirit of mutual benefit and the rule of law?

In the current repertoire of tributes to Europe, it is this claim – the unique role and prestige of the EU on the world's stage – that now has pride of place. What it rests on, ubiquitously, is a contrast with the United States. America figures as the increasingly ominous, violent, swaggering Other of a humane continent of peace and progress: a society that is a law to itself, where Europe strives for a legal order binding on all. The values of the two, Habermas and many fellow thinkers explain, have diverged: widespread gun culture, extreme economic inequality, fundamentalist religion and capital punishment, not to speak of national bravado, divide the US from the EU and foster a more regressive conception of international relations. Reversing Goethe's dictum, we have it better here.

The crystallisation of these images came with the invasion of Iraq. The mass demonstrations against the war of 15 February 2003, Habermas thought, might go down in history as 'a signal for the birth of a European public'. Even such an unlikely figure as Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the probable incoming director of the IMF, announced that they marked the birth of a European nation. But if this was a Declaration of Independence, was the term 'nation' appropriate for what was being born? While divergence with America over the Middle East could serve as a negative definition of the emergent Europe, there was a positive side that pointed in another conceptual direction. Enlargement was the great new achievement of the Union. How should it be theorised? In late 1991, a few months after the collapse of the Soviet Union and a few days after the summit at Maastricht, J.G.A. Pocock published a prophetic essay in these pages.[6] A trenchant critic of the EU, which he has always seen as involving a surrender of sovereignty and identity – and with them the conditions also of democracy – to the market, though a surrender never yet completed, Pocock observed that Europe now faced the problem of determining its frontiers, as 'once again an empire in the sense of a civilised and stabilised zone which must decide whether to extend or refuse its political power over violent and unstable cultures along its borders'.

At the time, this was not a formulation welcome in official discourse on Europe. A decade later, the term it loosed with irony has become a common coin of complacency. As the countdown to Iraq proceeded, the British diplomat Robert Cooper, special adviser on security to Blair, and later to Prodi as head of the Commission, explained the merits of empire to readers of Prospect. 'A system in which the strong protect the weak, in which the efficient and well-governed export stability and liberty, in which the world is open for investment and growth – all of these seem eminently desirable.' Of course, 'in a world of human rights and bourgeois values, a new imperialism will … have to be very different from the old.' It would be a 'voluntary imperialism', of the sort admirably displayed by the EU in the Balkans. Enlargement ahead, he concluded, the Union was en route to the 'noble dream' of a 'co-operative empire'. Enlargement in the bag, the Polish theorist Jan Zielonka, now at Oxford, exults in his book Europe as Empire that its 'design was truly imperialist': 'power politics at its best, even though the term "power" was never mentioned in the official enlargement discourse' – this was a 'benign empire in action'.[7]

In more tough-minded style, the German strategist Herfried Münkler, holder of the chair of political theory at Humboldt University in Berlin, has expounded the world-historical logic of empires in an ambitious comparative work, Imperien, whose ideas were first presented as an aide-mémoire to a conference of ambassadors called by his country's Foreign Ministry.[8] Its theme is that, from ancient to modern times, imperial power has been required to stabilise adjacent power vacuums or turbulent border zones, holding barbarians or terrorists at bay. While naturally loyal to the West, Münkler disavows normative considerations. Human rights messianism is a moral luxury even the American empire can ill-afford. Europe, for its part, should take the measure of its emergent role as a 'sub-imperial system', with its own marches to control, matching its tasks to its capabilities without excessive professions of uplifting intent.

The prefix poses the question that is the crux of the new identity Europe has awarded itself. How independent of the United States is it? The answer is cruel, as even a cursory glance at the record shows. Perhaps at no time since 1950 has it been less so. The history of enlargement, the Union's major achievement – extending the frontiers of freedom, or ascending to the rank of empire, or both at once, as the claim may be – is an index. Expansion to the East was piloted by Washington: in every case, the former Soviet satellites were incorporated into Nato, under US command, before they were admitted to the EU. Poland and the Czech Republic had joined Nato in 1999, five years before entry into the Union; Bulgaria and Romania in 2004, three years before entry; even Slovakia, Slovenia and the Baltics, a gratuitous month – just to rub in the symbolic point? – before entry (planning for the Baltics started in 1998). Croatia, Macedonia and Albania are next in line.

The expansion of Nato to former Soviet borders, casting aside undertakings given to Gorbachev at the end of the Cold War, was the work of the Clinton administration. Twelve days after the first levy of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic had joined the Alliance, the Balkan War was launched – the first full-scale military offensive in Nato's history. The successful blitz was an American operation, with token auxiliaries from Europe, and virtually no dissent in public opinion. These were harmonious days in Euro-American relations. There was no race between the EU and Nato in the East. Brussels deferred to the priority of Washington, which encouraged and prompted the advance of Brussels. So natural has this asymmetrical symbiosis now become that the United States can openly specify what further states should join the Union. When Bush told European leaders in Ankara, at a gathering of Nato, that Turkey must be admitted into the EU, Chirac was heard to grumble that the US would not like being instructed by Europeans to welcome Mexico into the federation; but when the European Council met to decide whether to open accession negotiations with Turkey, Rice telephoned the assembled leaders from Washington to ensure the right outcome, without hearing any inappropriate complaints from them about sovereignty. At this level, friction between Europe and America remains minimal.

Why then has there been that sense of a general crisis in transatlantic relations, which has given rise to such an extensive literature? In the EU, media and public opinion are at one in holding the conduct of the Republican administration outside Nato to be essentially responsible. Scanting the Kyoto protocols and the International Criminal Court, sidelining the UN, trampling on the Geneva Conventions, and stampeding into the Middle East, the Bush regime has on this view exposed a darker side of the United States, that has understandably been met with near universal abhorrence in Europe, even if etiquette has restrained expressions of it at diplomatic level. Above all, revulsion at the war in Iraq has, more than any other single episode since 1945, led to the rift recorded in the painful title of Habermas's latest work, The Divided West.[9]

In this vision, there is a sharp contrast between the Clinton and Bush presidencies, and it is the break in the continuity of American foreign policy – the jettisoning of consensual leadership for an arrogant unilateralism – that has alienated Europeans. There is no question of the intensity of this perception. But in the orchestrations of America's Weltpolitik, style is easily mistaken for substance. The brusque manners of the Bush administration, its impatience with the euphemisms of the 'international community' and blunt rejection of Kyoto and the ICC, offended European sensibilities from the start. Clinton's emollient gestures were more tactful, if in practice their upshot – neither Kyoto nor the ICC ever risked passage into law while he was in office – was often much the same. More fundamentally, as political operations, a straight line led from the war in the Balkans to the war in Mesopotamia. In both, a casus belli – imminent genocide, imminent nuclear weapons – was trumped up; the Security Council ignored; international law set aside; and an assault unleashed.

United over Yugoslavia, Europe split over Iraq, where the strategic risks were higher. But the extent of European opposition to the march on Baghdad was always something of an illusion. On the streets, in Italy, Spain, Germany, Britain, huge numbers of people demonstrated against the invasion. Opinion polls showed majorities against it everywhere. But once it had occurred, there was little protest against the occupation, let alone support for the resistance to it. Most European governments – Britain, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Denmark, Portugal in the West; all in the East – backed the invasion, and sent troops to bulk up the US forces holding the country down. Out of the 12 member states of the EU in 2003, just three – France, Germany and Belgium – came out against the prospect of war before the event. None condemned the attack when it was launched. But the declared opposition of Paris and Berlin to the plans of Washington and London gave popular sentiment across Europe a point of concentration, confirming and amplifying its sense of distance from power and opinion in America. The notion of an incipient Declaration of Independence by the Old World was born here.

Realities were rather different. Chirac and Schröder had a domestic interest in countering the invasion. Each judged his electorate well, and gained substantially – Schröder securing re-election – from his stance. On the other hand, American will was not to be trifled with. So each compensated in deeds for what he proclaimed in words, opposing the war in public, while colluding with it sub rosa. Behind closed doors in Washington, France's ambassador Jean-David Levitte – currently Sarkozy's diplomatic adviser – gave the White House a green light for the war, provided it was on the basis of the first generic UN Resolution 1441, as Cheney wanted, without returning to the Security Council for the second explicit authorisation to attack that Blair wanted, which would force France to veto it. In ciphers from Baghdad, German intelligence agents provided the Pentagon with targets and co-ordinates for the first US missiles to hit the city, in the downpour of Shock and Awe. Once the ground war began, France provided airspace for USAF missions to Iraq (which Chirac had denied Reagan's bombing of Libya), and Germany a key transport hub for the campaign. Both countries voted for the UN resolution ratifying the US occupation of Iraq, and lost no time recognising the client regime patched together by Washington.

As for the EU, its choice of a new president of the Commission in 2004 could not have been more symbolic: the Portuguese ruler who hosted Bush, Blair and Aznar at the summit in the Azores on 16 March 2003 that issued the ultimatum for the assault on Iraq. Barroso is in good company. France now has a foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, who had no time for even the modest duplicities of his country about America's war, welcoming it as another example of the droit d'ingérence he had always championed. Sweden, where once a prime minister could take a sharper distance from the war in Vietnam than De Gaulle himself, has a new minister for foreign affairs to match his colleague in Paris: Carl Bildt, a founder member of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, along with Richard Perle, William Kristol, Newt Gingrich and others. In the UK, the local counterpart has proudly restated his support for the war, though here, no doubt, the corpses were stepped over in pursuit of preferment rather than principle. Spaniards and Italians may have withdrawn their troops from Iraq, but no European government has any policy towards a society America has destroyed that is distinct from the outlook in Washington.

For the rest, Europe remains engaged to the hilt in the war in Afghanistan, where a contemporary version of the expeditionary force dispatched to crush the Boxer Rebellion has killed more civilians this year than the guerrillas it seeks to root out. The Pentagon did not require the services of Nato for its lightning overthrow of the Taliban, though British and French jets put in a nominal appearance. Occupation of the country, which has a larger population and more forbidding terrain than Iraq, was another matter, and a Nato force of five thousand was assembled to hold the fort around Kabul, while US forces finished off Mullah Omar and Bin Laden. Five years later, Omar and Osama remain at large; the West's puppet ruler, Karzai, cannot move without a squad of mercenaries from DynCorp International to protect him; production of opium has increased tenfold; the Afghan resistance has become steadily more effective; and Nato-led forces – now comprising contingents from 37 nations, from Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Poland down to such minnows as Iceland – have swollen to 35,000, alongside 25,000 US troops. Indiscriminate bombing, random shooting and 'human rights abuses', in the polite phrase, have become commonplaces of the counter-insurgency.

In the wider Middle East, the scene is the same. Europe is joined at the hip with the US, wherever the legacies of imperial control or settler zeal are at stake. Britain and France, original suppliers of heavy water and uranium for the large Israeli nuclear arsenal, which they pretend does not exist, demand along with America that Iran abandon programmes it is allowed even by the Non-Proliferation Treaty, under menace of sanctions and war. In Lebanon, the EU and the US prop up a cabinet that would not last a day if a census were called, while German, French and Italian troops provide border guards for Israel. As for Palestine, the EU showed no more hesitation than the US in plunging the population into misery, cutting off all aid when voters elected the wrong government, on the pretext that it must first recognise the Israeli state, as if Israel had ever recognised a Palestinian state, and renounce terrorism (read: any armed resistance to a military occupation that has lasted forty years without Europe lifting a finger against it). Funds now flow again, to protect a remnant valet in the West Bank.

Lovers of Europe might reply that some of this record may be questionable, but these are external issues that can scarcely be said to affect the example Europe sets the world of respect for human rights and the rule of law within its own borders. The performance of the EU or its member states may not be irreproachable in the Middle East, but isn't the moral leadership represented by its standards at home what really counts, internationally? So good a conscience comes too easily. The war on terror knows no frontiers and the crimes committed in its name have stalked freely across the continent, in the full cognisance of its rulers. Originally, the subcontracting of torture – 'rendition', or the handing over of a victim to the attentions of the secret police in client states – was, like so much else, an invention of the Clinton administration, which introduced the practice in the mid-1990s. Asked about it a decade later, the CIA official in charge of the programme, Michael Scheuer, simply said: 'I check my moral qualms at the door.' As one would expect, it was Britain that collaborated with the first renditions, in the company of Croatia and Albania.

Under the Bush administration, the programme expanded. Three weeks after 9/11, Nato declared that Article V of its charter, mandating collective defence in the event of an attack on one of its members, was activated. By then American plans for the descent on Afghanistan were well advanced, but they did not include European participation in Operation Enduring Freedom; the US high command had found the need for consultation in a joint campaign cumbersome in the Balkan War, and did not want to repeat the experience. Instead, at a meeting in Brussels on 4 October 2001, the allies were called on for other services. The specification of these remains secret, but as the second report to the Council of Europe – released in June this year – by the courageous Swiss investigator Dick Marty, has shown, a stepped-up programme of renditions must have been high on the list. Once Afghanistan was taken, Baghram airbase outside Kabul became both interrogation centre for the CIA and loading-bay for prisoners to Guantánamo. The traffic was soon two-way, and its pivot was Europe. In one direction, captives were transported from Afghan or Pakistani dungeons to Europe, either to be held there in secret CIA jails, or shipped onwards to Cuba. In the other direction, captives were flown from secret locations in Europe for requisite treatment in Afghanistan.

Though Nato initiated this system, the abductions it involved were not confined to members of the North Atlantic Council. Europe was eager to help America, whether or not fine print obliged it to do so. North, south, east and west: no part of the continent failed to join in. New Labour's contribution occasions no surprise: with up to 650,000 civilians dead from the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, it would have been unreasonable for the Straws, Becketts, Milibands to lose any sleep over the torture of the living. More striking is the role of the neutrals. Under Ahern, Ireland furnished Shannon to the CIA for so many westbound flights that locals dubbed it Guantánamo Express. Social-democratic Sweden, under its portly boss Göran Persson, now a corporate lobbyist, handed over two Egyptians seeking asylum to the CIA, who took them straight to torturers in Cairo. Under Berlusconi, Italy helped a large CIA team to kidnap another Egyptian in Milan, who was flown from the US airbase in Aviano, via Ramstein in Germany, for the same treatment in Cairo.[10] Under Prodi, a government of Catholics and ex-Communists has sought to frustrate the judicial investigation of this kidnapping, while presiding over the expansion of Aviano. Switzerland proffered the overflight that took the victim to Ramstein, and protected the head of the CIA gang that seized him from arrest by the Italian judicial authorities – he now basks in Florida.

Further east, Poland did not transmit captives to their fate in the Middle East, but incarcerated them for treatment on the spot, in torture chambers constructed for 'high-value detainees' by the CIA at the Stare Kiejkuty intelligence base, Europe's own Baghram – facilities unknown in the time of Jaruzelski's martial law. In Romania, a military base north of Constanza performed the same services, under the superintendence of the country's current president, the staunchly pro-Western Traian Basescu. In Bosnia, six Algerians were illegally seized at American behest, and flown from Tuzla – beatings in the aircraft en route – to the US base at Incirlik in Turkey, and thence to Guantánamo, where they still crouch in their cages. In Macedonia, scene of Blair's moving encounters with refugees from Kosovo, there was a combination of the two procedures, as a German of Lebanese descent was kidnapped at the border; held, interrogated and beaten by the CIA in Skopje; then drugged and shipped to Kabul for more extended treatment. Eventually, when it became clear, after he went on hunger-strike, that his identity had been mistaken, he was flown blindfold to a Nato-upgraded airbase in Albania, and deposited back in Germany.

There the Red-Green government had been well aware of what happened to him, one of its agents interrogating him in his oubliette in Kabul – Otto Schily, the minister of the interior, was in the Afghan capital at the time – and accompanying his flight back to Albania. But it was no more concerned about his fate than about that of another of its residents, a Turk born in Germany, seized by the CIA in Pakistan and dispatched to the gulag in Guantánamo, where he too was interrogated by German agents. Both operations were under the control of today's Social Democratic foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, then in charge of the secret services, who not only covered for the torturing of the victim in Cuba, but even declined an American offer to release him. In a letter to the man's mother, Joschka Fischer, Green foreign minister at the time, explained that the government could do nothing for him. In 'such a good land', as a leading admirer has recently described it, Fischer and Steinmeier remain the most popular of politicians. The new interior minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, is more robust, publicly calling for assassination rather than rendition in dealing with deadly enemies of the state, in the Israeli manner.

Such is the record set out in the two detailed reports by Marty to the Council of Europe (nothing to do with the EU), each an exemplary document of meticulous detective work and moral passion. If this Swiss prosecutor from Ticino were representative of the continent, rather than a voice crying in the wilderness, there would be reason to be proud of it. He ends his second report by expressing the hope that his work will bring home 'the legal and moral quagmire into which we have collectively sunk as a result of the US-led "war on terror". Almost six years in, we seem no closer to pulling ourselves out of this quagmire.' Indeed. Not a single European government has conceded any guilt, while all continue imperturbably to hold forth on human rights. We are in the world of Ibsen – Consul Bernick, Judge Brack and their like – updated for postmoderns. Pillars of society, pimping for torture.

What has been delivered in these practices are not just the hooded or chained bodies, but the deliverers themselves: Europe surrendered to the United States. This rendition is the most taboo of all to mention. A rough approximation to it can be found in what remains in many ways the best account of the relationship between the two, Robert Kagan's Paradise and Power, the benevolent contempt of whose imagery of Mars and Venus – the Old World, relieved of military duties by the New, cultivating the arts and pleasures of a borrowed peace – predictably riled Europeans.[11] But even Kagan grants them too much, as if they really lived according to the precepts of Kant, while Americans were obliged to act on the truths of Hobbes. If a philosophical reference were wanted, more appropriate would have been La Boétie, whose Discours de la servitude volontaire could furnish a motto for the Union. But these are arcana. The one contemporary text to have captured the full flavour of the transatlantic relationship is, perhaps inevitably, a satire, Régis Debray's plea for a United States of the West that would absorb Europe completely into the American imperium.[12]

Did it have to come to this? The paradox is that when Europe was less united, it was in many ways more independent. The leaders who ruled in the early stages of integration had all been formed in a world before the global hegemony of the United States, when the major European states were themselves imperial powers, whose foreign policies were self-determined. These were people who had lived through the disasters of the Second World War, but were not crushed by them. This was true not just of a figure like De Gaulle, but of Adenauer and Mollet, of Eden and Heath, all of whom were quite prepared to ignore or defy America if their ambitions demanded it. Monnet, who did not accept their national assumptions, and never clashed with the US, still shared their sense of a future in which Europeans could settle their own affairs, in another fashion. Down into the 1970s, something of this spirit lived on even in Giscard and Schmidt, as Carter discovered. But with the neo-liberal turn of the 1980s, and the arrival in power in the 1990s of a postwar generation, it faded. The new economic doctrines cast doubt on the state as a political agent, and the new leaders had never known anything except the Pax Americana. The traditional springs of autonomy were gone.

By this time, on the other hand, the Community had doubled in size, acquired an international currency, and boasted a GDP exceeding that of the United States itself. Statistically, the conditions for an independent Europe existed as never before. But politically, they had been reversed. With the decay of federalism and the deflation of inter-governmentalism, the Union had weakened national, without creating a supranational, sovereignty, leaving rulers adrift in an ill-defined limbo between the two. With the eclipse of significant distinctions between left and right, other motives of an earlier independence have also waned. In the syrup of la pensée unique, little separates the market-friendly wisdom of one side of the Atlantic from the other, though as befits the derivative, the recipe is still blander in Europe than America, where political differences are less extinct. In such conditions, an enthusiast can find no higher praise for the Union than to compare it to 'one of the most successful companies in global history'. Which firm confers this honour on Brussels? Why, the one in your wallet. The EU 'is already closer to Visa than it is to a state', declares New Labour's Mark Leonard, exalting Europe to the rank of a credit card.

Transcendence of the nation-state, Marx believed, would be a task not for capital but for labour. A century later, as the Cold War set in, Kojève held that whichever camp achieved it would emerge the victor from the conflict. The foundation of the European Community settled the issue for him. The West would win, and its triumph would bring history, understood categorically – not chronologically – as the realisation of human freedom, to an end. Kojève's prediction was accurate. His extrapolation, and its irony, remain in the balance. They have certainly not been disproved: he would have smiled at the image of a chit of plastic. The emergence of the Union may be regarded as the last great world-historical achievement of the bourgeoisie, proof that its creative powers were not exhausted by the fratricide of two world wars, and what has happened to it as a strange declension from what was hoped from it. Yet the long-run outcome of integration remains unforeseeable to all parties. Even without shocks, many a zigzag has marked its path. With them, who knows what further mutations might occur.

[1] Neal Ascherson discussed Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945 in the LRB of 17 November 2005.

[2] Fourth Estate, 170 pp., £8.99, February 2005, 978 0 00 719531 2.

[3] The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream (Polity, 400 pp., £50 and £15.99, September 2004, 978 0 7456 3425 8).

[4] Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilisation on the Mind of the Enlightenment (1996).

[5] Committees of Permanent Representatives.

[6] LRB, 19 December 1991.

[7] Europe as Empire: The Nature of the Enlarged European Union (Oxford, 304 pp., £18.99, September, 978 0 19 923186 7).

[8] Rowohlt, 331 pp., £13.66, August 2005, 978 3 8713 4509 8.

[9] Polity, 200 pp., £15.99, September 2006, 987 0 7456 3519 4.

[10] John Foot wrote about this case in the LRB of 2 August.

[11] Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order (Atlantic, 112 pp., £7.99, March 2004, 978 1 8435 4178 3).

[12] 'Letter from America' by Xavier de C* * * (NLR, January-February 2003).