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A Book Review of David Marquand's The End of the West: The once and future Europe
By Jean-Paul Gagnon Posted in Book Review, Decentring the west, Democracy, Democratization on January 21, 2020 0 Comments 6 min read
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A Book Review of David Marquand’s 2012 The End of the West: The once and future Europe

Originally published by Social Alternatives, 30(3), 2012, Pp. 42-43.

[To say that I learned from this book is an understatement. It forced open my eyes to the unboundable idea of “Europe” and that many of the marks of prestige, identity, culture and so on that it ascribes for itself are actually found elsewhere in the world, too, independent of Europe. And that’s not even the main point of the book which is on how to increase the Union’s republican and democratic credentials. If you haven’t read it yet, make sure that you do. It’s published by Princeton University Press, who’ve a strong editorial presence in the development of manuscripts, so you know it’s probably going to be good.]

David Marquand’s work concerns the increasingly difficult, and perhaps even absent, republican and democratic politics of the European Union (EU). He argues that the EU has been dominated by technocrats who avoid the ‘high politics’ necessary for dealing with the future of Europe, a future that will prevent the supranational polity from descending into global irrelevancy and into the realm of ever greater proto-democratic and proto-republican institutions.

I find this entire line of argumentation convincing. This work is important because it closes with three prescriptive measures which Europe must address. These, as will shortly be listed, inevitably point to the need for federalism and the nurturing of civic (republican) and democratic culture. One thing we gather from the work is that the EU is perhaps a misnomer at this stage due to the lack of unity between individuals and groups. This is a strong piece of evidence which contributes to the argument in the literature that there is a democratic (as well as republican) deficit therein.

Marquand’s following prescriptions are meant to aid Europeans in defining themselves so as to give greater depth to Europe which might assist in contextualising the Union to a greater extent.

  1. Use history (which includes to a large degree religious history) to identify what is and is not European. This, it can be said, is a convincing manner of separating “new” Europe from other countries (like Ukraine, Russia, Turkey or Belarus) so as to limit expansion. Not all countries or peoples can or perhaps even should join the union which is not to say that they cannot form a union of their own following these same rules.
  2. Europeans, based on the first parameter, must become united. The aforementioned democratic and republican processes are missing in Europe. Both of these need to be instituted at the highest – namely federal – level so that the body can go to the individuals and groups of a postmodern union (which will, inevitably, increase the polity’s legitimacy).
  3. After the first two steps are complete, Europeans will need to come to grips with the “new world” (the reader will have to pay attention to the argument that concepts like “East” and “West” are now empty to better understand this).

Perhaps the best way to understand this third point is in the following quote:

We shall have to put the (Indian) inventors of Arabic numerals in our pantheon alongside the Greek inventors of geometry, and Ibn Rushd alongside Aristotle. We shall have to abandon our self-centred and patronising belief that democracy and free discussion were exported to a backward “East” by a progressive “West,” and reconstruct our mental universe to take account of the indigenous Indian tradition of public
reasoning and religious toleration that long antedated the “Western” presence in the subcontinent. More generally, we shall have to recognise that the familiar “Western” narrative of global history, in which uniquely
precious and, in evolutionary terms, uniquely successful “Western” values moulded the modern world in our great-grandparents’ image, is a parochial distortion of a far more complex truth.

(Marquand 2011 176: 77)

This book was written for perhaps all Europeans. It is written in relatively jargon-free English, has a linear narrative, and is contained in 178 pages. It has wide margins (good for note-keeping) and 1.5 line spacing (easier for reading). The book is a highly recommended read for political practitioners in the EU and for those members of our academy interested in European politics.

This work is limited in its argument by its lack of length. We see, for example, that Marquand compares Europe frequently to the USA and India (which is needed to stake his federalist argument). However, it would have been interesting to see mention of what Canada, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa might have contributed to the case of European federalism.

We also see an unqualified repetition of a theme surrounding “this troubled century.” Have not all centuries been troublesome and in a state of change? This of course would be easy to rectify by perhaps being clearer as to how exactly troublesome this century is in comparison to others.

Page 115 raises certain questions: what exactly is a deformed civil society and which standards are presupposed in the mention of living standards? There is also difficulty on the same page (bottom) with the following sentence: “We know now that the region did not lurch into a new form of authoritarianism” as such is contested in a forthcoming article with the Journal of Democratic Theory by Holzer and Balík (2011, volume 1, issue 2).

Despite these few minor blemishes, we see a great deal of good – and certainly far too much to be praised in order here. There are, however, two specific themes that I should like to highlight. The first (page 77) regards Marquand’s excellent depiction of the morphology of the nation-state. He details how pre-modern and post-modern are brothers. Each alien to the modern nation-state as conceived and developed since the Treaty of Westphalia. This is evinced, for example, by the rise of ethnic nationalism in the EU which can be seen by the demand for recognition by the Welsh, Cornish, Corsicans, and Burgundians.

The second is mention of the current paradox in social science whenever democracy is mentioned. ‘…It makes no sense to talk of a democratic deficit without first talking of democracy’ (Marquand 2011: 125) is the line that leads to the argument that Europe is not the owner of democracy nor that it was the one to give ‘it’ to the rest of the world. Rather, it has a history of a multiplicity of democratic typologies which were part of the historical give and take between various cultures throughout political history.

It is hoped that the current state of not quite confederacy and not quite federacy (Marquand’s “pushmy-pullyu”) will come to a swift conclusion in Europe so that the Union does not merely drift on but that it rather takes a democratic and republican informed position for different stages of growth and goal attenuation. What is clear is that Marquand’s work contributes substantively to the process: A positive coup, undoubtedly.

Works Cited:

David Marquand, The end of the West: The once and future Europe. 2011. Princeton University Press. ISBN: 978-0-691-14159-6

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