Perry Anderson’s The New Old World is what the French would call une brique, implying that a book this comprehensive (no less than the entire history of Europe as a region), this erudite (574 bibliographic footnotes in five languages), and this long (561 pages) might risk becoming a doorstop rather than a prominent volume in a scholar’s bookcase.footnote1 Anderson has, no doubt, produced a magnum opus, but how is it going to be used, and by whom? His first sentence seems to acknowledge the challenge: ‘Europe, as it has become more integrated, has also become more difficult to write about.’ His response is to tackle (almost) everything: from antecedents in Enlightenment history to possible outcomes of contemporary economic and geo-political struggles within the European Union.

His approach in the analytical chapters which frame The New Old World—starting with ‘Origins’, ‘Outcomes’, ‘Theories’, concluding with ‘Antecedents’ and ‘Prognoses’—is to review critically the works, serially and extensively, of historians, political scientists, sociologists and economists who have written about Europe and European integration, producing brief syntheses of his own at the end of each. The country studies on France, Germany, Italy, Cyprus and Turkeyfootnote2 are based not just on a few seminal works but on an array of books, pamphlets, essays and articles written by national scholars, journalists and politicians over different, though recent, time-periods—a result of the fact that the original versions of most chapters were review essays, published over a span of some ten years in the London Review of Books or these pages. However, one barely notices the few anachronisms, since Anderson demonstrates an extraordinary ability to identify the general themes and weave a consistent intellectual history around them. I doubt there will be a reader of these chapters, no matter how well versed on either the topics or the countries, who will not discover some obscure source or make some original connection through them. But others will be more competent to review these aspects of Anderson’s opus than I am. My focus in what follows is not upon what readers may learn from it, but why they will read it and how they will use it. I suspect that this will depend very much on where they place the volume.

The most obvious category under which The New Old World could be filed would be on a shelf labelled ‘Treatises on the Contemporary History of European Integration’—somewhere between two other briques that Anderson reviews extensively, The Reconstruction of Western Europe, 1945–51 by Alan Milward and European Integration, 1950–2003 by John Gillingham.footnote3 This would be unfortunate. Subsequent developments have made a mockery of Milward’s claim that European integration was intended for, and would remain confined to, ‘rescuing the nation-state’. By relying exclusively on official statements and documents of national politicians, discounting completely the efforts of Jean Monnet and the ‘Lives and Teachings of the European Saints’; by summarily dismissing all ‘neo-functionalist’ theories about potential interdependencies, emergent organizational forces and unforeseen consequences; and by insisting solely on the influence of internal politics and electoral results, Milward’s approach has inspired little subsequent research. Gillingham’s lengthy narrative, while more colourful, encompassing and inter-disciplinary than Milward’s, is so stridently ideological about where the process of integration should lead (and dismissive of where it has led) that only fellow travellers of Hayekian and ordo-liberal persuasion are likely to make use of it. Hopefully, The New Old World will find a more enduring and prominent place than either of these on the shelves and in the work of those studying the eu.

Anderson is appositely critical of both works, though more so of the second than the first; but his approach does reflect two, somewhat contradictory, themes contained in them: from Milward, the importance of including infra-national class conflicts, not just inter-national rivalries and threats; and from Gillingham, the role of trans-national ideals and ideologies. To put this into more orthodox disciplinary terms, the analysis of European integration cannot be left exclusively in the domain of international relations, but needs the contributions of sociology and political science. Furthermore, the course of European integration cannot be explained (or predicted) on the basis of objective interests alone, but will also depend on subjective conceptions—‘visions’—of where the process has been and should be going.

Moving The New Old World to the International Relations shelf might give it a longer half-life—if only because there are more scholars working on the eu from this perspective. Almost all of its companions will be Americans, but they do include a number of Europeans, like Anderson, teaching in American universities. Here his neighbours on either side might be two other briques, Ernst Haas’s The Uniting of Europe and Andrew Moravcsik’s The Choice for Europe. Written thirty years apart, both offer the reader a less historical-descriptive and more social-scientific approach—and with it, the potential of being used by scholars from different disciplines, interested in different moments of the integration process. Anderson credits Haas’s work with having been the dominant paradigm for a quarter of a century after its publication in 1958, but seems to regard it as having in some respects been disproved by Milward. In fact, there has been quite a revival of interest in Haas’s neo-functionalist approach since the eu’s expansion of scope and authority in the mid 1980s, as a result of the Single European Act; and even more since monetary unification, which could well be described as the ‘mother of all spillovers’. Subsequently, Anderson’s repeated emphasis on unintended consequence and dynamic disequilibrium could even be interpreted as an (unacknowledged) re-appropriation of neo-functionalism. Which leads me to think that he probably would not mind having the works of Haas and his successors as shelf mates on his immediate right or left.footnote4

His other potential neighbour on the shelf, Andrew Moravcsik, gets much closer and lengthier scrutiny. Anderson identifies his work, correctly, as the hybrid product of two distinctively American schools of political science: the ‘neo-realism’ of international relations and the ‘rational choice’ of so-called positive political theory. Reading Anderson’s devastating criticism, which I confess I share, brings one closer than elsewhere in the book to discovering what his own paradigm may be. Moravcsik provides him with a near perfect foil—a condensation of the opposite of how a study of European integration should proceed. First, the eu cannot be regarded as merely another inter-governmental or inter-national regime, whose trajectory is determined exclusively by the national interests and relative power capabilities of its member-states. It has already, and perhaps irrevocably, acquired the characteristics of a polity, in which many other actors have access and influence. Second, the eu cannot be reduced to a single ‘essence’, least of all ‘its transaction-cost reducing function’, as Moravscik claims.footnote5 It has had several ‘essences’ over time, but facilitating commerce among member-states has never been the dominant one.

Third, member-states may think that their decisions are rational and in conformity with national interests, and that they can control whatever results from them. But they make mistakes all the time, and these produce serious unintended consequences; they frequently find themselves having to adjust their interests accordingly. Fourth, the course of European integration has been marked by a series of ‘grand bargains’ (mostly treaties), but the motivations for engaging in them and the outcomes they produced were not driven exclusively by material-economic interests; rather, geo-political calculations, social-welfare objectives, liberal economic doctrines and even idealistic aspirations have all played important roles at various times. Fifth, most of the key institutions of the eu—Commission, Parliament, Court of Justice—would not even exist, much less play a significant part, if member-states merely pursued their rational desire to reduce commercial transaction costs. A simple Free Trade Area, like nafta, would have sufficed.