Although I am usually loath to recommend any history book written after 1920, when the subject matter itself postdates WWI, you simply have no choice. And, truth be told, I have read more than a handful of quite excellent histories from modern writers, despite the dreadful state of the profession, so I’m willing to give credit where credit is due.
When it comes to the topic of European Union, the title I recommend is The Community of Europe by Derek Urwin. Although not quite fitting in the category of “excellent histories,” this work has many virtues.
The theme of this work is European integration. No historical topic can be more relevant to anyone wanting to understand Europe’s current course.
Ever since the disaster of WWII, Europeans have been trying to fashion a non-belligerent way of life amongst themselves, to create a “community” of nations. Their answer to this challenge has been the concept of “supranationalism.” In recent weeks, I have posted some of my thoughts on this topic in my essay on Europism (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 coming soon). In simple terms, supranationalism is the attempt to assert a broader collective self-identification in order to justify the creation of a “United States of Europe.”
Urwin looks mostly to the bleak years of post-WWII Europe when presenting his thesis. This is a reasonable approach, because it highlights the first tentative steps of the supranationalist agenda and shows how the European Union was formed in the period of European subordinacy to the Cold War superpowers. (Especially interesting is the role of Charles de Gaulle’s anti-Americanism in directing the early progress of the Union.)
The most important value of Urwin’s book is that it presents the basic progression–the story–of European integration from the European Coal and Steel Community (1951) and European Economic Community (1957) to the Maastricht Treaty of European Union (ratified in 1993).
Two things are missing in this presentation: 1) The advent of supranationalism in the context of nationalism and internationalism is not sufficiently treated. To truly understand the genesis of the new approach one must understand the failure of its predecessors and how the former is derived from the latter. 2) A philosophical evaluation of supranationalism is also wanting. What the modern student of Europe needs to understand is the collectivist roots and nature of supranationalism and the collectivist responses of its opponents. Urwin provides the material for the student of political philosophy to work with, but he does not aid in the integration himself. That is up to the reader.
Still, the treatment is brief and relatively accessible. Consequently, you won’t too often find that the details are distracting or discouragingly complex–especially if you have the benefit of an initial orientation through my two-lecture history of Europe in the Twentieth Century, coming soon (part of “A First History for Adults,” Part 2). [Get the full course here!]
Also coming soon: Thomas Jefferson’s library had 6500 volumes it. Find out how you can be fully informed with just 40!I cannot live without books!–an exclusive e-zine series for Powell History mailing list subscribers– will help you create the ultimate history library. Be sure to join the Powell History Mailing List to get your recommendations.