Wolfram Kaiser. Christian Democracy and the Origins of European Union. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 374 pp. $105.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-521-88310-8.
Reviewed by Robert Mark Spaulding (Department of History, University of North Carolina, Wilmington)
Published on H-German (November, 2009)
Commissioned by Susan R. Boettcher
A Christian Approach?
Wolfram Kaiser's book on the connection between religiously based politics and foreign policy in the European context is intriguing. In it, the author admirably brings new approaches and concerns to the weighty but still growing body of literature on the history of European integration. The work is deeply influenced by social network theory, which continues to exert a noticeably greater influence in Europe than in North America. As Kaiser notes, many scholars have advanced models of informal "network governance" to explain how the European Union functions (p. 2). Kaiser projects this approach backwards in time by tracing the rise of transnational Catholic and Christian democratic networks and explaining the important role of these networks in establishing the first institutions of European integration. In doing so, he also participates in the current rediscovery of the role of religion in shaping foreign policy in the twentieth century. This interest is clearly manifest in the North American historical profession, with the number of scholars who identify themselves as historians of religion increasing dramatically in past years and the volume of scholarly work linking religion and U.S. foreign policy expanding rapidly. It will be interesting to see whether this book will incite additional work along these lines among historians of Europe. Meanwhile, readers can decide for themselves whether the inventive application of novel approaches to the history of European integration justifies the dismissive tone Kaiser applies to much earlier work in the field, which he characterizes variously as filled with "misguided assumptions" (p. 4), "conceptually undeveloped," and "boring to read" (p. 7).
Although the introduction presents the book primarily as a new approach to understanding the history of the EU, the work is much more concerned with the development of a transnational European network of Christian democracy than with European integration. The book contains eight chapters (325 text pages), of which the first 220 pages trace the history of European Catholic and Christian democratic political forces. Only the final third of the book attempts to demonstrate the role of Christian democracy in the integration of Europe after 1945. An abstract-like preface claims the book will show that "the origins of the European Union were predominately Christian democratic, with considerable long-term repercussion for the present-day EU" (no page number). The eleven-page introduction does not move much beyond this general formulation, stating that "the approach of this book is the study of transnational networks of political and social groups that engaged with, and influenced, European integration" (p. 8) and Christian democracy "dominated the formation of the ECSC/EEC core Europe with fundamental repercussions for the present-day EU" (p. 9). Kaiser argues that Christian Democrats "had three broad objectives and conditions in the early stages of economic integration" (p. 222); these were "full inclusion of the German economy in economic reconstruction" (p. 222), "enhance[ment of] western Europe's security more generally" (p. 223), and "concern with one sector, coal and steel" (p. 224). A smaller, tighter argument constitutes the core of the book; it concerns Robert Schuman's decision to advance Jean Monnet's plan for coal and steel integration to the French government and to Konrad Adenauer. Kaiser argues that Schuman "could only take this step with a reasonable chance of success in May 1950 because transnational Christian democracy had discussed this option for a long time and was immediately able to garner strong political support and construct domestic and international alliances with other parties and social groups to make the Schuman plan a success" (p. 224). In sum, only Christian Democrats had both the commitment to supranational European integration and the transnational political network that could ensure the success of such a plan.
This innovative and important interpretation of the EU's origins is one that Kaiser ultimately argues well. His thesis also allows him to make other important contributions. For example, on the much-discussed subject of British (non-)participation in the initial European project, Kaiser argues strongly and persuasively that a Christian democratic "consensus" on "excluding Britain" began to emerge in 1947 (p. 233) and that by the spring of 1950, "the creation of a core Europe without Britain had become a central objective of transnational Christian democracy" (p. 231).
Even so, although Kaiser reaches important conclusions, he does not manage this task without some rough sledding along the way. The many pages devoted to the background history of Catholic and Christian democratic politics from the late nineteenth century to the post-1945 period offer both too much and too little. Readers seeking EU history will be frustrated by voluminous narrative detail on the rise of Christian Democrat parties and transnational contacts and by the need to search carefully in the middle of chapter 4 for the beginnings of his discussion about European integration. Historically oriented readers will not find much depth on the theological origins and evolution of Catholic social and political thinking. Kaiser does not unpack adequately the neo-Thomistic basis of modern Catholic political thought in the work of philosophers Etienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain. Though he terms Maritain "an influential Catholic thinker" (p. 151), he never explores Maritain's translation of Thomistic precepts into suitable political and social precepts for twentieth-century Catholics. Most readers will get more than they bargained for regarding the organizational history of Christian Democratic parties and networks, but many will wish they had learned more about the core intellectual content of the movement and its roots.
Without an understandable summary of Christian democratic ideology, the book labors with mixed results to demonstrate the direct impact of Christian democracy on the formation, structure, or performance of early EU institutions. Take, for example, the discussion of the important principle of "subsidiarity." (In Catholic social teaching, this term designates the idea that powers individuals can exercise adequately themselves should not be arrogated to a central authority. In the EU contest, it refers to the principle that the EU should only make law in situations where individual nations were incapable of acting. It was formally encoded in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty). Kaiser argues that Christian Democrats were uniquely receptive to a supranational solution for Europe because their belief in this idea allowed them to "imagine the allocation of political decision-making at more than one--including a new European--level" (p. 229). This important insight might have contributed greatly to Kaiser's argument about the indispensability of Christian democracy to European integration. Yet Kaiser never fully explains the principle of subsidiarity, nor more importantly, how and why it had become a cornerstone of Catholic social and political ideology long before 1950, mentioning only in passing that it was "derived from Catholic social teaching" (p. 229). As a result, readers cannot fully grasp subsidiarity as a uniquely Christian democratic idea transferred into integrated Europe or, as Kaiser argues, the primary concept that made an integrated Europe possible at all.
Perhaps for these reasons, Kaiser's overall thesis about the essential role played by Christian democracy in European integration remains vaguely couched throughout the book. The precise meaning of the verbs with which he articulates his argument ("engaged," "influenced," "dominated") remains unclear. Readers will struggle to find identifiable, concrete, and uniquely Christian democratic features of early institutions of European integration. The postwar concerns he mentions as central to Christian democracy were hardly unique to Christian Democrats; the same issues topped the agenda in discussions of Europe's future held by a wide variety of groups, including U.S. State Department planners. The omission of a formal conclusion also deprives the author of the opportunity to make an attempt at a more coherent presentation of his arguments.
In both its approach and its findings, Kaiser's book ought to inspire comparative research into other contemporary ideological and political networks and their roles in the debates over European integration. Research into the history of European liberalism might explain why in many countries liberal parties, rather than Catholics or Christian Democrats, are generally perceived to be the most pro-European, as in Germany today and in France in the 1920s, when Edouard Herriot's left-liberal Radicals were the most receptive to early calls for a pan-European organization. This potentially important obstacle to Kaiser's argument is one that he does not address.
Overall, however, Kaiser supports his insightful points of analysis with a wide range of archival sources from across western Europe and an extensive bibliography with materials in four languages. In both its approach and its findings, Kaiser has written an important book for scholars of European integration and European politics in the twentieth century. Readers who exert themselves to draw the available insights from its pages will find the effort worthwhile. Nonetheless, although its themes are innovative and its conclusions are important, the execution of the project will leave some readers frustrated as well as impressed.
. On the Thomistic content of Christian democracy and its impact on European politics and integration see Alan Paul Fimister, Robert Schuman: Neo-Scholastic Humanism and the Reunification of Europe (Brussels: Peter Lang, 2008).
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Robert Mark Spaulding. Review of Kaiser, Wolfram, Christian Democracy and the Origins of European Union.
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