Book Review: Postnational Democracy: The European Union in Search of a Political Philosophy. By Deirdre M. Curtin. The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 1997. 62 Pages.

4 Colum. J. Eur. L. 703 (1998)

reviewed by Karen Schiele.

In Postnational Democracy: The European Union in Search of a Political Philosophy, Deirdre Curtin explores the concept of the nation-state in Europe and its continuing hold on the European collective conscience) Curtin provides both a concise history of how the nation-state concept has evolved and an abstract philosophical discussion of the problems that the preoccupation with the idea of nation-state poses to an international community. Postnational Democracy, then, encourages the reader to consider the difficulties that the lingering notion of nation-state presents. In essence, the book offers an effective introduction to critical thought regarding the foundations of the European Union.

At the heart of Curtin’s arguments lies her regret about the seeming incapacity of Europe to let go of a mentality focused on unilateralism. Curtin’s stance is clearly conveyed throughout the book, yet her concentration on the history of the development of the nation-state (going back to the Middle Ages) seems to detract from her argument. Given the brevity of her book, a stronger emphasis on the current situation in Europe and on future prospects could have made this a more significant contribution to existing literature in this field.

In advocating a European Union philosophically united across current national borders in a postnational democracy, Curtin’s position resembles that of many other scholars. Unlike many other scholars, however, Curtin does not discuss what effects a European Union may have on members of different minority groups. Other scholars, to support their arguments for the need to reconceive the new Europe, lament the treatment of immigrants and women, for example. As Europeans focus mainly on the nation-state as the center of political identity, minority groups are marginalized. The nation-state often does not fully recognize these groups, and their voices often go unheard (though most scholars note that women have been able to attain better positions in recent years). But rather than discuss the consequences of the European preoccupation with the nation-state on particular groups of people, Curtin discusses only the general concept of the nation-state, its development over time, and the system that should replace it.

Curtin’s discussion is entirely abstract. She concerns herself with general ideas, often not specifically related to the European Union. Her argument is clear, in terms of the desired outcome, but along the way she occasionally gets lost in philosophical discussions, which she must strain to relate to the topic at hand. In many instances, she mentions only briefly (usually in one sentence) how a specific idea might relate to her discussions of postnational democracy in Europe.