Review: The Idea of a European Superstate

by Henry on August 30, 2006

This review is a year late – the delay is thanks to the birth of our first-born, the urgency of getting my own book into a fit state to be submitted to publishers, and repeated and extended fits of procrastination. I hope to be starting to review political science books more regularly from here on in, with a particular focus on books that touch upon areas that I do academic work on (EU politics, the politics of the Internet and e-commerce, institutional theory, trust), or that are topical for one reason or another. Some of these books are likely to be of interest to the general CT reader, some not.

Glyn Morgan, _The Idea of a European Superstate: Public Justification and European Integration_ (Princeton University Press 2005), review beneath fold. “Powells”: Amazon.

Glyn Morgan has written a very nice book, large chunks of which I disagree with. What I like about it – it brings out a very serious and interesting set of questions that people aren’t paying proper attention to. It also, unusually for a book by a political theorist, takes international relations theory very seriously. What I disagree with – its positive claim that a European superstate is justifiable because it would provide a proper framework for defence, and its negative claim that other possible justifications (such as social protection, environment etc) aren’t in the same league.

First, the major contribution of this book is to focus attention on the justification of European integration. Bizarrely, these questions have received relatively little attention in debates over the European Union. Nearly all of the political theoretical debate about the EU focuses on questions of legitimacy and the democratic deficit within the European Union, asking whether this deficit should be met through expanding the powers of the European Parliament, providing (as the moribund European Constitution did) a greater role for national parliaments, or giving the Council of member states a greater say. But all of these arguments take the existence of some sort of EU framework as a given. The usual question is: given the fact that the EU exists, what kinds of political arrangements might provide better kinds of legitimation? Morgan’s question goes deeper. It asks: how can we justify the project of European integration in the first place? Further, what implications do these questions of justification have for the kinds of political arrangements that would be appropriate or inappropriate for Europe?

Morgan suggests that the democratic standard of justification imposes three requirements on any political arrangement. First – any arguments for (or against) European integration should satisfy the requirement of _publicity_. This means that it should appeal to reasons that a “bare citizen” (a citizen who accepts certain basic, minimal principles) could accept. Second, arguments should satisfy the requirement of _accessibility_. That is, one shouldn’t require expert knowledge to evaluate whether or not the argument holds. Any competent citizen should be able to understand the argument. Finally, the argument should be _sufficient_: that is, it should show that the European political arrangement actually provides whatever benefits have been cited on its behalf.

Morgan then goes through various arguments for and against Europe. He notably gives skeptics of European integration a considerably more sympathetic hearing than they usually get in books on the EU, even though he makes it clear that he doesn’t agree with their arguments. He breezes through nationalist arguments, both conservative and social democratic, against integration, arguing that neither provides sufficient justification for maintaining a _Europe des patries_. He then examines arguments _for_ Europe by free market types such as Friedrich Hayek, and pro-Europe social democrats, and finds that these arguments respectively fail the test of sufficiency and publicity. In Morgan’s argument, there is no set of shared European values surrounding the welfare state. It is at best a means to an end. Many people don’t want a strong welfare state, and there are dramatic differences between the different welfare states to be found in different European countries. However, Morgan does have some opinions of his own on the merits of the stronger Continental welfare states, which he offers in passing; more on this below.

It’s in the final three chapters that Morgan puts forward his own justification for European integration. And it’s a quite specific form of integration that he’s advocating. The current EU system, dominated by technocrats, with shared and diffused competences, regular disagreements between member states etc is insufficient for his purposes. Morgan says that we need, as his title suggests, a “European Superstate.” The reason that we need this is that only such a state is competent to guarantee European security. Morgan grounds this justification in international relations theory, with its focus on power politics in which great powers set the rules of the game. Morgan doesn’t rely on realist theory; instead his arguments are strongly influenced by the “English School” or “international society” approach to international relations, which suggests that states require (and indeed are in some limited senses constituted) by a shared set of minimal rules and norms that dictate the kinds of things they can or cannot do. In Morgan’s version, states should undertake to protect the security of their citizens, which is to say that they must protect them from threats without at the same time using such draconian techniques as might undermine the basic liberties and wellbeing of their citizens.

This requires Morgan to make specific arguments against the kind of Europe that most liberals and leftists argue for, and for a European superstate that few except the most ardent European federalists dare to advocate. Many political theorists find the idea of a ‘postsovereign’ Europe, which isn’t dominated by traditional forms of state authority, normatively attractive. Morgan argues that a postsovereign Europe isn’t going to be able to address its own security needs properly. Historically, polities without centralized powers of war and decision making have been selected out of existence by strong evolutionary forces. The states that have succeeded in guaranteeing their security in a tough and violent world are those that have centralized decision-making and beefy military apparatuses. Europe needs to have these features too, if it is to protect its citizens. The alternative is to remain a weak and divided political entity, where no single nation has sufficient military power to be taken seriously on the international stage, and where the US has an effective veto power over the basic decisions that Europeans might want to take to protect their own security.

Morgan’s book has many different themes which I could take up. Indeed, there are also many arguments in it that I find convincing – but chiming in on the bits that you agree with doesn’t usually make for good debate. I want to focus on on the parts of his argument that (a) I have trouble with, and (b) that touch most closely on my own areas of interest – international relations and European political economy. Morgan bases much of his argument on claims drawn from international relations theory – the extent to which his arguments are convincing depends to a very great degree on whether his take on international relations theory is compelling. I think that one can make a reasonable case for his claims, but not one that meets the strong standards that he himself sets out. As a corollary to his claims about security, Morgan makes some arguments about political economy which I find considerably less convincing.

First, the security aspects of his argument proper. In Morgan’s argument, the EU is weak and divided, which means that it can’t provide for its own security. Its ability to project power is subject to an effective US veto, because NATO is the only framework that can provide the necessary logistical support etc for effective military operations. But the reliance of the EU on the US also means that it may be dragged along willy-nilly by the Americans when they want to do something crazy. Morgan argues that an international system in which there were two major liberal powers rather than one would be a healthier one; the Europeans could more easily resist being dragged into unnecessary wars and so on. But this would require that Europe build a superstate that could undertake military action independently.

This is all reasonable enough, but it isn’t at all clear to me that Morgan’s argument meets his own criterion of sufficiency. That is, there may be other, less far reaching political arrangements that could provide the EU with greater ability to respond to crises; and the security justification for a federal superstate may only be a weak justification. As noted, Morgan argues that divided polities are militarily inferior to unified polities, and that evolutionary forces have tended to weed out the former in favor of the latter (as decentralized states were either either eaten up by centralized ones or forced to change their ways). But this, it seems to me, obscures more than it reveals. These evolutionary forces aren’t really at work any more in the advanced industrialized world – there is no direct risk that Western Europe will be invaded in the foreseeable future (that two EU member states have nuclear weapons, and a third could develop them relatively quickly is likely to deter most invaders). The real issue of concern for Morgan’s argument is Europe’s ability to project force rather than defend itself. As Morgan says, the EU’s record in doing this, e.g. in the former Yugoslavia, is pitiful. But it’s not clear to me that this necessarily spells doom for any future effort by a non-federal EU to engage in joint military action. While Morgan is surely right in arguing that this is likely to be more difficult for a divided EU than for a federal superstate, the case that it’s effectively unworkable is a very tough case to make. We have examples in the past of decentralized entities that have gone to war, and won (a classic case for international relations theory being the success of the Greek city states in beating back the Persian invasion). We may have some further data on this soon; the EU mission in Lebanon is going to be an important test case for whether EU member states can indeed work together towards common military objectives.

Furthermore, there’s a downside to the kind of centralized war making power that Morgan favors, which is amply demonstrated by recent US history. The effective centralization of decision making over military affairs means that it’s easier for leaders to involve the country in war for dubious or downright bogus reasons. This can – as the evolving disaster in Iraq demonstrates – have very substantial and negative implications for both the security of the US itself and for the broader stability of international society that Morgan is interested in. That a decentralized political entity finds it more difficult to reach decisions on matters of war isn’t always a bad ; war is far from necessarily security enhancing, and a strong requirement that it be debated between different actors with clashing interests may make it more likely that wars are fought only when they’re necessary.

With regard to security, I think that Morgan makes claims which are plausible, but which don’t meet his own very high standards of justification (more precisely, in Morgan’s terms, I don’t see that he has made the case for more than a weak justification). His claim that a European superstate would need to be run on free market principles if it were properly to protect Europe’s security seems rather less plausible to my eyes. Quoting Morgan (p.87)

Indeed, if Europe is to become an effective global counterweight to the United States, as Habermas and others hope, then Europe needs an economy at least as vibrant and productive as that of the United States. The Anglo-Saxon model of capitalism – which is less regulated, more innovative, and (somewhat paradoxically) more congenial to women and immigrants – provides far better guidance here than the ossified, dirigiste models of Continental Europe.

Now this is an aside, more or less, but it’s a very strongly worded aside. And I don’t see how Morgan can really support it. It’s notoriously difficult to make accurate judgements about the overall success or lack of same of advanced industrialized economies over the longer term. The graveyard of economic forecasting is crammed full of the corpses of confident predictions about the superiority of this or that country’s economic system. It’s even harder to draw the empirical links between economic systems and military prowess, except in the very broadest of terms (for sure, a state needs a reasonably well functioning economy, and sufficient capacity to extract revenues through taxation and other means). Now there’s surely a lot that’s wrong with _some_ Western European economies. There is also a lot that’s wrong with the Anglo-Saxon model – and it seems to me that one would have much more evidence than Morgan provides here before one could even begin to make the case that the latter economic model is better suited to providing clout on the world stage than the former.

These are my major disagreements with Morgan’s book (although if this essay wasn’t getting too long already, I might talk about his take on nationalism too). But there are some important truths to his argument, even if I don’t agree that they provide a general justification for European federalism. Take for example, EU “energy policy”: The EU is increasingly dependent on Russian energy supplies. Russia is quite astutely using this dependency to win political concessions, and to play EU states off against each other. EU member states are far less willing than they should be to criticize Russia’s internal tendencies towards autocracy, and external penchant for treating neighboring states as part of its empire. If the EU had a proper common energy policy, its bargaining clout vis-a-vis Russia would likely be very substantially increased – it would be far better able to deal with Russia on its own terms. I don’t think that this is anywhere near being justification for forming a federal European superstate; but it does surely suggest that Morgan is onto something.

Next up: Tyler Cowen’s _Good and Plenty_.

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John Quiggin » Blog Archive » The Idea of a European Superstate: Military power and soft power
08.31.06 at 6:44 pm



Rob 08.30.06 at 12:20 pm

This is a minor point, but wouldn’t any argument which wasn’t accessible fail to be public? The same could perhaps be said about the requirement of being sufficient, although I’m not sure – bad arguments can be public, I think – but definitely the accessibility thing.


Steve 08.30.06 at 12:22 pm

I’m curious how you (and he) are using the word ‘justify.’ If you mean it in terms of ‘defend,’ or ‘make an argument for’, I can see the project as being reasonable. But if you mean something more than that (some sense of ‘morally justify’-to defend with an ethical requirement ex:Are you justified in taking your neighbor’s apple?) then I don’t get it. I see a European Superstate as ethically arbitrary. Just as the US could be governed by one house of congress, or two, or three, or none but with a more federal, state-based system (i.e. there is no ethical difference between them-they are just arbitrary systemic differences), I have always thought of the EU as an arbitrary political choice. Is the EU ‘better’ than 24 individual governments? ‘Better’ meaning ‘more efficient’-perhaps, perhaps not. But ‘better’ meaning ‘morally better?’ I don’t think so.

Similarly: “publicity. This means that it should appeal to reasons that any minimally competent citizen could accept, rather than to reasons that some citizens might reasonably disagree with.” Under my conception of ‘justify’ (defend what is essentially an arbitrary difference), this is impossible. I can’t think of a political choice in existence that would be agreeable to everybody. But if you mean ‘justify’ in terms of a moral justification, then this requirement for ‘publicity’ may require either some kind of logical argument (‘democracy requires voting’ or ‘representative government requires a means for the will of the people to be expressed’ or something) or a nearly universal moral argument (perhaps similar to ‘you shouldn’t torture babies’ ‘thou shalt not murder’ something similar).

Another example: one would probably not be asked to ‘justify’ a speed limit of 55 mph-it sounds like (morally) ‘justify’ a speed limit, which doesn’t really make sense. One would probably be asked to ‘defend’ a speed limit of 55 mph-provide arguments for, but not necessarily moral or ethical arguments for, such a debate.



Jacob T. Levy 08.30.06 at 12:27 pm

No– an argument can satisfy the publicity principle but be highly technical and, so, inaccessible. That it, the argument doesn’t *rely* on secrecy to work, the way some kinds of utilitarianism or neoconservatism are alleged to. They’re not noble lies, where it’s important that the masses don’t see the truth lest the whole structure collapse. But the masses *won’t*, because seeing the truth requires technical training in economics or philosophy or astrophysics or what have you.

(I can’t say I’m persuaded by the strong version of the accessibility demand that Glyn uses– it seems to me pretty necessarily failed by any modern partly-technocratic state.)


Henry 08.30.06 at 12:28 pm

Steve – I paraphrased Morgan’s argument badly, and have slightly amended the text accordingly. He has a worked out argument as to what a bare citizen is, which in part answers your objections, and an entire chapter on justification which I don’t feel competent to paraphrase at blog comment length (but which you can probably sneak a peek at on Amazon).


Jacob T. Levy 08.30.06 at 12:29 pm

(Sorry– my comment above is a reply to Rob, not Steve.)


Jack 08.30.06 at 12:34 pm

What is an “effective global counterweight” and why would one want to be part of such a thing? Was the Soviet Union one?


Rob 08.30.06 at 1:19 pm


but that seems like a strange version of the publicity requirement. Usually, the publicity requirement isn’t just thought to rule out deliberate mass deception, but to require engagement with the public in question. I’d always thought that the motivating thought behind a publicity requirement was that arguments needed to be public to be something the relevant public (or enough members of it, or whatever) could consent to. But I can’t consent to something I don’t understand, and furthermore, it doesn’t seem to be public, at least so far as I am concerned: it’s certainly not something I and anyone else can have in common, since I don’t know what it is. Obviously, engagement is required on both sides, but deliberately phrasing arguments in terms which are not comprehensible to a well-intentioned and reasonably diligent citizen does seem to me like a violation of publicity.


des von bladet 08.30.06 at 1:37 pm

Beyond sufficiency, publicity and acceptibility, does the argument for also have to be sound? The generally accepted rationalisations for plenty of states have demomonstrably been otherwise, for sure.

Are there in fact any examples where Morgan’s hermeneutics of the “real reasons” why states work have aligned with public opinion on the same question? Economies of geo-political scale hasn’t been a leading current in European populist nationalism, I can assert with some confidence. (It may have motivated Bismarck, but it surely didn’t Herder, for example.)

(Disclaimer: I am currently a student on the Open University’s excellent course _State, Economy and Nation_, and I did notice you didn’t have space for nationalisme, but I can’t see the project of widespread legimisation of political institutions in any other light.)


Eamonn Fitzgerald 08.30.06 at 3:49 pm

A year late? That’s rather European, no? Meanwhile, those who do not have the academic Luxury of waiting for 12 months to do something are reacting to the coming of the “European Superstate” by voting with their feet:

Germans Leave in Record Numbers, Fleeing Unemployment

“Thomas Koerber, an engineering technician from Viernheim, Germany, was looking for a new job. He found it — 4,700 miles away, in Canada.”

Bet you the numbers will have doubled by this time next year. Wonder will Habermas be joining them? He’d love Canada. Lots of Europeans, bears, forests, maple syrup… and the chance to slip over the border now and then and see free markets in action.


Martin Bento 08.30.06 at 7:28 pm

Shouldn’t the requirement of publicity be tested by actually airing such notions well beforehand – before they are fait accompli – and seeing if actual, as opposed to theoretical, citizens support them? I’m under the impression, though I haven’t looked at this closely yet, that there was a lot of dissimulation about the great wedding while the church was being prepared. “It’s just a common market, a trade agreement, no erosion of sovereignty is coming” – when the latter was in fact the long-range objective all along. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I seem to recall The Economist admitting in the 90’s that there had been a lot of this sort of thing. Does the requirement of publicity require actual consent or just theoretical?

On another question, I think we’ve seen that decentralized (guerilla) forces at quite effective at undermining occupations and other unpopular governments. Aggressive warfare, probably not so much. But should capacity for aggression be a requirement?


Matt 08.30.06 at 7:55 pm

Well, Eamonn, Since Habermas teaches part time at Northwestern in Chicago I guess he has pleanty of experience with the joy of the free market in the US.


Jacob T. Levy 08.30.06 at 11:34 pm

To Rob on publicity:

The SEP article on the concept begins with

Kant’s hypothetical publicity test …”All actions relating to the right of other human beings are wrong if their maxim is incompatible with publicity.”

I think something like that is the customary meaning. The publicity principle rules out reasons that could not in principle be made public, because they rely on some share of the relevant actors believing something to the contrary. The streeotypical Straussian “God doesn’t exist and everything is permitted but whatever you do don’t tell the masses” [bracketing the question of whether that stereotype is accurate], Plato’s noble lie, and a utilitarianism that rests on the usefulness of the masses believing in deontology are the paradigmatic violations of the principle. There might be more exacting versions of the principle, where, e.g., actual rather than hypothetical publicity is required. But insisting on at least hypothetical publicity really does rule out a lot and set serious moral bounds on politics. I think that the standard version of the PP just insists that the maxim not be incompatible with publicity, not that there be evidence of real publicity; I think I’m using the concept a la Kant and Rawls and not in some strange way. The more excting version would require a diffeen,t and non-Kantian, defense.


Martin Bento 08.31.06 at 1:03 am

Jacob, OK, but how do we test that without actual publicity? If the European public would not have gone along with progressively integrating markets over multiple decades if they knew the intended endpoint was a superstate, how would we know this unless the superstate was openly discussed. Like I said, I’m under the impression it was not, although I could be wrong. Did European integration actually follow the principle of publicity or was it snuck towards, not to be unveiled until the public was ready to accept it?


Jens 08.31.06 at 3:53 am

We may want to turn to the substance of Glyn Morgan’s proposed justification for a moment. I would just like to recall that the original rationale behind European integration was to overcome the dynamics of power politics in Europe. And now the new purpose of European integration shall be to engage in power politics on a global scale? What an irony…


Chris Bertram 08.31.06 at 11:20 am

Sorry, coming to this rather late …. but by way of self-advertisment I’ll note that Glyn draws on my paper “Political Justification, Theoretical Complexity, and Democratic Community “(Ethics, Vol. 107, No. 4. (Jul., 1997), pp. 563-583.

There I argue that citizens of a democratic community are required to advance arguments to one another that they can reasonably expect to be accessible to their fellow citizens in circumstances where the division of labour means that there are necessarily limits placed on the technical capacity even of well-informed and willing members of a polity. You can’t just chuck a highly abstruse game theoretical argument at your fellow citizens and claim to have satisfied the burdens of justification.

(I run a parallel with some of Sylvain Bromberger’s work on “to explain” as a success verb: it is perfectly possible to present a person with a scientifically correct explanation of some phenomenon and, at the same time, utterly fail to explain that phenomenon to them, because they are not equipped to receive the “explanation”.)


Rob 08.31.06 at 1:56 pm


what I was arguing isn’t about hypothetical versus actual publicity tests. It’s about what it would take to pass a publicity test full-stop. All hypothetical tests must be relative to some fixed points, presumably – for example, if in the version you posited, we stipulated that everyone forgot everything they’d known about the political arrangements they lived under immediately after they’d been told it, or didn’t mind being systematically lied to, then ‘noble lie’ type rationales could be made public. The version that Morgan is using appeals to reasons that a citizen accepting some minimal moral principles could accept. That’s his fixed point. What I’m saying is, it seems to me like a reasonable stipulation on a publicity test that citizens don’t have to have complex knowledge the average citizen lacks to make sense of the claims that are being made to them. I’m suggesting another fixed point.

This doesn’t seem to me like a significant departure from Morgan’s version: what appears to motivate his is the thought that you have to make some compromise with the moral beliefs people happen to have, while what motivates the additional requirement that I’m suggesting is that you have to make some compromise with the fact that we’re not all university-educated, let alone university-educated in particular subjects. Although I can see why you might think this is about hypothetical versus actual publicity tests, it’s not: you don’t have to run the test to know that most people don’t understand advanced particle physics, for example.

It also seems to me impeccably Rawlsian. After all, Rawls sees public reason as one of the driving forces behind the need to accept that “politics in a democratic society can never be guided by what we see as the whole truth” and that we have to live in accordance with the “principle of legitimacy… with others in the light of reasons all might reasonably be expected to endorse”. It strikes me as markedly unreasonable to expect that everyone learn advanced particle physics.


Martin Bento 08.31.06 at 8:19 pm

While I agree with Chris and Rob on the matter of publicity requiring explanations that are transparent to the broad public, I also do not see why the principle, at least in this day and age, relies on hypothetical rather than actual approval. Public opinion is not hard to determine, and it’s easy to believe that those who insist on what the public “reasonably would” support, rather than what it does support, are trying to avoid the latter test.


Robert Merkel 08.31.06 at 9:26 pm

One minor point, it’s not just one other European nation that could build nuclear weapons very quickly if the need was compelling enough – most of them could.

To take the most obvious example, the Netherlands has a uranium enrichment plant that would be capable of producing enough uranium for a Hiroshima-style bomb in a few days, should the need arise. Design and construction of a primitive nuclear weapon can be done in a matter of months (possibly faster), given access to HEU.

Alternatively, any nation with a nuclear power reactor could simply make a crude, but perfectly effective device out of the reactor-grade plutonium in their existing spent fuel. Nothing like as powerful as the nukes built by the existing powers, but sufficient to kill everything within at least a 500 metre radius of the bomb going off.

Given the ease with which Europe’s nations could construct an effective deterrent, a conventional military threat to Europe, now or into the future, is pretty hard to envisiage.

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