/ Published February 08, 2012
We the Peoples of Europe by Susan George. Pluto Press/TNI, 2008, 205 pp.
Susan George’s book is written with one purpose—to promote political activism—and she does not hide it. Susan George is an activist and a proponent of an alternative globalization where the focus is on the unprivileged and those with limited political voice. Describing her work at the Transnational Institute, a network for scholarly activists, she writes, "The job of the responsible social scientist is first to uncover these forces of wealth, power and control, to write about them clearly, without jargon and finally to take an advocacy position in favor of the disadvantaged, the underdogs, the victims of injustice."
That said, the author does provide understanding about the European Union, which she describes in detail for the non-European reader. Politics in the EU are heavily influenced by the Left, especially in France, Italy, Spain, and Germany, where large socialist parties exist.
The core of the critique against the European Union is, according to George, lack of deliberation with ordinary citizens; the EU becomes a place for elite bargaining and nothing else. The author brings forward the US Constitution as a shining example of a well-written document to guide a nation by clearly stating, “We the People.” The theme throughout the book is the European failure to recognize that democracy is rule by the people. The EU is presented as a fermented mix of institutions, interest groups, ethnicity, big money, and powerbrokers without any sincere interest of listening to the will of the people.
George’s critiques of the voting mechanisms and decision-making processes in the EU are valid. While her questioning of the fundamentals of the European Union is not unique, the critique against the democratic deficit within the EU has been a major reason for many conservative groups on the other end of the political spectrum to take a stand against further European integration.
The value of the book is its precise attack on the fine print in the modified European Treaty, which should serve as a constitution for the EU. These comments raise serious questions about the democratic legitimacy of the organization.
The weakness of the book is that once all the relevant facts are presented, why they matter, and how they impact European democracy, the author then puts everything into a class-struggling, socioeconomic Marxist theory. The last part is relevant in some areas, but tacitly placing it after each argument undermines the value of the book. George’s political activism tends to supersede logical thinking, and the final placement of the argument can contradict logic.
Susan George is well equipped to be a writer. She has command of the language, and even through the various twists and turns of her chapters, the book is an easy read compared to other public policy works. The book also browses through many areas of European culture, society, and worldview in a strict Leftist angle, which can enhance understanding of European politics.
We the Peoples of Europe airs between the lines a voice of a European von oben outlook, from above other humans, when George lists all cultural achievements of Europe and how it could be a moral superpower taking off for an environmental crusade (p. 165). The description of Americans is full of European clichés, portraying them as fuel-consuming, air conditioning–loving, SUV owners, which apparently means that Americans are on the other side of the city wall when it comes to environmental crusading (p. 166). George might be trying to be ironic—she should understand America better, being American-born—but it comes across as ignorant.
Does that discount “We the Peoples of Europe”? Not at all, and the reason is simple: the book is an excellent read for understanding the European Leftist mindset and outlook on world events. The Left has a significant impact on European politics, national and supranational, which many times is not obvious from an American horizon.
Jan Kallberg, PhD
"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."