Saturday, October 5, 2019

Beatrice Heuser's "Brexit in History"

Beatrice Heuser is an historian and political scientist who is Chair of International Relations at the University of Glasgow.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Brexit in History: Sovereignty or a European Union?, and reported the following:
Page 99 discusses two definitions of “sovereignty” in the late Middle Ages (when the term originated) and in the Renaissance: those of the French philosopher Philippe de Beaumanoir (c.1250–1296) in his late-thirteenth century Coutumes de Beauvaisis who stressed that “the sovereign” had the obligation to defend his land and the right to legislate. The latter point was picked up by Jean Bodin in his Six Books on the Republic of 1576. The following pages describe how the sovereign’s monopoly of the use of force grew out of this, as a measure of sovereignty.

This sets the frame for the discussion of the two poles between which inter-State relations have oscillated in Europe since Antiquity. They were, first, a zone of peace (once described as the pax Romana) where war was outlawed. The Roman Catholic Church aspired to re-create this in Western Christendom during those dark centuries after the fall of Rome. The (Holy) Roman Empire created by Charlemagne and his successors finally managed to re-establish such a zone of peace in 1495.

The snag: not all Christian polities of medieval and early modern Europe were part of the Empire. They defended their independence from it fiercely, preferring a second pattern of inter-polity relations: endless wars among themselves or with the emperor. Larger powers – the emperor, but also Philip II of Spain, Louis XIV of France, Napoleon and Hitler – were seen as tyrants who had to be opposed.

The Reformation destroyed peace within the Empire and exploded the doctrine that, united in the same Church, Christian princes must not go to war against one another. Denying the authority of emperor and pope, many monarchs – even Catholics – now de facto claimed the legitimate authority to go to war if it was in their interest (termed raison d’état, or later national interest). Europe thus suffered endless balance-of-power wars between sovereign princes.

From around 1300, a third solution was put forward repeatedly: the creation of a Europe-wide confederation modelled on the Holy Roman Empire but ruled, not by an emperor, but by a council of the heads of the member-states, who would sort out problems jointly by parley, not by war. The European Communities created in the late 1950s, now called the European Union, eventually realised these proposals. Against this, Brexit is the return to unilateral sovereigntism and “national interest”. (Britain is thus approaching the position of the USA which never quite relinquished its prioritisation of national interest.)
Learn more about Brexit in History at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue