Society and the Church Beyond Liberalism: The Question of Europe

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John Milbank
Adrian Pabst


Opening paragraph by Adrian Pabst:

The European question can be approached in a number of ways, but I want to start with the political debate and then take it to theology. I think that our political debate and discourse in the last few years and decades have very much been about what Europe is, and have in relation to the EU been more specifically framed in terms of the myths that the EU is either (1) a federal superstate that is going to absorb all of its members into a bureaucratic monstrosity, or else (2) that the EU is merely a glorified free trade area where the only thing which binds member countries together is commercial exchange and the relentless commodification which that entails. Of course, neither are true at all, but for some reason and especially in the UK (though increasingly also elsewhere), people have not been able to convey what Europe is really about. Ever since its inception early in the post-war era, Europe has been a strange hybrid and that is why it has rightly been described as a sui-generis polity, not really like anything else that exists in the world. It’s not a state; it’s not an international organisation; and it’s certainly not just a trade arrangement. It has hybrid institutions, where, for instance, the European Commission proposes legislation but also carries out certain decisions. It’s got the member states that come together in the European Council through the Council Ministers and form an ad hoc executive order. It includes the European Court of Justice, which is in some sense supreme, but not in others because it does not deal in all areas of the law; for instance, it has nothing to say about national security or the army. It’s very hybridised; it is polycentric, and it involves overlapping jurisdictions. All of that goes to show that Europe as a political project doesn’t fit into the standard theories of either political science or international relations.

Article Details

Virtue Politics
Author Biography

Adrian Pabst, University of Kent Fellow of the Centre of Theology and Philosophy

Reader in Politics - Director of Undergraduate Recruitment and Admissions