Egan on Krastev, 'After Europe'

Ivan Krastev
Michelle Egan

Ivan Krastev. After Europe. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017. 128 pp. $19.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8122-4943-9.

Reviewed by Michelle Egan (American University) Published on H-Diplo (November, 2017) Commissioned by Seth Offenbach

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Most accounts of European integration focus on the efforts to promote collaboration among member states, and the dominant narrative is one of an irreversible deepening of integration. Until recently, there has been little inclination to focus on the broader tensions and contradictions that have emerged in the wake of multiple crises. The financial slowdown and the subsequent Eurozone credit crunch, the hopes and disappointments of the Arab Spring, with momentous instability around the Mediterranean coupled with the increasing surges of refugees fleeing the aftermath of civil war in Iraq and Syria, and the geopolitical constraints generated by a resurgent Russia have all generated a sense of perpetual crises within Europe. Ivan Krastev’s book, After Europe, seeks to understand why the project premised on so many aspirations has become increasingly fragile. It is a broad, sweeping analysis of European developments that has gained increased cogency in the light of rising nationalist tensions, where Francis Fukuyama’s vision of a progressive, postnationalist liberal order has been replaced with Kenneth Jowett’s vision of a growing disorder with “redrawn borders, reshaped identities, proliferating conflicts, and paralyzing uncertainty” (p. 23).

In this short analytical piece, Krastev reflects on the uneasy references to the past that pervade European discourse and narratives, which he terms a déjà vu mind-set, wherein different past experiences shape perceptions about the turmoil engulfing Europe. After Europe, for Krastev, is a metaphor for understanding that the liberal tradition has turned in on itself, so the democratic ideals that were promoted beyond Europe’s borders have now been undercut within the European polity itself. Democratic ideals have been challenged by the refugee crisis and migration pressures, such that borderless Europe has become exclusive, not inclusive, in orientation. In a chapter entitled “We the Europeans,” Krastev highlights the contradictions of a project that promoted democracy and freedom for central and eastern Europe, but is now shifting from that open society and open markets mentality to one that is illiberal and intolerant. While Europe is formally more integrated, especially in economic terms, the cognitive attachment to its ideals of tolerance, civility, and solidarity has disintegrated. This has gained increased cogency in light of the British vote to leave the European Union, the rule of law pressures in Hungary and Poland, and the fears and concerns about the perceived loss of distinctiveness and control over their own destiny that are manifest at the ballot box with the surge of populism. While Krastev does not use the label “nativism,” he is concerned about the compassion deficit in central and eastern Europe, where the national, ethnic, and religious sentiments against foreigners are rooted in their own historical legacy. In contrast to western Europe, where multiculturalism has taken root as a product of colonialism and emigration, central and eastern Europe are contending with the legacy of ethnic cleansing that took place in the aftermath of the disintegration of Europe’s empires. There, ethnic diversity is equated with the remnants of an interwar period—“before Europe,” to invert Krastev’s title. The roots of the past, the absence of colonialism, the value of a culture-laden citizenship, and diminishing economic prosperity explain central and eastern Europe’s disassociation with the European project. They do not explain the resentment, nationalism, and xenophobia that exists as well in western Europe.  

For Krastev, the central problem is the dissatisfaction with democracy in Europe that has led to disillusionment among many Europeans, generating three paradoxes. First is their acceptance of integration as fostering democratic irreversibility, while seeing central and eastern Europe shift toward populism with a thin commitment to liberal values. The result is an effort to curb democratic institutions and blame liberal values for undermining national unity and sentiments. Second, the positive sentiment toward Europe among the younger, cosmopolitan generation has not generated any concrete political outcomes. They are engaging in episodic mobilization but not the main avenues of representation through conventional political participation. Thirdly, the mobility granted by Europe has led some to feel a sense of advancement without being rooted or experiencing solidarity with those tied to their national moorings. The threat of disintegration may drive Europe’s resilience. It will not be the same kind of Europe. If it can survive so many crises, then Europe can prove its legitimacy

This is a provocative book that outlines the legacies of the past as it connects to the dilemmas facing European integration. Its broad sweep is both its strength and weakness. It highlights the constraints facing Europe but does not provide any solutions. It surveys the contentious political environment in which identity politics has become an increasingly salient feature of European politics. Yet European economies and societies are also responding to global—not just regional—developments. Whether it is integration of global supply chains, the surge of foreign direct investment, the resurgence of Russia, or the evolution of the transatlantic partnership, Europeans have to respond to external pressures through cooperation and/or competition among themselves. After Europe sees the East/West divide as central to the democratic dilemmas facing Europe. But the liberal cosmopolitan/national identity divide is tied to the consequences of the liberalization and marketization of European economies. If Karl Polanyi understood the “double movement” as being a protective countermovement to subordinate the market to political constraints, Krastev is thinking about the same double movement dynamic with regard to liberalism and nationalism.[1] The political development that Krastev envisages is one that needs to address economic deprivation and insecurity along with the social and cultural distress wrought by the dramatic changes over the past three decades to preserve the democratic values that Europe wants to sustain.


[1]. Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1944).

Citation: Michelle Egan. Review of Krastev, Ivan, After Europe. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. November, 2017. URL:

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