Martin Westlake

Ever Closer

The Passage to Europe: How a Continent Became a Union

By

Yale University Press 372pp £25 order from our bookshop

On 21 June 1788, New Hampshire ratified the draft US Constitution and, as the ninth of nine states necessary, thus formally established it. A thousand men paraded through the streets of Philadelphia, ‘bearing aloft a Greek temple with thirteen pillars; solemn speeches were delivered and cannon fire sounded’. But it had not been all plain sailing, as Luuk van Middelaar reminds us in this enjoyable analysis of how a European Union has gradually come into being. In the case of both the United States and the European Union, in his view, states have been the crucial players. Van Middelaar looks to the Philadelphia Convention and the ratification process because of the wizardry (he calls it a ‘magic spell’ – a mixture of statecraft, oratorical prowess and sense of destiny that brought the American people, as a concept, into being) that allowed for a majority of the founding states to impose a federal constitution over the previous Articles of Confederation, despite the latter’s requirement of unanimity. (All 13 states eventually ratified the new constitution but, as van Middelaar points out, the more recalcitrant states had, in the end, little choice.)

Follow Literary Review on Twitter