Demos and Nation

Misplacing the Dilemmas of the European Union--In Memory of Stanley Hoffmann

in French Politics, Culture & Society
Charles S. Maier Harvard University

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“Demos and Nation,” written in homage to the memory of Stanley Hoffmann, critically considers the “no-demos” theory that argues the European Union is necessarily limited in its scope and loyalty because supposedly any authentic democratic political union must rest on a “people” or “demos,” which the EU lacks. There is no European demos, so the proponents argue; only nation-states possess this communal glue. I argue that, first, European history shows the no-demos theory ascribes far too great a unity and cohesion to the process of traditional nation-state formation as well as to current national polities; second, that polities at any level create their demoi through common civic activity, such as voting, political party formation, and meaningful parliamentary policy making; they are not pre-existing. Additionally, current difficulties of the EU should be attributed more to xenophobic populism at the national level than to failings in Brussels. Ultimately the no-demos theory plays into the hands of political leaders and movements that wish to advance their populist and authoritarian agendas at home by stigmatizing the EU.

Contributor Notes

Charles S. Maier took his AB and PhD degrees in history at Harvard in 1960 and 1967, where he also studied and served as teaching assistant with Stanley Hoffmann. He taught as an assistant professor at Harvard until 1975, from 1976 to 1981 as associate professor and then professor of history at Duke University and then returned to Harvard, where he has been Krupp Professor of European History and Leverett Saltonstall Professor of History. He directed the Undergraduate Program in Social Studies and the Center for European Studies (1994–2001). He has produced numerous articles and books from Recasting Bourgeois Europe (1975, 2015), until Once within Borders: Territories of Power, Wealth, and Belonging since 1500 (2016). He has received a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship and an Alexander von Humboldt research prize among other grants, and is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Council on Foreign Relations. E-mail:

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