Professor's book adds context to European politics

Walter OpelloA frustration with textbooks on European politics failing to show the big picture led SUNY Oswego’s Dr. Walter Opello to co-write a new book for his courses.

Co-authored with his daughter, Katherine A.R. Opello of CUNY-Kingsborough Community College’s political science department, “European Politics: The Making of Democratic States” offers more context in a globalized world, he said.

Most texts on the subject feature chapters by different specialists on specific nation-states such as the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Russia—on politics, culture and governance—that do not make connections about cross-border influences, including the actions of their neighbors, affecting these nations.

“The problem for me was that these chapters assumed the nation-states were independent creations with no history between themselves without understanding anything about the evolution of the nation-state in Europe,” Opello said. “This short-changes students by not showing them the broader perspective that lies behind the evolution and development of these states.”

Traditional texts also “basically ignore the role of war in the creation of the nation-state,” he added.

Opello said his view of European politics has evolved even since he and fellow SUNY Oswego political science professor Stephen Rosow co-authored “The Nation-State and Global Order” in 1999.

For additional historical context, “European Politics” starts with the dissolution of the Roman Empire, which “provides, in essence, the structure of the modern nation-state,” then looks at how the power void was filled by monarchies for many centuries, Opello noted.

The collapse of another empire, the Soviet Union, touched off another sea change in the development of nation-states. “The Cold War was a short interregnum that covered only about 50 of 700 years of European political history,” he said. “Things that were held frozen on a temporary basis, underlying national dynamics happening in Europe since the time of Napoleon, started churning again.”

The most obvious result is the dramatic increase in the number of nation-states, from 10 in 1500 to 23 in 1900 to 49 nations this year. The rise of ethnic nationalism, which broke up former Eastern bloc countries like Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, drove much of the change.

The book also looks at the impact of the European Union on emerging nation-states, which the authors see as positive.

“Our argument is that not only is the European Union not destroying the nation-state but it provides a foundation by which nation-states can succeed and proliferate,” Opello said. He noted that Kosovo, if it gains independence, can earn open access to an economic market of nearly 500 million people by joining the EU.

Opello points to the recent election of Barack Obama as U.S. president as a move in the opposite direction of Europe’s increasingly ethnocentric states. In the civic nationalism of the United States, immigrants are more likely to become hyphenated Americans under a national melting pot, Opello said, a counterpoint to much of Europe where nationalism has taken on a more ethnically homogenous strain.

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CONTACT: Dr. Walter Opello, 312-3486

(Posted: Nov 26, 2008)

Tags: research news: books and publications