Gret Haller
Politics, democracy and social affairs
Politik der Götter: Europa und der neue Fundamentalismus. International Affairs 82: 2, 2006 (Politics, democracy and social affairs 383) by Alexander Stephan, Ohio State University, USA

The year 2004 / 5 was a successful season for anyone interested in books analysing the state of the transatlantic rift between Europe and the United States. Americans like T. R. Reid and Stephen F. Szabo published substantial accounts of the tensions between the Old and the New World since the end of the Cold War. Timothy Garton Ash added a specifically British perspective to the debate. And Jeremy Rifkin, a public intellectual who has written on a wide range of topics, presented a frequently quoted paean to a new European dream which at times resembles a propaganda brochure of the European Union.

Gret Haller's books Die Grenzen der Solidarität: Europa und die USA im Umgang mit Staat, Nation und Religion (2002) and Politik der Götter: Europa und der neue Fundamentalismus do not fit the pattern of the studies mentioned above. First, Haller is not a scholar or journalist but a politician who served as member and president of the Swiss parliament, ambassador for Switzerland to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg and "Ombudswoman" for human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Second, she builds on her legal training and experience by holding the standards of international law above moral values like "good" and "evil." And third, she combines a strong allegiance to an enlightened Swiss patriotism with a deep belief in the values advanced by the united Europe. Gret Haller explained that the motivation for writing her books originated from a personal experience with the fundamentally different approaches employed by Americans and Europeans in solving the recent crisis in the Balkans. At the same time, neither study deals directly with the aftermath of the collapse of Yugoslavia. Rather, Die Grenzen der Solidarität attempts to unearth the historical roots of the transatlantic clash of civilizations by analysing concepts such as nationbuilding, sovereignty, conflict resolution, international law, freedom and religion. Politik der Götter, Gret Haller's second book about the conflict between Europe and the US, expands on a theme which arguably is most puzzling for European observers: the past and present medley of religion and politics in the United States. In objective but unambiguous terms Politik der Götter traces the lines from the religious exceptionalism of the early American settlers to the American belief in the dominance of market forces over the regulatory power of the state and the current fundamentalism of the Bush administration in international politics. In turn, Haller insists that Europe must remember both its bloody history of wars and its long experience with the ideals of the Enlightenment, including recent successes with advancing universal human rights, sharing economic wealth and environmental resources, and solving conflicts through international organizations like the UN and the EU.

Politik der Götter argues in strong terms that religious fundamentalism "Made in the USA" is a central, perhaps even the central, force contributing to the current rift between the Old and the New World. Haller explains further that in the aftermath of the religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Europe began to protect the state from the Church, while Americans insist more than ever that the Church needs to be defended against the state. And Politik der Götter maintains that the European model of a socially benevolent res publica is increasingly challenged by the American tradition of a largely unrestricted expansion of the res privata. The most obvious weakness of Gret Haller's books on the troubled relationship between Europe and the United States is that neither study engages with recent research published in English. And Politik der Götter is lacking in its analysis of the role the "other" fundamentalism, Islam, will play in the future for Europe, America and the rest of the world. This said, it is imperative that Gret Haller's essays on the historical and cultural differences between the US and Europe should be made available as soon as possible to readers of English who could greatly benefit from the insights of one of the more engaging European thinkers dealing with the origins of a transatlantic clash of values which will be here to stay for a long time.

© The Royal Institute of International Affairs 2006