Having served as the Ombudsperson for Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Gret Haller witnessed first-hand the divergent approaches to such concepts as state, nation and law among Americans and Europeans working to reassemble a fractured nation, and she was subsequently compelled to investigate the historical and philosophical underpinnings of both societies responsible for these differences. Limits of Atlanticism, the product of her inquiry, is arguably one of the most important books published recently on the subject of US–European relations.
Haller sees the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, which brought an end to the wars of religion on the European continent, as providing the moment when the two Atlantic societies began to diverge: "Europe, for peace and political reasons, decided that religion had to subordinate itself to the state. By contrast, the emigrants to America ensured that the state did not impinge upon religion" (p. 19). Europeans thus conceive of the state as arising from the shared sovereignty of its people and its people as belonging to the state existentially, while Americans see the state as an association to which one voluntarily pledges affiliation. "The consequence of such individually defined affiliation is the emergence of non-affiliated persons, and this necessarily leads to the fundamental moral categories of "good" and "evil", as perhaps best exemplified in the rhetoric of President George Bush (pp. 46–47). Haller subsequently demonstrates how these differences played out in her own experience of working with the international community in Bosnia, especially with regard to the way the Dayton Agreement "essentially failed to provide people with the possibility to create multi-ethnic coexistence through civil effort, pointing them instead toward a struggle for civil rights" as based upon American thought patterns, which, lacking a concept of shared sovereignty, only served in retrospect to increase ethnic tensions (p. 79). Likewise does she warn that the increasing adoption of an American perspective on state and nation in Europe, especially in the former communist bloc, threatens to erode the European peace order.
Limits of Atlanticism provides a seamless blend of history, political theory, religious studies and personal memoir and is a crucial volume for those impacted directly by Europe and America's ideological drift from each other. Students of American history would also do well to draw upon Haller's outsider perspective, for she holds up a mirror to those fundamental ideas – such as our own definitions of freedom – that we all too often assume are universal.
Copyright Journal compilation © 2009 Political Studies Association and Blackwell Publishing Ltd