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date: 18 September 2020

(p. 387) European Politics: Introduction

Any stocktaking of historical institutionalism is incomplete without considering the study of Europe, just as any stocktaking of the study of Europe would be incomplete without considering the contributions of historical institutionalism. Chapters in this section illustrate the wide scope of historical institutionalism research on Europe and how that research has informed historical institutionalism over time. From classic areas of study such as the state and democracy, the welfare state, business, and finance, as well as more recent areas such as religion in politics, and the emergence of new forms of supranationalism and transnational regulation, the chapters in this Part take stock of the findings in extant contributions and share suggestions for future research. They detail how attention to the consequences of critical junctures, positive feedback effects, intercurrence, and the sources of a wide variety of incremental change help scholars answer why patterns of institutional durability and change vary at national and international levels of governance.

In the opening chapter, R. Daniel Kelemen provides a panoramic view of historical institutionalism’s contributions to the study of the European state. Home to an unusually large number of states living in close proximity, Europe has served as a particularly fruitful place to study the sources for the enduring and changing features of the modern state, including rules governing authorities to tax, police, and provide security. Kelemen underscores that even after 50 years of steady additions to the supranational (p. 388) structures of the European Union (EU), European states remain characterized by diversity due to legacies of early state formation and the prevalence of incremental over radical changes in how states have been reformed over time.

Unlike the state, which has existed in various permutations for centuries, the widespread consolidation of liberal democracy is a phenomenon reserved for the post-1945 period. In her chapter, Sheri Berman explains why liberal representative democracy was consolidated after World War II. Pointing to conditions shortly after the war that contributed to the emergence of new ideas on appropriative forms of political governance and the empowerment of new social coalitions, Berman concludes that the conditions that consolidated democracy in Western Europe are not easily replicated elsewhere. For this reason, she concludes that opportunities to emulate the lessons from Europe are limited; the stability of democracy in other regions may require a different set of ideas and institutions than those that are so closely linked to the durability of liberal democracy in Europe.

Few areas of research have had as symbiotic a relationship to historical institutionalism as has the study of European welfare states. Julia Lynch and Martin Rhodes’s chapter documents that research on the welfare state has served as an analytical incubator for historical institutionalism. From early work exploring critical junctures and path dependence in contributing to diverse welfare states, to later work identifying positive feedback effects as the major reason why retrenchment in welfare states was limited during moments of crises, scholars have employed and expanded the tradition’s toolbox. In the process, they have created a vibrant historical institutionalism research program that remains a major theoretical anchor for studies of modern welfare states inside and outside Europe, and that at the same time has inspired research in areas only remotely related to institutions of social insurance.

The comparative study of capitalism has parallels to the study of the welfare state in that it too has been both heavily informed by and contributed to historical institutionalism. While Richard Deeg and Elliot Posner detail the tradition’s central position in a large literature on comparative financial systems, Pepper Culpepper documents its contributions to the study of business preferences and organization. Surveying a large literature on national and EU institutions of financial regulation, Deeg and Posner argue that careful attention to the timing and sequence of national reforms enables scholars to explain both why countries have persisted in using diverse institutional blueprints to secure domestic economic objectives, as well as why European financial cooperation has largely changed in incremental fashion along with the gradual introduction of novel forms of international cooperation. Meanwhile, Culpepper encourages future researchers to further refine the tradition’s analytical toolbox and devote more attention to how the power of business and variations in the political salience of economic issues impact economic policy across time and space.

Over time, historical institutionalists have moved beyond the classic focus on the state, democracy, welfare states, and political economy with a strong focus on Western (p. 389) Europe, to explore other areas and parts of the continent. The transition from communism after 1989 in East and Central Europe, for example, is at the center of a large literature that simultaneously examines the effects of major historical turning points and the legacies of past institutions for democratic practice, market regulation, and social incorporation. In her chapter, Anna Grzymala-Busse explores the role of religious doctrine in European politics. The populations of many European countries have long been known for strong preferences for secular society and post-materialist priorities. Yet, as Grzymala-Busse shows, religion has continuously influenced the political landscape of Europe, including transitions to capitalism and democracy in the 1990s and core EU commitments.

As European societies became more deeply integrated economically and politically, scholars have expanded the purview of historical institutionalism to include extensive attention to the origins, evolution, and effects of international cooperation through the EU. While some international relations scholars debated the evolution of integration using adaptations of realist and (neo-)functionalist theories that carried overtones of rational choice and sociological institutionalism, others probed the contributions of historical institutionalism. The latter underscore the presence of European institutions that generated positive and negative feedback effects that respectively served to strengthen and undermine long-established national practices, including how markets are regulated, social risks are insured, and political voices are represented. Part V concludes with two chapters exploring the contributions of historical institutionalism to the study of European integration, including the evolving relationship between domestic and supranational political authority.

Pointing to European and national-level institutions in shaping the constraints on and opportunities for political action, Tim Büthe argues that historical institutionalism is particularly well placed to explain the preferences and strategies of sub-national, national, and supranational change agents. With its emphasis on contextual factors and endogenous logics of institutional change, Büthe argues that the tradition provides the means to explain the sources for the steady expansion in the authority vested in supranational legislative and judicial bodies within the EU. Mark Thatcher and Cornelia Woll continue the exploration of historical institutionalism’s contributions to the study of European integration in a survey of the European regulatory landscape. Detailing the evolutionary logic of European regulation and how the EU’s regulatory landscape become characterized by a patchwork of overlapping national and European-level institutions, Thatcher and Woll document the value of historical institutionalism’s analytical toolbox in providing nuanced answers to how the world’s largest internal market has been structured over time. (p. 390)