The history of Western political thought is a magnificent tapestry of multiple threads, which, over the ages, have been woven and unpicked in countless fashions. New patterns have been added, obscuring older material that was once central to the picture. From time to time restoration work has brought back to life fabric that earlier ages had allowed to fade away. Some themes have endured through the centuries: sovereignty prime among them. Others are mere eccentricities, deviations whose stitches have torn our politics rather than refreshing it: in the future, socialism will surely come to be seen as the great aberration of our time.
The most insightful historians of political thought have studied the tapestry to recover what Hannah Arendt called “lost treasure”—modes of politics, once influential, that later schools of thought dominated and obscured. Thus, Isaiah Berlin made us think afresh about pluralism, as JGA Pocock rescued Machiavelli and Quentin Skinner resurrected civic republicanism.
This paper argues that there is another lost treasure that we in Europe need now to recover: the noble tradition of antifederalism. The argument is that the federal vision of Europe has failed and that, if the European Union is to survive and thrive, it is only antifederalism that can rescue it.