Perry Anderson

Perry Anderson’s books include Lineages of the Absolutist State and American Foreign Policy and Its Thinkers.

Peace without Empire

Perry Anderson, 2 December 2021

Financial instability, immigrant pressure and proximate war are not the only subterranean shocks to unsettle the European Union. There are two others, of potentially comparable magnitude. One is the deep change that the passage of generations is likely to bring, as a youth no longer haunted by memories of the Cold War, or buoyed by the illusions that followed it, develops a new agenda of social equality and care for the natural environment. The other is the deterioration of the physical climate that threatens life everywhere. The two intersect in a growing passion among the young for a cause that scarcely had any popular traction in the 20th century, the preservation of the planet. Gradual changes like these have already started to act as counterforces to the follies of unbridled speculation, fears of uncontrolled immigration and contagions of civil war. For Stella Ghervas, balance of power principles, and the needs of military defence, retain their validity against any would-be empire. But the gains of the lasting peace Europe has achieved should not be compromised by them.

The Breakaway: Goodbye Europe

Perry Anderson, 21 January 2021

The masses who voted for Brexit believed they were striking a blow at Brussels and the neoliberalism under which they had suffered for a quarter of a century. In reality, that neoliberalism – harsher than anything on the Continent – was British in origin, and could be overthrown without any of the instant penalties that would have been incurred if the UK had been a loyal member of the EMU. As for those who voted against Brexit, their warnings of disaster were for all immediate purposes irrelevant. In their different ways, the two sides in the referendum battle shared the same illusion: in the world at large, defeat for their position would mean a loss of standing for Britain that was bound to be fatal to its prosperity. Neither of them paid the slightest attention to the obvious fact that (if we exclude toy-states like Liechtenstein, Monaco or Luxembourg) the two richest countries in Europe, with the most advanced welfare systems, do not belong to the EU: Switzerland and Norway.

Ever Closer Union?

Perry Anderson, 7 January 2021

Can democracy, sovereignty and globalisation be happily combined? Regrettably, an EU-wide democracy does not exist, and the reforms adopted since the crisis of 2008 – banking union, stricter fiscal oversight – have made the Union more technocratic, less accountable and more distant from European electorates. What American examples show is that European elites must make a choice, opting either for political union at the cost of national sovereignty, or for national sovereignty at the cost of political union. Intermediate solutions – a little democracy at national level, a little more at EU level – won’t work.

The European Coup

Perry Anderson, 17 December 2020

The key to understanding the success of the construction of Europe lies in the term that recurs with compulsive insistence at the turning points of Luuk van Middelaar’s story: the ‘coup’. The court’s decisions of 1963 and 1964 establishing the supremacy of Community over national legislation, without any warrant in the Treaty of Rome, were successive brilliant coups; the confection of the European Council was a coup; the imposition of a path to revising the treaty at the Council in Milan was a magnificent coup; the foundation of the Union itself was a coup. In each case, the definition of a coup is an action taken suddenly, by stealth, catching its victims unawares, and confronting them with a fait accompli that cannot be reversed. It is not a term associated with any form of democratic politics – just the opposite – and so finds no place, let alone celebration, in the polite vocabulary of liberal politics or jurisprudence. But its central role in van Middelaar’s thought is not a caprice. 

Bolsonaro’s Brazil

Perry Anderson, 7 February 2019

By comparison with the scale of the upheaval through which Brazil has lived in the last five years, and the gravity of its possible outcome, the histrionics over Brexit in this country and the conniptions over Trump in America are close to much ado about nothing.

Time Unfolded: Powell v. the World

Perry Anderson, 2 August 2018

Comparisons​ between works of art, Adorno maintained in Minima Moralia, are inevitably at once refused and demanded by them. That they may simply be incongruous he disregarded. Cases where parallels are as close as those between Proust and Powell lend ‘the compulsion to evaluate’ he thought so generally inescapable a particular force, requiring especial care. We are dealing with...

There is no question that A la recherche du temps perdu was one of the preconditions of A Dance to the Music of Time, which could not have been written without the formal breakthrough A la recherche represented. But Lermontov and Fitzgerald were equally, in certain respects perhaps more, important as inspirations. Anthony Powell was no one’s epigone. When he is set beside Proust, it is not the connections between them, but the disparities in reception that are most significant. The literature on Proust is an ocean, at the latest count more than three thousand titles. On Powell, fewer than a dozen: seven studies from America, one each from France, Japan, Switzerland – and one from Britain. Figures like these have no conceivable relation to respective achievement. They call for other kinds of explanation.

Crisis in Brazil

Perry Anderson, 21 April 2016

In January 2015 Dilma Rousseff began her second presidency. Within three months, huge demonstrations packed the streets of the country’s major cities, at least two million strong, demanding her ouster. In Congress, the Brazilian Social Democracy Party and its allies, emboldened by polls showing Dilma’s popularity had fallen to single figures, moved to impeach her. Her Workers’ Party, which had long enjoyed by far the highest level of approval in Brazil, became the most unpopular party in the country. How had it come to this?

Imitation Democracy: Post-Communist States

Perry Anderson, 27 August 2015

The fall​ of Gorbachev brought Dmitri Furman’s work as Russia’s foremost student of religious systems to a reluctant end. Clear-sighted about what was coming under Yeltsin, Furman would henceforward be the best native analyst of Russia’s post-communism. But that was not his only change of direction in 1991. Political commentary, punctual or long-range, was one thing,...

Famously,​ Russia gave the concept of an intelligentsia to the world. Though the term itself was first recorded in Poland, it was in Russia that it became common currency in the 1860s, reaching the West some two decades later. In historical memory, it remains the cultural marker perhaps most classically associated with the country to this day. The greatness of Russian literature in the 19th...

The Italian Disaster

Perry Anderson, 22 May 2014

Europe is ill. How seriously, and why, are matters not always easy to judge. But among the symptoms three are conspicuous, and inter-related. The first, and most familiar, is the degenerative drift of democracy across the continent, of which the structure of the EU is at once cause and consequence. The oligarchic cast of its constitutional arrangements, once conceived as provisional scaffolding for a popular sovereignty of supranational scale to come, has over time steadily hardened. Referendums are regularly overturned, if they cross the will of rulers.

Diary: Forget about Paris

Perry Anderson, 23 January 2014

France is fabled as the land of bureaucratic centralisation, the epitome of administrative reason, where once a year every adolescent takes the same exam on the same day across the country. The image is not just a foreign legend. It was Tocqueville who first supplied it, as the brand-mark of French Absolutism and the Revolution that followed it. In modern times, its element of truth lies in the exceptional position of Paris as political and intellectual centre of the nation, a position occupied by no other city in a European society of comparable size.

After Nehru

Perry Anderson, 2 August 2012

To hallow the solemn occasion, Nehru and his colleagues sat cross-legged around a sacred fire in Delhi while Hindu priests – arrived posthaste from Tanjore for the ritual – chanted hymns and sprinkled holy water over them, and women imprinted their foreheads with vermilion. Three hours later, on the stroke of midnight, 14 August 1947, a date and time stipulated by Hindu astrologers, Nehru assured his broadcast listeners that their ‘tryst with destiny’ was consummated, and had given birth to the Indian Republic.

Why Partition?

Perry Anderson, 19 July 2012

By 1945, the era of Gandhi was over, and that of Nehru had begun. It is conventional to dwell on the contrasts between the two, but the bearing of these on the outcome of the struggle for independence has remained by and large in the shadows. Nor are the contrasts themselves always well captured. Nehru was a generation younger; of handsome appearance; came from a much higher social class; had an elite education in the West; lacked religious beliefs; enjoyed many an affair. So much is well known. Politically more relevant was the peculiar nature of his relationship to Gandhi.

Gandhi Centre Stage

Perry Anderson, 5 July 2012

‘Astonishing thought: that any culture or civilisation should have this continuity for five or six thousand years or more; and not in a static or unchanging sense, for India was changing and progressing all the time,’ marvelled the country’s future ruler a few years before coming to power. There was ‘something unique’ about the antiquity of the subcontinent and its ‘tremendous impress of oneness’, making its inhabitants ‘throughout these ages distinctively Indian, with the same national heritage and the same set of moral and mental qualities’.

The Force of the Anomaly: Carlo Ginzburg

Perry Anderson, 26 April 2012

Carlo Ginzburg became famous as a historian for extraordinary discoveries about popular belief, and what was taken by its persecutors to be witchcraft, in the early modern period. The Night Battles and The Cheese and the Worms, each a case-study from the north-east corner of Italy, were followed by a synthesis of Eurasian sweep in Ecstasies. The work that has appeared since is no less challenging, but there has been a significant alteration of its forms, and many of its themes.


Perry Anderson, 9 February 2012

Books about China, popular and scholarly, continue to pour off the presses. In this ever expanding literature, there is a subdivision that could be entitled ‘Under Western Eyes’. The larger part of it consists of works that appear to be about China, or some figure or topic from China, but whose real frame of reference, determining the optic, is the United States. Typically written by functionaries of the state, co-opted or career, they have as their underlying question: ‘China – what’s in it for us?’ Rather than Sinology proper, they are Sino-Americana.

Within the huge multiverse of prose fiction the historical novel has, almost by definition, been the most consistently political. It is no surprise that it should have occasioned what is still probably the best-known of all works of Marxist literary theory, Lukács’s The Historical Novel, written in Russian exile in the 1930s. Any reflection on the strange career of this form has to begin there, however far it may then wander from him.

Lula’s Brazil

Perry Anderson, 31 March 2011

Contrary to a well-known English dictum, stoical if self-exonerating, all political lives do not end in failure. In postwar Europe, it is enough to think of Adenauer or De Gasperi, or perhaps even more impressively, Franco. But it is true that, in democratic conditions, to be more popular at the close than at the outset of a prolonged period in office is rare. Rarer still – indeed, virtually unheard of – is for such popularity to reflect, not appeasement or moderation, but a radicalisation in government. Today, there is only one ruler in the world who can claim this achievement, the former worker who in January stepped down as president of Brazil, enjoying the approval of 80 per cent of its citizens. By any criterion, Luiz Inácio da Silva is the most successful politician of his time.


Perry Anderson, 28 January 2010

After 1948, Red China became the focus of still greater fear and anxiety, a totalitarian nightmare more sinister even than Russia. Today, the high-speed growth of the People’s Republic is transforming Western attitudes once again, attracting excitement and enthusiasm in business and media alike, with a wave of fashion and fascination recalling the chinoiserie of rococo Europe. Sinophobia has by no means disappeared. But another round of Sinomania is in the making.

An Invertebrate Left

Perry Anderson, 12 March 2009

The Italian left was once the largest and most impressive popular movement for social change in Western Europe. Comprising two mass parties, each with its own history and culture, and each committed not to ameliorating but to overcoming capitalism, the postwar alliance between Socialists and Communists, the PSI and PCI, did not survive the boom of the 1950s.

Berlusconi embodies perhaps the deepest irony in the postwar history of any Western society. The First Republic collapsed amid public outrage at the exposure of stratospheric levels of political corruption, only to give birth to a Second Republic dominated by a yet more flamboyant monument of illegality and corruption.

After Kemal

Perry Anderson, 25 September 2008

In a famous essay, one of the most acute self-critical reflections to emerge out of any of the youthful revolts of the 1960s, Murat Belge – a writer unrivalled in his intelligence of the political sensibility of his generation – told his contemporaries on the Turkish left, as yet another military intervention came thudding down over more than a decade of ardent hopes, that they had misunderstood their own country in a quite fundamental way.1 They had thought it a Third World society among others, ready for liberation by guerrilla uprisings, in the towns or in the mountains. The paradox they had failed to grasp was that although the Turkey of the time was indeed ‘a relatively backward country economically . . . and socially’ – with a per capita GNP similar to that of Algeria and Mexico, and adult literacy at a mere 60 per cent – it was ‘relatively advanced politically’, having known ‘a two-party system in which opposing leaders have changed office a number of times after a popular mandate, something which has never happened in Japan for example’. In short, Turkey was unusual in being a poor and ill-educated society that had yet remained a democracy as generally understood, if with violent intermissions – Belge was writing in the aftermath of the military putsch of 1980.

Kemalism: After the Ottomans

Perry Anderson, 11 September 2008

‘The greatest single truth to declare itself in the wake of 1989,’ J.G.A. Pocock wrote two years afterwards,

is that the frontiers of ‘Europe’ towards the east are everywhere open and indeterminate. ‘Europe’, it can now be seen, is not a continent – as in the ancient geographers’ dream – but a subcontinent: a peninsula of the Eurasian landmass, like India in being inhabited by a highly distinctive chain of interacting cultures, but unlike it in lacking a clearly marked geophysical frontier. Instead of Afghanistan and the Himalayas, there are vast level areas through which conventional ‘Europe’ shades into conventional ‘Asia’, and few would recognise the Ural mountains if they ever reached them.

But, he went on, empires – of which in its fashion the European Union must be accounted one – had always needed to determine the space in which they exercised their power, fixing the borders of fear or attraction around them.

The Divisions of Cyprus

Perry Anderson, 24 April 2008

Enlargement, widely regarded as the greatest single achievement of the European Union since the end of the Cold War, and occasion for more or less unqualified self-congratulation, has left one inconspicuous thorn in the palm of Brussels. The furthest east of all the EU’s new acquisitions, even if the most prosperous and democratic, has been a tribulation to its establishment, one that neither fits the uplifting narrative of the deliverance of captive nations from Communism, nor furthers the strategic aims of Union diplomacy, indeed impedes them. Cyprus is, in truth, an anomaly in the new Europe.

Depicting Europe

Perry Anderson, 20 September 2007

An epiphany is beguiling Europe. Far from dwindling in historical significance, the Old World is about to assume an importance for humanity it has never, in all its days of dubious past glory, before possessed. At the end of Postwar, his 800-page account of the continent since 1945, the historian Tony Judt exclaims at ‘Europe’s emergence in the dawn of the 21st century as a paragon of the international virtues: a community of values . . . held up by Europeans and non-Europeans alike as an exemplar for all to emulate’. The reputation, he assures us, is ‘well-earned’. The same vision grips the seers of New Labour. Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century declaims the title of a manifesto by Mark Leonard, the party’s foreign policy wunderkind.2 ‘Imagine a world of peace, prosperity and democracy,’ he enjoins the reader. ‘What I am asking you to imagine is the “New European Century”.’

Of all postwar institutions in the public eye, the United Nations has probably yielded the poorest literature. With the exception of two lucid studies of its foundation, Robert Hildebrand’s Dumbarton Oaks (1990) and Stephen Schlesinger’s Act of Creation (2003), each the work of a serious diplomatic historian, little or nothing of analytic interest exists about the organisation,...

Russia’s Managed Democracy: Why Putin?

Perry Anderson, 25 January 2007

Under lowering skies, a thin line of mourners stretched silently outside the funeral hall. Barring the entrance, hulking riot police kept them waiting until assorted dignitaries – Anatoly Chubais, Nato envoys, an impotent ombudsman – had paid their respects. Eventually they were let in to view the corpse of the murdered woman, her forehead wrapped in the white ribbon of the Orthodox rite, her body, slight enough anyway, diminished by the flower-encrusted bier. Around the edges of the mortuary chamber, garlands from the media that attacked her while she was alive stood thick alongside wreaths from her children and friends, the satisfied leaf to leaf with the bereaved. Filing past them and out into the cemetery beyond, virtually no one spoke. Some were in tears. People dispersed in the drizzle as quietly as they came.

Union Sucrée: The Normalising of France

Perry Anderson, 23 September 2004

“The wider puzzle remains: what explains the strange contrast between a unique literary cosmopolitanism and so much intellectual parochialism in France? It is tempting to wonder whether the answer lies simply in the relative self-confidence of each sector: the continuing native vitality of French history and theory inducing indifference to foreign output, and the declining prestige of French letters prompting compensation in the role of a universal dragoman. There may be something in this, but it cannot be the whole story.”

Dégringolade: The Fall of France

Perry Anderson, 2 September 2004

“The French National Assembly is the weakest parliament in the Western world, with more than one resemblance to the echo chambers of the First Empire. The current ruler of the country would be in the dock for malversation had a constitutional court not hastened to grant him immunity from prosecution: a trampling of equality before the law that not even his Italian counterpart, in what is usually imagined to be a still more cynical political culture, has been able to secure. Foreign policy is a mottled parody of Gaullism: vocal opposition to the pretext for war in the Middle East, followed by practical provision of airspace and prompt wishes for victory once the attack was under way. At home the prestige of public works, as late as the 1990s still a touchstone of national pride, lies in the mortuary dust and rubble of Roissy.”

“Whatever the short-term eventualities, the long-term prospects of China ever accepting a breakaway of Taiwan seem small. From the standpoint of the nation-state, for a former province without ethnic difference from the majority population to attempt independence is secession. So far, no nation-state has ever permitted this. Freely to accept the independence of Taiwan would, in the eyes of the central government, be to invite a dynamic of disintegration along Yugoslav lines.”

“If the movement is to have staying power, it will have to develop beyond the fixations of the fan club, the politics of the spectacle, the ethics of fright. For war, if it comes, will not be like Vietnam. It will be short and sharp; and there is no guarantee that poetic justice will follow. A merely prudential opposition to the war will not survive a triumph, any more than handwringing about its legality a UN figleaf.”

The Cardoso Legacy: Lula’s Inheritance

Perry Anderson, 12 December 2002

For two decades – more or less since the Falklands War, and the end of the military dictatorships that had become an international byword for counter-revolutionary ferocity – South America has been largely forgotten by world politics. Recycled democratisation, debt and dependency offered few conflicts and yielded no consequences to compare with dramas in Eastern Europe or Russia,...

Confronting Defeat: Hobsbawm’s Histories

Perry Anderson, 17 October 2002

Historically, in truth, ‘representative democracy is rarely a convincing way of running states.’ Amid the reigning gabble of non-stop ñ bureaucratic, academic, journalistic ñ democratese, such astringency is a bracing corrective. If any testimony were needed of just how unassimilable Hobsbawm’s work is to any comfortable consensus, these acrid verdicts would be enough.

The Age of EJH: Eric Hobsbawm’s Memoirs

Perry Anderson, 3 October 2002

Hobsbawm calls this combination of loyalty and ambition a form of egoism, which he does not defend. Most people would see in it evidence of an exceptional integrity and strength of character: a courage to take unpopular positions all the more striking in one for whom success has plainly mattered so much.

Italy has long occupied a peculiar position within the concert of Europe. By wealth and population it belongs alongside France, Britain and Germany as one of the four leading states of the Union. But it has never played a comparable role in the affairs of the continent, and has rarely been regarded as a diplomatic partner or rival of much significance. Its image lacks any association with...

On Sebastiano Timpanaro

Perry Anderson, 10 May 2001

Philology has a bad name as a discipline encouraging sterile pedantry. Today, few could cite a contemporary practitioner. But the discipline had at least one remarkable after-life, contradicting every preconception, in the strange career of Sebastiano Timpanaro, the Italian scholar and thinker who died in November last year, one of the purest and most original minds of the second half of the...

Western curiosity about other lands has a long history as a literary phenomenon – its fashionable origins are generally dated to the Grand Siècle, the time of the voyages to Mughal India of François Bernier or Thomas Coryate. Distinctions between the more advanced European cultures in the volume or quality of travellers’ tales would be difficult to make for most of the modern period. In the Enlightenment, for every Cook there was a Bougainville or Georg Forster; somewhat later, at a higher level, Humboldt or Custine. But in the 20th century, one society seems to have outproduced all others, across the genres. Between the wars, there was a strong strain of exoticism in French writing, variously surfacing in Gide, Morand, Saint-Exupéry, Michaux, Leiris, Malraux and others, to which Tristes Tropiques can be seen as a melancholy quietus. Little comparable followed. On this side of the Channel, where the tradition was always less philosophical, no such break is visible. The literature of travel appears to have become something of a British speciality.’

The German Question: Goodbye to Bonn

Perry Anderson, 7 January 1999

Helmut Kohl’s election campaign drew to a close on a perfect autumn evening in the cathedral square of Mainz, capital of the Rhine Palatinate, where he had begun his political career. As night fell, the towers of the great sandstone church glowed a dusky red above the baroque market place, packed with supporters. Making his way to the front of this scene, the ‘Chancellor of Unity’ delivered a confident address to the crowd of Christian Democrat Union (CDU) loyalists, brushing aside the barracking from pockets of Far Left youth on the edges of the square. Security was not tight. On a screen beside the podium Kohl’s huge, pear-shaped face, with its bonhomous jawline and sharp feral eyes, was projected into the darkness. From surrounding cafés, bystanders watched the scene with low-key curiosity.‘

In the third week of July this year a ‘national anti-smuggling work conference’ took place in Beijing. In sensational speeches, the rulers of the People’s Republic revealed that China is currently losing 12 billion dollars a year from a massive wave of contraband, involving public officials of every kind – not least the People’s Liberation Army itself. To staunch this disastrous flow, President Jiang Zemin announced the establishment of ‘a national special police force to crack down on rampant smuggling’, to be rewarded from the proceeds of confiscations, and ordered the Army to withdraw from all its – multifarious – commercial enterprises. The issue has certain historical echoes.’‘

The range of emotions parents can arouse in their children – affection, rebellion, indifference, fear, adulation, their disturbing combinations – suggests a repertory of subjective universals, cutting in each individual case at random across cultures. What children know – as opposed to feel – about their parents, on the other hand, is likely to be a function of objective constraints that vary more systematically: tradition, place, lifespan. Is there an unalterable core, of pudeur or incomprehension, even here? That is less clear. In the American tropics, for instance, gaps of scarcely more than a dozen years between generations, not uncommon, can create an easy sibling intimacy between mother and grown-up child, difficult to imagine in the North.

Diary: In Seoul

Perry Anderson, 17 October 1996

Stereotypes of the Far East, dominated by images of China and Japan, leave Korea in a vaguer limbo, of acronyms or bestiaries: NICs or Little Tigers. But if the Western traveller does arrive with any idées reçues, they are liable to be soon dispelled. Seoul is now the third largest city in the world, as a municipal unit – bigger than Tokyo or Beijing. Size is no guarantee of modernity, as the desperate inequality and violence of the two greatest of all urban concentrations, São Paulo and Bombay, testify. But that is still the Third World. Seoul is not part of it. What a Londoner notices first is the ways in which the city is more advanced than his own.

The Europe to Come

Perry Anderson, 25 January 1996

On New Year’s Day 1994, Europe – the metonym – changed names. The dozen nations of the Community took on the title of Union, though as in a Spanish wedding, the new did not replace but encompassed the old. Was anything of substance altered? So far, very little. The member states have risen to 15, with the entry of three former neutrals. Otherwise things are much as they were before. What is new, however, is that everyone knows this is not going to last. For the first time since the war, Europe is living in anticipation of vast but still imponderable changes to the part that has stood for the whole. Three dominate the horizon.’

Under the Sign of the Interim

Perry Anderson, 4 January 1996

Mathematically, the European Union today represents the largest single unit in the world economy. It has a nominal GNP of about six trillion dollars, compared with five trillion for the US and three trillion for Japan. Its total population, now over 360 million, approaches that of the United States and Japan combined. Yet in political terms such magnitudes continue to be virtual reality. Beside Washington or Tokyo, Brussels remains a cipher. The Union is not equivalent to either the United States or Japan, since it is not a sovereign state. But what kind of formation is it? Most Europeans themselves are at a loss for an answer. The Union remains a more or less unfathomable mystery to all but a handful of those who, to their bemusement, have recently become its citizens. Arcane to ordinary voters, it is covered by a film of mist even in the mirror of scholars.

The Dark Side of Brazilian Conviviality

Perry Anderson, 24 November 1994

Brazil today has a larger population and gross national product than Yeltsin’s Russia. Yet, against all reason, it continues to occupy a curiously marginal position in the contemporary historical consciousness. In 15 years it has left virtually no trace in these pages. Popular images, despite increasing tourism, remain scanty: folk-villains on the run, seasonal parades in fancy-dress, periodic football triumphs. In cultural influence, while the music and literature of Latin America have swept round the world, Brazil has receded. The rhythms of salsa have long eclipsed those of the samba, and the list of headline novelists conspicuously omits any name from the land of Machado de Assis, the most ingenious 19th-century practitioner of the form outside Europe. Today Northern readers are more likely to get an impression of Brazil from Peruvian bombast than from any native fiction.

Maurice Thomson’s War

Perry Anderson, 4 November 1993

The English Civil War occupies a strange niche in contemporary memory. To all official appearances, no episode of the country’s modern past is so parenthetical. Leaving no reputable trace in common traditions or public institutions, it looks in established retrospect like a temporary black-out in the growth of the national psyche. Our only republic remains under ban, a historical freak. Rosebery could raise a statue to Cromwell outside Parliament: eighty years later, Benn could not even get him onto a postage-stamp, at a time when Rosa Luxemburg adorned West German mail.

Diary: On E.P. Thompson

Perry Anderson, 21 October 1993

Coming home one evening in the last weeks of 1962, I found a bottle of wine in the vacated room, with a note underneath. Edward Thompson had been completing The Making of the English Working-Class. He lived in Halifax, and needed a final couple of weeks in the British Museum. In those days I lived in Talbot Road, newly wed to Juliet Mitchell. She was teaching in Leeds, while I was working for New Left Review in London. After hours Edward and I would exchange notes on our day, and fence amiably about history and sociology. ‘Do you really think Weber is more important than Marc Bloch?’ he would ask me with an air of mischievous puzzlement. If we were more circumspect about politics, this was partly a question of tact – he didn’t want to lean on me too heavily, as a cub editor of the journal of which he was a founder. But there was also a trick of perception to which I was subject.’

High Jinks at the Plaza

Perry Anderson, 22 October 1992

‘Constitutional theorists who wish to hold our attention must charm as well as instruct; this is not so, I think, in other countries,’ writes Ferdinand Mount. Who better to illustrate the claim? Few figures in the world of English letters possess such a combination of credentials. Author of a number of novels; columnist or leader-writer for half of the nation’s press, with a record of service from the Sketch to the Spectator; champion of family values; political counsellor at Downing Street: the editor of the Times Literary Supplement seems the ideal candidate for the task in hand. Nor is the success of The British Constitution Now in fulfilling the first part of the requirement in doubt. Mount’s account of the framework of the United Kingdom, and what repair it may call for, has already beguiled readers across the political spectrum. Commentators on right and left alike have praised its wit and acumen. If few have seen eye to eye with every proposal it makes, virtually all have agreed that this is the work of an enlightened reformer, of liberal temper, within the party of tradition. Here, so it would appear, is a rare conservative who might even be regarded as an ally, in his own fashion, of the franc-tireurs around Charter 88.

A few months alter the fall of Margaret Thatcher, the most original thinker of post-war Conservatism died. Perhaps partly because of the commotion caused by the change of national leadership, the passing of Michael Oakeshott did not attract much public notice. Even the Spectator, which might have been expected to mark the event with a full salute, ignored it for half a year, before carrying a curiously distracted piece by its editor, reporting strange losses in the philosopher’s papers, without so much as mentioning his political ideas. Perhaps another element in the muted reaction was the remoteness of Oakeshott’s intellectual origins from the contemporary landscape. Anglo-Scottish Idealism of the early years of this century, its other lights long since extinguished, has become one of the least recollected episodes of the native past. Oakeshott was always held difficult to place. Although he was an exemplary patriot of British institutions, a superficial glance might lead one to think he was latterly more regarded in the United States. His last book, The Voice of Liberal Learning, was edited from Colorado. The first posthumous collection, an enlarged version of Rationalism in Politics, now appears from Indianopolis. The only extended survey of his work is a monograph from Chicago. But his profile, on either side of the Atlantic, continues to be elusive.

‘The people are exulting’ – narod likuyet. The phrase was spoken with impassive distance – perhaps even irony – by a heavily-armed commando in the White House, as we looked down at the first, still rather scattered and tentative outbursts of revelry among the crowds camped in the night below round the Russian Parliament. There was still no hard news of what had happened in the Crimea, but by the evening of 21 August the rumour outside was already of victory. Inside, there was the traditional mêlée associated with a revolution – corridors flowing with confused eddies of soldiers, activists, politicians, journalists, militia, interlopers of every kind; real tank crews rubbing shoulders with stage Cossacks; a balcony priest moving alertly through it all. An Australian could be overheard saying it reminded him of Managua. Hispanic echoes were, as it happened, everywhere in Moscow in those days. Resistance broadsheets read No pasaran; graffiti denounced the khunta; citizens demanded of armoured units if they were prepared to re-enact Chile. Popular celebrations and revolutionary images were in place. But the nature of the overturn in August is only partly suggested by them.’

Nation-States and National Identity

Perry Anderson, 9 May 1991

The most renowned historian of his time. Fernand Braudel owed his international reputation to the two great volumes on the Mediterranean in the age of Philip II which he published in 1949, and to his trilogy on the material civilisation of world capitalism, which appeared between 1967 and 1979. He died a few months before the first volumes of his incomplete final work came out in 1986. More...

England’s Isaiah

Perry Anderson, 20 December 1990

Intellectual hero to Noel Annan, whose political heroine is Margaret Thatcher, should Isaiah Berlin be left to the – ‘unfashionable’ – enthusiasms of Our Age? Or consigned to the plaudits that have broken out for his latest volume from the Spectator to the New Statesman? He himself strikes a more modest note. ‘I talk about other people. I examine their views. But what about me?’ he said recently. His opinions were just local currency. ‘My ideas are very English. I’ve thrown in my lot with England. It’s the best country in the world.’ Such loyal self-deprecation is scarcely less suspect.’


Perry Anderson, 8 November 1990

Carlo Ginzburg has many claims to be considered the outstanding European historian of the generation which came of age in the late Sixties. Certainly few have equalled him in originality, variety and audacity. He made his debut with a spectacular discovery: the first, and still only, documented case of a magical fertility and funerary cult in the countryside of Early Modern Europe, the trances of the Benandanti in Friuli, stumbled upon unawares by the Roman Inquisition. Next, he transformed the genealogy of religious dissimulation in the age of the Reformation, by tracing the origins of Nicodemism – theological doctrines sanctioning public concealment of private faith – to the defeat of the Peasants’ War in Germany and milieux close to Anabaptism, well before the rise of Calvin, whose attacks on Nicodemism coined the term. There followed his vivid portrait of the autodidact Italian miller Menocchio, whose cosmology of spontaneous generation – the world born as cheese and worms – he referred to a subterranean peasant materialism. Changing terrain again, Ginzburg then suggested a new iconographic explanation of Piero della Francesca’s greatest paintings, linking them through an unnoticed Aretine Humanist to the abortive union of the Greek and Roman Churches, and the crusades projected around the fall of Constantinople. The intellectual unity, and novelty, of these different enquiries can best be grasped in the essays that make up the recent collection Myths Emblems Clues. Its centrepieces are two long methodological reflections, the first on the Warburg tradition of art history, and the second on the heuristics of attribution, from ancient divination to modern connoisseurship.’


Perry Anderson, 6 July 1989

Under a flat, anonymous title and in serial guise one of the most exotic – even flamboyant – intellectual projects of recent years is coming to fruition. The first volume of W.G. Runciman’s Treatise on Social Theory, devoted to the dry topic of methodology, set out in reasonable and moderate tones an agenda for social understanding combining – in so many words – ambitions of a Ranke, a Comte, a Proust and a Hart: to report accurately, to explain scientifically, to re-create imaginatively, and to judge impartially and benevolently. Perhaps the most striking feature of this programme was its association of two aims normally reckoned antithetical: an explanatory structure continuous with the natural sciences and an imaginative recapture modelled on literary fictions. Few practitioners of the social sciences have the confidence to invoke the ideals of Herbert Spencer and Henry James simultaneously.’


Goodbye to Europe

7 January 2021

To describe Ian Lee, ‘director-general of operational policy’ at the Ministry of Defence in 2002-3, as preparing for the war in Iraq isn’t an absurd insinuation, but a statement of plain fact, though he may prefer it forgotten. To reassure Martin Westlake, a glass of wine, sufficient to dispel a terminological confusion, normally accompanies rather than precludes a meal. 

Goodbye to Europe

17 December 2020

Perry Anderson writes: The letters objecting to my account of the European Union offer a range of criticisms, none without an intelligible rationale.Ian Lee, director-general of operational policy at the Ministry of Defence, who led British planning and execution of the war on Iraq and accompanied Geoff Hoon on a mission to persuade Ankara to allow US and UK forces to attack the country from Turkish...

Crisis in Brazil

20 April 2016

Fernando Henrique Cardoso writes that while president he had nothing to do with the purchase of votes in favour of his re-election in 1998, and that it is nonsense to suggest he spent more proportionately than Clinton on an electoral campaign, misleading to assert he had any traffic with Delcídio do Amaral, a central figure in the Lava-Jato case, and regrettable that an unfounded paternity should...

Gandhi and After

19 July 2012

Two not uncommon reflexes in the sensibility of contemporary Indian patriotism may be seen in the responses to my essays on India (Letters, 30 August). The first is an inability to look with much care at any view out of step with inherited convictions, as too upsetting to be fully registered. In this case, we have claims that I fail to attribute any ‘political acumen or historical agency to Gandhi...

Historical Logic

26 April 2012

David and Ricardo Nirenberg suggest that I imply Carlo Ginzburg’s essays lack coherent conclusions; fail to realise that historians averse to intellectual systems must concern themselves with epistemology, as a safeguard against them; and don’t cite any historical rules without exceptions (Letters, 24 May). The first point is a misunderstanding. The swerve at the end of a Ginzburg essay...

Our Man

10 May 2007

The two letters from – recently departed – Anglo-American functionaries of the UN (Edward Mortimer, Letters, 24 May, and Jonathan Prentice and Scott Malcomson, Letters, 7 June) are good illustrations of the characterisation of it in the article of which they complain. Mortimer pretends to think that any documented criticism of either Annan or himself is a mere conspiracy theory. Neither...
Timothy Garton Ash protests that statesmen like Clinton or Major surely bear more blame for the fate of Yugoslavia than a commentator like himself (Letters, 6 January). Of course. But my judgment that ‘if any individual voice in the public realm bears a measure of responsibility for the tragic inversion of priorities as Yugoslavia slid towards the abyss, it would be his’ does not confuse...


25 January 1996

The impulse to self-justification, common to us all, has made Timothy Garton Ash unneccesarily irritable (Letters, 7 March). The issues in our exchange were these:1. Was it sensible or equitable in 1991 to urge that EC aid be reserved for the three best-off East European countries – Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary – and that they be rapidly inducted, ahead of all others, into the Community?...


24 September 1992

William Lamont points to Ernest Barker’s Oliver Cromwell and the English People as a peccant moment of his liberalism (Letters, 22 October). Touché. Still, if Lamont’s own work on William Prynne and Richard Baxter teaches us to distinguish between different kinds of 17th-century Puritan, not to smooth out their paradoxes, and to set each in the collective context of the time, the...

Showing the flag

20 December 1990

John Bayley (Letters, 10 January) wonders where I found a Russian tricolour of black, gold and white. The answer is: from the Imperial decree of 1858 which made it the correct flag of the Empire, in concord with the Romanov arms – and from the processions in Moscow today, in which rival banners express attachment to different aspects of the old order. There are those for whom it is more handsome...

A Day at the Races

8 November 1990

Carlo Ginzburg’s engaging letter (Letters, 10 January) wonders whether my queries about his hook Storia Notturna (Ecstasies) are not prompted by a conservative resistance to all historical experiment. By no means. Discontinuous narratives, arcane readings, diagonal problem-shifters have often shed new light on the past. But they too, no less than other kinds of history, must answer to the controls...

You need a gun: The A-Word

Wolfgang Streeck, 14 December 2017

What​ is the relationship between coercion and consent? Under what circumstances does power turn into authority, brute force into legitimate leadership? Can coercion work without consent? Can...

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‘It is a sign​ of true political power when a great people can determine, of its own will, the vocabulary, the terminology and the words, the very way of speaking, even the way of...

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What We Have: Tarantinisation

David Bromwich, 4 February 1999

Post-Modernism entered the public mind as a fast-value currency in the late Seventies and early Eighties, in the field of architecture, where its association with gimmicky tropes of visual play...

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Geoffrey Hawthorn, 3 December 1992

For the past thirty years, New Left Review has been the most consistently interesting political journal in the country. And Perry Anderson, who used to edit it and still helps direct it, has been...

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What would socialism be like?

Geoffrey Hawthorn, 1 March 1984

Joseph Schumpeter had a refreshing sense of socialism. For him, it had almost no fixed sense at all. ‘A society may be fully and truly socialist and yet be led by an absolute ruler or be...

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English Marxists in dispute

Roy Porter, 17 July 1980

The Englishness of English historians lies in their eclecticism. Few would admit to being unswerving Marxists, Freudians, Structuralists, Cliometricians, Namierites, or even Whigs. Most believe...

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