The New Old World

March 18, 2010

Readers who appreciate Perry Anderson's wide-ranging essays for the London Review of Books (including this reviewer) will be pleased to have this anthology of them in book form. Seven of the ten chapters appeared there, in full or in part, and are reprinted here virtually without change. This book has quite a distinctive structure: five of its chapters - the first three and the last two, adding up to about 200 pages - deal with the origins, present condition and future prospects of the European Union.

In contrast, the five central chapters of the book, totalling about 340 pages, reproduce the author's stimulating surveys of individual European countries, some of them forming "the core" of the EU (France, Germany, Italy) and others constituting what he calls the "Eastern Question" (Cyprus and Turkey). The reader will have to turn elsewhere for an analysis of other important partners shaping the EU's development - Spain, Scandinavia, Central Europe and the British Isles - but this book's rather unconventional scope is at least clearly set out in the foreword.

These "national" chapters, written at different dates over the past ten years, offer highly perceptive interpretations of the political, economic, social and intellectual trends in the countries concerned. They shed a penetrating light on the forces at work in the fiefdoms of Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel and Silvio Berlusconi, and the regimes of Cyprus and Turkey, and should be required reading for diplomats posted to any of these countries.

On the other hand, it must be said that their connection with the book's opening and closing analysis of the EU is not clearly spelled out. For instance, the Mitterrand government's radical shift in 1984 towards neoliberal economics and away from what was ironically dubbed "socialism in one country" did involve drastic changes in France's attitude to "Brussels" that are here alluded to only briefly.

In his analysis of the EU - its antecedents, current state and prospects - Anderson offers a guided tour through the literature on the nature of European integration. His sweep through this vast and intensively tilled field is highly selective. He has little or no time for any British author except the not-uncontroversial historian Alan Milward (to whom the book is dedicated), for any German or Austrian except Jurgen Habermas and, surprisingly, Friedrich Hayek, or for any Frenchman except Edgar Morin. The few scholars he finds significant include the Americans Ernst Haas, Andrew Moravcsik (with whom he disagrees), John Gillingham and Philippe Schmitter, and the internationalised Italians Stefano Bartolini and Giandomenico Majone. From the last, Anderson adopts the view that the EU is essentially the servant of a neoliberal capitalist orthodoxy, an agency for the regulation of a market economy. (The implication is that "Brussels" regulates business and banking with a light touch, but comes down heavily to curb social expenditure.)

Anderson rightly observes at the start that the existing literature on the EU has found it difficult to focus clearly on the interface between the national and the "European" levels of political action. It cannot be said that this brilliant collection of essays, some concerned with one level, others with the other, achieves an effective synthesis.

Overall, the reader is left with the feeling that Anderson has let off a scintillating display of fireworks, but that these come from different boxes and whizz off in different directions, so that they fail to give a coherent picture of where the "New Old World" now stands, and what challenges it will face in the future. Few other authors, if any, could produce, as Anderson does, a book that traces the mainstream of Italian national consciousness from Dante to Gramsci; that assesses the relevance of the 16th-century Ottoman Empire (as well as the Armenian genocide of 1915) to Turkey's possible membership of the EU; that surveys the history of the "European idea" with the help of Rosa Luxemburg's correspondence with Karl Kautsky; and that also compares Alan Milward's interpretation of European integration with those of Hayek or Majone. However, the question remains of how it all fits together, and the reader is left unaided (perhaps this was the idea?) to attempt the work of "only connect".

Finally, although we should be grateful to the publisher for assembling this collection, it ought to be deeply ashamed to have issued a work of this importance without including a bibliography. This omission is shocking in any scholarly publication (although it is becoming alarmingly frequent), but it is particularly scandalous in a book that devotes long passages to discussing the relevant literature. What does the publisher think it is doing when it obliges the reader to dig through the footnotes to chapter one or chapter three to find those references to works by Milward or Majone, or chapter ten for Bartolini? And surely an author wants to present a systematic list of the studies he has consulted?

The New Old World

By Perry Anderson. Verso, 592pp, £24.99. ISBN 9781844673124. Published 11 January 2010

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