Amphibiology and Perry Anderson’s The New Old World

Mark Mazower, author of Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century, reviews the British historian Perry Anderson’s new book, The New Old World in The Nation. While admiring some of Anderson’s analysis, Mazower takes him to task for basically promoting a form of Leftist intellectual elitism (unfairly, I think). Much the same accusations have been lobbied at the New Left Review throughout its history as well. I haven’t read Anderson’s book yet, but here is Mazower’s conclusion:

Elitism can take many forms, of course. Anderson’s political goals have, on the showing of this book, moderated considerably over time: what counts now for him in Europe is the revival of popular politics and the struggle against growing economic inequality. But if previous positions have been tacitly abandoned, there has been no diminution in authorial certainty: the tone of omniscience remains for the most part intact, and there are flashes of the author’s trademark hauteur. More discordant with his avowedly democratizing goals, it seems to me, is his prose. Connoisseurs of Andersoniana will enjoy recherché gems such as “amphibology,” “capsizal” and “conflictivity.” Without touching on the obiter dicta in French, German, Latin and Italian, we find, in only a few pages, “decathexis,” “semi-catallaxy,” “paralogism” and “censitary,” alongside archaisms like “estoppage,” “prebends” and “brigade” (used as a verb). Such language stands as testimony to elitism of a different kind, that of a small substratum of the postwar British left whose basically Leninist conception of radical politics led them to abjure too close a contact with the masses, whose ultimate victory they supposedly championed. But now another kind of elitism, much more impenetrable in word and deed, is in the ascendant in Europe. Anderson is good at puncturing its self-serving myths. But the explanation of its staying power must be sought elsewhere.”


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