A Marxist analysis of the challenges and dangers of EU integration is at once brilliant in its detail and utterly wrong-headed in its analysisby Andrew Moravcsik / March 19, 2010 / Leave a comment
The New Old World By Perry Anderson (Verso, £24.99)
Perry Anderson is an angry man. The object of his anger is the EU. Its foreign policy, he believes, renders it little more than a “deputy empire” of the US. Its neo-liberal economics have created a “vast free range for the factors of production,” generating inequality yet adding little to growth. Its leaders justify Turkish enlargement with “multicultural cant.” Worst of all, a democratic deficit in Europe stifles effective left-wing opposition from “chloroformed legislatures and mediaspheres.”
These are conventional socialist criticisms of Europe. But Anderson is no conventional socialist. Long-time editor of the New Left Review and perhaps Britain’s foremost Marxist historian, though now teaching in California, he is one of the most broad-ranging and engaging analysts of modern European history. This book, collecting essays written over the past decade, seeks to explain the historical origins of Europe’s current predicament and to chart its future.
The result is at once insightful and frustrating. In seeking to demonstrate what is wrong with Europe, Anderson ends up demonstrating what is wrong with modern Marxist historiography. A tradition which toppled plodding “one damn thing after another” history with sweeping revisionist reinterpretations of world events has now been diverted into Gramscian analyses of cultural particularities, and thence full-circle to a postmodernist embrace of indeterminacy—not unlike the meandering old-school history Marxists once rejected. In struggling to explain European integration, Anderson recapitulates this evolution—ending up utterly baffled by current constitutional circumstances in the EU.
The book is dedicated to the late Alan Milward, doyen of postwar EU historians. Milward argued that European integration was never intended to replace the nation-state, but to rescue it. The key was commerce. By quashing economic nationalism and encouraging trade, the EU would promote domestic prosperity, foster international peace and, most importantly, consolidate Europe’s greatest postwar achievement: the democratic social welfare state. Milward’s narrative sweeps aside the ideological and geopolitical causes that dominate schoolbook narratives of European integration. The idealism of Jean Monnet and other European federalists are “a pack of pieties.” Avoiding wars between France and Germany, keeping the Russians out, British Euroscepticism, are all secondary. The key motivations, in Milward’s account, lie in economic self-interest and domestic political advantage.
Though Milward is no Marxist, his approach has much in common with Marxism’s clear-sighted focus on material gain. Anderson accepts much of this, and he is at his most devastating when…