Perry R. Anderson (born September 1938, London) is a British historian and political essayist. A specialist in intellectual history, he is often identified with the post-1956 Western Marxism of the New Left. He is Professor of History and Sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and a former editor of the New Left Review. Anderson has written several books, the latest being The Indian Ideology (2012), a polemic against the Indian nation-building project. He is the brother of political scientist Benedict Anderson.
Background and early life
Anderson was born in 1938. His father, James Carew O'Gorman Anderson (1893–1946), known as Shaemas, an official with the Chinese Maritime Customs, was born into an Anglo-Irish family, the younger son of Brigadier-General Sir Francis Anderson, of Ballydavid, County Waterford. He was descended from the Anderson family of Ardbrake, Bothriphnie, Scotland, who had settled in Ireland in the early 18th century. His mother, Veronica Beatrice Mary Anderson, was English. His grandmother, Frances, Lady Anderson, belonged to the Gaelic Gorman clan of County Clare and was the daughter of the Irish Home Rule Member of Parliament Major Purcell O'Gorman, himself the son of Nicholas Purcell O'Gorman who had been involved with the Republican Society of United Irishmen during the 1798 Rebellion, later becoming Secretary of the Catholic Association in the 1820s. Anderson's father had previously been married to the novelist Stella Benson, and it was after her death in 1933 that he married again.
In 1962 Anderson became editor of the New Left Review, a position he held for twenty years. As scholars of the New Left began to reassess their canon in the mid-1970s, Anderson provided an influential perspective. He published two major volumes of analytical history in 1974: Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism focuses on the creation and endurance of feudal social formations, while Lineages of the Absolutist State examines monarchical absolutism. Within their respective topics they are each vast in scope, assessing the whole history of Europe from classical times to the nineteenth century. The books achieved an instant prominence for Anderson, whose wide-ranging analysis synthesised elements of history, philosophy, and political theory.
In the 1980s he took office as a professor at the New School for Social Research in New York. He returned as editor at NLR in 2000 for three more years, and after his retirement continued to serve on the journal's editorial committee. He still writes, including frequent contributions to the London Review of Books, and continues to teach as a Distinguished Professor of History and Sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Influence and criticism
He bore the brunt of the disapproval of E. P. Thompson in the latter's The Poverty of Theory, in a controversy during the late 1970s over the structural Marxism of Louis Althusser, and the use of history and theory in the politics of the Left. In the mid-1960s, Thompson wrote an essay for the annual Socialist Register that rejected Anderson's view of aristocratic dominance of Britain's historical trajectory, as well as Anderson's seeming preference for continental European theorists over radical British traditions and empiricism. Anderson delivered two responses to Thompson's polemics, first in an essay in New Left Review (January–February 1966) called "Socialism and Pseudo-Empiricism" and then in a more conciliatory yet ambitious overview, Arguments within English Marxism (1980).
While Anderson has faced many attacks in his native Britain for favouring continental European philosophers over British thinkers, he has not spared Western European Marxists from criticism; see his Considerations on Western Marxism (1976). Nevertheless, many of his assaults have been delivered against postmodernist currents in continental Europe. In the Tracks of Historical Materialism Anderson regards Paris as the new capital of intellectual reaction, quite at odds with others who treat postmodernism as a left heresy.
Anderson is the author of numerous books, including:
- Passages From Antiquity to Feudalism (1974). London: New Left Books. ISBN 090230870X.
- Lineages of the Absolutist State (1974). London: New Left Books. ISBN 0902308165.
- Considerations on Western Marxism (1976).
- Arguments within English Marxism (1980). London: Verso. ISBN 0860917274.
- In the Tracks of Historical Materialism (1983). London: Verso. ISBN 0860910768.
- English Questions (1992). London: Verso. ISBN 0860913759.
- A Zone of Engagement (1992). London: Verso. ISBN 0860913775.
- The Origins of Postmodernity (1998). London: Verso. ISBN 1859842224.
- Spectrum: From Right to Left in the World of Ideas (2005). London: Verso. ISBN 1859845274.
- The New Old World (2009). London: Verso. ISBN 9781844673124.
- The Indian Ideology (2012). New Delhi: Three Essays Collective. ISBN 9788188789924.
- American Foreign Policy and Its Thinkers (2015). London: Verso.
- Gregory Elliott (1998), Perry Anderson: the merciless laboratory of history, Univ. of Minnesota Press, p. 1
- Sir Bernard Burke, Peter Townsend, Burke's Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry (1969), p. 41
- Perry Anderson, A Belated Encounter (Anderson's short biography of his father James)
- "Journal of the Old Waterford Society 1994". Page 7, para. 9
- "John O'Hart, Irish Pedigree's, or, The Origin and Stem of the Irish Nation".
- Gregory Elliott, Perry Anderson: The Merciless Laboratory of History (1998), p. 1
- Parker, David (1988). Cannon, John, ed. The Blackwell Dictionary of Historians. Oxford; New York: Basil Blackwell Ltd. pp. 8–9. ISBN 063114708X.
- London Review of Books (2012). "Perry Anderson in the LRB Archive". Lrb.co.uk. LRB Ltd. Retrieved 29 May 2012.
- UCLA Department of History (2012). "Perry R. Anderson, UCLA Faculty". History.ucla.edu. UCLA. Retrieved 29 May 2012.
- Paul Blackledge, Perry Anderson, Marxism, and the New Left. Merlin Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0-85036-532-0.
- Gregory Elliott, Perry Anderson: The Merciless Laboratory of History. University of Minnesota Press, 1998. ISBN 978-0-8166-2966-4.