Perry Anderson and the End of French History

Dick Howard responds to Perry Anderson’s interpretations of recent French history (here and here), in Democratiya.

[Anderson’s] story really begins with May 1968, which is said to have opened radical possibilities that remained present until the rupture, before the 1978 parliamentary elections, of the Common Program that had united the socialist and communist parties. A period of political decomposition followed, during which a new hegemonic intellectual-cum-ideological program developed. However, though the ideology of economic liberalism dominated political debate, every government that tried to impose it, left and right, was defeated in the next election. The political class was discredited and the only decent newspaper had become a rag. Underneath the new ideology, Marx’s revolutionary ‘old Mole’ was digging. Le Monde Diplomatique, and its political incarnation, Attac, would come to represent an anti-globalist counter-force.

Anderson is not Vivianne Forrestier, nor even Pierre Bourdieu, whose popular books denounced the moral evils of the globalised economy. For Anderson, France incarnates a political culture that is more open to the world of literature and cinema than any other. And thus, while the neo-liberal offensive has weakened the foundations of the old revolutionary culture, the ‘relève’ is germinating. What Raymond Aron called the still dangerous ‘peuple, apparemment tranquille’ is not, in Anderson’s schema, a savage force of recalcitrance (as Aron feared); rather, it has inherited that higher cultural goal traditionally identified with France’s democratic republic.

I like this story; it’s familiar and comforting, giving hope at a time that needs it. But Anderson criticises his enemies without challenging the assumptions of his friends. His radicalism becomes unintentionally conservative because his syncretism permits him to avoid self-doubt.