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New Left Review 73, January-February 2012


TURMOIL IN EUROPE

What longer-term political dynamics underlie the current dramas of the Eurozone? Notoriously, they pose stiff analytic problems, requiring attention both to the ongoing development of a supranational polity with no real precedent and to the varied trajectories of the—still—intractably national states it overarches. One attempt in this field has been Perry Anderson’s New Old World, which follows a comparative survey of pre-capitalist Europe in two much earlier works, Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism and Lineages of the Absolutist State, with reflections on the continent at a high point of bourgeois rule, on the eve of the crisis that now grips the EU. To broaden debate on the nature of the institutional tensions within the Union, and the historical background to them, we publish below a three-part critical symposium on the book. Its contributors include the American Europeanist Philippe Schmitter, emeritus in Florence; the French jurist Alain Supiot, principal author of Beyond Employment (1999), commissioned by the EU to enquire into labour-law reform; and the German political scientist Jan-Werner Müller, who has written leading studies of the intellectual scene in his country. The symposium is followed by a reply from Anderson and a self-standing essay by Wolfgang Streeck, situating the turbulence of the Eurozone within the deeper contradictions of democratic capitalism that he analysed in NLR 71. The issues raised in these different interventions—the institutional incoherence of the Union; the economic disparities between its northern and southern tiers; the political gulf between its elites and popular classes; the sub-imperial pretensions of its regional policies—will continue to haunt the new Europe, whether the immediate emergencies of its monetary union are met or not. The zone that only yesterday was congratulating itself on combining prosperity, civility and democracy in a synthesis no other region on earth could match, has become a danger to the global stability of capital, watched not with envy but anxiety by its partners and rivals in the rule of the planet.

philippe schmitter

CLASSIFYING AN ANOMALY

Perry Anderson’s The New Old World is what the French would call une brique, implying that a book this comprehensive (no less than the entire history of Europe as a region), this erudite (574 bibliographic footnotes in five languages), and this long (561 pages) might risk becoming a doorstop rather than a prominent volume in a scholar’s bookcase. [1] The index of authors (there is no index of topics) contains almost 2,000 citations. Anderson, The New Old World, Verso: London and New York 2009. Anderson has, no doubt, produced a magnum opus, but how is it going to be used, and by whom? His first sentence seems to acknowledge the challenge: ‘Europe, as it has become more integrated, has also become more difficult to write about.’ His response is to tackle (almost) everything: from antecedents in Enlightenment history to possible outcomes of contemporary economic and geo-political struggles within the European Union.

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