Anderson, Perry

Anderson, Perry

(1938-) British social theorist and historian. Anderson's earliest writings arose from his association with the left-wing journal The New Left Review. Examples of articles from this period are reprinted in Towards Socialism (ed. with R. Blackburn, 1965). Wide-ranging theoretical works on developments in Western Marxist theory followed -Considerations on Western Marxism (1976) and In the Tracks of Historical Materialism (1983); and in Arguments within English Marxism (1980) Anderson reviews the work of the socialist historian Edward THOMPSON. However, it is Andersons two major historical works, Passages from Antiquity and Lineages of the Absolutist State, both published in 1974, which have had by far the most impact. The two works were conceived on the grand scale as a dialogue between the historical theories of MARX and WEBER. The argument advanced by Anderson is that ‘what rendered the unique passage to capitalism possible in Europe was the concatenation of antiquity and feudalism’, a thesis he supports by extended comparative analysis of both European and non-European societies. His suggestion is that ABSOLUTISM acts as a filter to modern CAPITALISM only where it is associated with the uniquely Western European lineage. The distinctive feature of Anderson's Marxist historical sociology, besides its impressive range and depth, is the way that it combines Marxism with Weberian perspectives while maintaining a view of social development in which the conception of a transition to socialism in Western societies is retained.

Anderson has continued as a prolific writer on historical themes, on European integration and on contemporary social theory (including The Question of Europe, 1997 – with P. Gowan). In 2000 he returned to edit the New Left Review, where he has set out his stall to provide a forum for critical leftist analysis against any apologism for the new politics of the centre left.