The Antinomies of Perry Anderson

The best way to describe my present thinking is to run through the sequence of events that have led me to be, intellectually speaking, where I am now.

At some point in the early 1990s I read Perry Anderson’s essay ‘Origins of the Present Crisis’. I can remember it having a profound effect on me. What Anderson had argued (the essay was written in 1964) was that, contrary to the accepted historical wisdom of both the right and the left, what typified British society was its relative backwardness—social, political, cultural—and what explained British backwardness was a premature and backward seventeenth-century bourgeois revolution. British historical development was, in this respect, cast as unique within Europe. Anderson followed ‘Origins’ in the 1960s with further essays pointing up the consequences of British cultural and political backwardness; along with essays by Tom Nairn pursuing a similar vein, their central conclusions are what has come to be known as the ‘Nairn-Anderson Theses’.

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