Europe: a ripping good yarn

My brother gave me for christmas Perry Anderson’s The New Old World (Verso 2009) and I have just finished reading it, mostly with huge enjoyment, and have learned a lot. I rarely read 500-page books (the last time was Braudel during a Greek island holiday ten years ago) but this one has grabbed all the time betwen cooking, eating and playing over the christmas holiday, aided by cold and soggy weather outside. [ This should charge me up well for work on the London Plan which has to be done by Monday (see separate link).]

It’s a great book, its methodology implicit and taken for granted, which examines the history of the EU and its predecessors with admirable critical distance, then has two huge chapters on post-war France, two on Germany, then Italy, then – interestingly, on Cyprus and thus to Turkey. It ends with a summing up and some prognosis. In a way it’s a book about the US orchestration of everything, but the close and detailed treatment of the economic and political landscapes at various scales is endlessly illuminating. It makes me want to rush round to friends from France, Germany, Greece, Turkey, Italy etc to urge them to read it and discuss the treatments of their places. And there is a very good discussion about how – with concepts and practices of class struggle erased from the mainstream politics of European countries – the mounting stresses of exploitation are displaced onto ethnic / religious conflict.

There are grounds for optimism here and there: the rejection of the neo-liberal constitution by the citizenry in the few cases where they have had a vote (France, Netherlands, Ireland), in surviving elements of militancy in defence of pensions, welfare etc in various countries – generally people’s refusal to accept the dictatorship of elites. Oddly no reference to the peace movement, or to environmental issues, except obliquely in analysing the pathetic capitulation of the Greens in Germany.

British governments emerge even more craven and devious than I expected, with a lot of detail on how they dealt with Cyprus, Greece and Turkey as well as the familiar Israel/Palestine history on the side.

The book is also great fun. For example it showed me why I can never stay awake while reading ‘political science’. Anderson explains that ‘Political Science’ is an essentially US invention, a way of dealing with matters of government while excluding dangerous stuff like politics. (I can’t now find the passage, lacking a searchable version of the book.)

But the man has an excessive vocabulary. I know that one of the glories of English is the vast range of words available. But this book made me feel like a new foreign student, needing a dictionary beside me as I read. Maybe he is showing off.

I thought of drawing attention to the book among our MSc class in European Planning. But they are just 7 days away from handing in essays – some of which might need re-working in the light of reading this book. So I think it’s kinder to tell them next week. I hope Claire agrees.

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Author: Ed

staff in the Bartlett School of Planning and cooperating with others in UCL and with the Just Space Network to support London citizens' inpu

3 thoughts on “Europe: a ripping good yarn”

  1. Thanks for your tip and comments on the book Michael! Definitely a book I am going to start 2010 with, to try and progress in my thinking about this hybrid creature that is the EU… And yes, let’s not scare the students at this stage with a must-read!

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  2. Oh nice, book reviews too. This blog is branching out from urban planning and puddle watching. I can’t wait for your reviews of Strictly Come Dancing.

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