I have mentioned Perry Anderson several times on this blog. Although his reputation is based on his work as an historian and political philosopher (“specialist in intellectual history” is how Wikipedia puts it), he has in the past 5 years or so focused his energies on penning detailed and gripping portraits of contemporary countries. I know of no other writer who has his encyclopedic grasp of cultural, political and historical aspects of a country (based on reading of original sources) combined with elegance of writing.
His detailed dissections of France, Germany, Italy, Turkey (and the EU) collected in the book The New Old World are simply the first thing anyone who wants to understand contemporary Europe should read.
No less a writer than Chris Hitchens claimed in an article that Anderson was “the most profound essayist wielding a pen” - if "on the wrong side of history."
He is 75 years old – and an exceptional example of a generation which was genuinely multicultural (not in the current PC sense of the word). His grasp of several European languages, his interdisciplinary and prolific reading (he apparently devours books) means that he moves in an intellectual world now known to few people. And then he returns from that world to give us amazing insights.
The book review which is mentioned gives a quite exceptional overview and pays appropriate tribute to the man -
Ambitious interdisciplinary essay writing and the ability to sustain a complex multidimensional argument beyond about ten pages, is dying, if not dead. Atypical in his career, footloose across continents, Anderson has never had to worry about his citation index or his impact factor. He is "old school" in the good sense: as reliable and perennially cool as a pair of old adidas.
This week’s London Review of Books offers another of his long essays which paints juicy portraits of the way the EU and Italy have dealt with the financial and political crisis overwhelming the continent. I have still not finished the article – but need to share the incisiveness of following excerpts
Commonplace in a Union that presents itself as a moral tutor to the world, the pollution of power by money and fraud follows from the leaching of substance or involvement in democracy. Elites freed from either real division above, or significant accountability below, can afford to enrich themselves without distraction or retribution. Exposure ceases to matter very much, as impunity becomes the rule. Like bankers, leading politicians do not go to prison. Of the fauna above, only an elderly Greek has ever suffered that indignity. But corruption is not just a function of the decline of the political order. It is also, of course, a symptom of the economic regime that has taken hold of Europe since the 1980s. In a neoliberal universe, where markets are the gauge of value, money becomes, more straightforwardly than ever before, the measure of all things. If hospitals, schools and prisons can be privatised as enterprises for profit, why not political office too?..........................
By the summer 2011, emboldened by increasing flattery of himself in the media as the rock of the Republic, and with the encouragement of Berlin, Brussels and Frankfurt, the Italian President, Napolitano, had decided to dispose of Berlusconi. The key to removing him smoothly was finding a replacement to satisfy these decisive partners, and the business establishment in Italy. Happily, the ideal figure was to hand: Mario Monti, the former EU commissioner, member of the Bilderberg Group and Trilateral Commission, senior adviser to Goldman Sachs and now president of Bocconi University. Monti had for some time been looking forward to just the situation which now presented itself. ‘Italian governments can take tough decisions,’ he confided to the Economist in 2005, ‘only if two conditions are met: there must be both a visible emergency and strong pressure from outside.’ At the time, he lamented, ‘such a moment of truth is lacking.’ Now it had come. As early as June or July, in complete secrecy,
Napolitano readied Monti to take over the government. In the same period, he commissioned the head of Italy’s largest banking group, Corrado Passera, to produce a confidential economic plan for the country. Passera was a former aide to Berlusconi’s arch political enemy and business rival Carlo De Benedetti, owner of La Repubblica and L’Espresso, who was privy to Napolitano’s moves. In urgent italics, Passera’s 196-page document proposed shock therapy: €100 billion worth of privatisations, housing tax, capital levies, a hike in VAT. Napolitano, on the phone to Merkel and no doubt Draghi, now had the man and the plan to eject Berlusconi ready. Monti had never run for election, and though a seat in Parliament was not required for investiture as prime minister, it would help to have one.On 9 November, plucking him from Bocconi, Napolitano appointed Monti a senator for life, to the applause of the world’s financial press. Under threat of destruction by the bond markets should he resist, Berlusconi capitulated, and within a week Monti was sworn in as the country’s new ruler, at the head of an unelected cabinet of bankers, businessmen and technocrats.
The operation that had installed him is an expressive illustration of what democratic procedures and the rule of law can mean in today’s Europe. It was entirely unconstitutional. The Italian president is supposed to be the impartial guardian of a parliamentary order, who does not interfere with its decisions save where they breach the constitution – as this one had signally failed to do. He is not empowered to conspire, behind the back of an elected premier, with individuals of his choice, not even in Parliament, to form a government to his liking.
The corruption of business, bureaucracy and politics in Italy was now compounded by corruption of the constitution. In 2011 the crisis gripping Italy and the Eurozone had been triggered by a massive wave of financial speculation and derivative manipulation on both sides of the Atlantic. No operator was more notorious for its part in these than the very company on whose payroll both Monti and Draghi had figured. Goldman Sachs, amply earning its sobriquet in America of the ‘vampire squid’, had seconded the falsification of Greek public accounts, and been charged with fraud by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, paying half a billion dollars to settle the case out of court.