Perry Anderson on the EU & Brexit: Peculiarities of the English

In Uncategorized on January 18, 2021 by kmflett

Perry Anderson on the EU & Brexit. Peculiarities of the English?

Veteran New Left Reviewer Perry Anderson has written two long essays on the EU in the first two issues of the London Review of Books for 2021 (7th January, 21st January). They are paywalled and I’ve only highlighted a few points here.

The first essay, Ever Closer Union, reviews the history of the development of the EEC and then the EU. Anderson is very critical of EU institutions, particularly the European Court of Justice, and finds only relatively peripheral reasons for why staying in the EU might have been a good idea.

Anderson would certainly not have been a Brexiteer and I’m not sure if espoused any form of Lexit (left exit) either. New Left Review has been determinedly pro-European which obviously is not the same thing as being pro-EU.

Two features of the EU that make a genuine difference to the lives of many of its citizens are plain. The first is the convenience of travel without a passport in the Schengen zone, which still excludes Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Cyprus and Ireland of the EU, but includes Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland from outside the EU. More generally, there is the variety of products on supermarket shelves that followed the single market, the Union interpellating its citizens as consumers rather than political subjects. Loss of low-key facilities of this kind would not pass without protest; habit is a powerful force in human affairs. In this century, too, political expectations in advanced societies have declined nearly everywhere.

Perry Anderson, Ever Closer Union. London Review of Books 7th January 2021

His second essay Goodbye Europe looks back at the relationship between post-1945 British politics and Europe. His conclusion on the current EU remains very critical. He is of course no fan of the British State but does allow that at least there is some chance of voting about things in Parliament in a way that can influence what happens. He sees an absence of that in the EU.

the fact remains that British governments can only survive if they enjoy a majority in the Commons – something that can be eroded by dissension within a party, as in 1940, or defection of an ally, as in 1979, or sheer attrition at by-elections, as in 1996 – and if they fall, elections to replace them must ensue. In the EU, by contrast, executives are appointed by governments, not put in office by the votes of citizens; legislative elections yield neither a government nor an opposition; proceedings at every institutional level, including the judicial and financial arms, are shrouded in secrecy; decisions of the supreme court are immutable. In postmodern style, all this is presented as the last word in an up-to-date polity: in practice, it is the simulacrum of a sentient democracy. It may grate that, for all its woeful shortcomings – think only, beyond England, of the place of Scotland or Northern Ireland in the composite realm – Westminster is vastly superior to this lacquered synarchy. The difference can be regarded as a historical fluke. But it is the indisputable bedrock of the quarrel between London and Brussels.

He concludes again with a very critical view of the EU

the current formula of the EU – dilute sovereignty without meaningful democracy, compulsory unanimity without participant equality, cult of free markets without care of free trade – likely all the same to last indefinitely?

Perry Anderson Goodbye Europe London Review of Books 21st January 2021

It would appear that 55 years on Anderson has had to agree that the Peculiarities of the English had and have some purpose, albeit not ones that are likely to lead to socialist advance in the near future.

One Response to “Perry Anderson on the EU & Brexit: Peculiarities of the English”

  1. […] back to Brexit. Keith Flett’s blog today draws attention to 2 new articles by Perry Anderson in the London Review of Books which I […]

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