Perry Anderson

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Perry Anderson
Perry Anderson at Fronteiras do Pensamento Porto Alegre.jpg
Perry Anderson at Fronteiras do Pensamento Porto Alegre, 2012
Born Francis Rory Peregrine Anderson
11 September 1938 (1938-09-11) (age 79)
London, England, UK
Pen name Richard Merton
Occupation British historian and political essayist
Nationality British
Alma mater Worcester College, Oxford
Literary movement Post-1956 Western Marxism of the New Left
Spouse Juliet Mitchell
Relatives James Carew O'Gorman Anderson (father)
Veronica Beatrice Mary Anderson (mother)
Benedict Anderson (brother)

Francis Rory Peregrine "Perry" Anderson (born 11 September 1938)[1] is a British historian and political essayist. Anderson is first and foremost an intellectual historian, writing from the vantage of Western Marxism. But he is also widely considered to be the moving force behind the New Left Review. He is Professor of History and Sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Anderson has written many books, most recently The Antinomies of Gramsci and The H-Word: The Peripeteia of Hegemony, both published in 2017. He is the brother of political scientist Benedict Anderson (1936–2015).

Background and early life

Anderson was born in 1938 in London. His father, James Carew O'Gorman Anderson (1893–1946), known as Shaemas, an official with the Chinese Maritime Customs, was born into an Anglo-Irish family, the younger son of Brigadier-General Sir Francis Anderson, of Ballydavid, County Waterford.[2] He was descended from the Anderson family of Ardbrake, Bothriphnie, Scotland, who had settled in Ireland in the early 18th century.[3][4][5]

Anderson's mother, Veronica Beatrice Mary Bigham, was English,[6] the daughter of Trevor Bigham, who was the Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, 1914-1931. Anderson's grandmother, Frances, Lady Anderson, belonged to the Gaelic Gorman clan of County Clare and was the daughter of the Irish Home Rule Member of Parliament Major Purcell O'Gorman,[7][8][9] himself the son of Nicholas Purcell O'Gorman who had been involved with the Republican Society of United Irishmen during the 1798 Rebellion, later becoming Secretary of the Catholic Association in the 1820s.[7][10][11] Anderson's father had previously been married to the novelist Stella Benson, and it was after her death in 1933 that he married again.[3]

Anderson was educated at Eton and Worcester College, Oxford, where he took his first degree.[12]


In 1962 Anderson became editor of the New Left Review, a position he held for twenty years.[13] As scholars of the New Left began to reassess their canon in the mid-1970s, Anderson provided an influential perspective.[13] He published two major volumes of analytical history in 1974: Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism focuses on the creation and endurance of feudal social formations, while Lineages of the Absolutist State examines monarchical absolutism. Within their respective topics they are each vast in scope, assessing the whole history of Europe from classical times to the nineteenth century. The books achieved an instant prominence for Anderson, whose wide-ranging analysis synthesised elements of history, philosophy, and political theory.[13]

In the 1980s Anderson took office as a professor at the New School for Social Research in New York.[13] He returned as editor at NLR in 2000 for three more years, and after his retirement continued to serve on the journal's editorial committee. As of 2016, Anderson continued to frequent contributions to the London Review of Books,[14] and continued to teach as a Distinguished Professor of History and Sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles.[15]

Influence and criticism

Anderson bore the brunt of the disapproval of E. P. Thompson in the latter's The Poverty of Theory, in a controversy during the late 1970s over the structural Marxism of Louis Althusser, and the use of history and theory in the politics of the Left. In the mid-1960s, Thompson wrote an essay for the annual Socialist Register that rejected Anderson's view of aristocratic dominance of Britain's historical trajectory, as well as Anderson's seeming preference for continental European theorists over radical British traditions and empiricism. Anderson delivered two responses to Thompson's polemics, first in an essay in New Left Review (January–February 1966) called "Socialism and Pseudo-Empiricism"[16] and then in a more conciliatory yet ambitious overview, Arguments within English Marxism (1980).

While Anderson faced many attacks in his native Britain for favouring continental European philosophers over British thinkers, he did not spare Western European Marxists from criticism; see his Considerations on Western Marxism (1976). Nevertheless, many of his assaults were delivered against postmodernist currents in continental Europe. In the Tracks of Historical Materialism Anderson regarded Paris as the new capital of intellectual reaction, quite at odds with others who treat postmodernism as a left heresy.



  1. ^
  2. ^ Sir Bernard Burke, Peter Townsend, Burke's Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry (1969), p. 41
  3. ^ a b Perry Anderson, A Belated Encounter (Anderson's short biography of his father James)
  4. ^ "Journal of the Old Waterford Society 1994" (PDF).  P. 7, para. 9.
  5. ^ Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry of Ireland.
  6. ^ "The Influence of Benedict Anderson".</
  7. ^ a b James Frost, "The History and Topography of the County of Clare - Pedigree of MacGorman (O’Gorman)", Clare County Library.
  8. ^ "The History and Topography of the County of Clare – Ui Bracain...", Clare County Library.
  9. ^ "John O'Hart, Irish Pedigree's, or, The Origin and Stem of the Irish Nation". 
  10. ^ "The United Irishmen, their lives and times"/
  11. ^ Kieran Sheedy, "The United Irishmen of County Clare", County Clare - Historical Essays.
  12. ^ Gregory Elliott (1998), Perry Anderson: The Merciless Laboratory of History, University of Minnesota Press, p. 1.
  13. ^ a b c d Parker, David (1988). Cannon, John, ed. The Blackwell Dictionary of Historians. Oxford; New York: Basil Blackwell Ltd. pp. 8–9. ISBN 063114708X. 
  14. ^ London Review of Books (2012). "Perry Anderson in the LRB Archive". LRB Ltd. Retrieved 29 May 2012. 
  15. ^ UCLA Department of History (2012). "Perry R. Anderson, UCLA Faculty". UCLA. Archived from the original on 12 April 2012. Retrieved 29 May 2012. 
  16. ^ Anderson, Perry (January–February 1966). "Socialism and pseudo-empiricism". New Left Review. New Left Review. I (35): 2–42. 

Further reading

  • Paul Blackledge, Perry Anderson, Marxism, and the New Left. Merlin Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0-85036-532-0.
  • Alex Callinicos, 'Perry Anderson and Western Marxism', International Socialism, 23 (1984).
  • Colletti, Lucio (July–August 1974). "A political and philosophical interview". New Left Review. New Left Review. I (86). 
  • Gregory Elliott, Perry Anderson: The Merciless Laboratory of History. University of Minnesota Press, 1998. ISBN 978-0-8166-2966-4.

External links

  • Archive of Perry Anderson's articles for The Nation
  • Archive of Perry Anderson's articles for The New Left Review
  • The New Statesman Profile – Perry Anderson
  • Television interview on "Conversations with History," 2001 on YouTube
  • "Gandhi Centre Stage" from the London Review of Books, 2012-07-05
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