Walter Bentley on Fri, 22 Nov 2002 19:25:44 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Response to Wayne Hall's Critique of Perry Anderson's "Force and Consent"

"We should be subjecting Perry Anderson to the same kind of co-ordinated 
treatment that neo-conservative activists give any prominent person who gets 
out of line by their criteria. I don't advocate terrorising and blackmailing 
Anderson the way the Right do to people. But we can try to shame him."

Perhaps it is Wayne Hall who should be shamed for his preposterous and 
indefensible critique of Perry Anderson's article "Force and Consent" from 
article is available to all on the NLR website:  I have no vested interest in 
defending Anderson or the NLR, which I agree is not always on the cutting 
edge of radical leftist political practice these days.  But Hall's unfair 
and off-target treatment deserves a response.  I am also posting this in the 
hopes that the worthy participants of this list will pursue the open and 
honest strategic dialogue that Anderson is attempting to initiate here, and 
which incidentally is very much in keeping with the goals that he has helped 
to forge for the NLR and those he prescribes for the left as a whole in his 
venerable body of work.

Hall's primary objections to Anderson's editorial seem to be that it in some 
way endorses America's impending war on Iraq:

"Perry Anderson has carried out pre-emptive intellectual surrender to that 
threatened pre-emptive war. He does not on the face of it support the attack 
as more obviously hopeless cases like Christopher Hitchens do. But in his 
own lofty way, distastefully, he gives it the nod."

And that Anderson has failed to reckon with the "facts" of the attentats of 
September 11:

"[Anderson's] pessimistic reading of the present international situation 
might be forgivable if it was not based on ignoring facts, but it is based 
on IGNORING FACTS. His position on 9/11 is the familiar one that the attacks 

I challenge anyone who has read Anderson's article to produce from within it 
any support for the first objection (Hall certainly fails to).  As for 
so-called "facts" of the attacks of September 11th that Anderson so 
lamentably ignores, Hall never produces any clear statement of what these 
are -- other than some vague suggestions that they were in fact "expected" or 
even "deliberately engineered."  Hall's statements here are so 
incomprehensible to me that I am at a loss even to refute them, other than 
by pointing to Anderson's open acknowledgement that he opposes the war and 
by arguing that his treatment of the so-called facts is not only forgivable 
but also incisive and necessary.

It is difficult to gauge Hall's real objections to Anderson's argument.  
After accusing him of supporting the United States' war plans -- an 
accusation which seems to me unsupported and groundless -- and objecting to 
his treatment of the "facts" of the attacks of September 11th, whatever 
those facts are, Hall goes on to focus on three main areas of disagreement: 
nuclear weapons, the Soviet Union, and human rights (all of which 
disagreements we shall see are founded on misreadings of Anderson's 
argument).  Hall suggests that Anderson is naïve for accepting the United 
States' justification of its war plans on the grounds of halting nuclear 
proliferation at face value:

"Anderson endorses the idea that Iraq's supposed continuing desire to 
possess nuclear weapons is a plausible ground for Washington's current 
preparations to invade it."

In fact, Anderson is at pains to make clear throughout his article that the 
United States' is using the issue of non-proliferation as a pretext to 
broaden it's ability to invade sovereign nations without provocation.  He 
does not view this pretext as "plausible ground" but rather critically 
assesses the United States' motivations for making this pretext seem like 
"plausible ground."

Similarly, with "human rights" Anderson's concern is not with the issue 
itself but with the use it is being put to by the United States and it's 
allies.  Anderson is not here taking an ethical stance vis a vis the issue 
of human rights itself since he makes apparent that this issue is not really 
what is at stake in the United States' current international policy.  Thus, 
to take a specific example, although the ICC could be a useful institution, 
if the United States had allowed it to come into existence it is likely that 
it would have served only as a tool of United State's interest (just as the 
UNSC could hypothetically be a worthy institution, but not under existing 

With the Soviet Union, Hall disagrees with Anderson's characterization of 
the end of the cold war a victory for the United States -- as an opportunity 
for the US to install itself as sole world hegemon.  Here I can only appeal 
to the common sense of anyone who views the current international situation 
realistically.  To me it seems an indisputable fact that the end of the cold 
war has marked the US's assent to the detriment of all those who do not 
share its interests.  The point here, however, is not that the USSR should 
have been supported in spite of its obvious faults.

The purpose of Anderson's article is to deploy some critical concepts from 
the canon of classical Marxism, most notably Gramsci's "hegemony", in the 
hopes of situating recent events within the scope America's longer term 
policy objectives in a way that enables us to form a coherent strategy of 
resistance.  Anderson's position, though formulated by him with 
characteristic lucidity, is not a novel one on the left (perhaps because it 
rests on the kind of analysis widely disseminated by the NLR). Anderson 
suggests that Sept. 11 has given America an opportunity (yes, an 
"unexpected" one in his view but I can hardly see how that matters) to 
recast its policy objectives in a way that is both extremely conducive to 
its own national interest and palatable (or palatable enough) to the 
international community whose consent it is trying to capture as hegemon.  
This rearticulation according to Anderson extends the banner under which 
America can use force against sovereign states without provocation —- from 
that of "human rights" so widely pressed into service in the 90s to 
non-proliferation and anti-terrorism.  This extension singularly broadens 
America's ability to justify using its peerless military in the service of 
its own interests.

Anderson's approach raises two fundamental questions -- the first of which 
his article is primarly concerned to address, the second of which it is 
meant to provoke:

1) Can one's interests (for Anderson, as a Marxist) be furthered by 
supporting, even indirectly, those of the US as hegemon -- by consenting to 
the hegemon's policy for pursuing its interests, no matter how universally 
those interests are articulated?  The answer for Anderson (and myself) is 
clearly no: the formulation by the hegemon of its particular interests in 
universal terms is precisely the mechanism by which it garners consent and 
establishes its hegemony and which must be resisted.  Thus, although 
safe-guarding human rights, halting nuclear proliferation and eliminating 
terrorism are all worthy causes, the means of furthering them provided by 
the United States and the US dominated International Community only serve to 
fortify the United States' position as hegemon.  This is a pessimistic 
position.  We live in a terrible world.

2) Given the realistic assessment of the current international situation 
produced by our engagment with question one, question two immediately 
formulates itself: how do we resist (rather than lend our consent to) the 
United States' hegemony?  Here answers are less forthcoming.  I think that 
the purpose of much of Anderson's work is to provoke an open and honest 
dialogue concerning strategies of resistance -- a dialogue that has not so 
far been forthcoming in a situation in which there are no friends on the 
left, but one that I hope my response here will help to generate.

I will close with a quote from Anderson's first editorial under his renewed 
tenure at the NLR that seems to me perfectly in line with position he has 
advocated throughout his entire career:

"What kind of stance should NLR adopt in this new situation? Its general 
approach, I believe, should be an uncompromising realism. Uncompromising in 
both senses: refusing any accommodation with the ruling system, and 
rejecting every piety and euphemism that would understate its power. No 
sterile maximalism follows. The journal should always be in sympathy with 
strivings for a better life, no matter how modest their scope. But it can 
support any local movements or limited reforms, without pretending that they 
alter the nature of the system. What it cannot—or should not—do is either 
lend credence to illusions that the system is moving in a steadily 
progressive direction, or sustain conformist myths that it urgently needs to 
be shielded from reactionary forces. "

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