Two-part Salon interview with Perry Anderson
Salon: “American Foreign Policy and its Thinkers” is well timed, given the unusual prominence foreign policy now assumes in the American political conversation. How would you describe your approach? What distinguishes the book from so many others? How should one read it? What’s the project?Read the interview here.
Anderson: The book tries to do two things. One is to cover the history of American foreign policy, from around 1900 to the present, tracing the gradual construction of a global empire. This first really came into view as a prospect during the Second World War and is today a reality across all five continents, as a glance at the skein of its military bases makes clear. The Cold War was a central episode within this trajectory, but the book doesn’t treat just the U.S. record vis-á-vis the USSR or China. It tries to deal equally with American relations with the Europe and Japan, and also with the Third World, treated not as a homogenous entity but as four or five zones that required different policy combinations.
The second part of the book is a survey of American grand strategy—that is, the different ways leading counselors of state interpret the current position of the United States on the world stage and their recommendations for what Washington should do about it.
In part two, Anderson examines the US’s role as a global hegemon with waning ideological legitimacy:
Fifteen years ago, in the distant universe we now know as pre-September 11, Perry Anderson oversaw a renovation of New Left Review, the magazine he had long edited and brought to prominence from the mid-1960s onward. The Soviet Union was no more, life with “the sole superpower” had commenced. Things had to be rethought. “Capital has comprehensively beaten back all threats to its rule,” Anderson wrote in that first issue of the redone journal. “No collective agency able to match the power of capital is yet on the horizon.”Read the interview here.
Those sentences—the whole essay, indeed—landed like a sledgehammer atop my admittedly damnable American optimism. It is part of the reason I leapt to the telephone when Verso, N.L.R.’s book imprint, published Anderson’s “American Foreign Policy and Its Thinkers” a few months ago. What did he think now?