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This review is taken from PN Review 87, Volume 19 Number 1, September - October 1992.

Perry Anderson, English Questions (Verso) £39.95, £12:95 pb
Perry Anderson, A Zone of Engagement (Verso) £39.95, £12.95 pb

In 1917, or even in 1970, a different scenario for the end of the century might have seemed credible: one in which some beneficent form of socialism swept over the world, a decayed and discredited capitalism collapsing before it. Even in the 1980s, the advent of Gorbachev produced hopes that the Soviet Union might change in such a way as to realize some of the hopes originally invested in it. It was not to be. Now socialism can look rather as Christianity looked to Thomas Hardy in the post-Victorian twilight; at best, the object of a vague, sentimental aspiration: 'Hoping it might be so'.

It is in this conjuncture that Perry Anderson's essays appear. The essays themselves cover a span of nearly 30 years, the earliest dated 1964, the latest ones 1992. Anderson has been a significant figure on the British intellectual Left. His position in regard to English society has been that of an inside outsider: educated at Eton, he is of what he himself, in the Foreword to English Questions, calls 'residual Anglo-Irish' origins, and it is perhaps relevant to observe that in 'The Figures of Descent', he points out that the 'neediest and least reputable branch of the [gentry] class, its Anglo-Irish extension, provided most of Britain's leading commanders down even to a century later, in a line stretching from Wellington to Roberts, Kitchener to Alanbrooke, Montgomery to Templer'. Anderson's own command skills were applied not to the battlefield but to another site of ...

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