Components of the National Culture

Notes from:

Anderson, Perry. 1968. “Components of the National Culture,” New Left Review 1/50.

Anderson introduces themes he will visit again in “The Intransigent Right” (1992, LRB): The Right, or conservatives or the enemies of the Enlightenment, can be recognized by their rejection of Enlightenment comparative methodology. Anderson focuses on the conservative rejection of both historical-comparative knowledge and contradiction as producer of change.

Task: Use “Components of the National Culture” to map styles of Anglo anti-enlightenment argumentation, including their consistent components, like anti-comparativism. Follow Anderson’s method in categorizing thinkers by discipline, origins.

Extend this map of antienlightenment thought. Use:

  • Anderson’s “The Intransigent Right” and “The Origins of Postmodernism;”
  • Ernest Gellner’s Words and Things (1959); “Enter the Philosophers,” Times Literary Supplement April 4, 1968.
  • Robin’s The Conservative Mind
  • Piereson’s “The Right Ideas.”
  • Pagden on Enlightenment human sciences, Lyotard as antienlightenment exponent.
  • Barton (1985) on the effect of Enlightenment ideas on upper class confidence and cohesion in Sweden;
  • C.B. McPherson’s Enlightenment method: Re-insert theories into their intellectual context, thereby illuminating theoreticians’ relation to their class. Remarry politics & economics (Anderson 1968: 28).

Antienlightenment themes & methods:

  • Reductio ad absurdum of Enlightenment science:
    • Wittgenstein (see Popper’s, Gellner’s critiques);
    • Popperian positivism;
    • Latour: Micro studies of commercial science labs
  • Anti-comparativism
  • Antienlightenment knowledge requires funky, idealistic reconceptualizations or evasions of time
    • time removed (Wittgenstein);
    • time without change;
    • infinite recursion;
    • Historical knowledge as minute descriptions (Namier), meant to circumscribe democratic knowledge of why or how dispositions and institutions are created in context.
    • Short-term time (Keynes).
  • Show how conservatives methodically (assuming universal, uniform social hierarchy) confuse the (eg. Sahlberg’s) distinction between accountable and responsible.
    • Responsibilization theory
  • Morgue & Truculent” style on behalf of capitalist imperial power:
    • Wittgenstein, Popper, Namier (Anderson 1968: 20);
    • Berlin’s know-nothing coverage of Hegel
  • Modification of enlightenment theory, reorienting it to conservative justice telos (inequality and inegalitarianism):
    • Hobbes: equality, freedom, social contract–>monarchy/oligarchy
    • Burke: “social contract” with the dead
    • Berlin & Popper: imperial conservatism is the true heir of “freedom & reason.”
  • Distinctive strategies of White Emigres in stopping Enlightenment in England v. US:
    • England
      • opposition to ideas, change, classical sociology & Marxist political economy, and working-class (“mob”) leadership;
      • fetishization of sedimented language, eg. as model for the human condition.
    • US: White Emigres organize US capital to fund conservative ideas development, diffusion, and institutionalization.
  • Expression of working-class leadership:
    • Aborted in utero in England by Aristocratic-bourgeois coalition; v.
    • Employed in revolutionary US and instrumental in Trente Glorieuses policy development, but repeatedly dismantled by revivification and resurgences of the slaver-banker coalition.
    • Political and policing repression of working-class leadership;
    • Working-class leadership managed out with deportation, emigration, & immigration;
    • Conservative theory rejection of working-class leadership;
    • Relationship to economic development and, in its absence, maldevelopment (Fourier: social waste).
  • Ideas:
    • Ideas are reduced in Anglo conservative thought to emotion, vulgar psychology (Burke, Namier). This allows Anglos to dispense with explanatory power, and instead focus pragmatically on manipulating the feelings of the disorganized mob;
    • German-Franco conservatism: Ideas are conceptualized as exceptional, esoteric knowledge to be managed by experts (eg. philosophers) on behalf of princes (per Nietzsche, Schmitt, Strauss, Foucault);
    • US conservatives: White Emigres organize US capital to fund conservative ideas development, diffusion, and institutionalization. Ideas are recognized as prescribing & proscribing conceivable action within a social network.
    • v. Enlightenment human sciences: See Pagden; Marx; democratic Enlightenment sociologists: C Wright Mills, Veblen, Lester Ward, Du Bois, Bourdieu, Domhoff, Kimmel, Lamont. Ideas are thought to develop in relation to epistemology. Democratic epistemology is collectivist, comparative, scientific, and oriented toward democratic norms. Part of the social scientist’s work is to explain elite knowledge and power to nonelites.
  • Permanent conservative opposition to French Revolution: How does this work in France? How does it impact French philosophy?
    • Romantic philosophical reaction: If, in his successful effort to organize French philosophy’s restoration against Sociology, Canguilhem showed the development of scientific ideas in context (per Anderson 1968), how does Foucault’s “balanced,” conservative, “marginalist” fear of the mob, use of Nietzsche’s genealogical method, avoidance of comparative method, and separation of economics and politics create social-scientific concept-origin stories that conform to Wittgenstein’s reduction of science to a traditional language community?
  • French v. Anglo-American philosophical/theory literacy, as it permits tactical degrees of freedom: Case of Iraq War, where conservative econ dogma merged with imperial Morgue & Truculence to reduce Americans’ tactical agility.

Use this framework to advance the following thesis question:

How does conservative imperial-capitalist thought handle changing elite networks?


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