Is Perry Anderson lost in the lobby?
Why has an intellectual ornament of the left embraced the conspiracy theory of the 'Israel lobby' from the paleo-conservative right?
January 30, 2008 2:00 PM
"In London ... one finds Britain's finest minds propounding, in sophisticated language and melodious Oxbridge accents, the conspiracy theories of Pat Buchanan." So wrote Washington Post columnist Robert Kagan, back in 2003.
He was on to something. The Latin-splashed prose of the Marxist Perry Anderson, ex-editor of New Left Review, is a world away from the homespun wisdom of paleo-conservative Pat Buchanan. But when it comes to the idea that Israel controls US foreign policy, the ornament of European intellectual culture now chimes with the former Nixon speech writer.
According to Buchanan, "Capitol Hill is Israeli occupied territory" and Congress is "incapable of standing up for US national interests, if Aipac [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] is on the other end of the line". While "America needs a Middle East policy made in the USA, not in Tel Aviv," "Bush has pursued the neoconservative's agenda of endless wars on the Islamic world that serve only the interests of a country other than the one he was elected to preserve and protect".
Writing in the latest New Left Review, Anderson echoes Buchanan. "The Middle East is the one part of the world where the US political system, as presently constituted, cannot act according to a rational calculus of national interest, because it is inhabited by another, supervening interest". To understand US foreign policy one must first understand "the grip of the Israeli lobby ... on the American political and media system". Such is the extent of Israel's power, according to Anderson, "Had Israel opposed the war we can be fairly sure it would not have happened".
The "structural irrationality" of US policy in the Middle East is the power of the Israel lobby. "Circumstantial irrationalities", such as the invasion of Iraq, are mere surface reflections of this deeper problem.
The case against the idea that Israel controls US foreign policy via its "lobby" has been made. (See this post at Jeff Weintraub's blog.)
My concern is with the figure of Anderson himself, since the late 1960s one of the world's leading intellectuals and the mainstay of the "flagship" theoretical journal of the global left, New Left Review. Why is he now echoing Buchanan's conspiracy tale?
Once upon a time, Anderson, with many of his generation, focused on the positive goal of achieving socialism. However, after 1989, his political and theoretical hopes - which were based on what he called "the workers' states" - collapsed in rubble. Since then, he has been essentially uninterested in (and uncomprehending of) the democratic revolutions of our time, while remaining unreconciled to "bourgeois society" and "liberal democracy" - which he regards as either global evils or miserably cramped horizons which humanity must transcend. In other words, Anderson, along with many others, has retained his negative ontological critique of the entire human condition under capitalism, his militant spirit, and his yearning for transcendence, while lacking a positive political programme, a viable social agency or a cogent strategy. The result is nihilism of a sort. His fury is inchoate, his politics unanchored, and his radicalism is turning rancid. He has "lost his way".
Anderson is no anti-semite. But he has embraced a conspiracy story about an Israeli octopus spreading its controlling tentacles into the US political system and media. And he has decked it out in the language of Marxism, and lent it his lustre. And that's bad enough.
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