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Taking the Temperature of History
From Vichy-era rural conservatism, via communism and Furet, to a grand synthesis in ecological history, culminating decades of empirical research. Portrait of Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, historical materialist and quasi-reactionary, founder of historical climatology and last outpost of Annales-school historiography.
Civilization: A Grammar
Cameos from the motley, tangled lives of history’s major spatial divisions are woven with reflections on the Americanization of French culture, revealing the grammar of hegemony—imprint, impress, imperium—behind the rise, rule and fall of civilizations.
With the collisions over Ukraine, the contradictions in Russia’s relations with the West have been sharpened by sanctions and economic crisis. Perry Anderson on the spectre of Great Power status that still informs the post-multinational nation—and why, despite all the Kremlin’s attempts at integration with the US–EU, the country remains indigestible.
Grandeur and Misery of the Social State
Kafka’s day job, defending injured factory workers, as starting point for an illuminating study of the West’s social-protection mechanisms. Mixed legacies and uncertain future of a system built to mitigate the tensions of industrialization.
Unlike its neighbours, Brazil has yet to confront the crimes of its military dictatorship. As a Truth Commission sifts evidence of torture, killings and disappearances—many of whose survivors are now in high office—what will be the upshot of a belated accounting with the past?
Cultures of Empire: Greece and Rome
How was Roman imperial rule over Greece legitimated in the minds of conquerors and subjects alike? The mutual reverberations of an Augustan cultural revolution that brought Hellenism to the empire’s core and diverted Greeks to the glories of the past.
Concepts of Nature
Landscapes of Ausonius, mountain retreats of Xie Tiao, mediaeval paradise-gardens: can underlying similarities of deep structure and social function be traced in the work of classical European and Chinese writers? A panoramic cross-cultural comparison of approaches to the natural world.
Reviving its classical definition, ‘rule of the propertyless’, Luciano Canfora recasts the story of democracy in Europe as one of successive defeats, with lessons from Louis Napoleon on the use of suffrage as legitimation for oligarchic rule. Dylan Riley assesses a remarkable historical polemic from the Italian philologist.
World Literature Without a Hyphen
Literary studies with global ambitions are on the rise. But do they truly embrace the literatures of the world? Alexander Beecroft offers a typology of historically distinct kinds of writing that reaches further into the past and wider across human languages than any hitherto.
The Novel: History and Theory
Moretti’s 5-volume Il romanzo recast the field of the novel—historically deeper, geographically wider, morphologically broader. What are the implications for its theory? Prose, adventure and xiaoshuo as explanatory vectors; and prevalence of older power relations in the bourgeoisie’s hegemonic literary form.
Assessing Chris Wickham’s sweeping historical survey, Framing the Early Middle Ages, Brent Shaw questions linear narratives of a transition from Roman Empire to feudalism. What conclusions might derive from alternative analytical categories—markets, wars, modes of belief?
Role of Force in History
Gopal Balakrishnan takes issue with an ambitious attempt to apply evolutionary paradigms to human history, which would locate the wellsprings of conflict in the combative make-up of the species. Azar Gat’s War in Human Civilization as an instance of neo-social darwinism adapted to the multicultural spirit of the age.
From Buddenbrooks to Babbitt?
Donald Sassoon on Victoria de Grazia, Irresistible Empire: America’s Advance Through 20th-Century Europe. How the US reshaped European ideals of consumption and culture, from the stately world of Thomas Mann to that of McDonald’s and José Bové. All the way from the club to the kitchen, learning from Duluth and San Bernardino.
Evolution and Literary History
A landmark engagement with Franco Moretti’s triptych of essays, Graphs, Maps, Trees. What forms of logic underpin the use of evolutionary models to lay bare the survival strategies of the detective story, or trace the mutations of a border-hopping stylistic technique? And what political implications follow from basing an account of literary history on the outcome of the market?
Literature as a World
A manifesto for the accurate conjugation of the aesthetic and political, from the author of The World Republic of Letters. What is the nature of the global literary space in which writers must produce their work? The limits of analogies based on Braudel or Wallerstein, and fields as employed by Bourdieu. Hierarchy, inequality and strategies of reversal in ‘the long and merciless war of literature’.
Graphs, Maps, Trees - 2
After ‘Graphs’ (see NLR 24), maps: geography, or social geometry? Literary spaces plotted as competing fields for industrialization, peasant rebellion, state formation. The second of Moretti’s three essays conceptualizing patterns of genre and history, form and force.
Graphs, Maps, Trees - 1
The first of three essays setting out to demonstrate the power of abstract models to revolutionize our understanding of literary history. What do the quantitative curves of novel production tell us about the interplay of markets, politics, sexes, generations, in the life and death of literary forms?
Elgin in China
The sacking of the Emperor’s Summer Palace in Beijing by an Anglo-French expeditionary force was one of the high-points of nineteenth-century imperialism. The lucidity of its perpetrator, Elgin, offers a paradoxical contrast with the chorus of apologists for Anglo-American interventions today.
The Origins of Atlantic Liberalism
Peter Gowan on Richard Tuck, Rights of War and Peace: Political Thought and the International Order from Grotius to Kant. The origins of ‘liberal’ interventionism by the NATO powers today in the doctrines of colonial retribution and expropriation of the seventeenth century.
Government by Appearances
Louis XIV’s passion for dancing, and its metamorphoses, at the beginnings of a society of the spectacle. Peter Wollen looks at the birth of ballet as a projection of state power, and the bonding of elites that court entertainment bequeathed to modern democracies.
Petrus Dadi Ratu
What lay behind the greatest counter-revolutionary massacre of the 20th century, the extermination of the Indonesian Left in 1965? How did the Suharto dictatorship come to power? The extraordinary testimony of a survivor on the bloody mystery at the source of its tyranny.
Imperialism and the Rise and Decline of the British Economy, 1688-1989
Historians seldom consider the metanarratives within which academic articles, monographs, models and analyses must eventually become embedded, if they are to inform public debate in modern societies.footnote* Yet, however micro the problems they tackle, their findings can always be situated within some ‘greater story’.footnote1 Since the Second World War, the . . . read more
When the Party Commits Suicide
Finally, in the deluge of the conservative-liberal ‘Black Books’ on Stalinist ‘totalitarianism’, a work which not only meets the highest standards of historical research, but also enables us to grasp the unique social dynamics that culminated in the great purges of the 1930s: J. Arch Getty’s and Oleg V. Naumov’s . . . read more
Custom Against Capitalism
The appeal to history in the justification of capitalism has always required a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, we are obliged to accept that capitalist modernization thoroughly transformed the world to the unambiguous benefit of humanity. On the other hand, we must concede that in this transformative process . . . read more
Annan’s Unacknowledged Legislators
Let us now praise, and pity, famous men who did their thankless, almost unacknowledged best for the common weal. Let us begin by parsing ‘Our Age’, and by considering one instance of its operation as a historical concept and a literary device: read more
The 'Crisis of the Seventeenth Century'
Istart with a world-system perspective on underdevelopment.footnote* What does that mean? Essentially two things. First, that economic processes in the modern world take place within the framework of a system we may call the capitalist world-economy, and ‘underdevelopment’ is therefore merely a descriptive term for that part of the processes . . . read more
Jews and Others
why try Eichmann? Some of the older Israeli Jews will tell you that Eichmann symbolises ages of anti-Semitic persecution, that his crimes must be exposed as an object lesson in what Jewish identity can involve and a memorial to the inhumanity Jews have suffered. Eichmann’s judgment must demonstrate the determination . . . read more
Secularism and the State: Towards Clarity and Global Comparison
Debates about the process of secularization have, in recent years, centred on the work of a group of sociologists and historians, mostly British, who have put forth and debated what is known as ‘the secularization thesis’.footnote1 This correlates modernization with secularization, and generally measures secularization primarily through declining church membership . . . read more
Reply to Robert Conquest
Ihave looked again at Robert Conquest’s writings of the 1960s and 1970s and I remain of the opinion that at that time he claimed figures for excess deaths amounting to at least 17 million in 1930–38. The section in The Great Terror headed ‘Death in the Camps’ refers to ‘3½ . . . read more
Colonialism and the Predatory State in the Congo
At independence, the Congo had only two graduates, and such fabulous riches that the country inevitably became a magnet for rapacious foreign companies and for the Western intelligence services. Kinshasa, as the capital Leopoldville was renamed, swelled with worldly businessmen not averse to secret deals. Once Lumumba was out of . . . read more
Europa and Utopia: How Cultural History Deals with the Paradox of Modernity
In the light of Luisa Passerini’s new book on the cultural and political discourse on Europe in Britain in the 1930s,footnote* it is tempting to draw a number of parallels between that decade and our own. The inter-war years, Passerini shows, were a period of much speculation and adventurous thinking . . . read more