Spectrum by Perry Anderson presents itself as a sort of critical series of essays from thinkers across the political spectrum. And so it, but his basic framework breaks down once you get past “center.” This is actually a far more wide-ranging book then the cover would have you expect. Instead of a hard-core political science punch-up, it’s more a digest of critical biographies and summers of various intellectual figures. Including a final essay on the author’s own father (which is not as boring as that might sound).
The real strength of the book is Anderson himself; while most of the essay topics I found only mildly interesting, Anderson’s writing remained crisp and insightful throughout. In fact, I would be terrified for Anderson to read my own blog and give his review of it, so razor sharp is Anderson’s mind and pen. Some of the best minds and works of the past century get held up for our inspection; all are shown to have cracks and serious o discrepancies. Anderson commands a truely humbling command of history, philosophy, political science, literature, film and language; he also commands an intellect which cuts to the core of any philosophy or program. The result is that even the most vaunted thinkers wind up seeming human, all too human.
While this books is a bit outdated – published 2005 – it is still relevant and interesting. His essays on right wing thinkers (Hayek, Strauss, Oakeshott, and Schmitt) is a masterful summary and basic criticism of their work. Thinker like John Rawls and Jurgen Habermas (classified more in the center) also get aptly summarised; Anderson deconstructs their theories with a rapier. On the Left, poor Hobsbawm gets the works too. Anderson is kindly to his victims, but the damage is done. It’s hard to imagine a single thinker or book or idea out there which Anderson cannot instantly see though.
This book generated much food for thought for me. It enlarged my world and deepened my understanding of a surprising number of thinkers.