Monday, March 21, 2011

THE AGES OF ERIC HOBSBAWM

Andy Newman, Socialist Unity, March  19, 2011
 
hobsbawm_cover2.JPGGregory Elliott’s new book on the political thought of Eric Hobsbawm is a welcome work of serious scholarship about an important and influential thinker.

Elliott seeks to provide a comprehensive overview of Hobsbawm’s politics, and does very successfully develop an intellectual biography showing the evolution of the subject’s thought, particularly as evidenced by the changing viewpoints through Hobsbawm’s history of modernity, from The Age of Revolution in 1962, through the The Age of Capital in 1975, The Age of Empire in 1987, and The Age of Extremes in 1994.

Given the length of Hobsbawm’s political and intellectual career, and the breadth of his achievement, it would have been a Herculean task to do justice to every aspect of Hobsbawm’s work. However, I do feel that Elliott’s decision to omit a critical discussion of Hobsbawm’s account of nations and nationalism was a mistake.

Hobsbawms, work “Nations and Nationalism Since 1780” alongside the book he edited “The Invention of Tradition” are not only seminal texts in the understanding of the theory of nationalism, to be read alongside Gellner and Anderson, but their approach is both informed by and informs Hobsbawm’s commitment to the politics of the Popular Front. Georgi Dimitrov’s report to the Seventh Congress of the Comintern in 1935 on the ideological battle against fascism clearly sounds out some of themes about how national identity is a contested political terrain that Hobsbawm later develops. This was the forge in which Hobsbawm’s world view was wrought.

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