Thursday, June 21, 2012

American Insurgents: interview

I was interviewed by David Wearing over at the New Left Project about my book, American Insurgents.  You can read it here:
Richard Seymour's new book, "American Insurgents", presents a historical analysis of anti-war protest in the United States. His previous books are "The Liberal Defence of Murder", now published in paperback, and "The Meaning of David Cameron". He blogs at Lenin's Tomb, and writes regularly for the Guardian. Seymour is a PhD candidate at the London School of Economics.  He discussed his new book with New Left Project's David Wearing.
David Wearing:  Can you summarise for us the subject of your new book?
Richard Seymour: American Insurgents is a brief history of anti-imperialism in the US, from the revolution to the present.  Now, this is an odd subject: what's so American about it?  What's so anti-imperialist about it?  It doesn't seem to sit right.  Apart from anything else, most pundits and historians imply that there's something profoundly paradoxical about the idea of an American Empire.  Thus, we are treated to lapidary formulations about the 'Empire of Liberty'.  This has to do with its ambiguous revolutionary legacy, which is something I explore in the book. 
What can be said is that the liberal-democratic ideas that animated the revolution are in some respects in conflict with imperialism.  The legatees of that revolution have often operated on that tension, using the inherited liberal-democratic discourse - the principle of self-determination, consent of the governed, etc - against imperialism.  Thus, the Anti-Imperialist League, a mass movement included such luminaries as Mark Twain, Henry James and Jane Addams, appealled to the constitution, and the declaration of independence, against the US colonial war in the Phillipines in 1898. That is what is specifically American about the anti-imperialism I'm discussing. 
As for what's so anti-imperialist about it, I should say up front that I have not restricted my purview to those movements which explicitly considered themselves anti-imperialist as that would be mainly a chronicle of marginalia.  This is a study of the concrete political formations that arose against specific imperialist ventures.  For, even if at an ideological level specific groups or individuals did not understand the problem as imperialism, the political struggle they were conducting was against imperialism.  This is not to say that it doesn't matter whether groups self-identify as anti-imperialist or not.  Their analysis matters, largely because it is a determinant of how successful they can be.  It is just that it would be unduly restrictive, and finger-wagging, to adopt an ideal-type of anti-imperialism against which to measure those whose struggles we need to learn from....