Holding Fast to an Image of the Past
Explorations in the Marxist Tradition
In this wide-ranging book of essays, Deutscher prize-winning author Neil Davidson offers theoretical reinterpretations and appraisals of key thinkers and themes of interest to contemporary radicals. Throughout Davidson demonstrates the enduring explanatory power of the Marxist understanding of history. Topics include Adam Smith, Eric Hobsbawm, Antonio Gramsci, Naomi Klein, and Marx and Engels' views on the Scottish Highlands
"Neil Davidson’s essays on the work of other thinkers illuminate so many aspects of the Marxist tradition. Everything he touches turns into something much more interesting than gold."
—Professor Steve Edwards, The Open University
"In this volume, Davidson provides an impressive survey of the Marxian and radical tradition—from precursors like Adam Smith through Gramsci, Hobsbawm, Deutscher and Benjamin to contemporary non-Marxists like Naomi Klein. Throughout he combines a clear political and theoretical perspective without any concessions to sectarianism and cant. For this alone, Holding Fast to an Image of the Past is a provocative contribution."
—Charles Post, author The American Road to Capitalism: Studies in Class Structure, Economic Development and Political Conflict, 1620-1877 (Haymarket Books, 2012).
"This is Neil Davidson at his very best. In a sparkling set of essays, Davidson offers a conceptually sophisticated and historically wide-ranging analysis of the work of classical and contemporary political thinkers. From a critical assessment of Tom Nairn on nationalism to his sympathetic reading of the messianic Marxism of Walter Benjamin, Davidson demonstrates the profound intellectual insights to be derived from a careful, open and non-dogmatic deployment of the theoretical resources of historical materialism. In terms of its depth of learning it stands comparison with Perry Anderson's Zone of Engagement. An essential read."
—Satnam Virdee at University of Glasgow
"Working from the best grounds of a now-classical materialism, with great interpretive breadth and rich historical learning, Neil Davidson offers astute and measured guidance through some main territories of contemporary Marxist and associated intellectual history. These essays on a variety of emblematic thinkers and books, some past and some present, carry the tradition of British Marxist historiography impressively forward. As Davidson reminds us, there's life in the old mole yet."
—Geoff Eley Distinguished University Professor of Contemporary History University of Michigan
"Holding Fast to an Image of the Past is illuminating, authoritative and sometimes very funny. Neil Davidson extends here the distinctive project of reinterpretation which resulted in his extraordinary work How Revolutionary were the Bourgeois Revolutions (Haymarket, 2012) The present essays range from sustained critical expositions of thinkers - most notably of Alasdair MacIntyre, Tom Nairn and Walter Benjamin - to questions of Scotland and Scottish national consciousness. Of these, perhaps the most outstanding are Marx and Engels on the Scottish Highlands and The Posthumous Adventures of Adam Smith. His arguments are invariably fresh and original, free of parochialism and enriched by wider international references. Offering a Marxist theory and historical sociology truly adequate for our time, this new collection fruitfully combines wide-ranging erudition with vivid vignettes.
—Bridget Fowler, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of Glasgow.