My name is Marc Mulholland. I am a Fellow (lecturer and tutor) in the History Faculty of Oxford University. My College is St Catherine's. I come from Ireland.

This is a blog relating to my book published in 2012 by Oxford University Press, Bourgeois Liberty and the Politics of Fear: From Absolutism to Neo-Conservativism.
Now on sale here and here. If you want 20 per cent off the price, I can arrange that! Send me a message or leave a comment, and I'll tell you how.

The thesis my book is examining was rather pithily summarised by Leon Trotsky in 1939: "Wherever the proletariat appeared as an independent force, the bourgeoisie shifted to the camp of the counter-revolution. The bolder the struggle of the masses, the quicker the reactionary transformation of liberalism." [Context is here]

However, my book isn't a defence of Trotskyism, or indeed any particular ideology. It's a study of an idea that took shape in Left, Right, and Centre variations.

This blog has tid-bits not included in the book, and other thoughts that occur.

You can see book details at the
OUP website.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

How were Taxes Collected?

In an early draft of the book, I had the line: 'all previous history is the history of class evasion.' Then I thought better of including sentences that might require a 'goak here'. Still, tax is not only as unavoidable as death, but politically as important.

This is a bit of a golden age for financial and fiscal history, not least due to the excellent work of Niall Ferguson. (Have a look, for example, at his fascinating paper on the declining sensitivity of bond markets to political risk between 1848 and the Great War). Still, there's definitely lots spade-work that needs to be done on something even as basic as how tax was collected.

In a wonderful over-view of nineteenth-century Europe (a book I first read as a set text while teaching for the Open University years ago), M. S. Anderson pointed to,

one of the nineteenth-century developments most neglected by historians - the ability of governments of any political complexion working through bigger and more effective bureaucracies, to collect taxes more efficiently than ever before.
[M.S. Anderson, The Ascendancy of Europe, 1815-1914. Third Edition. (London, 1972, 1985, 2003), p. 122 ]

I certainly found it difficult to find basic info on how the tax collection machine improved so dramatically in Europe after 1848 - as it quite clearly did. And that it did is very important for the arguments I seek to make re. the travails of liberal constitutionalism particularly from c. 1870.

Anyway, I did come across an entertaining book on 'French types' by one Miss Betham-Edwards. It includes a chapter on 'The Tax Collector'. Here we find how things had dramatically changed by the time the book was written, at the turn of the century:

Up till the year 1877 a much-hated official called garnissaire or bailiff,
could instal himself in the house of a defaulting taxpayer and there claim bed
and board till all arrears were forth-coming. With the general increase ofwell-being and instruction, the function became a sinecure. Nowadays taxes are rapidly and easily collected from one end of France to the other.
[Miss Betham-Edwards, Home Life in France, 2nd edition (London., 1905)]
Some bright scholars out there should get to writing the social history of taxation in the modern era. It'd be a great topic.


  1. RE: goak/joke, a chap who used to report on Oxford United matches for local radio always preferred to write "the Ewes" on his notes rather than "the Us", to avoid the possibility of accidentally saying "us".

  2. I've an English friend who used to lecture on Irish literature. To remember how to pronounce 'Taoiseach', she'd write '(Tea-Shop)' in her lecture notes. It worked well!

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