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.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Egypt and the Lesser Evil

After the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Presidential elections in Egypt, old liberal conundrums are coming back to haunt the revolutionaries of Tahrir Square, not to mention the political classes of Israel, the wider Middle East, the US, and the EU. The Muslim Brotherhood have a mandate, but are soaked through with reactionary obscurantist traditions. Should, then, one prefer the brutally militaristic 'permanent state' in Egypt to remain in effective force, as a check on Islamist ambition, and in extremis - if democracy threatens to spiral off into theocracy - as a counter-revolutionary angel of destruction?

The liberals of 1848 similarly wrestled with this dilemma. Then, of course, they feared not so much populist religion as socially levelling democracy. Gabriel Riesser, Vice President of the liberal revolutionary German National Assembly of 1948, bemoaned the "declaration of bankruptcy on the part of the moderate majority of the Assembly" which left "nothing but the sorry choice between the despotism of the princes and the so-called democrats." He had to admit, however, that "under certain circumstances ... the victory of a despotic, even bloody reaction might be the lesser evil; but I dread the rule of a people which could be happy to see that victory." [Dieter Langewiesche, Liberalism in Germany, trans. Christiane Banerji (London: Macmillan, 2000, German ed. 1988), p. 55]

That last clause: you can contemplate (or adumbrate) almost anything so long as you are blessed with a personally clear conscience. Still, when one considers that Riesser was Jewish, his fear of the vox populi comes across as anything but light-minded.

The best option would seem to be on-going public mobilisation to hold the Brotherhood's ideological wing in check, whilst insisting upon the supremacy of democratic civilian government. Building a civil society not just of businesses - who are historically all to keen to see 'order' imposed at potentially great political cost - but also, and in tension with them, of trade unions, community groups etc. (who in conditions of political freedom can compete with Islamist welfare networks) should be a priority for opposition activists. It'll be a hairy few years, however.

Update: Here's an interesting blog entry about it.

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