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, 28 July 2012

Norman Stone on Liberalism

He's a man of strong views, that Norman Stone. His review / obituary of E. H. Carr, for example, pulled no punches. When I did A Level history (a year on the French Revolution, a year on nineteenth-century Europe - no Hitler or Stalin!!), one of the books I read was Stone's Europe Transformed. I thought Stone's was the best book we were encouraged to read: brilliantly written, frank about power and privilege, and refreshingly unsentimental in that way much of conservative history was back in the 1970s and 1980s.

Here's a section on the crisis of European liberalism from the 1870s, a major theme of my book:

"By the end of the 1870s classical liberalism everywhere had lost its commanding position. Usually it did so because of financial troubles which were related to the effects of the Depression on government revenues. Classical liberals believed in free trade and minimal state interference with the economy. When government demands went up – as, in matters of defence, they were bound to do – there were wrangles as to how these costs should be met. Liberals disliked direct taxes … tariffs … State monopolies … In these circumstances, classical liberals came to grief everywhere by the end of the 1870s. Liberals could not present a common front over financial measures which, in this era, took up most parliamentary time."

[Norman stone, Europe Transformed 1878 – 1919 (Fontanta: London, 1983), pp. 42 – 3.]

I think now that conservative historians would be more likely to bemoan the decline of classical liberalism as a terrible mistake. There's a tendency to pass judgement on the errors of the past, so that the reader (and writer) can rather smugly imagine that they would have done better. Stone's book was very good at showing how circumstances often enforce choices that made sense within given premisses.


  1. His review / obituary of E. H. Carr, for example, pulled no punches

    Curious thing is that this particular forerunner of Ollie Kamm appeared in the London Review of Books, something I'd forgotten until I just looked at Alexander Cockburn's Corruptions of Empire, where his piece on the Stone obituary is reproduced.

  2. Keith Tribe has a nice passage on the same kind of thing, but emphasising not so much the defence issues (which are what did for the British Liberals after 1914) but the ways in which "classical" liberalism was undermined by the straightforward consequences of the reforms which it had earlier set in motion:

    *** The state based on the rule of law along the lines that Mill articulated in 1859...barely outlasted Mill's lifetime. Everywhere reform brought costs that required higher levels of taxation and consequent accountability in the expenditure of public money. The civil service reforms of the 1850s converted occasional emoluments to fixed salaries and pensions. The movement for the incarceration of convicted criminals, rather than their consignment to the gallows or transportation, brought increasing expenditures for both local authorities and central government. The regulation of private enterprise -- factory inspection, hours of work for women and minors, railway safety, clean water and waste disposal -- extended the financial commitment of central government. Local government assumed responsibility for elementary education and from the 1890s developed a framework of vocational education in new technical colleges. The issue of how liberty and democracy might be secured in the world that such forces were to create became a critical one during the interwar period... ***

  3. Nice Tribe quote.

    I'll have to read that Cockburn piece.

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