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, 31 July 2012

The Politics of Fear and Mitt Romney

In the introduction [PDF] to my book (already up at the OUP website), I give two versions of the thesis that forms the backbone of the following study of modern history. (Two contrasting discourses on the same argument? How frightfully postmodern, dear!)

Here the 'rightwing' version of the argument:
Civil and political liberty is natural for a modern, market society. As a country struggles to modernize, however, the structures of traditional society disintegrate and there emerges a rootless, impoverished proletariat, understandably jealous and resentful of the rich and successful. ... [So] at least until a country has sufficiently modernized to build up a prosperous middle class and [to] give the working class a stake in capitalist society, sufficient order must be valued above generalized liberty.
Of course, there were / are lots of variations on this argument. One constant, pretty much, is a strong preference for reform from above rather than upsurge from below. Ludwig von Mises was clear: ‘the violence of war and revolutions is always an evil to liberal eyes . . . when revolution seems almost inevitable liberalism tries to save the people from violence, hoping that philosophy may so enlighten tyrants that they will voluntarily renounce rights which are opposed to social development’.

[Ludwig Von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, trans. J. Kahane (Auburn, Alabama, 1951, 2009), 74.]

We can see another version from a couple of days ago in the interview given by Mitt Romney to a friendly Israeli newspaper. He's asked about the 'Arab Spring', a wave of revolution not exactly welcomed with open arms by an Israeli establishment which is understandably anxious about any seismic shifts in the region:

Romney was asked:
How do you view the Arab Spring and the way in which the U.S. responded to the uprisings in those Arab states?
He answered:
Clearly we’re disappointed in seeing Tunisia and Morocco elect Islamist governments. We’re very concerned in seeing the new leader in Egypt as an Islamist leader. It is our hope to move these nations toward a more modern view of the world and to not present a threat to their neighbors and to the other nations of the world.
“The Arab Spring is not appropriately named. It has become a development of more concern and it occurred in part because of the reluctance on the part of various dictators to provide more freedom to their citizens. President [George W.] Bush urged [deposed Egyptian President] Hosni Mubarak to move toward a more democratic posture, but President Obama abandoned the freedom agenda and we are seeing today a whirlwind of tumult in the Middle East in part because these nations did not embrace the reforms that could have changed the course of their history, in a more peaceful manner. [My Emphasis]

We can see what George Bush II's 'Freedom Agenda' involved here (address to the National Endowment for Democracy, 6 November 2003). Condaleeza Rise was still promoting it in a speech in Cairo in 2005 but, contra Romney, she had clearly changed her mind the following year. Frightened by the Iraqi debacle, the Bush Administration switched back to supporting pro-US authoritarian regimes. The concern now was that rapid democratization would benefit political Islam (as, indeed, it largely has). It's true that Obama finessed the Bush Administration post-Freedom Agenda, though he did actually continue to criticize past-US mistakes in backing friendly dictators.

What's interesting is Romney's re-casting of the 'Freedom agenda' to denude it of its worryingly revolutionary content. Behind the hand-waving, chat about gently persuading dictators to play nice is back to a much more traditionalistist support for sons of bitches, as long as they're sons of bitches friendly to US interests (and, in the Middle East, Israeli security).

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