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, 14 August 2012

Finance and the Decline of the West

Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West (1918), published just after World War One in Germany, was a massive hit internationally at the time. In it, Spengler attempted a kind of universal history of civilisations. It had a big influence on Arnold Toynbee's A Study of History (1934-61), which attempted a similar kind of universal schematic history, shorn of Germanic quasi-mysticism.

What did Spengler predict for the future? He argued that capitalism – “the economy of the machine-industry” as he called it  – had empowered  the worker, the engineer and the entrepreneur. Over-arching all three classes, however, was the malign controlling influence of finance, “the banks … [and] the bourses [stock exchanges]", which had grown up parasitically on "the credit needs of an industry grown ever more enormous.” Parliamentary democracy, which was particularly susceptible to manipulation by conniving banks and the imperious demands of the bond markets, was the natural form of the dictatorship of finance-capital. (Lenin said something similar).

This “dictature of money”, he prophesied, must inevitably be challenged by the will of the people. The masses could not organise themselves, however. They must need be led by a vanguard of engineers (by which he meant, roughly, the managerial and artisanal middle-class). They would save civilization in this epic conflict between “blood and money”.

In due course, Spengler was confident that the “master-will” of the people's leaders would triumph over the “plunderer-will”.  A natural elite would re-make society by uniting the popular will with unfettered executive government: “The coming of Caesarism breaks the dictature of money and its political weapon democracy.”

Spengler was obviously looking back to  Caesarian heroes such as Napoleon and Bismarck. He also, of course, anticipated fascism.

Parliamentary democracy as the handmaiden of big finance is hardly a fantasic conspiracy theory in our time. It's an ominous thought that, suitably modified, Spengler's arguments could well appeal to sections of both radical left and radical right today

[Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West: Perspectives of World-History, vol. II, trans. Charles Franis Atkinson (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1922), p. 504 – 6.]

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