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.

Monday, 24 September 2012

David Priestland: Merchant, Soldier, Sage

I've just finished David Priestland's new book, Merchant, Soldier, Sage: A New History of Power. As the title suggests, David makes sense of history by juggling his three basic categories, analogous in some ways to capitalists, militarists, and intelligentsia. He defines them as castes, suggesting modes of thinking linked to occupation. David also discusses 'workers' quite a lot, but they rarely got to exercise power.

In general, David argues, a 'caste-balance' is a good thing. In the 1920s, and since 1970s, buccaneering 'merchants' have been hegemonic, with inegalitarian and de-stabilising results. Priestland looks back quite fondly to the post-war golden age of rapid growth and welfarism (whilst admitting its grave problems). Then a coalition of worker and 'sage' held the quick-buck market at bay. (This is quite similar, though with different terms employed, to the analysis in Gerard Dumenil and Dominique Levy's analysis in The Crisis of Neoliberalism (2010); they spoke more of a worker/manger alliance against finance-capital, which they hope to see re-instituted.)

David treats of a lot of themes I look at in my book, though I stick to more of a 'class' framework (tweaked about). I'll not judge whether that this following is also a difference, but David's prose really zips along! He's particularly adept at using portraits of individuals to illustrate wider themes.

There's some very intriguing data employed. For example, David cites the work of Graham Turner, which claims that had Britain and America not let domestic debt rip between 1997 and 2007 (private and government both, presumably), consumption would have been 20 percent lower! (p. 243).

Anyway, it's an outstandingly interesting, well-written and thought-provoking book. Highly recommended!

David's also got an article in the Guardian for you to take a gander at.


  1. You can hear David Priestland talking about the book in the second half of the 13th September edition of the BBC History Magazine "History Extra" podcast (in the archive section of this page:

    I found it to be an interesting discussion. Certainly an antidote to the Niall Ferguson school of History, which clearly aligns itself with the merchant caste. There's not much clear evidence presented in the podcast interview, though from what you say it sounds as though the book supplies examples and data to back up its assertions. Probably not sufficient for Professor F., but he would be difficult to persuade I imagine.

    The sage caste sounds like a group I would feel at home with. This may help explain why my efforts to gain private sector employment have not as yet been successful.

  2. It's quite a short book - no more than 100,000 words, certainly - but he packs a lot of info in. I expect you could say that Ferguson is 'Merchant', Priestland is 'Sage'!