Has any moralist ever pretended that we were to decline the pursuit of a good which our duty prescribed to us because we foresaw that some partial and incidental evil would arise from it? (Vindiciae Gallicae, 1791)Nicely put. It's an understanable ethic of the revolutionary, recognisable from the Jacobin, through the Bolshevik, to the Neo-Conservative. I certainly wouldn't demur on principle. It does, however, rather leave open accepting all kind of 'incidental evils', or collateral damage as we now might say.
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, 9 October 2012
Friday, 5 October 2012
Also, I could do this kind of thing, but I think I had better not. But if you would like to post up a warm Amazon review, I'd be far from complaining.
* This offer does not apply to anyone who hates me and wishes me excoriation and public humiliation.
Thursday, 4 October 2012
It's had a long gestation. In fact, the first inkling of a serious work emerged way back in 2006 when I delivered a professedly light-hearted talk to St Catherine's John Simopolous Dinner.
This is a bi-annual event designed to get students and tutors of the college chatting to each other across disciplinary boundaries. Over posh grub, students of all the subjects we teach are commingled - so a Historian sits beside a Chemist, a Lawyer beside a Physicist. You get the picture.
Someone gives a brief talk relevant to their specialism, but accessible to everyone. It was my turn to give this talk, and I came up with an ironic discussion of what George W. Bush owed to revolutionary Marxism.
Only gradually thereafter did I decide that, actually, I should write a book on this theme. It's much more of a survey of two centuries, and much less of a jokey riff. Still, I think the original talk can still be found therein.
Anyway, here's the VERY FIRST DRAFT of the book, if you like. It's some 175 times shorter than the final product.
(As a reminder, if you'd like the real thing for 20 percent off, drop me an e-mail, facebook message, of a comment in the blog, and I'll tell you how. It's very easy).
For much of the nineteenth century and most of the twentieth century, it is certainly the case that bourgeois commitment to democracy was markedly attenuated by their fear of the socialist, communist or simply turbulent masses. For a period and for some respectable burghers, even fascism seemed preferable to democracy as a bulwark against communist subversion. During the Cold War, the USA again and again preferred for its client states solidly anti-communist dictatorships to the perils of democratic self-determination.
But the story has taken a new turn. The roll-back of popular socialism and the collapse of communism have restored many of the conditions of the French Revolutionary era. As the US Neocons have concluded, democratic revolution can be encouraged in the sure knowledge that socialist revolutionary movements will not be sparked amongst the mobilised working class. From the Philippines to Ukraine, it has been the Statue of Liberty rather than the Red Flag that inspires the masses. We live in a "climate of revolution".
Wednesday, 3 October 2012
For all its violence and misery, the Cold War had the virtue of imposing on Western intellectuals, Communist and anti-Communist alike, the duty of historical intelligence. ... But [with] the collapse of Communism and disappearance of Marxism, [and] with the market – and now religion – displacing social democracy as the language of public life, writers are no longer compelled by the requirements of the historical imagination. Facing a new enemy, which does not make the same demands that Communism once did, today’s intellectuals wave away all talk of ‘root causes’: history, it seems, will no longer be summoned to the bar of political analysis – or not for the time being. Mimicking the theological language of their antagonists, contemporary writers prefer catchwords such as ‘evil’ and ‘Islamo-fascism’ to the vocabulary of secular criticism. Their language may be a response to 9/11, but it is a product of the end of the Cold War. When Marxism was banished from the political scene in 1989, it left behind no successor language – save religion itself – to grapple with the twinned fortunes of the individual and the collective, the personal and the political, the present and the past.That's very well put. I'm not sure that serious work can avoid much of what made Hobsbawm's work so valuable. It's interesting that his putative successor - and I admire his work, particularly this - is Niall Ferguson. Here's what Ferguson has to say on class analysis:
[Hobsbawm] and I shared the belief that it was economic change, above all, that shaped the modern era. The fact that he sided with the workers and peasants, while I side with the bourgeoisie, was no obstacle to friendship.Here's Billy Bragg singing Which Side are You On? Also, have a look at this by Bhaskar Sunkara at Jacobin.
(I wrote my own book, so far as I was able, to avoid 'taking sides' as such. It was written in the History mode: " I [have not] written this book as an exercise in polemic or political advocacy. The models I employ I do so because I find them useful and interesting; they do not imply moral judgements one way or another. I am taking an argument and using it to make one kind of sense of a stretch of modern history.")
Monday, 1 October 2012
I quote him in my own book, just published. In his 1962, Age of Revolution, he presented a thesis, in typically pellucid poise. In many respects, my book is an extended commentary on this very passage. I often wondered what he might have made of it. I'll never know now.
Here is the passage:
The main shape of French and all subsequent bourgeois revolutionary politics were by now clearly visible. This dramatic dialectical dance was to dominate the future generations. Time and again we shall see moderate middle-class reformers mobilizing the masses against die-hard resistance or counter-revolution. We shall see the masses pushing beyond the moderates’ aims to their own social revolutions, and the moderates in turn splitting into a conservative group henceforth making common cause with the reactionaries, and a left wing group determined to pursue the rest of the as yet unachieved moderate aims with the help of the masses, even at the risk of losing control over them. And so on through repetitions and variations of the pattern of resistance - mass mobilization - shift to the left - split-among-moderates-and-shift-to-the-right - until either the bulk of the middle-class passed into the henceforth conservative camp, or was defeated by social revolution. In most subsequent bourgeois revolutions the moderate liberals were to pull back, or transfer into the conservative camp, at a very early stage. Indeed in the nineteenth-century we increasingly find … that they became unwilling to begin revolution at all, for fear of its incalculable consequences, preferring a compromise with king and aristocracy.No twentieth-century Communist lacks the burden of historical baggage. But Hobsbawm was a great, great historian. I fear we shall not see his like again.
Then you can sit in cafes debating the book.