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.



Thursday, 4 October 2012

First, Short Draft of my Book.

Well, today's 4 October 2012, and my book Bourgeois Liberty and the Politics of Fear: From Absolutism to Neo-Conservatism is officially published. Yay!!!

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).



Simopoulos Talk – 16 November 2006

Traditionally, I’m told, the John Simopoulos address is an iridescent display of wit and learning lightly worn. It is supposed to be funny.

Such a higher form of stand-up is beyond my meagre abilities. I propose, therefore, to advance an absurd thesis so that, if you are not inclined to laugh with me, you may at any rate laugh at me.

I shall argue that our world is being run by zealous revolutionaries, a cadre of the insurgent middle class.

Now, the respectable middle classes, it was long remarked – from 1848 to our own time - had abandoned their heroic role as vanguard of the fight for liberalism. As Marx had noted as early as 1848, fear of Red Revolution inhibited the middle classes, led them to collude with reaction, and thus aborted the democratic revolution of that year and since.

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.

John F. Kennedy's famous commitment to "support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty" was obviously an argument for supporting despotic regimes and opposing revolutionary movements if doing so furthered the cause of the ‘Free World’ in the global Cold War.

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".

There is something not only revolutionary but even really quite Marxist about Neo-Con language. It’s an almost self-consciously bourgeois Marxism.

On 6 November 2003, for example, George W. Bush, addressed the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) on its twentieth anniversary. No doubt ventriloquising his speech-writer, Bush celebrated the 1982 ‘Westminster Speech’ of his predecessor, Ronald Reagan. This speech, Bush said, conjoined US foreign policy in solidarity with ‘revolutionary’ forces subverting communist dictatorships. This is seen by Bush as epochal: the establishment of a kind of Bourgeois Comintern, funded by Washington, rather than by Moscow Gold.

As an aside, a Congressional audit only now being completed has found NED monies set aside for the anti-Castro struggle in Cuba being spent on leather coats and gameboys for the activists. Perhaps not so unreasonable if consumer goods are indeed the artillery of liberal free-market democracy.

The context of the NED’s establishment was a generalised revolutionary crisis (we might say, a bourgeois 1917 – 21): the ‘third wave’ of democratisation beginning with fall of Mediterranean dictatorships in the 1970s, spreading to East Asia, Latin America, the Communist bloc and in the 1990s, Africa. “In the early 1970s”, Bush remarked, “there were about 40 democracies in the world. … As the 20th century ended, there were around 120 democracies in the world … We've witnessed, in little over a generation, the swiftest advance of freedom in the 2,500 year story of democracy.”

Now, why did this happen? First, says Bush, there was the pre-eminent geo-political position of the US which “created the conditions in which new democracies could flourish”. (This is similar to the logic behind the at times universal solidarity on the left with the USSR against its bourgeois critics; it was objectively the ‘fatherland of international socialism’, its fall would hurl back the world’s socialist movement).

So the USA is the bourgeois Soviet Union. But Bush also identified a ‘revolutionary class’:

“Historians will note”, he argued, “that in many nations, the advance of markets and free enterprise helped to create a middle class that was confident enough to demand their own rights.”

Secondly, he pointed out that this class could act as the vanguard of the ‘nation’. It had been found that “the prosperity, and social vitality and technological progress of a people are directly determined by extent of their liberty. Freedom honors and unleashes human creativity -- and creativity determines the strength and wealth of nations.”

So there is a revolutionary class, whose self-emancipation liberates all society. Non-market economies produce their own grave-digger. But it’s the bourgeoisie, not the proletariat.

The process, Bush argues, is teleological. In China, for example, the Communist leadership had realised that “economic freedom leads to national wealth”. They must inevitably conclude that “freedom is indivisible”. There’s that Marxist notion of total revolution, not reform.

However, if democratisation since the 1970s had been the work of ‘national’ forces, inspired by the example of the US and protected by the over-arching stability of its global hegemony, now America has a “new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East”

This was most evident in the forced regime brought about in Iraq. “The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East”, Bush insisted, “will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution.” Indeed: it has been Leninist America’s Soviet-Polish War.

Doesn’t all this sound like a kind of bourgeois Marxism? Even Bush (meaning his speech writer) seemed to see the parallel. The President defined democratic revolution as ultimately the “plan of Heaven” rather than (carefully chosen words) “some dialectic of history”.

Others have been less circumspect: Stephen Schwartz of the US think-tank ‘Western Policy Centre’ has described the neo-conservative strategy in the Middle East as the promotion of “bourgeois revolution.”

Now, however, the United States may be rowing back from the Bush Doctrine of supporting democratic revolution in the Middle East.

President Bush these days is regularly advised by Henry Kissinger, the consummate realist and admirer of Metternich.

Just over a year ago, Condoleezza Rice gave a major speech in Cairo signalling the watershed in US foreign policy. Past US pursuit of stability in the Middle East at the expense of democracy had, she said, achieved neither. Rice added: "We are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all the people."

One year on, though, and back in the Middle East, the US secretary of state is talking less about democracy and more about the "forces of moderation". The forces of moderation, of course, are the pro-western authoritarians; perhaps now even Syria and Iran.

Bolshevik Neo-Conservatism may have run its course: it remains to be seen – to mix my revolutions – what form the Neo-Conservative Thermidor shall take.

To end: I heard at 6.25 this evening, by the way, that the eminent economist and apostle of audacious capitalism – Milton Friedman – has died aged 94. This talk is therefore, I suppose, dedicated to him – if a little ironically.

Marc Mulholland
16 November 2006

Above: Me talking, around 2006.

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