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Bourgeois Liberty and the Politics of Fear: From Absolutism to Neo-Conservatism Hardcover – 4 Oct 2012

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (4 Oct. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199653577
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199653577
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 2.8 x 16.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,101,778 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Marc Mulholland was born in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, in 1971. Aged one he moved to Portglenone in County Antrim. He grew up in Portglenone Forest, where his father was the Forester, with eight siblings. He studied at the queen's university of Belfast, during the last phase of the Troubles.

Since 2000 Marc has been a College Lecturer and University Fellow at St Catherine's College, University of Oxford. His book, Ulster Unionism at the Crossoads: Northern Ireland in the O'Neill Years (2000) was shortlisted for the Ewart-Biggs Prize. Marc's interests are divided between Irish affairs since the Great Famine, and the history of political thought.

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Review

Immensely ambitious and a terrific achievement. (Mike Macnair, The Weekly Worker)

About the Author

Marc Mulholland was born in Northern Ireland in 1971. He studied history at Queen's University Belfast, and since 2000 has been teaching at St Catherine's College, University of Oxford. He is a member of the History Faculty.

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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By M Klapper on 2 Dec. 2012
Format: Hardcover
Every generation gets the historians it deserves and our post-ideological world is no exception to this rule. Where once Deutschers, Carrs, and Hobsbawms bestrode the stage with teeming casts of aristocrats, bourgeois and proletarians, we tend now to be bombarded with books that promise to explain the history of the world in terms of objects the author happens to know something about (aka upmarket bog-reading, replete with nice pictures) or by historians making dramatic but ultimately unenforceable claims about whatever they happen to wish to write about at the time, e.g., How nutmeg, the British Empire, cinnamon, Dynamo Kiev, tulips, measles, petrol, potatoes, trust, the British Empire, again, or indoor plumbing changed the world forever or, alternatively, in years ending in odd numbers, created modernity.

Dr. Mulholland's book, by happy contrast, is a bold and stirring attempt to go back to the age of the aforementioned giants and impose some broad order on the past. Eschewing cod, the humble flip-flop, olive oil, or whatever else currently excites cultural historians, but at the same time nobly resisting the over-simplified class schematics that undermined so much Marxist historiography, he sets out to unravel the evolving relationship between the state and society since the 17th century, focusing on the critical relationship between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat and, within that, on the idea, familiar to many nineteenth-century observers, that while the bourgeoisie is theoretically committed to freedom it will inevitably side with the reactionary elites, and act against freedom, when it feels threatened by the proletariat.

Dr. Mulholland is resuscitating class history with a kapital C.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER on 24 Nov. 2012
Format: Hardcover
This review concentrates on the book's basic thesis (though it is not the only one), and it is simple enough: the bourgeoisie - the term includes industrialists, businessmen and professionals - is caught in a programmatic contradiction: it stands for civic and political liberty; but when that liberty is used by the working class to advocate and advance their own interests - in a very illiberal way during the French Revolution, and talk of the "dictatorship of the proletariat" promised illiberalism in the future - , the bourgeoisie becomes afraid, backtracks, and supports repression and reaction. Likewise, governments which are liberal at home often support illiberal governments abroad, sometimes as a barrier to feared Communism, and also to protect their economic interest.

The first half of the book tells the story up to the First World War. After 1848 many authoritarian governments were sensible enough sooner or later (sooner in Prussia, later in the Habsburg Empire) to consolidate the alliance between them and the bourgeoisie by meeting the latter half way, giving more scope to their economic programme (which in any case makes the state stronger than it was when fear of the bourgeoisie had led them to put obstacles in the way of that programme). They even granted constitutions with a veneer of parliamentarianism - even of universal suffrage - cleverly designed to protect the privileged position of the old aristocratic ruling class. Even in Britain, as late as 1880 seven of the eleven members of Gladstone's cabinet were aristocrats. Only in France did aristocrats figure hardly at all in cabinets after 1830.
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Amazon.com: 1 review
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
How liberal is the bourgeoisie? 24 Nov. 2012
By Ralph Blumenau - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This review concentrates on the book's basic thesis (though it is not the only one), and it is simple enough: the bourgeoisie - the term includes industrialists, businessmen and professionals - is caught in a programmatic contradiction: it stands for civic and political liberty; but when that liberty is used by the working class to advocate and advance their own interests - in a very illiberal way during the French Revolution, and talk of the "dictatorship of the proletariat" promised illiberalism in the future - , the bourgeoisie becomes afraid, backtracks, and supports repression and reaction. Likewise, governments which are liberal at home often support illiberal governments abroad, sometimes as a barrier to feared Communism, and also to protect their economic interest.

The first half of the book tells the story up to the First World War. After 1848 many authoritarian governments were sensible enough sooner or later (sooner in Prussia, later in the Habsburg Empire) to consolidate the alliance between them and the bourgeoisie by meeting the latter half way, giving more scope to their economic programme (which in any case makes the state stronger than it was when fear of the bourgeoisie had led them to put obstacles in the way of that programme). They even granted constitutions with a veneer of parliamentarianism - even of universal suffrage - cleverly designed to protect the privileged position of the old aristocratic ruling class. Even in Britain, as late as 1880 seven of the eleven members of Gladstone's cabinet were aristocrats. Only in France did aristocrats figure hardly at all in cabinets after 1830. These last two facts are not mentioned by Mulholland; but he is always careful to avoid generalizations: whatever similarities there may be about the ever-growing importance of the bourgeoisie, its place in the political structure vary greatly from country to country. For example, in England the bourgeoisie, except for less than a decade of panic after the Napoleonic Wars, was (with good reason) less frightened by the working class, enfranchised it with judicious gradualism, and, equally gradually, eased the restrictions on trade unions.

Before the First World War the mainstream socialist parties of Europe (Russia excepted), having been encouraged by their growing representation in parliament and fearful of the immense power of the state, had adopted programmes of peaceful change. This did not mean that the bourgeoisie and the state did not fear the threat of socialism to their economic interests; but it did mean that the oppressive measures against the socialists, even in Bismarckian and Wilhelmine Germany, stopped short of outlawing them altogether and of the violence shown by fascism after the War. The catalyst for the latter was of course the Red Terror and the destruction of the bourgeoisie by the Russian Revolution and its incitement through the Comintern for similar revolutions throughout Europe. The threat to bourgeois ideas had become existential. But so was the threat to Social Democracy, so that in Germany, for example, the Social Democratic government called in the proto-fascists to smash Spartacists and Bavarian communism and safeguarded bourgeois interests. The latter, in the light of a communist revival during the Depression, would see fascism as a better protector than a bourgeois parliamentary democracy. The Italian bourgeoisie had already come to that conclusion a decade earlier.

After the Second World War, the menace from the Soviet Union to bourgeois societies meant that the latter often veered towards an illiberal authoritarianism, periodically at home (McCarthyism in the United States), more consistently abroad in supporting deeply illiberal governments and overthrowing leftist or nationalist ones (e.g. Guatemala, Chile, Iran) who wanted to end their countries' economic subservience to the West's neo-colonialism. Occasionally this did not work (Cuba, Vietnam, Nicaragua.)

The collapse of the Soviet Union liberated the bourgeoisie from the fear of communism, and gave it a new confidence. Nor was there any reason for it to feel threatened at home: parties on the so-called left were as subservient to capitalism - more global than ever - as those in the centre or on the right. But especially its dependence on oil, the revolution in Iran and the new fear of militant and anti-western Islamicist movements had the liberal West still support oppressive regimes abroad, especially in the Middle East. So it had backed the brutal Saddam Hussein against Iran, and turned against him only when he in turn attacked Kuwait, an oil-producing client state of the west. On the other hand Mulholland believes that on a number of occasions the motive for Western action was genuinely to promote democracy (Panama, Haiti, Yugoslavia) and there were occasions when it withdrew earlier support from regimes whose autocracy had become too oppressive (successfully in the Philippines, with dire results in the case of the Shah of Iran). He seems to take neo-conservative pronouncements in this respect more at face value than I do.

The history of the period between the end of the 18th century and the time when the book was published in 2012 is told and analyzed strictly in economic terms and particularly in terms of class interests. It is therefore a rather dry work, written for the specialist, who will come across many illuminating comments in a subtle, sophisticated and sometimes very dense analysis, especially of the strengths and weaknesses of governments. It is not a book for those of the general public who would like to see history presented in a more colourful manner, with individual figures brought to life, which of course can't be expected from a book like this. And it is difficult to write such a work in a captivating manner. In fact, the only lively passages are a very few among the many quotations from contemporaries of the story: Mulholland has read extremely widely and ferreted out the occasional gem. Almost all European states, as well as the United States and many other countries outside Europe, get a look-in in the book. And the index is one of the best I have ever come across.
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