PROPERTY LEADING THE PEOPLE?
The notion of bourgeois revolution—the idea that capitalist development has been intimately linked to the seizure and transformation of the state by rising class forces—has been fiercely contested over the past half-century. The political stakes in interpreting the cycle of events that opens with the Dutch Revolt and English Civil War, and continues with the American and French Revolutions, the Italian Risorgimento, German Unification, the Meiji Restoration and the American Civil War, are correspondingly high. Neil Davidson’s How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions? is a lively and engagingly written survey of this vast historiographical, theoretical and political terrain. Davidson sets out to provide an intellectual history of the concept, from the first intimations of a ‘social interpretation’ of the English Civil War—James Harrington’s analysis in The Commonwealth of Oceana (1656)—to its elaboration in the Marxian tradition and subsequent revisionist and counter-revisionist challenges. But he also offers a running criticism of the ideas he surveys, and in the 150-page conclusion proposes his own reconstruction of the concept, framed in terms of the general dynamics of transition from one mode of production to another.
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What Is Trump?
The pitfalls of bad historical analogizing laid bare in ubiquitous attempts to pin a ‘fascist’ label on the 45th president. Instead, Riley argues, Trump is better grasped as an incoherent amalgam of Weberian forms of rule—ramshackle patrimonialism, weak charisma—operating like a foreign body inserted into America’s capitalist-bureaucratic state.
Metaphysicking the West
Dylan Riley on Heinrich August Winkler, The Age of Catastrophe. ‘The West’ as normative construct—and narrative telos—in a moralizing account from Berlin of the 20th century’s wars and revolutions.
The electoral watersheds of 2016 signalled a rejection of the global-neoliberal formula of rule, but no viable establishment alternative exists. In its absence, Riley argues, Trump may offer a neo-Bonapartist substitute for a coherent hegemonic project.
Politics as Theatre?
Dylan Riley on David Runciman, The Confidence Trap. Parables for the present crisis drawn from liberal democracy’s most difficult hours.
Dylan Riley on Ira Katznelson, Fear Itself. Historical reframing of the New Deal for the age of Obama.
Dylan Riley on Sheri Berman, The Primacy of Politics and Ashley Lavelle, The Death of Social Democracy. Conflicting assessments of Bernstein’s legatees and the future of a reformist left.
Tony Judt: A Cooler Look
Few Anglophone intellectuals have received such posthumous acclaim as the Director of the Remarque Institute, leading contributor to the New York Review of Books, and late champion of social-democracy. Regularly compared to George Orwell, if not Isaiah Berlin, does any careful examination of his oeuvre sustain such panegyrics?
Reviving its classical definition, ‘rule of the propertyless’, Luciano Canfora recasts the story of democracy in Europe as one of successive defeats, with lessons from Louis Napoleon on the use of suffrage as legitimation for oligarchic rule. Dylan Riley assesses a remarkable historical polemic from the Italian philologist.
Dylan Riley on Michael Mann, The Dark Side of Democracy. A bold theoretical construction of causal relations between democratization and genocide, tested through detailed historical studies.
Enigmas of Fascism
Dylan Riley on Michael Mann, Fascists and Robert Paxton, Anatomy of Fascism. Alternative versions of the rise of a paramilitary Right in interwar Europe: were fascist movements ideologically coherent or inchoate, revolutionary or counter-revolutionary?