Jean Grave, the First World War, and the memorialisation of anarchism: An interview with Constance Bantman, part 2
by John-Erik Hansson
John-Erik Hansson: Let us now talk about the French and European contexts and turn to the First World War and to the relationship between anarchism and the French Third Republic. You discuss at length Jean Grave’s u-turn regarding the war and what leads him to draft and sign the Manifesto of the Sixteen, condemning him to oblivion, because he was one of the apostates—although other signatories like Kropotkin managed to remain in the good graces of a lot of people in the anarchist movement. There's an ongoing revision of our understanding of what exactly led to the split in the anarchist movement between the defencists, who were in favour of participating in the war, and those who simply opposed the First World War, exemplified by the recent edited collection Anarchism 1914-18: Internationalism, Anti-Militarism and War. For a long time being defencism was considered to be a betrayal of anarchist principles, but that view has changed over the last couple of years. What was Grave’s role in this debate? How does studying Grave help us rethink anarchism at that historical juncture?
Constance Bantman: The first thing to say is that the revision is very much an academic thing; that’s important to highlight when you talk about anarchism, which is of course a social movement with a very strong historical culture. The war will come up when you're talking to the activists who really know their history when you mention Grave. On France’s leading anarchist radio channel, Radio Libertaire, a few years ago, I heard him called a “social traître” [traitor to the cause]—I couldn't believe it! But within academic circles, the revision is underway and a great deal has come out: the volume that you mentioned and Ruth Kinna’s work on Kropotkin as well, all of which have been very important to revising this history. That’s courageous work as well, given all we’ve said about the enduringly sensitive nature of this discussion.
Concerning Grave’s role in this, the first aspect to consider is the importance of daily interactions in people's lives. That’s an angle you get from a biography. So much has been said about Kropotkin’s own story and intellectual positions, and how this informed his stance during the war. Of course, that doesn't explain everything, especially if you look to the opponents to the war. Grave was initially really opposed to the war, his transition was really gradual but it was a U-turn, connected to his friendship with Kropotkin, who told him off quite fiercely for being opposed to the war. One thing we do see through Grave is this sense that some anarchists clearly predicted what would later be known revanchisme, the idea that there was so much militarism in French society that when the Entente won the war, there would be really brutal terms imposed on Germany, which would lead to another war. That’s something that Peter Ryley has written about in Anarchism 1914-18. Some anarchists were pretty lucid actually in their analysis and you do found traces of that in Grave. He really clearly understood the depth of the militarism of French society, and that's when he did a bit of a U-turn.
He was also in Britain at the time, and didn't quite realise how difficult the situation was. He had left Les Temps Nouveaux and the paper was looked after by colleagues. They were receiving lots of letters from the front, from soldiers and, as has been analysed by other historians, this was crucial in the growth of an anti-war sentiment for them. They could see directly the horrors happening in the trenches, whereas Grave was immersed in upper-class British circles and had no clear sense of the brutality of the war. So, again, it's a mixture of ideas, ideology, and the contingencies of personal and activist lives when you try to assess positions that such complicated times.
JEH: Again, this highlights the importance of personal connections in the formulation of political and ideological positions. While these positions might be influenced by personal connections, they then become rationalised into arguments that become part of the ideological vocabulary and the ideological fault lines in the movement itself… and that leads to the Manifesto of the Sixteen, in a sense.
CB: Yes, absolutely that's very true. The manifesto was written as a document published initially in the press; it was not a placard. Arguments in favour of defencism as well as arguments by anti-war groups were published in the press in the form of letters meant to influence people. Grave once referred to the Manifesto of the Sixteen as the manifesto he wrote in 1917, whereas it had actually been written in 1916. This just shows that what is now regarded as this landmark document, this watershed moment in the history of Western anarchism was, for Grave, just one of the many articles that he had written. I think it took some time, maybe a decade or two, you can see that through Grave, for the Manifesto to be consolidated into the historical monument that it now is. Looking at this period through Grave brings out a degree of fluidity which is otherwise not apparent.
JEH: This is very interesting point. In a way, anarchists built their own historical narrative and created a landmark out of something that was, as you mentioned, initially just another set of arguments between people who are connected and often knew one another personally. But this particular argument became much more important because of the way in which the anarchist movement memorialised itself.
CB: Yes, absolutely and I think tracing it would be interested to trace how national historiographies and activist memories sort of converge to establish versions of history. In France, I would be really interested to see when exactly the Manifesto of the Sixteen congealed into this historic landmark. I wonder if it's Maitron and a mixture of activist circles and discussions. I haven't studied so much the period around the Second World War, but really, with activist memories in this period we may have a missing link here to understand the formation and how the 19th century was memorialised.
JEH: From the First World War to the Third Republic, I would like to relate your book to a recent article by Danny Evans. Evans argues that anarchism could or should be seen as “the movement and imaginary that opposed the national integration of working classes”. Grave is interesting in this respect because he becomes domesticated by the Third Republic. Would you say that anarchism and French republicanism are in a kind of dialectical relationship from 1870 until the Second World War, moving from hard-hitting repression to the domestication of a certain strand of anarchism seen as respectable or acceptable by French republicanism?
CB: Now that's a very good point, and an important contribution by Danny Evans. Grave always had these links with progressive Republican figures and organisations like the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme, Freethinkers, academics etc.… One of his assets as well among his networks is his ability to get on with people, to mobilise them, for instance, in protest again repression in Spain and the Hispanic world. Many progressive figures were involved in that. And when Grave himself fell foul of the law during the highly repressive episode of 1892–94, many Republicans supported him, which suggests that a degree of republican integration was always latent for Grave. Then the war happened and he picked the right side from the Republicans’ perspective, and by then you're right, domestication is indeed a good term. I would also add that many of these Republicans considered that anarchism had been an important episode in the history of the young Third Republic, which might have made more favourably inclined towards it.
Now if we look at domestication, Grave is an example of a sort of willing domestication, as you might say that perhaps he does age into conservative anarchism. But a classic example is that of Louise Michel. Sidonie Verhaeghe has just written a really interesting book about this, because if you think about Louise Michel having her entry into the Pantheon being discussed in recent years, she would be absolutely horrified at the suggestion. Having a square named after her at the foot of the Sacré Coeur, that’s almost trolling! But anarchism really reflects the history of the Third Republic from the early days, when the Republic was very unstable. You had the Boulangiste episode, and anarchism was perceived to be such a threat initially, until the strand represented by Grave ceases to be seen in that way. After the war, we enter the phase of memorialisation and reinterpretation; Michel and Grave represent two slightly different facets of that process.
Regarding the point about the integration of the working classes, the flip side of Danny’s argument has often been used by historians—I'm thinking about Wayne Thorpe, in particular—to explain why everything fell apart for French anarchists at the start of the First World War. The war just revealed how integrated the French working classes were, beyond the rhetoric of defiance they displayed. It's an argument you find to explain the lack of numerical strength of the CGT too. The working classes had integrated and the Republic had taken root, and Thorpe explains what happens with the First World War in the anarchist and syndicalist movements across Europe by looking at the prism of integration. That's a very fruitful way of looking at it. That's also great explanation because it encompasses so many different factors—economics, political control, and the rise of the big socialist parties which was of course crucial at the time.
JEH: Actually, I was also thinking of the historical memory of socialists, as mass party socialism becomes dominant in the 20th century. In the late 19th century in the early 20th century when socialism was formulated, anarchism was an important part of that broad ideological conversation. But by the end of the First World War, from the socialists’ perspective, that debate is over. The socialists have won the ideological battle, and they are able to mobilise in a way that the anarchists aren't able to anymore. And at that point, the socialists can look back and try to bring anarchists into the fold, paying a form of respect to anarchism as an important part of socialist history.
CB: Yes, I think there is probably an element of that, perhaps even an element of nostalgia. Many of these socialist leaders had dabbled with anarchism themselves before the war, so there is this dimension of personal experience and sometimes affinity. And it was still fairly recent history for them, I suppose, which plays out in a number of ways. There’s also the question of what happens with revolutionary ideas—for us the revolution is a fairly distant event, but for them the Commune was not such a distant memory. So, there is also this question of what do you do with a genuine revolutionary movement, like anarchism, and I think it was probably something they had to consider.
 Ruth Kinna and Matthew S. Adams, eds., Anarchism, 1914-18: Internationalism, Anti-Militarism and War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020); see also Matthew S. Adams, “Anarchism and the First World War,” in The Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism, ed. Carl Levy and Matthew S. Adams (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), 389–407, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-75620-2_23.
 Sidonie Verhaeghe, Vive Louise Michel! Célébrité et postérité d’une figure anarchiste (Vulaines sur Seine: Editions du Croquant, 2021).
 Wayne Thorpe, “The European Syndicalists and the War, 1914-1918”, Contemporary European History 10(1) (2001), 1–24; J.-J. Becker and A. Kriegel, 1914: La Guerre et le mouvement ouvrier français (Paris: Armand Colin, 1964).
Jean Grave, print culture, and the networks of anarchist transnationalism: An interview with Constance Bantman
by John-Erik Hansson
John-Erik Hansson: Let's start with a few introductory questions. Very broadly, who Jean Grave and why should we study him? What does he stand for? Does the book present a general case for studying minor figures in the history of anarchism, as Jean Grave is no longer necessarily so well known?
Constance Bantman: Jean Grave was a French anarchist—he was really quite famous until his death in 1939. He was mainly known as the editor of three highly influential anarchist periodicals. First of all, Le Révolté, which was set up in 1879 in Geneva by Peter Kropotkin and a few others, chiefly Elisée Reclus. It was handed over to Grave around the 1883 and he kept it going until 1885, when the paper was relocated to Paris. It was eventually discontinued and relaunched in 1887 as La Révolte, which was forced to close in 1894, in times of really intense anarchist persecution in France. It was relaunched again in 1895 as Les Temps Nouveaux, which more or less ceased business in 1914 when the war started. Grave was also involved in several other publications post-war and until his death. So Grave is primarily known for being a newspaper editor, one might say one of the most influential editors in the global anarchist movement.
And he was really quite well known at the time, and was also a theorist in his own right. That's one aspect of his work that completely sank into oblivion. I think you'd really struggle to find anyone reading Grave nowadays. There might be somebody popping up on social media every now and then, but that's about it! But at the time, he was a really influential theorist of anarchism, not quite on par with Kropotkin or say Malatesta or Reclus, but people did read him. His work was translated into numerous languages and published in multiple editions. He was a theorist of anarchist communism very broadly speaking. He was interested in education, and educationalism. It's hard to assess the specificity of his work, really. I would say educationalism within the broader anarchist communist framework was important. He was quite critical of syndicalism, and he was, as we’ll discuss later, pro Entente during the war.
He is worth studying not only because he was influential person, but also because of his remarkably long career in anarchism. He became a politicised at the time of the Paris Commune, when he was a teenager. I think his father was quite political and the young Grave was distantly involved in the commune—he was 17 at the time. By the late 1870s, he was politically active, and he never stopped until his death. His long political career mirrors the history of French and international anarchism, and the place of anarchism within the French Third Republic. Grave wrote his autobiography with the title Quarante Ans de Propagande Anarchiste [Forty Years of Anarchist Propaganda], and when I wrote the book, I was thinking, “maybe I could call it Seventy Years of Anarchist Propaganda?”, because that's more accurate. Grave was being quite humble.
Concerning your question about the relevance of studying minor figures, I think there is something interesting in resurrecting figures who have fallen from grace—Grave especially because of his position during World War One. But I think Grave was an intermediary, not quite a minor figure, because he was so well known and the time. These intermediaries, who were really close to highly influential historical figures, allow us to get new historical insights into figures like a Kropotkin, who was a really close friend of his, or Reclus, with whom he sparred quite a lot. They also allow us to piece back together the social history of anarchism, to shed light on the history of ideas in many different ways, and to reflect on more canonical history as well.
JEH: Your book is a biography of Grave but it's also a biography of his periodicals, especially La Révolte and Les Temps Nouveaux. What led you to that focus? What brought you to take that angle on Grave and on anarchism more generally?
CB: That's also related to your first question—which was “why study Grave?”. One of the main drivers of my study was a reflection on the concept of anarchist transnationalism, which I’ve been interested in for a long time, like many historians have. My work to date was focused on exile and I was absolutely fascinated with Grave who pretty much never left Paris at a time of intense anarchist forced mobility. Lots of French anarchists went into exile and there was a great deal of labour migration. But Grave was pretty much always in Paris, and yet, he was everywhere. If syndicalism was being discussed in Latin America, you could be sure that Grave would be part of that conversation. Same in Japan, same in discussions of political violence in the UK, where there were many French anarchists. What I realised is that Grave presents us with what we might call an example of immobile or rooted transnationalism and the fact that it was absolutely fine or feasible for somebody to be sedentary and to stay in Paris whilst having global influence. The reason for this, what solves the problem, is print culture and the mobility of print in this period.
So that's how I came to be interested in the papers, because they were agents of circulation of mobility. As Pierre-Yves Saunier, an influential historian of transnationalism, wrote, for the international circulation of ideas to happen, you don't necessarily need personal mobility, you need connectors. The papers were the great connectors.
In addition to that, the papers are absolutely fascinating. They are remarkable cultural documents, because one of Grave’s salient features was that he was connected with so many writers and visual artists. He was really adept at enlisting the support for the movement, and the papers really reflect that. The papers had a supplément littéraire, which was sometimes illustrated and many illustrations were sold for charity purposes, alongside the paper, by artists who are nowadays extremely famous for some of them (for instance Grave’s friend Paul Signac), or by illustrators. So there was this really lush visual and literary culture associated with the papers, which was just pleasant to study as well.
JEH: This is a great segue into the next set of questions. You’ve emphasised the importance of print culture throughout the book and in your answers up to now. So, how would you characterise the relationship between anarchism and print culture in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries?
CB: Well, I’ve thought about this a lot, and I think I would use the term symbiotic. I think it was a very symbiotic relationship, they fed off and into each other. There are many ways in which this imbrication of anarchism with print culture functioned. A few examples: print culture existed through periodicals, in particular, but also pamphlets which were sold and printed separately. All of these were the sites where anarchist ideology was elaborated and constructed dialogically.
These publications were fora, there was a great deal of discussions within and around the papers and other publications. Print culture was the prime place of ideological elaboration. It was also the key place for the dissemination of ideology. We've discussed illustrations—and Grave’s papers were famously very dry, very theoretical—but if we think of papers like the Père Peinard, a really engaging contemporary publication, there was a language, there was also a visual style, which was incredibly effective in conveying very complex, occasionally dry ideas to their target audiences. So that's another aspect in this relationship between anarchism and print culture. Because, precisely, there was no party framework, the press was the main forum.
Another aspect is also that the press and owning anarchist print was regarded by the authorities as the ultimate sign of anarchist belonging. This was very much acknowledged that the time, and this was a way of self-identification as well. The historian Jean Maitron has written extensively about anarchist being a very bookish culture in this respect, and this notion of print ownership as a sign of anarchist belonging is striking when you look at police records. This idea that owning and reading anarchist material was a sign of being an anarchist is really important.
Print culture had other functions as well. For instance, I've mentioned the global influence of Grave, it was also through the press that anarchism was developed as a global movement. The press also facilitated the daily organisation of anarchist circles, connecting activists with one another. So, there are so many practical, organisational, ideological and cultural ways in which print culture made anarchism possible. In return, anarchism fostered this absolutely remarkable print culture, which is one of our main sources today in documenting the history of the movement.
JEH: When I was reading the book, I was fascinated by the discussion of the formation of an anarchist identity alongside that of an anarchist ideology. I was wondering if you could comment, a little bit about the kind of dynamics of the relationship between the formation of an anarchist identity and at the same time, the formation of an anarchist ideology.
CB: Yes, I think that's such an interesting approach, because at the moment the great buzzword among historians of anarchism is “communities”, which makes me think that this notion of anarchist identity is somewhat under-explored. Paradoxically, we tend to think about anarchist identity through the collective prism of community and they’re not quite the same thing. Of course, the biography is a good entry way into these questions. Grave was somebody who was interested in ideas, but being an anarchist was a praxis as well. It was about taking part in gatherings in ‘Cercles’ or local groups, it was very much a sociability; it fed on this social identity and that's how it developed in the aftermath of the Second Industrial Revolution. Grave’s own itinerary shows that anarchism was very much a place where new identities, individual and collective, were created.
It's been a matter of debate, to what extent anarchists actually identified with the ideology or recognised it, or were well versed in it. For many people, it was more practical—if we think about the many sorts of petty criminals that the police identified as anarchist were probably not particularly familiar with Kropotkin’s ideas or say Stirner’s, but to somebody like Grave, Kropotkin—and more generally, ideas and theories—were, of course, very important.
JEH: To continue at the intersection of identity and ideology, bringing print culture back in, one of the things that struck me when I was reading your book is how you show the way in which different editors of anarchist papers interacted with and responded to one another. There is this debate between Jean Grave and Benjamin Tucker taking place throughout the pages of Liberty and La Révolte—mirroring the broader debate between anarchist individualists and anarchist communists. Yet, they maintained a veneer of unity as anarchists and actively sought to continue collaborating. This seems to have been common, especially before 1900, but it that changes over time, and you are able to track the subsequent process of ideological reconfiguration and division. So, I was wondering, firstly, what you thought this could tell us about anarchism at the time, and secondly, why you think things changed in the early 20th century.
CB: It's a striking story to follow. What we can see with anarchism, in particular through periodicals in the 1880s, is the case of an ideology emerging and constituting itself as a social movement. There is a sense of shared identity and affinities between, say Tucker and Grave—occasionally there are bitter fallouts, but still the sense of commonality of interests, for instance in the face of repression, is quite important.
In the late 1890s, post ‘propaganda by the deed’, it's quite established that there is a transition, which Jean Maitron has called “la dispersion des tendances” [the scattering of tendencies]. We can see that things become a bit more ideologically polarised especially, I think, because of the advent of new brands of anarchist individualism and lifestyle experiments which more conservative anarchists like Grave were horrified by. Vegetarianism, women's emancipation, free love colonies—all that was an absolute nightmare for them. And then you have les gueulards [the loudmouths] of La Guerre Sociale who also have a lot of misgivings and hostility towards figures, especially like Grave, who claim to have so much power and ascendancy in the movement.
At this stage, it becomes quite fixed and this feeling of unity dissolves. Then the war exposes deep ideological rifts. I’ve never quite thought of it in those terms, but it’s also absolutely striking to see such a condensed history of a highly influential social movement from emergence, unity, to the shattering blows of the First World War.
JEH: And in this way, I think what you show in the book is how periodicals help us track and reflect on these processes of ideological formation ideological differentiation which take place in a very short amount of time. Anarchism, then, can be seen as a microcosm for the study of ideological differentiation more broadly.
CB: Absolutely, that is really interesting. There’d have to be a comparative study to really identify the specificities of anarchist print culture. In the case of anarchism, the main ideological debates play out in major periodicals. The doctrine of syndicalism was elaborated, if you look at Europe, in the dialogue between a number of publications: Freedom in London, Le Père Peinard and then La Sociale when Pouget comes back to Paris, La Révolte, Les Temps Nouveaux, the Italian publications coming out in London, Italy, and the US at the same time. These debates and discussions unfold the big theoretical pieces as well as pamphlets, but what is also interesting is how it plays out in the paratextual elements of the periodicals—in one footnote you might find a commentary, or the report of a meeting where these questions were also being discussed
I find that one of the joys of studying that press is how they argue with each other. Conflicts between Grave and, say, Émile Armand (L’Anarchie) were such that they could be really vile with each other, and it could go on for weeks—the squabbling and the pettiness and “you said that…” and “the spy in London was doing this…”, all of which might be echoed by placards and manifestoes… These are arguments reflected in various elements of print culture to which we might not necessarily pay attention, but which were really important in this process of differentiation.
JEH: Thinking about another dimension of anarchism and thinking about Grave’s practice as an editor and publisher. In anarchism it's common to say that prefiguration, prefigurative politics are central. Anarchists want to enact the kinds of social relations they would like to see in a revolutionary future as much as possible in their day to day lives. How do Jean Grave and his publications fit that? How does he enact—or does he enact—the kind of anarchist relations that presumably he would have wanted to see in a revolutionary society?
CB: That's a very problematic area for Grave. The papers were notorious—perhaps unfairly so—for being places where Grave shared his point of view, and allowed people with whom he agreed to share their point of view. So, you might say, if we go with a prefigurative hypothesis, that his vision of an anarchist society was very much ‘everybody does what Grave has said should be done’. He was infamously nicknamed the Pope on rue Mouffetard [the place where his publications were printed] by the anarchist Charles Malato, in reference to this alleged dogmatism.
That’s one aspect which I’ve tried to correct in the book. The papers were actually quite collective, collaborative endeavours. I've mentioned syndicalism and Grave’s defiance toward syndicalism, and yet the pro-syndicalism anarchist and labour activist Paul Delesalle had a syndicalist column there for a very long time, and Grave really engaged with it. More broadly, if we look at some of his archives, his letters, he did reject some material submitted to the paper. For the literary supplement, I remember one letter where he says “I can’t publish this, the quality of the verse is insufferable, I’m not going to publish this!”. He was also prone to excommunication and personal quarrels but in the broader milieu of anarchism this was not specific to Grave. When things soured, relationships could become quite embittered and then individuals would be kicked out of groups… But I don't think Grave was necessarily as intolerant of personal and ideological difference as he's been portrayed. As I’ve mentioned, the papers were dialogic spaces: there were letters, and I must really emphasise again the paratextual elements, which allowed many voices and different currents into the paper. The last two pages were announcements for local meetings, book reviews written by different people… The contributions are very dialogic in that space, and I think that's one of the reasons why there was successful—and this was very much a deliberate approach on Grave’s part.
And another aspect of this is the place where the papers were produced: his attic in the Rue Mouffetard. That was famously really, very open, including to spy infiltration. There was a limit to how many people could be there, because the attic was really small, but this was a very open space. There are so many stories shared by Grave or others of intruders, spies trying to infiltrate this space, there was a bit of dark tourism around it, but so many contemporary commentators stressed the openness of this place, and it seems clear that this shows a certain pedagogical outlook on what anarchism should be, and how important dialogue was to its construction.
JEH: And I suppose it also fits in with the discussion about anarchist identity and what it meant to be an anarchist publisher in that in that period. Moving on to the theme of personal connections. One of the things that seems to be key to your study of anarchism through Jean Grave is the way in which his personal connections as well as his material position—his work, his way of working and his networks—made it possible for him to not only be a theorist of anarchism, but also a kind of unavoidable character at the time in the reconfiguration of anarchism in the late 19th and early 20th century. How important do you think investigating networks of personal relations is to the study of anarchism specifically or political ideologies more broadly?
CB: I think it is really important. To take the example of Grave, one obvious aspect which has been under-explored is his friendship with Kropotkin, although there is a good deal of social history around Kropotkin at the moment—it’s the centenary of his passing. But looking at networks really allows us to show different sides of the movement and its protagonists, and the great deal of dialogue and collaboration that existed in anarchism. This is not specific to my research. Fairly recently, Iain McKay has studied how important these French periodicals were for the dissemination and elaboration of Kropotkin’s ideas. So, if you bypass the friendship with Grave and the editorial partnership, which was so central and completely ignored until a few years ago, you really do miss on a really important aspect of the creation and diffusion of anarchist communism. It’s the same between Grave and Reclus: looking at egodocuments and less formal sources (typically letters and autobiographies), you can uncover many arguments about violence, and also debates about ivory tower anarchism, of which Grave was repeatedly accused. These seemingly casual discussions and letter exchanges shed light on the big debates which form the more official intellectual and political history of anarchism.
With Grave, I became really interested in the course of my research in his second wife, Mabel Holland Grave. She was an absolutely fascinating character in the anarchist movement, in the fine British tradition of upper middle-class women’s anarchism. She comes a bit out of nowhere, after Kropotkin introduced them, with no clear journey to anarchism, for instance. She came from a very affluent background, was boarding-school educated, which was not necessarily a given even for a privileged woman in this period, and she became a regular partner of Grave, both personally and politically. She collaborated with him and contributed to the paper. Anarcha-feminism was not something Grave really engaged with at all, but then we look at the praxis and the way he dedicated a book to her, stressing that they’d worked on it together, for instance, the fact that she was clearly a partner and the beautiful illustrations which she contributed, along with her editorial input… You could say that’s even worse: he used and silenced the labour of his wife. However, that's not the way I interpreted it. I thought that it was interesting how, in his daily life, so if we talk about prefiguration, he seems to have been far more progressive than his writings might have let on.
So, I do think these networks are crucial. And here I'm really talking about private life—but there are so many ways you can look at this: friendship, casual acquaintances… I loved reading Grave’s memoir, how he wrote about bumping into people in the street—activists he knew, anarchist or not—and how they would discuss this or that. That's the daily life of a social movement. And I think for anarchism this is so important. If you're looking at a movement—perhaps like Marxism, where the doctrine is elaborated in conferences, basically where there is a sense of strict sense of orthodoxy, where there are formal institutions at various levels and gatekeepers often occupying official roles, it's far more problematic. The same was probably true of the socialist parties emerging at the time. This is about the frameworks of political creation and channels of political dissemination. Anarchists did not have parties, and rarely had binding official documents. And so this allowed that kind of flexibility, whereby informal interactions become essential. For historians, this means that the social history of politics is immediately essential. This is true of any political movement, of course, but the because of the predominantly (an-)organisational character of anarchism, the social milieu is more obviously relevant.
JEH: This is nicely tied to the next question I wanted to ask, which returns to prefigurative politics and the way in which personal connections and networks are linked to prefiguration. As you show, it's these networks and personal connections that put Grave on the map. It's because he is able to create and foster these connections that he is a key figure in late 19th-century anarchism. How does this role as a kind of rhizome, as a node in the network sit with anarchist politics? Does it lead to the kind of problems you were talking about, like gatekeeping? How does it fit with anarchism’s argument in favour decentralisation and the diffusion of power?
CB: Yes, that's a very problematic point and is one of the things I really set out to investigate with the book. I've come to the perhaps generous conclusion that Grave was primarily genuinely interested in sharing knowledge and sharing anarchist ideas—sharing his own vision, one might say, but I don't think that's necessarily true. I think really the emphasis for him was on enabling discussion and spreading anarchist communism. I have come across discussions with Kropotkin where he says, “have you seen the number of ads we have in the paper this week?”, and that’s of course not commercial advertising but ads where people communicate and share information about local organisations. That was on the national scale, and Grave would also advertise meetings internationally.
Grave was conscious of the authoritarian potential of centrality. He was definitely aware of the criticism that was levelled at him, and he does say this autobiography: “I did this because, basically, I was quite certain of what I was saying, and I had my vision and the paper had a special place in the global anarchist movement…”, that was his argument in upholding what might be considered a very dogmatic approach to anarchism and its daily politics. But, alongside this, and there was so much effort towards diffusion, toward sharing the paper, reporting on and encouraging local movements.
The suspicion levelled at Grave, that he was focused on spreading his own, somewhat narrow conception of anarchism is obviously what we would call know diffusionism—this idea that French anarchism shone all over the world, from Paris, from the attic on the rue Mouffetard, and occasionally from London but that's about it. But there are discussions, in particular from Max Nettlau, that are absolutely staggering in how contemporary they sound in their critique of such diffusionist assumptions. There are records of Nettlau expressing that “sending a few dozen copies of La Révolte to Brazil is not going to bring about revolution in Brazil, you need to adjust your ideas a little…”. He was quite aware that sharing print material was not enough, and was also fraught with ideological assumptions.
However, what is interestingly being discussed by historians of anarchism working on non-European areas—I'm thinking of Brazil and Asia, in particular—is the great effort that went into and adapting anarchist material to local circumstances. You can see from Grave and others that there was a great deal of effort spent in seeking information about international movements, to reflect their activities in the paper, but also to have the knowledge to discuss their situations. I think it's far more nuanced and horizontal vision that appears. This is really interesting for us, as contemporary historians looking at these circulations in the light of all the discussions about provincialising Europe, and I would say the anarchists didn't do too badly actually.
JEH: Indeed, one of the other points that struck me when reading your book was how you seek to challenge the diffusionist narrative even as you focus on a Paris-based node for the circulation of anarchism. Do you think that the study of someone like Grave and his periodicals—who are, as you’ve said, connectors—and of anarchist print culture, more generally, may lead us to rethink the way in which anarchism circulated and reconfigured itself at the transnational and global levels? How can studying anarchist print culture help us provincialise Europe and European anarchism?
CB: What is really great at the moment is that there are so many studies from a non-European perspective, discussing all of this. I'm thinking, for instance of and Nadine Willems’s work on Japanese anarchism and Ishikawa Sanshirō, but also Laura Galián’s work on anarchism in a range of (post-)colonial contexts in the South of the Mediterranean. This is really fascinating work in showing different anarchist traditions, exploring new areas, showing how they've engaged with these European movements, but also questioning the very notion of anarchism. Of course, when French anarchism is exported, say to Argentina, where a book by Grave might be translated, its meaning changes automatically through this change of context. So, the more empirical data we have, the more studies we have, then the more we can start revising and understanding what happens in translation, and in a variety of cultural contexts. Print culture is a very good way of entering this because print was the prime medium for the global circulation of anarchism. And if you had people being mobile, they would set up or import papers, most of the time, so print culture is probably the best source that we have to study this. This also includes translations of major theoretical works and the international sale of pamphlets—these aspects are less well-known, for now at least, but can really help us understanding processes of local appropriation.
 Iain McKay, "Kropotkin, Woodcock and Les Temps Nouveaux", Anarchist Studies 23(1) (2015), 62ff.
 Nadine Willems, Ishikawa Sanshirō's Geographical Imagination: Transnational Anarchism and the Reconfiguration of Everyday Life in Early Twentieth-Century Japan (Leiden: Leiden University Press, 2020); Laura Galián, Colonialism, Transnationalism, and Anarchism in the South of the Mediterranean, (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).
by Joshua Dight
Today, you do not need to go far to locate debates on how to remember the past. From public squares in Glasgow to parks in Australia, questions over statues have been drawn into an open contest. However, this opposition over meaning, and the fight for one reading of history over another is not a new phenomenon. As the title of this piece of writing suggests—How to Read History?—it comes not from the latest newspaper headline, but rather, the past itself. Printed in the Chartist newspaper the Northern Liberator in 1837 at the outset of this mass working- and middle-class movement, the article spoke to the mood of radicals by rejecting established historical narratives that favoured elites. ‘George the third’ for instance, is portrayed as a ‘cold hearted tyrant’ and a ‘cruel despot’, not an uncommon refrain amongst radicals and their chosen lexicon in the unrepresentative political structure of Britain during this period and George III’s reign (1760-1820). Yet, this reimagining does strike upon the issue of locating ‘truths’ within the past, and, by inference, falsehoods. As this article explores, Chartist responses to the existing composition of an anti-radical historical narratives gave them the opportunity to voice their ideology and make commemoration am instrument of their opposition.
From the late 1830s through to the early 1850s, Chartists nurtured this attachment to the past in the pursuit of the Six Point Charter (hence Chartism). These core demands guided the principles of Chartism, and included suffrage for all men over the age of 21, annual Parliaments, the secret ballot, eliminating property qualifications for becoming a Member of Parliament (MP), ensuring equal electoral districts, and supplying MPs with salaries. Fulfilling the Six Point Charter promised the means to restructure the political system away from an ‘Imperial’ institution of ‘class legislation’ and move towards ‘the empire of freedom’. Even at the earliest stages of Chartism, the past was instrumentalised and narrativised as an expression of politics. Chartists evoked a welter of radical heroes from a wide and sprawling pantheon. It brought together mythicised patriots like Wat Tyler, the leader of the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt, with recently deceased radicals like Henry Hunt, Britain’s preeminent orator of radicalism and a leading figure at the Peterloo Massacre in 1819. Its application was flexible and accessible, with an intangible pantheon at surface level ready to be put to use within the rhetoric of those agitating for the Charter.
The deployment of memory as an expression of protest can be found at different levels of Chartism. The work of the great Chartist historian Malcolm Chase identified fragments of a radical past within the language of the three great National Petitions Chartism produced and presented to Parliament. In 1839 this document invoked Britain’s constitutional past with reference to the Bill of Rights 1689, whereas the petitions of 1842 and 1848 moved towards using the idioms of the American and French Revolutions. Viewed more generally, memory was a presence in Chartism that was flexible enough to contribute to arguments concerning a myriad of issues, such as whether force should be used in order to obtain the Charter if the petitions failed, along with discussions on what it meant to be a Chartist. This subsequently contributed to personalities like Thomas Paine, the republican author of Common Sense (1776) and Rights of Man (1791), and the radical journalist William Cobbett being redescribed as something akin to proto-Chartist in the rhetoric of meetings held across the country. The past was something practical, and the Chartists put it to use.
This engagement with the past saw Chartists responded to ‘libels’ on radical memory by constructing their own marginalised histories that spoke to their ideology. One clear example of this intervention was radical journalist Bronterre O'Brien’s ‘The Life and Character of Maximillian Robespierre’. In this work, he sought to recover the lawyer and the French Revolution from Burkean denouncements of earlier generations. O'Brien’s ‘long promised’ dissenting narrative recast this context by emphasising its democratic qualities in the minds of readers and erasing images of the Terror. He considered the French Revolution as something requiring attention, and to encourage a kinship with this ‘democratic’ episode. The production and celebration of such histories opposed the output of Whiggish narratives that venerated ‘tradition made malleable by change’.  The output of the Edinburgh Review and works like Henry Cockburn’s Examinations of State Trials set out a narrative that was paternalistic and progressive in tone. Worse still for Chartists, moments identifiable as radical victories over a repressive state were claimed by Whigs and incorporated into tales of liberty and progress. Vexation for the Whig government and their handling of the restructuring of Britain’s political system with the Reform Act in 1832 showed how lacking Whig histories were from a Chartist perspective. By reframing the historical narrative, Chartists were able to express their ideology by lionising the memory of radicals whilst puncturing Whig readings that supported the social hierarchy.
This relationship with the past was not confined to the written word. Chartists were practitioners of remembrance and celebrated the memory of the ‘illustrious dead’ at banquets and dinners that anchored their political opposition. By the late 1830s regular meetings across the country saw radical icons honoured. Reading over newspaper reports of these gatherings reveals the orderly manner in which these affairs were conducted – the announcement of a chairman, polite speeches, and finally a selection of toasts, often conducted in ‘solemn silence’. As is the case with memory formation, the roots of these rituals of remembrance are complex. They were, in part, taken from elite dining culture or were developed by radicals in the earlier part of the nineteenth century. Chartists assumed these civilised niceties, but crucially, as with O’Brien’s penwork, recalibrated them to remove the sting of anti-radicalism. In halls, taverns, and homes, Chartists rehabilitated the memories of their patriots through singing about the career of Paine, toasting Cobbett, or cheering Hunt’s heroic stand at the Peterloo Massacre in 1819.
This organised culture of commemoration served Chartism by encouraging and structuring social engagement with its ideology. One of the key attributes of memory is its function as something inherently sociable, inviting the community to participate in ceremonies and share in the past. Evidence of this communal festivity is found in the many anniversaries of a radical’s birth or death that were adhered to. These frequent fixtures were often promoted in the Chartist press beforehand, showing the dedication to memory and its importance in uniting radicals. Notices included titles that read ‘THOMAS PAINE’S BIRTHDAY’, or tickets available to those wishing to spend an evening dining to the memory of William Cobbett. These anniversaries were a stimulant to popular protest, a particularly useful quality for a movement like Chartism that rested on mobilising the masses.
This collection of radical anniversaries and the reports they produced speaks to the structure commemoration provided. The value of anniversaries to a protest movement like Chartism should not be underestimated. Memory is inherently social and, as observed by the Chartists, encouraged exchanges between persons within the community and other constituencies. Details of this coverage reveal that anniversaries events, such as the birthday of Henry Hunt, allowed for opportunities to celebrate the memories of other heroes in the radical pantheon. This was particularly true for places like Ashton-under-Lyne which had a strong radical tradition. A newspaper report of one such commemorative dinner to Hunt in November 1838 reveals the breadth of patriots honoured, from Irish romantic hero Robert Emmett, to the Scottish Martyrs. These proliferations of commemoration allowed Chartism to act as a juncture in which the wide sprawling past intersected. For instance, during the same dinner, Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor personified this interaction between past and present. As a symbol of Chartism, he was at one point described as the ‘father of reform’, a title initially bestowed to Paine, and later in the evening, aligned with Hunt, who ‘could not be dead while Feargus O'Connor was alive’. Here, the strongest symbol of Chartism, O’Connor himself, was imprinted onto the projections of those being commemorated The connection established here speaks to the reciprocal relationship in which Chartists popularised the memory of radicals whilst inscribing the hallmarks of Chartism. Not only then did the collection of radical anniversaries offer structure, their calendrical qualities secured moments in the year that guaranteed the practice and pronouncement of Chartism’s opposition to the state with almost limitless personalities to deploy as an expression of their protest.
These festivities were frequently reported on and circulated in the Chartist press. Indeed, the popularity of these affairs was such that some felt it necessary to hold newspapers to account for not reporting upon them. Studying these newspaper reports shows a spike in commemoration through the months of January, March and November in honour of Thomas Paine, William Cobbett and Henry Hunt. At times, multiple reports of these banquets are scattered throughout the issues of newspapers like the Northern Star. This Chartist press was crucial to helping to sustain the movement itself, with newspapers acting as a channel for Chartism’s ideology and showcasing to readers the national activity of the movement. Yet, it should not be forgotten that these newspapers were also vital in capturing and bringing together Chartism’s culture of commemoration. These transcriptions allowed readers to reexperience the remembrance of their past patriots, and so share in any ideological impressions placed onto memory.
By analysing newspaper reports we can gain further insights into how a dedicated commemoration culture allowed the past to be recalled in order to serve the politics of Chartism. At a ‘Great Demonstration in Commemoration of the Peterloo Massacre’, held at Manchester and reported in the Northern Star on 18th August 1838, attendees discussing the adoption of what would become the 1839 National Petition did so on a sacred site of memory. Nineteen years before, in August 1819, protesters at St. Peters Field gathered to listen to Henry Hunt on the right to political representation. The response from local magistrates was heavy handed and resulted in the violent use of force on the crowd. The memory of the Peterloo Massacre was sacred to Chartists, and this sense of the past contributed an historical significance to the meeting. In addition to the symbolism memory leant to the staging of this affair, visual displays in the form of banners, flags, portraits, and old ballads that all contributed to creating a sense of the past at this important juncture in Chartism. Within these surroundings, Chartists expressed their animosity towards Britain’s ruling elites; Whigs and their cheap ‘£10 Reform Bill’, along with ‘Sir Robert Bray Surface Peel’ and his Tory supporters. The clearest sign of memory combining with this political expression came later on, when personalities of reform—Major John Cartwright, Cobbett, and Hunt—were declared as the tutors of radicalism. Through the didacticism of their memories, Chartism was made a part of this earlier radical narrative. At the same time, by making these figures of reform relevant, they were inducted into Chartism and used as devices that allowed Chartists to express their commitment to the cause.
Celebrations of the past were not always grandiose events but could be small local affairs. Sacred sites of memory or the possession of radical relics were not a prerequisite for social gatherings to take place, nor for the past to be invited into proceedings. This accessibility to a common view of the past speaks to the pervasive nature of memory, and personalities from the pantheon of the ‘illustrious dead’ could be recalled when necessary at local dinners or banquets. The flexible qualities of memory allowed it to be remembered and applied however needed. Conjuring the past in this way was particularly useful to a political movement like Chartism, which was formed through a patchwork of regional affairs mixing with common political grievances felt across the country. Drawing on a common past helped to inspire a sense of unity.
Whilst some attendees may have taken umbrage at how an illustrious patriot was represented, the malleability of memory allowed Chartists to immediately render the radical relevant to the current debate. Paine could be invoked for his ardent republicanism, as a working-class hero, or enlightened philosopher. Memories of radicalism not only helped to inspire a spirit of protest, but circulated a political language, contributing rhetorical devices at meetings that were subsequently captured and reported in the Chartist press, thus consolidating the ideological foundations of Chartism. As discussions on the collective nature of anniversaries has shown, celebrations of a shared past helped to remedy some of the fractures within the Chartist movement, for instance, splits among the leadership, or disagreements on the use of physical force (‘ulterior measures’) to obtain the Charter. The mere evocation of an intangible past did not prevent these divisions from occurring. However, uniting to celebrate radicalism’s key moments and an ‘illustrious dead’ helped to restore a degree of cohesion. Recognition of this ability to overcome fault lines within the movement only heightens the remarkable nature of Chartism’s commemoration culture. Despite the different locations, diverging interpretations of the past or political viewpoints, memory provided intersections within a wide national movement of regional affairs in the nineteenth century.
Commemorations of the past continued to be a part of Chartism until its decline following the last of the great National Petitions in 1848. In being able to reach for a familiar past, Chartists were able to enthuse a spirit of protest and celebrate intervals in the calendar year with anniversaries that strengthened their ideological commitments. This pantheon of radical heroes continues to be mobilised today, and, arguably, has only grown in number. Perhaps the most recent personality to be recovered and admitted is William Cuffay, the black Chartist and long-term political activist. These figures are a reminder of the potency of memory as an expression of protest and the malleability of the past when ideology is put into practice.
 Northern Liberator, 9 December 1837.
 J. R. Green, A Short History of the English People (1874), 859.
 Northern Star, 24 October 1840.
 Matthew Roberts, Chartism, Commemoration and the Cult of the Radical Hero (Routledge, 2019), 3.
 Malcolm Chase, ‘What Did Chartism Petition For? Mass Petitions in the British Movement for Democracy’, Social Science History, 43.3 (2019), 531–51.
 Katharine Hodgkin and Susannah Radstone, Contested Pasts: The Politics of Memory (Routledge, 2003).
 Northern Star, 17 March 1838.
 David Lowenthal, The Past Is a Foreign Country - Revisited (Cambridge University Press, 2015), 181.
 Gordon Pentland, Michael T. Davis, and Emma Vincent Macleod, Political Trials in an Age of Revolutions: Britain and the North Atlantic, 1793-1848, Palgrave Histories of Policing, Punishment and Justice (Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), 215.
 Roberts, Chartism, Commemoration, xii; James Epstein, Radical Expression: Political Language, Ritual, and Symbol in England, 1790-1850 (Oxford University Press, 1994), 192.
 Geoffrey Cubitt, History and Memory, History and Memory (Manchester University Press, 2013), 219-20.
 Steve Poole, ‘The Politics of “Protest Heritage”, 1790-1850’, in C. J. Griffin and B. McDonagh (eds.), Remembering Protest in Britain since 1500 Memory, Materiality, and the Landscape (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 194.
 Northern Star, 8 January 1842.
 Northern Star, 17 November 1838.
 Northern Star, 6 February 1841.
 Northern Star, 18 August 1838.
 Malcolm Chase, Chartism: A New History (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007), 67.
by Eileen M. Hunt
Mary Shelley is most famous for writing the original monster story of the modern horror genre, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818). She was also the author of the pandemic novel that unleashed the dominant tropes of post-apocalyptic literature upon modern political science fiction. Her fourth completed novel, The Last Man (1826), pictured the near annihilation of the human species by an unprecedented and highly pathogenic plague that surfaces during a war between Greece and Turkey in the year 2092. Shelley’s dystopian worlds, in turn, have inspired Marxist social and political theorists in their Promethean critiques of capitalism. Both Frankenstein’s monster and Shelley’s monster pandemic resonate with us during the time of Covid-19 because of the power and prescience of her iconic critiques of human-made disasters.
While she lived in Italy with her husband Percy, Shelley helped him translate and transcribe Plato’s Symposium, which contains the etymological origin of the English word “pandemic” (in ancient Greek, πάνδημος). In Plato’s philosophical dialogue on the meaning of love, the goddess “Pandemos” is the “earthly Aphrodite” who oversees the bodily loves of “all” (pan) “people” (demos), men and women alike. In the aftermath of the 1642-51 English Civil Wars and the 1665–66 Great Plague of London, the adjective “pandemic” gained salience in both political and medical contexts in seventeenth-century English. It could refer to either the disorders of democratic government by all people (as in monarchist John Rogers’s 1659 condemnation of the “unjust Equality of Pandemick Government”), or the visitation of pestilence to undermine the stability of the entire body politic (as in doctor Gideon Harvey’s 1666 description of “Endemick or Pandemick” diseases that “haunt a Country”).
According to this conceptual genealogy sketched by literary theorist Justin Clemens, two important homophonic variants of “Pandemick” emerged in the aftermath of the English Civil Wars. Hobbes’s Leviathan (1651) defined “Panique Terror” as a contagious “passion” of fear that happens to “none but in a throng, or a multitude of people.” Then John Milton invented the word “pandaemonium” for his epic poem Paradise Lost (1667) to depict Satan’s hell as a kingdom where all the little devils lived in sin-infected chaos. Indebted to her deep reading of Plato, Hobbes, and Milton, Shelley’s The Last Man conceived the global plague as an “epidemic” that affects or touches upon (epi) all (pan) people (demos) precisely because it stems from the disruptions of collective human corruption, panic, and politics.
In her first novel, Shelley had metaphorically rendered the revenge of Frankenstein’s “monster” upon his uncaring scientist-maker as an unstoppable “curse,” “scourge,” and “pest” upon their family and potentially “the whole human race.” This unnamed “creature” was nothing less than a “catastrophe,” brought to life by the chemist Victor Frankenstein from an artificial assemblage of the dead parts of human and nonhuman animals. His dark motivation for using his knowledge of chemistry, anatomy, and electricity to bring the dead back to life was the sudden loss of his mother to scarlet fever while she cared for his sick sister, cousin, and bride-to-be, Elizabeth.
In her second great work of “political science fiction,” Shelley found new horror in reversing the direction of the metaphor. No longer was the monster a plague: the plague itself was the monster. Shelley not only wrote the origin story for modern sf with Frankenstein. She also laid down the ur-text for modern post-apocalyptic fiction in The Last Man. With her great pandemic novel, Shelley panned out to see all plagues as human-made monstrosities that leave “a scene of havoc and death” behind them. What made plagues so ghastly was their exponential power to multiply—causing a concatenation of disasters for their human authors, other afflicted people, and their wider environments on “a scale of fearful magnitude.”
In The Last Man, Shelley conceived all plagues—real and metaphorical—as human contaminations of wider environments. Bad human behaviors corroded the people closest to them, then spread like toxins through the cultural atmosphere to destroy the health and happiness of others. The ancient plagues of erotic and familial conflict, war, poverty, and pestilence had reproduced together and persisted into modernity through centuries of modelling, imitation, and replication of humanity’s worst behaviors in culture, society, and politics.
Midway through The Last Man, the Greek princess Evadne issues an apocalyptic prophecy: humanity would soon be incinerated in a vortex of war, passion, and betrayal. As she dies of “crimson fever” on a pestilential battlefield, she curses her beloved and the leader of the Greek forces Lord Raymond for abandoning her for his wife Perdita. “Fire, war, and plague,” she cries, “unite for thy destruction!” As if on cue, the seasonal “visitation” of “PLAGUE” in Constantinople escalates into an international pandemic.
With her uncanny insight into the social genesis of epidemics and other plagues upon humanity, Shelley—through the voice of Evadne—anticipated the economic and political theory of pandemics that has gained currency in the twenty-first-century. Back in 2005, the Marxist historian Mike Davis warned the world that zoonotic viral pandemics like the avian flu and SARS-CoV—whose genetically mutated strains enabled them to leap from nonhuman animals to a mass of human victims—were The Monster at Our Door. While Davis did not cite Shelley in his book, he didn’t need to: the allusion to Frankenstein was perfectly clear in the title.
Davis was writing in a long tradition of reading the monster imagery of Frankenstein through the technological lenses of Marxism. Based in London for much of his career, Marx himself was likely influenced by the massive cultural impact of Shelley’s Frankenstein and her husband Percy’s radical political poetry, as they filtered through the nineteenth-century British socialist tradition. Despite his stubborn dislike of Marxist hermeneutics and other social scientific readings of literature, the critic Harold Bloom was always the first to admit that “it is hardly possible to stand left of (Percy) Shelley.”
Given his revolutionary-era philosophical debts to Rousseau, Wollstonecraft, and Godwin, it is not surprising that Percy Shelley felt outraged by the news of the August 1819 “massacre at Manchester.” The British calvary charged an assembly of 60,000 workers, killing some and injuring hundreds more. While living in exile in Italy with his pregnant wife, in deep mourning over the recent losses of their toddler William to malaria and infant Clara to dysentery, Percy composed a timeless lyric to summon the poor to non-violent protest. Not published until 1832 due to the poet's untimely death in 1822 and the poem's controversial argument, “The Mask of Anarchy” became an anthem for the peaceful liberation of people from the slavery of poverty and political oppression:
"Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number--
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you--
Ye are many—they are few."
Completed two years before Percy’s rousing defense of popular uprising against the power of the imperial state, Frankenstein made a parallel political point. Literary scholar Elsie B. Michie underscored that the tragic predicament of Frankenstein’s abandoned Creature fit what Marx would call, in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, the plight of “alienated labor.” Modern capitalistic society cruelly severed the poor from the material sources and products of their own making. Frankenstein likewise left his Creature bereft of any benefits of the “bodies,” “work,” and “labours” by which “the being” had been shaped into “a thing” such as “even Dante could not have conceived.”
When read against the background of Shelley’s novel, Marx’s theory of alienated labor recalls the dynamic of confrontation and separation that drives the conflicted yet magnetic relationship of the Creature with his technological maker. Taken out of the context of the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, some of Marx’s words could easily be mistaken for a commentary on Frankenstein, as in: “the object that labour produces, its product, confronts it as an alien being, as a power independent of the producer.” While capitalism produced the workers from its elite economic control of the tools of science, technology, and economics, the workers received no benefit from those same tools that a truly benevolent maker might have otherwise bestowed upon them. What could such a creature do but confront their maker with a demand for the goods necessary for the development of their humanity?
In his 1857-58 “Fragment on Machines” from the Grundrisse, Marx rather poetically captured the process of human alienation from the products of their own technological labors:
"Nature builds no machines, no locomotives, railways, electric telegraphs, self-acting mules etc. These are products of human industry; natural material transformed into organs of the human will over nature, or of human participation in nature. They are organs of the human brain, created by the human hand; the power of knowledge, objectified."
Reworking the twin Greek myths of Prometheus, in which the titan molds humanity from clay and then forges the mortals’ rebellion from the gods through the gift of fire, Marx follows Shelley in depicting human beings as self-replicating machines: for they are artificial products of their own willful mind to dominate and transform nature through technology. As the political philosopher Marshall Berman argued in All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity (1983), Marx’s bourgeoisie is a Promethean “sorcerer” akin to “Goethe’s Faust” and “Shelley’s Frankenstein,” for it created new and unruly forms of artificial life that in turn raised “the spectre of communism” for modern Europe.
What Mike Davis has done so brilliantly, in the spirit of both Marx and the Shelleys, is to use this nineteenth-century techno-political imaginary to conceptualise humanity’s responsibility for the self-destructive course of pandemics in our time. Generations of readers of Frankenstein have felt compelled to pity the Creature, despite his train of crimes, and come to view him as a product of the fevered madness of his father-scientist. In this rhetorically persuasive Shelleyan tradition, Davis pushes his readers to see Covid-19 and other pandemics as products of the myopic mindsets of the human beings who selfishly let them loose upon the world.
With the rise of the novel coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2, Davis stoically set up his home office in his garage. As most countries around the globe went under lockdown during the endless winter of 2020, he sat down to update his book The Monster at Our Door for the second time. Like Shelley and many writers of political science fiction after her, from Octavia Butler to Margaret Atwood to Emily St. John Mandel, the historian had predicted that a new, deadly, and devastating severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) or highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) would visit the planet in the twenty-first century.
Reports from the World Health Organisation had sparked Davis’s concerns about the latest iteration of the avian flu, or H5N1 influenza. H5N1 had fast and lethal outbreaks in 1997 and 2003—while exhibiting a terrifying 60% mortality rate. It passed from chickens to humans in Hong Kong in 1997, and, on a much more alarming scale, through “commercial poultry farms” in South Korea, China, Thailand, Vietnam, and other regions of Southeast Asia in 2003, via a “highly pathogenic” and “novel strain,” H5N2. Like the epidemiologists, ecologists, and anthropologists whose work he studied, the historian feared that the “Bird flu” could erupt into a pandemic that might kill more than the deadliest virus of the twentieth century.
Davis recounted that an estimated “40 to 100 million people”—including his “mother’s little brother”—had been taken by the H1N1 avian influenza of 1918. The newspapers at the time described the pandemic as the “Spanish Flu,” even though it started in the United States and elsewhere. Because Spain remained neutral during the First World War, its press went uncensored. Spanish newspapers took the lead in reporting cases of the rising international wave of influenza. Far from war-torn continental Europe, the first recorded human outbreak of this flu mutation—which swiftly flew from birds to people—in fact began in a rural farming community and military base in Kansas.
A dreadful re-run of 1918 loomed in our near future, Davis insisted, if nations did not prepare for the worst. Governments needed to reduce “the virulence of poverty,” improve health care, and stockpile medical and protective equipment. They had to regulate international trade, factory farming, and flight travel with an eye toward protecting public health from a resurgence of uncontrolled zoonotic viral respiratory infections. And they must support the best virology and vaccine research before the next epidemic snowballed into a global economic and political disaster.
Under lockdown last April, Davis changed the title of his updated book to The Monster Enters, to mark a shift in his historical perspective. Just a few weeks earlier, disease ecologist Peter Daszak announced in a New York Times op-ed that we had officially entered the “age of pandemics.” The monster pandemic of our political nightmares was no longer the threat of the avian flu at our door. It had already entered our world as SARS-CoV-2—a novel coronavirus thought to have been initially transmitted from bats to humans near Wuhan, China—and it was leaving a mounting set of economic, social, and political disasters in its wake. More of these novel and volatile contagions stood on the horizon like shadows of Frankenstein’s creature cast over the Earth. “As the hour of the pandemic clock ominously approaches midnight,” Davis had reflected on the last page of The Monster at Our Door, “I recall those 1950s sci-fi thrillers of my childhood in which an alien menace or atomic monster threatened humanity.”
Without vaccines to stop their circulation across nations, these viral mutations threatened to destroy their human creators like Frankenstein’s creature had done. Ironically, they could upend the globalised economic and political systems that had proliferated their diseases through international trade, travel, and economic inequality. Never purely natural phenomena, SARS-CoV-2, SARS-CoV, and the latest strain of the avian flu were in fact the products and “plagues of capitalism.”
In the chapter titled “Plague and Profit,” Davis made explicit his debt to both Marx and Shelley. He gave the name “Frankenstein GenZ” to the virulent “H5N1 superstrain—genotype Z.” At the turn of the twenty-first century, poultry factories in China unwittingly bioengineered this deadlier strain of H5N1, in the aftermath of the 1997 outbreak in Hong Kong. By inoculating ducks with an “inactivated virus” and breeding them for slaughter in their processing plants, they created a new and potentially levelling form of the avian flu, H5N2.
Almost two centuries before our current historical seer Mike Davis, Mary Shelley saw the monster pandemic coming for us in the future. The concluding volume in my trilogy on Shelley and political philosophy for Penn Press--The Specter of Pandemic—is about why she and some of her followers in the tradition of political science fiction have been able to predict with uncanny accuracy the political and economic problems that have beset humanity in the “Plague Year” of two thousand and twenty to twenty-one. For Shelley, the reasons were deeply personal. She experienced an epidemic of tragedies on a depth and scale that most people could not bear. During the five years she lived in Italy from 1818 to 1823, the young author, wife, and mother saw the infectious diseases of dysentery, malaria, and typhus fell three children she bore or cared for, before her husband Percy drowned, at age twenty-nine, in a sailing accident off the coast of Tuscany. Her emotional and intellectual resilience in the face of the many plagues upon her family is what made her a visionary sf novelist, existential writer, and political philosopher of pandemic.
 Justin Clemens, “Morbus Anglicus; or, Pandemic, Panic, Pandaemonium,” Crisis & Critique 7:3 (2020), 41-60; Paula R. Feldman and Diana Scott-Kilvert, eds., The Journals of Mary Shelley (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,  1995), 220.
 Clemens, “Morbus Anglicus,” 47-48.
 Ibid., 43, 45.
 Ibid., 50.
 Ibid., 52.
 Shelley, The Last Man, 183. In March 1820, Shelley noted Percy’s reading Hobbes’s Leviathan, sometimes, it seems, “aloud” to her. See Shelley, Journals, 311-313, 345. The epigraph for Frankenstein is drawn from Book X of Milton’s Paradise Lost: “Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay/To mould me man? Did I solicit thee/From darkness to promote me?” Mary Shelley, Frankenstein: The 1818 Text, Contexts, Criticism, ed. J. Paul Hunter, second edition (New York: W.W. Norton, 2012), 2.
 Shelley, Frankenstein, 69, 102, 119.
 Ibid., 35.
 Eileen Hunt Botting, Artificial Life After Frankenstein (Philadelphia: Penn Press, 2020), introduction.
 Mary Shelley, The Last Man, in The Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley, ed. Jane Blumberg with Nora Crook (London: Pickering & Chatto,  2001), vol. 4, 176.
 Ibid., 139.
 Ibid., 144.
 Mike Davis, The Monster Enters: COVID-19, Avian Flu, and the Plagues of Capitalism (New York: OR, 2020).
 Chris Baldick, In Frankenstein’s Shadow: Myth, Monstrosity, and Nineteenth-Century Writing (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 132, 137.
 Harold Bloom, Take Arms Against a Sea of Troubles: The Power of the Reader’s Mind over a Universe of Death (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020), 183.
 “Percy Bysshe Shelley, ‘The Mask of Anarchy (1819),’” accessed November 28, 2020, http://knarf.english.upenn.edu/PShelley/anarchy.html.
 “Elsie B. Michie, ‘Frankenstein and Marx’s Theories (1990),’” accessed November 28, 2020, http://knarf.english.upenn.edu/Articles/michie1.html.
 Shelley, Frankenstein, 31, 33, 34, 35, 36.
 “Michie, ‘Frankenstein and Marx’s Theories (1990).’”
 Karl Marx, “The Fragment on Machines,” The Grundrisse (1857-58), 690-712, at 706. Accessed 28 November 2020 at https://thenewobjectivity.com/pdf/marx.pdf
 Marshall Berman, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity (London: Verso, 1983), 101.
 Mike Davis, The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of the Avian Flu (New York: New Press, 2005); Mike Davis, The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of the Avian Flu. Revised and Expanded edition (New York: Macmillan, 2006).
 Eileen Hunt Botting, "Predicting the Patriarchal Politics of Pandemics from Mary Shelley to COVID-19," Front. Sociol. 6:624909. doi: 10.3389/fsoc.2021.624909
 Davis, The Monster Enters, 87-100.
 Natalie Porter, Viral Economies: Bird Flu Experiments in Vietnam (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019), 2.
 Porter, Viral Economies, 1-2.; Davis, The Monster Enters, 120-23.
 Davis, “Preface: The Monster Enters,” in The Monster at Our Door, 44-47.
 John M. Barry, The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History (New York: Penguin, 2004), 171.
 Ibid., 91. “1918 Pandemic Influenza Historic Timeline | Pandemic Influenza (Flu) | CDC,” April 18, 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/pandemic-timeline-1918.htm.
 Davis, The Monster Enters, 53.
 Peter Daszak, “Opinion | We Knew Disease X Was Coming. It’s Here Now.,” The New York Times, February 27, 2020, sec. Opinion, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/27/opinion/coronavirus-pandemics.html. Davis cites Daszak’s article with David Morens and Jeffery Taubenberger, “Escaping Pandora’s Box: Another Novel Coronavirus,” New England Journal of Medicine 382 (2 April 2020) in his introduction to The Monster Enters, 3, 181.
 Davis, The Monster Enters, 180.
 See the subtitle of Davis, The Monster Enters: COVID-19, Avian Flu and the Plagues of Capitalism.
 Davis, The Monster Enters, 119, 122
 Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year: Being Observations Or Memorials of the Most Remarkable Occurrences, as Well Publick as Private, Which Happened in London During the Last Great Visitation in 1665 (London: E. Nutt, 1722).
by Erik van Ree
Measured against the number of those who called themselves his followers, and given the speed with which these “Marxists” after 1917 laid hands on a substantial part of the globe, Karl Marx, in death if not in life, was one of the most successful people that ever lived. He falls in the category of conquerors, Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan, or of religious prophets with the stature of Jesus of Nazareth and Mohammed. The spectacular collapse of much of the communist world, of course, substantially detracts from Marx’s posthumous success, but it doesn’t annul “Marxism’s” earlier triumphs.
Marx’s twentieth-century followers reconfigured his ideas (as far as these were available to them at all) to the point of unrecognisability. The fact that both Pol Pot and Mikhail Gorbachev could wrap themselves in the master’s flag speaks volumes. But the fact remains that on whatever grounds and with whatever degree of justification, dozens of millions worldwide, on an historically rather abrupt time scale, began to call themselves “Marxists”. We follow Karl Marx.
Why did these millions make this person their emblem? The question has no easy answer, if only because Marx’s worldwide success is part of the larger question of why communism, Marxist or not, for a time became the world’s wave of the future. The fact that the radically estranged twins, social democracy and communism, made spectacular strides in the late nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, as such, surely, has little to do with anything Karl Marx ever did or wrote. But why did so many socialists precisely select him and not, for example, Ferdinand Lassalle, Mikhail Bakunin or any other well-known radical onto whom to project their hopes and aspirations?
I know why I did. If I remember correctly, I regarded myself as a Marxist from the age of eighteen. Undergoing a rapid process of radicalisation, I served as a member of various Maoist groups in the Netherlands between 1973 and 1981. In the wake of this experience I lost my sympathies not only for the Chairman but also for the alleged founder of the movement, Karl Marx. But I do remember what attracted me to him. My first political love as a youth was anarchism. What, in my imagination, made Marx so much more attractive was the way he managed to combine radical combativeness, also found in anarchism, with a sober, scientific perspective.
Obviously, personal experiences of half a century ago represent nothing more than that—one person’s history. But not only do memories and experiences inevitably colour any researcher’s work, they may even be quite helpful in formulating hypotheses. I believe with Karl Popper that, as long as hypotheses are testable, their original inspiration can never be held against them.
What, then, did Marx have to offer potential “followers”? He was, I believe, one of the modern era’s great visionaries. Marx was a man of unusually broad interests and activities, engaging as he did in philosophy, economics, law, political analysis, journalism, and radical activism. What made him stand out among other potential world-level socialist gurus was the breadth and enormous diversity and scope of his vision, the extraordinarily multifaceted quality of his work, potentially appealing to people living in very different kinds of societies and of very different social position, views and temperament.
The literature about Marx’s life and thought is so extensive that it is impossible to oversee even for researchers who have dedicated their whole life to the subject, a category the present author does not belong to. But it seems to me that the main existing academic interpretations of Karl Marx insufficiently bring out what made this man special and fascinating to so many people. I find four interpretations of Marx of special interest and interpretive power, even though I do not feel completely comfortable with any of them.
The first, Social Democratic Marx is to be met, for example, in Geoff Eley’s Forging Democracy. This Marx recognised the futility of Blanquist secret societies and insurrectionary committees, while instead embracing the model of the political party of the working class. Marxist Social Democratic parties wisely made good use of their parliamentary positions. This Marx furthermore made socialism dependent on the material conditions created by industrial capitalism, thus altogether ruling out proletarian revolution outside the industrialised world. Wolfgang Leonhard was one authoritatively (and quite rigidly) to characterise Marx thus, back in 1962. That Marx predicated proletarian revolution upon the conditions of developed industrialism has become something of an established truth. Recently the thesis was repeated, for example, by Terry Eagleton and Steve Paxton.
Social Democratic Marx was, furthermore, a radical democrat. If he sporadically referred to the “dictatorship of the proletariat” he was merely referring to the rule of the working class, i.e. to majority rule.
The second, Revolutionary Marx was a Bolshevik avant la lettre. This frame is less well represented in the academic literature but is certainly not to be ignored. Central in Michael Löwy’s reading of the insurrectionist Marx is the “permanent revolution”. Löwy’s Marx accepted that, in principle, proletarian-socialist revolution was doomed to remain a fantasy without a preceding, protracted stage of capitalist development and/or a bourgeois revolution. However, Marx nurtured some “brilliant but unsystematised intuitions” to the effect that the proletariat might yet induce a “telescoped sequence” compressing the two stages into one and seizing power before the bourgeoisie had completed its historical task.
Reidar Larsson perceptively observes that, when between 1846 and 1852 Marx was creating strategies for proletarian revolution in Germany and France these countries were still industrially backward themselves. According to Larsson, Marx believed that by the 1840s, capitalism, even if still underdeveloped, yet had reached the limit of its capacity for development, which is what made the proletarian revolution timely even then.
Even if I personally find the Revolutionary reading of Marx more convincing than the Social Democratic one, both readings are convincing enough, referring us as they do to different aspects of Marx’s thinking and practice.
Alvin Gouldner’s attractive thesis of “The Two Marxisms” is built on the idea of two spirits coexisting in Marx’s breast, both real, the one objectivist, relying on historical-economic laws, and the other voluntarist and emphasising human agency. Gouldner leaves open the question of whether Marx’s ambivalent ideas were irreducibly fragmented or, perhaps, expressive of some deeper coherence. The great merit of his work from my point of view lies in clearly establishing the multifaceted, diverse quality of Marx’s thinking.
The third Marx, Man of the Nineteenth Century, was born in 2013. Biographer Jonathan Sperber reads Marx’s life and thought as the product of an era impressed with the French Revolution, philosophically coloured by G.W.F. Hegel, and shaken out of balance by early industrialisation. This biographer sidesteps the whole question of the possible influence of Marx’s ideas on the modern world, as essentially irrelevant.
Sperber’s focus on what caused “Marxism” rather than on what it brought about seems to echo Quentin Skinner’s suggestion that historians do better to explore what authors meant to convey and achieve in their own times, than to lose themselves in imaginary, universal, and timeless elements of these authors’ ideas beyond their context of origination. But, then again, irrespective of what historians may believe, millions of others did think that Marx’s ideas were worth following, and they patterned their actions on what they believed were his guiding thoughts. Even if they may have been misrepresenting these thoughts, we must discover the secret of their extraordinary attractiveness.
Finally, the fourth, Demystified Marx, created by Terrell Carver, was an activist journalist locked in everyday life. His “thinking” was valuable enough, even for radicals today, but it was action-oriented and lacked the academic rigour even to be called a “thought”. Most of Marx’s more theoretical writings were never published in his lifetime and were mere messy fragments without much coherence or consistency. After Marx’s death in 1883 an everyday activist was souped-up into the great, world-class philosopher that he never was.
It seems to me that Carver does the thinker Marx less than complete justice. Even if, for example, The German Ideology (1845–6) was never more than a collection of fragments, to my mind that doesn’t change much. Even as fragments the texts remain fascinating and contain insights of great theoretical and sociological interest.
Marx’s posthumous fame rested on his ideas, compressed into theories, rather than on any activist achievements. His less than spectacular activities for the Communist League and the First International had little to offer the creators of his cult. Friedrich Engels, Karl Kautsky, Georgy Plekhanov and the others, framed Marx as the creator of their doctrine, not as their original super-activist or exemplary underground fighter. That returns us to the question of what it was in these ideas that attracted so many.
Marx For All
Marx’s intuitive genius, which after his death made his name victorious for a time, consisted in an uncanny ability to combine what seemed uncombinable and to spread his wings to the maximum. While he vigorously denied that he was a utopian, he assuredly was one. In the new communist world envisioned by him all means of production would be socialised under self-managing democratic communes; the state and the great societal divisions of labour would be overcome; scarcity itself would be overcome, and with it money, ending in a condition where all would receive according to their needs. Marx countered accusations of utopianism by offering proofs that the new communist order was inscribed in history by the sociological laws he had discovered. He thought of himself as a man of science.
It doesn’t really matter whether Marx’s philosophical exploits were of sufficient stature to call him a philosopher; or whether Das Kapital is to be regarded as a scientific or as a metaphysical work, whether on our present standards or on those of 1867. What matters here is only that Marx projected an image of himself as a scientist.
Whether we call it “Marxism” or not, what Marx worked out represented an unusually attractive proposition, appealing to those caught in the romantic allure of communist utopianism as much as to the less euphoric radical attracted to science and rationality. This pattern of balance repeats itself over and over again.
In the Communist Manifesto, Marx called out the proletariat for the battle of democracy. In his comments on the Paris Commune he embraced radical participatory democracy. But Marx also accepted the need of repressive measures to ward off “slave-owners’ rebellions” against the victorious proletariat, while over the years, together with Engels, referring to a future “dictatorship of the proletariat”. The power of Marx’s formula rested precisely in this ambivalence. Both radical democrats and those temperamentally inclined to harsh measures and dictatorship could feel represented by him. Not surprisingly, Social Democrats and Bolsheviks alike were happy to recognise this man as their founder.
Again, if Marx insisted that communism can strike root only in highly-developed industrial societies, he did not in fact rule out proletarian revolution in backward countries, thus accommodating socialists both from advanced, industrial and from economically backward nations.
Marx represented modern capitalism as a system of exploitation of wage-labour resulting in the gradual pauperisation of the industrial workers. The notion of “surplus value”, produced by the workers but appropriated by the capitalist class, possesses great mobilising power in conditions where exploitation and poverty reign. But Marx’s conceptual apparatus was encompassing enough to allow his followers to cast their nets far beyond these conditions. The concepts of “alienation” and “commodity fetishism” allowed later Marxists to remain in business to critique conditions in prosperous, post-industrial consumer societies, a form of society not even in existence in Marx’s own lifetime.
The question remains of how to define the structure of Marx’s thought. How did Marx himself deal with his own thinking’s remarkably wide range and its concomitant ambivalence and contradictoriness? Where all these many ambivalent elements somehow welded together into an overarching intellectual structure, or were the contradictions indeed irreducible? Was there a system in Marx at all?
There was surely not, insofar as his views on philosophy, history, politics, and economics do not hang together logically, but are best seen as separate endeavours. But it does not follow that he would not have been bothered by obvious inconsistencies and incoherence.
Marx’s preoccupations shifted. Whereas the “Young Marx” was preoccupied with the problem of alienation, that theme later receded into the background, with the question of exploitation taking centre stage. But shifting interests are a far cry from contradiction. Marx regarded exploitation and alienation as the two downsides of the same coin of any social order based on private ownership, division of labour and the state. “Marxism” can, then, easily be framed as a single theoretical perspective speaking to the two conditions of exploitation and consumerism.
It does not seem to have bothered Marx overly much that many of his extraordinary insights remained mere attempts, false starts, and fragments. Nobody stopped him from working out a formal definition of “class”, a crucial concept in his work. Marx could easily have accomplished that task, but he never did. Neither did he work out theories of the state or the nation, entities he wrote about all the time. Even his expositions of what came to be called “historical materialism” remained few and far between, and they were formulated loosely, sometimes downright sloppily, and in very general terms. Not a system builder, then.
But this is not the whole story. Das Kapital follows a carefully crafted, deductive plan, based on clear and unequivocal definitions of “value”. Marx was immensely proud about his “discovery” that workers sell not their “labour” but their “labour power”, a conclusion that made his system logically flawless and allowed him to deduce “surplus value”. His argument that the expropriation of surplus value, i.e. capitalist exploitation, is based on equal exchange between workers and capitalists betrays great logical elegance. Marx was certainly not uninterested in coherence across the board. Achieving it could even be an obsession.
All my three recent articles on Marx touch on the problem of coherence. They discuss, respectively, “permanent revolution”; Marx’s racism, which I argue was substantial and to a point theoretically grounded; and his views on the human passions as drivers of the developing productive forces and of revolution.
My particular interest goes out to such elements in Marx’s work as might be regarded as marginal but which on a closer look were significant. I find it especially interesting to explore how and if Marx made such eccentricities consistent with his other views more familiar to us, i.e. the problem of coherence.
In exploring a historical personality’s thought, my primary interest goes out to its structure, how and to what degree it all hangs together—if at all. I realise that “finding coherence” not only carries the risk of finding what one seeks but also goes against the grain: the spirit of the times is rather about finding incoherence. Those affected with the postmodern sensitivity take pleasure in demonstrating that the apparent order we discover in theoretical structures really exists only the eye of the beholder. With the postmodern primacy of language and the discarding of the author as centred subject, the coherence-seeking thinker becomes a deeply counter-intuitive proposition. Postmodernity echoes the Buddhist view of the mind as a loose collection of fragments only weakly monitored by an illusionary sense of self.
On the contrary, I work under the assumption that the individual mind to a point is centred and will attempt to hold the fragments together to avoid disintegration. This is never more than a hypothesis. Sometimes I have to admit defeat; as when, after much fruitless puzzling, I had to conclude that, whether the elderly Joseph Stalin’s political philosophy was more of the Marxist or of the Russian-patriot cast was a question he did not know the answer to any more than we do.
Permanent Revolution, Race, the Passions
Back to Marx. In Löwy’s reading, “permanent revolution” is a highly significant element of Marx’s thought, but at basis remains an alien body. Capitalism must run its course. It must create a developed industrial infrastructure and must have exhausted its capacity for development for conditions of proletarian revolution to become mature. In economically backward conditions proletarian revolution is, then, at best, an odd occurrence—something that really couldn’t happen.
Löwy solves the problem by assuming that Marx believed the capitalist and socialist stages exceptionally could be “telescoped” into one. But even then, the revolution must be saved from certain doom by revolutions in other, more developed nations. On this reading, Marx’s permanent revolution remains a very conditional, messy, and ad hoc proposition, inspired by revolutionary impatience.
I believe there was considerably more logic and consistency to Marx’s revolutionism. As Larsson argues, in the 1840s Marx was under the impression that, even if industrialisation in most European nations, at best, was only beginning, crisis-prone capitalism had already lost its capacity for developing the productive forces much further. Fifty years later, in 1895, Engels admitted that he and Marx had made that mistaken appraisal.
So, Marx’s expectations of proletarian revolution in backward Germany and France did in fact not run counter to his stated view that capitalism must first run its course. Capitalism had run its course! And now that the bourgeoisie had lost its capacity to create the industrial infrastructure necessary for a communist economy, it was only logical for the proletariat to assume that responsibility and take over. “Permanent revolution” did not run counter to Marx’s insights about capitalism and the productive forces; rather, it seems logically to follow from them.
As for Marx’s racist views, he and with some different accents Engels too, worked under the assumption that human “races” differ in their inherited talents. Some races possess more excellence than others. Inherited differences in mental make-up between human races supposedly were caused by several factors, such as the soil on which people live; nutrition patterns; hybridisation; and—the Lamarckian hypothesis—adaptation to the environment and the heredity of acquired characteristics. Marx and Engels not infrequently stooped to derogatory and degrading characterisations of nations and races for whom had a low appreciation.
Marx’s racism is acknowledged and deplored in the existing literature, but authors tend to read it as a strange anomaly incompatible with Marx’s overall system and, therefore, as an embarrassment rather than a fundamental shortcoming of his thought.
This is hard to maintain. As Marx and Engels saw it, systems of production are rooted in certain “natural conditions”—geological, climatic, and so on. Race represents one of these conditions, referring as it does to the quality of the human material. The inherited mental faculties of races, whether excellent or shoddy, help determine whether these races manage to develop their economies successfully.
But, crucially, this does not undo or even affect the dependence of “superstructural” phenomena on economic infrastructures. Race is simply not about the relationship between these two great societal spheres. In Marx’s own imagination the race factor added a dimension of understanding to how or if economies come to flourish, but without in any way affecting the deterministic order of his economic materialism, running from the economy to state and political institutions. No incoherence here.
Something similar was the case with Marx’s remarkable views about the passions, which I have explored for the early years 1841 to 1846. In my interpretation of the philosophical fragments written in these years, Marx cast humanity as a productive force driven by creative passions: an impassioned productive force. If this reading is correct, this helps us understand why Marx assumed that economic and technological productive forces manifest an inherent tendency to accumulate and improve: it is because we passionately want them to. Conversely, it also helps explain why Marx believed productive stagnation makes revolution inevitable: humanity is too passionate a being to accept being slowed down. Marx’s “materialist” scheme of productive forces and relations of production, then, was predicated upon an essentially psychological hypothesis, a formula of materialised desire and subjectivity.
And once again, no incoherence here: the hypothesis of a creative, passionate urge fuelling the productive forces in no way conflicts with the “materialist” assumption of a chain of causation running from stagnating productive forces to the emergence of new relations of production to a new political and ideological order.
Marx had remarkable integrative gifts; he was the master of combining the uncombinable. He managed to keep many of his wide-ranging intuitions, running in so many different directions, together in a single frame. Even if that frame often was incomplete and formulated in ramshackle ways, yet he managed to avoid all too glaring inconsistencies and keep a degree of underlying logic intact.
Does Marx have a future? There is much to suggest that he doesn’t and that the days of his posthumous success are finally over. Whether or not “actually-existing” communism reflected his ideas and ideals, its collapse and discreditation might be impossible for Marx’s ghost to recover from.
Some deep processes have further contributed to Marxism’s demise. Marx’s core business was the industrial proletariat and the class struggle. But contrary to his predictions, the manual workers’ share in the industrialised world’s labour force sharply decreased in the second half of the twentieth century. What is more, far from becoming impoverished, the relatively small class of manual workers became spectacularly better off. Newly industrialising countries likely will manifest the same pattern. The new “precariat” of marginal and not well-off workers, often consisting of ethnically-mixed migrant populations, are more difficult to organise than the old proletariat concentrated in large factories. Marxism’s consolidated proletarian basis has, then, largely fallen away.
Marxism thrived, too, on national-liberation struggles. National emancipation was an ambition Marx could sympathise with, even if never in a principled way. But he did support German, Italian, Hungarian, Polish, and other struggles for democracy and state independence. Not only class warriors, twentieth-century national-liberation warriors, too, could relate to him. However, with the end of colonialism the heydays of national-liberation wars are now long over.
There is an end even to Marx’s scope. Present-day activists have a hard time reconnecting with him. In the new post-modern condition, emancipatory struggles have shifted towards issues of gender, sexual preference, race, ethnicity and religion, and, importantly, the environment—themes Marx’s voluminous works have little if any positive connection with. The new times have at last begun to make the man irrelevant.
This is how things look now. But I am not absolutely convinced that Marx is irretrievably on the way out.
The structural downsides of capitalism are such that, even if we regard that system as a lesser evil compared to communism, critiques of its downsides will continue to be formulated. Those interested in the more radical critiques of capitalism will unavoidably pick up Marx, still the most radical critic of that system available on the market of ideas. The theory of “surplus value” allows Marx to argue that capitalism exploits wage labour not because of any particularly atrocious excesses but quite irrespective of wage and working conditions. Wage labour is exploitation (and alienation). Marx was all for reforms, but in his book, reforms change nothing in capitalism’s exploitative and alienation-producing nature. That the theoretical basis of this uniquely radical critique of capitalism, the “labour theory of value”, is an empirically untestable, metaphysical construction hardly matters: stranger things have been believed.
Whether Marxism will ever make a comeback depends on now unpredictable changing circumstances that would refocus global radical activism to once again target capitalist, rather than, for example, racist or patriarchal structures. Should that happen, Marx’s rediscovery as radical guide is likely. Marx’s ghost is waiting for us in the wings, happy and ready once more to offer us his services.
 Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (London, New York: Routledge, 2005), 7–9.
 Geoff Eley, Forging Democracy. The History of the Left in Europe, 1850–2000 (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), chapter 2. For a similar interpretation, see for example: Gary P. Steenson, After Marx, Before Lenin. Marxism and Socialist Working-Class Parties in Europe, 1884–1914 (London: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1991), 20–1.
 Wolfgang Leonhard, Sowjetideologie heute, vol. 2, Die politischen Lehren (/Frankfurt M., Hamburg: Fischer Bücherei, 1962), 106.
 Terry Eagleton, Why Marx was Right (New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 2011), 16; Steve Paxton, Unlearning Marx. Why the Soviet Failure was a Triumph for Marx (Winchester, Washington: Zero Books, 2021), chapter 1.
 See: Eley, 2002, 40, 509. Though emphasising the significance of the term “dictatorship of the proletariat” in Marx’s work, Hal Draper agrees that that it signified nothing more than “rule of the proletariat”: The “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” from Marx to Lenin (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1987), 22–7.
 Michael Löwy, The Politics of Combined and Uneven Development. The Theory of Permanent Revolution (London: Verso, 1981), 189.
 Ibid., 7–8.
 Ibid., chapter 1.
 Reidar Larsson, Theories of Revolution. From Marx to the First Russian Revolution (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1970), 9–11, 24–31.
 Alvin W. Gouldner, The Two Marxisms. Contradictions and Anomalies in the Development of Theory (London, Basingstoke: MacMillan, 1980).
 Jonathan Sperber, Karl Marx. A Nineteenth-Century Life (New York, London: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2013), introduction.
 Quentin Skinner (1969), “Meaning and understanding in the history of ideas”, History and Theory, 8(1): 3–53.
 Terrell Carver, Marx (Cambridge, Medford: Polity Press, 2018).
 On The German Ideology see: Terrell Carver (2010), “The German Ideology never took place”, History of Political Thought, 31(1): 107–27.
 For the creation of the Marx cult and “Marxism”: Christina Morina, Die Erfindung des Marxismus. Wie eine Idee die Welt eroberte (München: Siedler, 2017).
 Erik van Ree (2013), “Marxism as permanent revolution”, History of Political Thought, 34(3), 540–63; “Marx and Engels’s theory of history: making sense of the race factor”, (2019) Journal of Political Ideologies, 24(1), 54–73; (2020) “Productive forces, the passions and natural philosophy: Karl Marx, 1841–1846”, Journal of Political Ideologies, 25(3), 274–93.
 Erik van Ree, The Political Thought of Joseph Stalin. A Study in Twentieth-Century Revolutionary Patriotism (London, New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2002), 282.
 1895 introduction to “Class struggles in France”, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, vol. 27, Engels: 1890–95 (New York: International Publishers, 1990), 512.
 van Ree, 2013. More on the permanent revolution in Marx: Erik van Ree, Boundaries of Utopia – Imagining Communism from Plato to Stalin (London, New York: Routledge, 2015), chapter 5.
 See for example: Roman Rosdolsky, Engels and the “Nonhistoric” Peoples. The National Question in the Revolution of 1848 (Glasgow: Critique Books, 1986), especially chapter 8; Michael Löwy, Fatherland or Mother Earth? Essays on the National Question (London, Sterling: Pluto Press, 1998), 23–7; Kevin B. Anderson, Marx at the Margins. On Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Non-Western Societies (Chicago, London: The University of Chicago Press, 2010), 52 and passim.
 See for this argumentat in more detail: van Ree, 2019.
 See for these conclusions: van Ree, 2020.
Fascism as a recurring possibility: Zeev Sternhell, the anti-Enlightenment, and the politics of an intellectual history of modernity
by Tommaso Giordani
Examining the development of Zeev Sternhell’s work yields a precise impression: that of a movement from the particular to the general, from an intellectual history rooted in precise contexts to increasingly broad studies dealing with larger and less narrowly contextualised traditions of thought.
His first monograph, published in 1972, was titled Maurice Barrès et le nationalisme français and examined the role of Barrès in transforming a French nationalism which was originally “Jacobin, open, grounded in the doctrine of natural rights” into an “organic nationalism, postulating a physiological determinism”. In the decade between 1978 and 1989, Sternhell publishes the three works which created his reputation as one of the world’s most important historians of fascism: Ni droite ni gauche, La droite révolutionnaire, and Naissance de l’idéologie fasciste. Though still maintaining a focus on France, these studies—especially the last one—cannot be reduced to contributions to French history. They are instead an attempt to outline a theory of fascism centred on the importance of the ideological element, something which naturally brought the Israeli historian and his collaborators beyond the borders of the hexagon.
Following this interpretative line, we can identify a third phase of Sternhell’s work starting from the 1996 collective volume The intellectual revolt against liberal democracy. Having first moved beyond the examination of French nationalism towards a more general theory of fascism, in this third phase Sternhell leaves the question of fascist ideology behind, embedding it in a larger narrative embracing the last three centuries of European intellectual history and revolving around the dichotomy between Enlightenment and anti-Enlightenment ideas. The high point is represented by his last and most ambitious study, Les Anti-Lumières, in which the Israeli historian traces the development of what he calls a “different modernity”, consisting in a “comprehensive revolt against the Enlightenment’s fundamental views”.
There is obviously a great deal of truth in this way of reading the Israeli historian’s trajectory, especially given the substantial growth of the materials treated and the enlargement of both chronology and geography. And yet, there is an important way in which this reading is wrong, namely if it is taken to claim that the large, meta-historical categories of “Enlightenment” and “Anti-Enlightenment” are inductive generalisations, synthesising decades of work in intellectual history and emerging from Sternhell’s previous studies. A summary look at Sternhell first book reveals, instead, that these categories have informed his work since the beginning.
Maurice Barrès et le nationalisme français is, as we have pointed out, not a simple intellectual biography, but a work which sees the significance of Barrès through the wider lens of a study of the transformation of French nationalism. Upon closer inspection, however, it is clear that even the framework of French nationalism is a very reductive description of Sternhell’s perspective, for it is a nationalism which is embedded in a wider current of ideas, both spatially and temporally. Spatially, Barrès participates in a tradition of thought which is continental. He is cast by Sternhell much more as a European than as a Frenchman. Barrès is “the child of his century: Baudelaire and Wagner fascinate him, he calls himself—and is—a disciple of Taine and Renan; he has read Nietzsche, Gobineau, and Dostoevsky. For his first trilogy, he claims to have been inspired by Schopenhauer, by Fichte, and by Hartmann”. Temporally, this continental tradition to which Barrès belongs is cast as deploying itself over a broad chronology, as can be evinced by Sternhell’s insistence on its similarities with “another movement of revolt against the status quo: pre-1830, post-revolutionary romanticism”. Without denying the decisive role of European fin de siècle culture, Sternhell finds common traits between this “neo-romanticism” and the older movement. In both cases, we have a “resurgence of irrational values”, the “cult of sentiment and instinct” and, finally, “the substitution of the ‘organic’ explanation of the world to the ‘mechanical’ one”. Even if the connections are merely sketched, it is clear that the temporality in which Sternhell places his object is that of modernity. Barrès, in other words, is significant not just as a French nationalist, but as a member of a tradition marked by the “systematic rejection of the values inherited from the eighteenth century and from the French Revolution”.
Granted, the term “Anti-Enlightenment” does not appear in this work, and comparison of this initial sketch of the tradition with later versions yields some differences, such as a greater role he later ascribes to German and Italian historicism, as well as a tendency to read this current of ideas in an increasingly static and monolithic way. And yet, beyond these small differences, substantial similarities emerge: the broad chronology, the continental extension, and the dichotomous division of the last two centuries of European intellectual history into the two opposing camps of the Enlightenment and its enemies.
This dichotomy informs virtually the entirety of Sternhell’s works in the history of political ideas. We see it at work in his trilogy on fascist ideology, and it is subtly yet unmistakeably active in his analysis of Zionism, in which Jewish nationalism is characterised, inter alia, as a “Herderian” response to the “challenge of emancipation”. Underlying historical enquiry on particular political ideologies, in other words, is a theory of European modernity revolving around the opposition between what Sternhell came to label the universalistic “Franco-Kantian Enlightenment” and its particularistic opponents.
Methodologically, the advantages of this approach are many: it allows the writing of a profoundly diachronic history of ideas, capable of embracing a multitude of contexts and spaces, and in theory able to trace the evolution of traditions of thought without losing sight of the underlying continuities. At the same time, various critics have underlined its limits. Sternhell has been accused of not having learnt the lessons of postmodernism, and of reconstructing the intellectual history of European modernity in the form of a “Manichean struggle” between Enlightenment and anti-Enlightenment. General accusations of Manicheanism, approximation, and teleology are, in fact, amongst the most common directed against Sternhell. Shlomo Sand gives a more precise way to consider the limits of this approach, identifying the problem in Sternhell’s use of “narrow, static, unhistorical definitions”, that is, of meta-historical categories.
Here we come to the crux of the question: Sternhell’s way of proceeding is indeed marked by the use of categories of analysis which transcend the contexts in which historical actors developed their thought. Is this, however, enough to methodologically invalidate his analysis? The use of categories transcending narrow historical contextualisation is a necessity for any work with diachronic ambitions. Tracing the development of any tradition of thought over time, in other words, implies the use of descriptions and definitions which would have appeared bizarre to the thinkers of the time. The employment of a meta-language, and the anachronism, teleology, and de-contextualisation that come with it, are, to a point, a necessity of any genealogy, of any historical enquiry which aims to do more than simply take a synchronic snapshot of the past. Therefore, it seems incorrect to identify the problem in the mere use of categories such as Enlightenment and anti-Enlightenment.
The problem lies not in the mere presence of these meta-historical tools of analysis, but, rather, in the way in which Sternhell has come to employ them over time. As we have seen, in Maurice Barrès the anti-Enlightenment tradition was sketched with a certain nuance, insisting on its internal transformations over time, and paying attention to the crucial distinction between the work of an individual and its reception. Over time, however, much of this nuance disappears, and passages from his later works do seem, at times, to interpret two centuries of European intellectual history through the prism of what is, after all, a not too dynamic dichotomy between French universalistic culture and German romantic particularism.
Take Sternhell’s analysis of Georges Sorel’s revision of Marxism at the beginning of the 20th century, for example. For the Israeli historian, it constitutes a crucial step towards the creation of fascist ideology. According to him, the key element of Sorelian revisionism is the destruction of the connection between the industrial working class and the revolution, something capable of altering “Marxism to such an extent that it immediately transformed it into a neutral weapon of war that could be used against the bourgeois order not only by the proletariat but by society as a whole”. Sorelian revisionism thus consists in the removal of Marxian categories of analysis based on social antagonisms grounded in the positioning in the productive structure of society, which are then replaced by antagonisms grounded in an opposition to the decadence of bourgeois civilisation. As Sternhell puts it, “history, for Sorel, was finally not so much a chronicle of class warfare as an endless struggle against decadence”. It follows that if the proletariat is unable to fulfil its struggle against bourgeois decadence, there is no reason why another historical agent, such as the national community, should not engage in the same struggle. The result is fascism.
The problem with this reading is that, despite its apparent plausibility, it is historically inaccurate. Real Sorelian revisionism consists in a number of texts published in the 1890s in which the main thrust is epistemological and social scientific more than political. Its consequences are opposite to those drawn by Sternhell. Animated by the desire “show to sceptics that… socialism is worthy of belonging to the modern scientific movement”, Sorelian revisionism revolved around three main points: (1) the refusal of historical determinism; (2) the rejection of economic determinism; and consequently, (3) a vision of Marxism not as a predictive social science but as the intellectual articulation of the historical experience of the workers’ movement. Even if this revisionism is much more concerned with Marxism as a social science than with Marxism as a political project, its political uptake is not the breaking of the connection between proletariat and revolution, but its strengthening. A Marxism which renounces its predictive capacity and the very idea of a necessary historical development cannot but evolve into what Sorel later called a “theory of the proletariat”. The removal of historical necessity means that the transition to socialism can only be yielded by the agency of the revolutionary subject—the proletariat. It should thus not be surprising that, as early as 1898, Sorel insists on working class autonomy, arguing that “the entire future of socialism resides in the autonomous development workers’ unions”.
The revision of Marxism does not exhaust Sorel’s production and there are parts of his trajectory, and of those of some of his disciples, which are more in line with Sternhell’s analysis. And yet, the fact remains that this analysis completely overlooks contexts which are crucial to Sorelian revisionism, resulting in an historically inaccurate picture. The point is not merely to underline the many substantial imprecisions which characterise Sternhell’s reading of Sorelian revisionism, but to emphasise how these misreadings derive directly from the indiscriminate use of the abovementioned meta-historical categories. “Marxism” writes Sternhell “was a system of ideas still deeply rooted in the philosophy of the eighteenth century. Sorelian revisionism replaced the rationalist, Hegelian foundations of Marxism with Le Bon’s new vision of human nature, with the anti-Cartesianism of Bergson, with the Nietzschean cult of revolt, and with Pareto’s most recent discoveries in political sociology”. But is it plausible to speak of a rejection of Hegel for someone so profoundly influenced by Antonio Labriola, who represented one of Europe’s main Hegelian traditions? Is it correct to speak of the “Nietzschean cult of revolt” for a figure who wrote over 600 texts and yet discusses Nietzsche virtually only in a handful of pages in the Reflections on violence? Is it historically acceptable to suggest proximity to Paretian elitism for a political thinker who wrote vitriolic pages against the leadership of French socialism by bourgeois intellectuals?
These misreadings derive from the fact that Sternhell’s dualistic approach, if taken rigidly, cannot make space for Sorelian revisionism, for that would imply accepting the possibility of a Marxism capable of incorporating elements of romanticism without ipso facto becoming a sworn enemy of the Enlightenment. But Marxism, for Sternhell, is “rooted in the philosophy of the eighteenth century”, and any deviation from this particular philosophical outlook is to be classified as anti-Enlightenment thought. Strictly speaking, for Sternhell, Sorelian revisionism is a betrayal. But here are the limits of Sternhell’s rigid application of his categories, limits which emerge not only in relation to Sorel, but also to Marxism more in general. Marxism is, from its beginnings, a politico-philosophical tradition which is transversal to the dichotomy between Enlightenment and anti-Enlightenment. The mere suggestion of reading a tradition derived from Hegel and Marx as in opposition to German romanticism shows the dangers of overreliance on these categories. The appropriate historical context for understanding Sorelian revisionism is the battle, internal to Marxism, between positivistic and humanistic interpretations of Marx’s work. Against Sorel’s insistence on the impossibility of historical laws there is Lafargue who advocates their existence; against Antonio Labriola who struggles to free historical materialism from positivism there is Enrico Ferri who goes in the opposite direction. To miss this transversality of the Marxist tradition cannot but yield serious mistakes. How would Sternhell judge Gramsci’s claim that Marxism is “the continuation of German and Italian idealism, which in Marx had been contaminated by naturalistic and positivistic incrustations”? Would he see a voluntaristic cult of revolt in the affirmation that “the main determinant of history is not lifeless economics, but man”?
Why, in the face of much criticism, did Sternhell never even go close to admitting the risks of a certain way of employing an approach based on meta-historical categories? Why did he not only stick with it, but began using it in an increasingly rigid and passionate manner? To answer these questions, a preliminary point must be clarified. If the Enlighenment/anti-Enlightenment dualism is the conceptual centre of Sternhell’s work, its existential core is the question of fascism. Orphaned and turned refugee by anti-Semitic violence in his native Poland during World War II, Sternhell has always been very clear on the fact that for him the study of fascism went far beyond purely academic interest. Anyone who has read the pages he has written will be aware of the urgency of his prose, of the passionate tone of warning which permeates most of them, especially those on fascism. “Thinking about fascism” he wrote in 2008 “is not a reflection on a regime or a movement, but a reflection on the risks that might be involved for a whole civilisation when it rejects the notion of universal values, when it substitutes historical relativism for universalism, and substitutes various communitarian values for the autonomy of the individual”. Aside from clarifying the relationship between fascism and anti-Enlightenment in Sternhell’s thought—with the former political option becoming possible only in an environment in which the latter’s ideas are present—this quotation sheds much light on Sternhell’s insistence on the Enlightenment/anti-Enlightenment duality.
To frame fascism as a political possibility enabled by the existence of certain anti-Enlightenment ideas means adopting a view of fascism as a recurring possibility of modernity. Fascism is thus not an abstract and a-historical ideal type, but neither is it an historical particularity inextricably linked to the specific, and unrepeatable, conditions of interwar Europe. To embed fascism in a theory of modernity, in other words, allows one to see it as a living political culture, perhaps at times dormant, but constantly capable of making the leap from cultural contestation to political project, at least as long as the particularistic ideas of the “alternative modernity” of the anti-Enlightenment continue to inform European intellectual life. Sternhell’s dismissal of the decisive role of World War I and his insistence that the fascist synthesis was already achieved in the belle époque substantiate this reading.
The Enlightenment/anti-Enlightenment framing, in short, stems from the fiercely held conviction that fascism is not a thing of the past, but of the present. It is a framing, thus, that at once emerges from the need for public engagement and simultaneously enables a mode of public intervention which could not as easily be sustained through a narrower contextualism or a taxonomical approach. Recent years have brought, together with the electoral victories of right-wing forces in Europe and the United States, a flurry of analyses on the return of fascism. Whether through taxonomies, historical parallels between the present and the interwar period, or analyses of fascist mentality, this literature has been animated by the same conviction that has long animated Zeev Sternhell’s work: that fascism is not a thing of the past. Eschewing these strategies, however, Sternhell has long pioneered a different way of thinking about fascism: not an historical particularity, not a mentality, not a list of criteria that regimes must possess, but instead a constant potentiality of European modernity, embedded in two centuries of anti-Enlightenment thought.
By way of conclusion, a tentative answer to the obvious question: from where does Sternhell’s conviction that fascism is always possible emerge? It is true that the defeat of 1945 has not been the historical caesura one unreflectively imagines, and that fascism has continued to exist, in less ideologically assertive forms, in many countries of southern Europe. At the same time, before the recent, possibly short-lived, resurgence of the fascist spectre, academic analyses of fascism were rarely animated by this urgent conviction of its relevance. The answer to this conundrum is to be found in Sternhell’s political engagement in his country, Israel. In March 1978, together with other reservists of the Israeli army, Sternhell signed an open letter to then Prime Minister Menachem Begin, warning that a policy “which prefers settlements beyond the Green Line to terminating the historic conflict” was a dangerous one, which could “harm the Jewish-democratic character of the state”. The letter established the organisation Peace Now, in which Sternhell continued to be active for the rest of his life.
Over the years, the evolution of the political situation made the positions Sternhell supported increasingly minoritarian. But the Israeli historian did not back down. On the contrary, he continued to put forward his positions. This earned him a pipe bomb attack at his home in Jerusalem in 2008, from which he emerged substantially unscathed. Flyers offering over 1 million shekels to whoever killed a member of Peace Now found near his home left little doubt as to the motivations behind it. After Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister in 2009, Sternhell became increasingly vocal, denouncing what he saw as a dangerous evolution of Israeli society. In his many public interventions, he uses the language with which we have been dealing here, that of the anti-Enlightenment. He saw the rise of the Israeli right as that of a “power-driven national movement, negating human rights, and rejecting universal rights, liberalism and democracy”. In a 2014 interview in which he denounced signs of fascism in Israeli society, he framed that political option in familiar terms: as a “war against enlightenment and against universal values”. In 2013, he was called as an expert witness in a defamation case put forward by the nationalist association Im Tirzu against some activists who had labelled it as fascist. In an exchange with Im Tirzu’s lawyer, we see, again, the same language: “…they are not conservatives, but revolutionary conservatives. What they seek is a cultural revolution. ‘Neo-Zionism’ as they define it is an anti-utilitarian, anti-western, anti-rational cultural revolution.”
Examples of this kind could be multiplied, but the point should by now be clear. Certain methodological options may seem puzzling when judged uniquely by the standards of academic practice, but the rationale for their employment may become more understandable when they are seen as connected to a concrete historical situation. The Enlightenment/anti-Enlightenment dichotomy, with all the limits that Sternhell’s passionate use involved, is one such case: it must, at least partially, be seen as emerging from the imperative of engagement. Still, Sternhell’s historical works are not political pamphlets. Even if sometimes they possess the urgent tone of that genre of writing, they remain contributions to the study of European intellectual history, and should be judged also according to those standards. And yet, the separation of these two layers, engagement and scholarship, is not easy and, to a point, not desirable. To effect this separation would be to misunderstand the work of a scholar for whom the two were intertwined. As he argued in the most articulate defence of his method, “through contextualism, particularism, and linguistic relativism, in concentrating on what is specific and unique and denying the universal, one necessarily finds oneself on the side of anti-humanism and historical relativism”.
The author would like to thank Or Rosenboim for discussions on the Israeli context and for help with translations from Hebrew. All other translations from French and Italian sources are the author's. Research leading to these results has received funding from the European Research Council under Grant Agreement No. 757873 (project BETWEEN THE TIMES).
 Zeev Sternhell, Maurice Barrès et le nationalisme français , 3rd ed. (Paris: Fayard, 2016), 251.
 Zeev Sternhell, The Anti-Enlightenment Tradition, trans. David Maisel (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010), 1.
Sternhell, Maurice Barrès, 56.
 Ibid., 42.
 Ibid., 43.
 Ibid., 41.
 Zeev Sternhell, The Founding Myths of Israel. Nationalism, Socialism, and the Making of the Jewish State, trans. David Maisel (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998), 12.
 David D. Roberts, ‘How not to think about Fascism and ideology, intellectual antecedents and historical meaning’, Journal of Contemporary History 35, no. 2 (2000): 189.
 Shlomo Sand, ‘L’idéologie Fasciste en France’, L’Esprit, September 1983, 159.
 Zeev Sternhell, Maia Asheri, and Mario Sznajder, The Birth of Fascist Ideology. From Cultural Rebellion to Political Revolution., trans. David Maisel (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), 37.
 Ibid., 38
 Sorel to Croce, 20/12/1895, in Georges Sorel, ‘Lettere di Georges Sorel a Benedetto Croce’, La Critica 25 (1927): 38.
 Georges Sorel, ‘L’avenir socialiste des syndicats’, L’humanité Nouvelle 2 (1898): 445.
 Sternhell, The Birth of Fascist Ideology, 24.
 Antonio Gramsci, ‘La rivoluzione contro il Capitale’, Avanti! 24 November 1917.
 Zeev Sternhell, ‘How to Think about Fascism and Its Ideology’, Constellations 15, no. 3 (2008): 280.
 Open letter to Prime Minister Menachem Begin, March 1978, https://peacenow.org/entry.php?id=2230#.YK5yjKGEY2w
 Zeev Sternhell “Does Israel still need democracy”, Haaretz, 17 November 2011
 Gidi Weitz, ‘Signs of fascism in Israel reached new peak during Gaza op, says renowned scholar’, Haaretz, 13 August 2014.
 Oren Persico, “Analyzing with an ax”, Ha-ain ha-shvi’it, 12 May 2013, https://www.the7eye.org.il/62652
 Sternhell, The Anti-Enlightenment Tradition, 35.
by Gregory Claeys
Is utopianism an "ideology", in the loose sense of a coherent system of ideas, and if so where does it sit on the traditional spectrum of right-to-left ideas? Or does the "ism" merely describe a process of dreaming or speculating about ideal societies which in principle can never exist, as common language definitions usually imply? The former conception is relatively unproblematic, if too easily reduced to a psychological principle and then deemed deviant or pathological. Presuming the "ism" to imply the quest to attain or implement "utopia", however, we still encounter a vast number of often contradictory definitions, ranging from the common-language "impossible", "unrealistic", or without reasonable grounds to be supposed attainable, to "idealist" (as opposed to "realist"), to the "no-where" of Thomas More's original text, Utopia (1516), and its attendant pun, the "good place", or eutopia. Much confusion has resulted from inadequately separating these various definitions, two particular aspects of which, the non-existent/unreachable, and the realisable, are seemingly contradictory.
The "ism" is often divided today into three "faces", as Lyman Tower Sargent first termed them: utopian social theory, literary utopias and dystopias, and utopian practice. This typology is shared by another leading theorist, Krishan Kumar. On this reckoning, one definition of utopian ideology would simply be utopian social theory, regardless of how we define the destination or ideal society itself, and whether it purports to be realistic or realisable, or remains an imagined ideal or norm which serves to inform action but which cannot be in principle be attained, because it continues to move forward even as its original vision comes to fruition.
This approach allows us to describe every major ideology as harbouring its own utopia, or ideal type of self-realisation, while acknowledging the brand with varying degrees of reluctance. Modern liberalism, usually averse to the utopian label where it seemingly implies human perfectibility, might be supposed to entertain an ideal framed around free trade, private property, increasing opulence, and democracy. Its most extreme form lies in the promise of eventual universal opulence. But it can extend further leftwards, for instance with the self-proclaimed utopian John Stuart Mill, towards socialism and much greater equality, as well as rightwards, with less state action to remedy inequality, as in libertarianism or neoliberalism. Modern conservatism differs little from this, having yoked itself to commercial progress in the nineteenth century, though it sometimes retains deference to traditional elites, and greater aversion to democracy. Fascism certainly possesses utopian qualities, some rooted in the past and others in ideas of the future. Socialism inherits the Morean paradigm, with communism closer to More, and social democracy to liberalism. A specifically utopian ideology is thus more or less linked to More's paradigm of social equality, common property, substantial communal living, contempt for luxury, and a general practice of civic virtue. This can be termed utopian republicanism, and its origins traced to Spartan, Cretan, Platonic theory and Christian monastic practice. Within this typology, to advert to Karl Mannheim's famous distinction in Ideology and Utopia (1936), we can also speak of utopianism having generally a critical function, and ideology a defensive one, vis-à-vis the status quo and class interest. This involves a less neutral definition of ideology, not a system of ideas as such, but much closer to Marx's definition in the German Ideology (1845-6).
These approaches to the utopian components in major ideologies are perfectly serviceable. They help to tease out the ultimate aspirations of systems of political ideas, as well as to reveal their whimsicalities and shortcomings. They give us a distinctive sense of More's paradigm of utopian republicanism, and of the continuity of one strand of political thought from Plato to Marx and beyond. They also reveal the more prominent role often played by fiction in the expression of utopianism compared to more overtly political ideologies.
Nonetheless existing accounts of utopianism often leave us with two problems. Firstly, they do not reconcile the differences between the imaginary and realistic aspects of utopian ideals by adequately differentiating between the main functions of the concept. Secondly, they do not allow us to consider what the three "faces" share in common by way of content, or what the common goal of utopian movements, practices, and ideas alike might consist in. Let us briefly consider how these two problems might be solved.
Clearly ideal societies portrayed in literature and projected in social and political theory share much in common. Both are imaginary and textual, and sometimes only a thin veneer of fiction separates literary from theoretical forms of portraying ideas, particularly where "novels of ideas" are concerned. The chief definitional problem arises here from including the third, practical component. How should we categorise the content of utopian practice? That is, how do we describe what happens when people think their way of life actually approximates to utopia, rather than merely aspiring to it or dreaming of the benefits thereof? And how does this relate to the fictional and theoretical forms of utopianism? Utopian practice is usually conceived as communitarianism, or the foundation of intentional communities of mostly unrelated people who share common ideals. But it can also refer to other attempts to institutionalise the practices we associate with utopianism, most notably common or collectively-managed property, for example co-operation, or the promotion of solidarity in the workplace. Where the claim is made, we must cede to its proponents that what they practice is indeed a variant on the "good society", because they feel this is the case. That is to say, after a fashion, they have achieved, if only temporarily or conditionally, or in a relatively limited, perhaps "heterotopian", space, "utopia".
There is no contradiction between utopia possessing this realistic element and also implying the unrealisable if we concede that the concept serves a number of diverse purposes. It has historically had two main functions. One is to permit visionary social theory by hinting at possible futures on the basis of returning to lost or imaginary pasts, or extrapolating present trends to their logical conclusions. Once images of the Golden Age and Christian paradise served this purpose of providing an anchoring function, reminding us of what our original condition might have looked like, if for no other reason than to mock the follies and pretensions of the present and the fatuousness of any prospect of returning to a condition of natural liberty or primitive virtue. But from the late 18th century onwards utopianism began to turn towards future-oriented perfectibility, still conceived in terms of virtue, stability and social harmony, but now also more frequently linked to science and technology. So for the later modern period we can call this tendency towards imaginative projection the futurological function. By permitting us to think in terms of epochs and grand changes, the process allows us to burst asunder the bubbles of everyday life and push back the boundaries of the possible. It usually consists of one of two components. It may offer a blueprint, constitution, or programme which might actually be implemented. Or it may produce an image which allows us to criticise the present, but recedes like a mirage as we approach it, such that while we may realise past utopias we also constantly move the conceptual goal-posts, and our expectations of progress, forward.
A second function of the idea of utopia is psychological, and is often addressed to explain the sources and motivation of utopian thinking. Here the concept satisfies an ingrained natural demand for progress or betterment, with which utopianism is often confused generically, and which corresponds to a personal mental space, a kind of interior greenhouse, in which the imagined improvements are conceived and nurtured. This function, associated with Martin Buber and even more Ernst Bloch, involves positing an ontological "principle of hope" or "wish-picture" where utopia functions to express a deep-seated longing for release from our anxieties. This "desire" is sometimes regarded as the "essence" of utopianism. This approach is often linked to religion, with which it has much in common, and in the early modern period with millenarianism in particular, and later with secular forms of millenarian thought. In Christianity both the Garden of Eden and Heaven function as ideal communities in which we participate at various levels. Our longings can be merely compensatory, alleviating the stress and anxiety of everyday life by positing a disappearance of our problems in any kind of displaced, idealised alterity. Here they may be non- or even anti-utopian, insofar as we wish our anxieties away by merely seeking distraction without social change. They may be satirical, mocking the pretensions of the wealthy and powerful. Or they may be emancipatory, demanding the alteration of reality to fit a higher ideal. This function permits escapism from oppressive everyday reality while also potentially fusing and igniting our desire for change. We can call this the alterity function, since it gives us a critical standpoint juxtaposed to our normal condition.
Neither of these functions contradicts the prospect that utopia can be described as "nowhere" while also possessing a realistic dimension in communitarianism and other forms of utopian practice. They merely acknowledge the concept's multidimensional nature. This can be clarified further if we consider the problem of the content of utopianism, that is, the common normative core of the three "faces", and ask what utopian writers actually seek to realise when they actually propose restructuring society. This is easily portrayed if we remain within the loose parameters of the Morean paradigm. The existence of common property and a more communal way of life is the core of this ideal, and is shared by many forms of socialism and communism as well as many literary depictions of utopia, the best-known later modern example being Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward 2000-1887 (1888). Marx is of course its most famous non-literary expositor. Not all intentional communities have been communist, however. Charles Fourier, for example, proposed a reward for capitalist investors, who would receive a third, labour five-twelfths, and talent a quarter of any community's profits. Anarchist and individualist communities have sometimes promoted much less collectivist modes of organisation and social life than their socialist counterparts.
But these still retain a core ideal which unites their "utopian" aspirations. All are clearly more egalitarian than the societies for which they purport to offer an alternative. They are also, or aim to be, much more closely-knit. They offer what sociologists from Ferdinand Tönnies onwards have usually referred to as a Gemeinschaft form of community, where social bonds are far stronger than in the looser and more self-interested Gesellschaft type of association which dominates everyday urban capitalist life. These more intense bonds constitute an "enhanced sociability", which epitomises utopian aspiration. Normatively, utopia in general thus presents the ideal type of a much more sociable society, where something akin to friendship links many if not most of the inhabitants, and the aspiration to achieve it.
But we need to give this shared content greater depth, specificity, and clarity. Not only are there many different forms of friendship, which exhibit varying degrees of solidarity, mutuality or altruism. It is readily apparent that merely consorting with others is not as such the aim of sociability. That is, we do not seek friendship, camaraderie, and other forms of intimate association and closer bonding purely for the sake of that connection, and merely out of loneliness or boredom, important though such motivations are. We aim rather at satisfying a deeper need, which can be described in terms of an elementary desire for "belongingness". This is the goal, usually conceived in terms of group membership, for which sociability is the means, and which utopian "hope" chiefly aims at. It can be described as the antidote to that alienation so often associated with the moderns, and which was at the core of the problematic the young Marx grappled with.
But much of the rest of modern sociology, philosophy and political theory bears out the point. To the sociologists Peter L. Berger, Brigitte Berger and Hansfried Kellner, the "modern mind" has been described as typically a "homeless mind", a condition "psychologically hard to bear" which induces a "permanent identity crisis". Buried under the blizzard of impulses modern urban life creates, moving frequently and thus often uprooted, isolated, driven apart by the dominant ethos of individualism and competition, we feel we have lost both a unity with our community and a wholeness in our inner selves. Longing to retrieve both, we search accordingly for symbolic places where we imagine we once possessed such unity. Here a Heimat - the German term evokes a richness and depth of feeling lacking in English - or "home", now lost to some other group, or just to time, easily becomes the focus of imaginary virtues, peace and fulfilment. This can be projected backwards or forwards, as well as to distant locations or even outer space. Where homesickness or Heimweh lacks a definitive, objective past or place upon which to focus, it may be preferable to conceive our imaginary home as a future utopia, where Heimatslosigkeit, the feeling of loss, is conquered. If such a word existed, "homefulness" would define this domain. Another German term, Zusammengehörigkeitsgefühl, does part of the work of giving a sense of "togetherness" as well as belonging.
"Belongingness" will do as well in English, and is a rich and somewhat open-ended concept which clearly invites greater scrutiny than is possible here. It enjoys a prominent position in modern group psychology, which is a key entry to point to the study of utopianism. As elemental as "our need for water", Kelly-Ann Allen writes, it is so fundamental that its manifestations often passed unnoticed. Some see the need to belong as the primordial source for our desire for power, intimacy, approval, and much else. It commences in infancy, drives our willingness to conform through life, and may haunt us in our dotage. It is reflected in an attachment to places as well as people, and extends by association to all our senses, including smell and taste. The sense of belonging or connectedness is a crucial component in solidarity, and is sometimes even portrayed as the basis of morality as such. Everyone has experienced the anxiety of feeling alone, abandoned, ignored, friendless, rejected, shunned, dispossessed, displaced, foreign, alien, and alienated. Not being part of a group we aspire to join can be devastating. Exclusion cuts us to the bone. Not feeling part of a place also makes us uncomfortable and unwanted. By the effort to exclude others from the in-group, or "othering", belongingness can thus also play a fundamental role in the dystopian imagination. So the aspiration for friendship, association, the feeling of neighbourliness, in a word belongingness, guides much of our behaviour through life.
The condition of homelessness can inspire imaginary future ideal societies, and in utopian literary form has often done so during the past two centuries or so. But it also still often induces backward-looking perspectives. It "has therefore engendered its own nostalgias - nostalgias, that is, for a condition of 'being at home' in society, with oneself and, ultimately, in the universe". This endangers more accurate and balanced accounts by encouraging a nostalgic rewriting of history, where we hearken back to an imagined superior past, and redact unpleasant facts which interfere with this vision. This process corresponds to an unfortunate desire, of which we have been reminded far too often in the past few years, to want to be told things which please us rather than those whose truths make us feel uncomfortable, and which we would rather ignore or forget. We are happy to be lied to if the lie makes us feel better, and rationalist conceptions of the inevitable conquest of error by truth are thus misguided where they fail to acknowledge this weakness. This process is aided by the fact that memory is often faulty and selective, and we can concoct an ideal starting-point without worrying about its accuracy. The further back we go, too, the poorer are the records which might contradict us. This makes propaganda the more readily successful.
This has a bearing on one ideology more than any other. Nationalism in particular often depends heavily on and can indeed be defined as an "imagined community", in Benedict Anderson's well-known phrase, which makes it a distinctive form of utopian group. It often adverts to periods when our nation was "great" and its enemies vanquished and subservient, and frequently demands a rewriting of history to accord with such narratives, as modern debates over imperialism and the statues of heroic conquerors and defenders of slavery make abundantly clear. To those not motivated by the search for more balanced stories, but who primarily seek ego reinforcement amidst their national identity crises, the glorious fictional history of the imagined nation is often preferable over its more likely inglorious and bloodstained real past. Whole nations feel a romantic nostalgia, "a painful yearning to return home", for their lost golden ages of innocence, virtue and equality, and for their mythical places of origin, or the peak of their global power and influence. Denying the reality of the present and compensatory displacement are key here. But the same process occurs as nations age, become more urban and complex, and are more driven by capitalist competition, by consumerism and the anxiety to work ever harder. Personal relations suffer under all these forces. Increasingly, suggests Juliet B. Schor, we "yearn for what we see as a simpler time, when people cared less about money and more about each other". Susan Stewart sees such nostalgia as a "social disease" which seeks "an authenticity of being" through presenting a new narrative, while denying the present.
We can readily see, then, that all major political ideologies advert to one or another glorious pasts or future images which recall or herald greater individual fulfilment, prosperity, and more powerful bonds of community. Not all address belongingness in the same manner, however. Liberalism tends from the early nineteenth century onwards to stress the value of individuality, and often under-theorises the need for and benefits of sociability. Communitarian liberalism has made some effort to redress this omission, with varying degrees of success. Older forms of conservatism tended to locate the ideal state in the past and in more traditional systems of ranks, though this is not the case for more recent incarnations. Socialism is closest both semantically and programmatically to More's original utopian paradigm, and places great stress on the effort to rebuild communities around various artificially-constructed ideas of sociability and solidarity. To that inveterate critic of utopian aspiration, Leszek Kolakowski, Marxism-Leninism in particular shared a desire with all utopians "to institutionalize fraternity", adding that "an institutionally guaranteed friendship … is the surest way to totalitarian despotism", since a "conflictless order" can only exist "by applying totalitarian coercion".
To summarise the argument briefly presented here. What we can for short call the "3-2-1" definition of utopianism involves seeing the subject as possessing three faces or dimensions, utopian social theory, literary utopias and dystopias, and utopian practice; two functions, that of providing a space of psychological alterity, and that of permitting the futurological dream of ideal societies; and one content, defined by belongingness. Utopianism is a stand-alone ideology insofar as it adopts variants on the Morean paradigm, but all major systems of ideas have utopian or ideal components which are used as reference points to suggest the goals of their systems. All forms of utopianism aim in particular at providing circumstances in which belongingness can be fulfilled. This ideal can be understood as the resolution of the central problem of alienation in modern life, an issue crucial to Marxism but equally to many other strands of modern social theory. The chief task now before us in the 2020s, to determine how it can achieve practical form in the face of the looming environmental catastrophe of the present century, can be addressed at another time.
 Lyman Tower Sargent. Utopianism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 5. This typology dates from 1975, and is revised in Sargent's "The Three Faces of Utopianism Revisited", Utopian Studies, 5 (1994), 1-37. See further Sargent's "Ideology and Utopia", in Michael Freeden, Lyman Tower Sargent and Marc Stears, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Political Ideologies (Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 439-51.
 Krishan Kumar. Utopianism (Open University Press, 1991).
 On the aversion to adopting the utopian label, see David Estlund. Utopophobia. On the Limits (If Any) of Political Philosophy (Princeton University Press, 2020). Estlund argues that "a social proposal has the vice of being utopian if, roughly, there is no evident basis for believing that efforts to stably achieve it would have any significant tendency to succeed" (p. 11).
 See my Mill and Paternalism (Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 123-72.
 This typology is defended in my (and Christine Lattek) "Radicalism, Republicanism, and Revolutionism: From the Principles of '89 to Modern Terrorism", in Gareth Stedman Jones and Gregory Claeys, eds., The Cambridge History of Nineteenth-Century Political Thought (Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 200-254.
 See Lyman Tower Sargent. "Ideology and Utopia", in Michael Freeden, Lyman Tower Sargent and Marc Stears, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Political Ideologies (Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 439-51.
 I draw here on my After Consumerism: Utopianism for a Dying Planet (Princeton University Press, forthcoming).
 This leaves aside the broader problem as to how far any ideal society rests on the labour or exploitation of some group(s), for whom the utopia of one group may thus become the dystopia of another. Decolonising utopia is an ongoing project. Some communes, like that founded by Josiah Warren in Ohio, have been called "Utopia".
 See Martin Buber. Paths in Utopia, and Ernst Bloch. The Principle of Hope (3 vols, Basil Blackwell, 1986). Ludwig Feuerbach's idea of God as a projection of human desire, and of love as the essence of Christianity, formed the methodological starting-point for Marx's theory of alienation in the "Paris Manuscripts" of 1844.
 Ruth Levitas. The Concept of Utopia (Syracuse University Press, 1990), p. 181. See also Fredric Jameson. Archaeologies of the Future. The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (Verso, 2005).
 An earlier version of this argument is offered in "News from Somewhere: Enhanced Sociability and the Composite Definition of Utopia and Dystopia", History, 98 (2013), 145-173.
 Peter L. Berger, Brigitte Berger and Hansfried Kellner. The Homeless Mind. Modernization and Consciousness (Pelican Books, 1974), p. 74.
 Its opposite is Heimatslosigkeit, which has no exact English equivalent, since "homefulness", sadly, is not a word and "homelessness" simply means being forced through poverty to live outside of a dwelling. Hence the use here of belongingness, despite its awkwardness.
 It is acknowledged as such, however, chiefly in the literature on communitarianism.
 Kelly-Ann Allen. The Psychology of Belongingness (Routledge, 2021), p. 1.
 B. F. Skinner insists that "A person does not act for the good of others because of a feeling of belongingness or refuse to act because of feelings of alienation. His behaviour depends upon the control exerted by the social environment" (Beyond Freedom and Dignity, Penguin Books, 1973, p. 110).
 See my Dystopia: A Natural History (Oxford University Press, 2016), pp. 34-6.
 Peter L. Berger, Brigitte Berger and Hansfried Kellner. The Homeless Mind, p. 77.
 Benedict Anderson. Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (Verso, 1991).
 Fred Davis. Yearning for Yesterday. A Sociology of Nostalgia (The Free Press, 1979), p. 1.
 Juliet B. Schor. The Overspent American. Upscaling, Downshifting, and the New Consumer (Basic Books, 1998), p. 24.
 Susan Stewart. On Longing (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984), p. 23.
 For a survey of this problem vis-à-vis John Stuart Mill, for instance, see my John Stuart Mill. A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, forthcoming).
 Leszek Kolakowski. Modernity on Endless Trial (University of Chicago Press, 1990), pp. 139, 143. The argument here turns largely on two assumptions, firstly that "human needs have no boundaries we could delineate; consequently, total satisfaction is incompatible with the variety and indefiniteness of human needs" (p. 138), and secondly opposition to "The utopian dogma stating that the evil in us has resulted from defective social institutions and will vanish with them is indeed not only puerile but dangerous; it amounts to the hope, just mentioned, for an institutionally guaranteed friendship".
by Aristotle Kallis
For centuries ‘civilisation’ has been a loaded, unstable, and ambiguous term. It has been used as a description of the present but also as an aspirational projection of a process that promises to lead to perfection. It could be seen to designate a positive process and trajectory, as well as a desired destination in the future; or conversely it could be suggestive of liberation from the ghosts of a supposedly primitive and barbaric prior human state. At times claimed to be objective or subjective, absolute or relative, universal or culture-specific, permanent or temporary and reversible, ‘civilisation’ has proved to be a formidable discursive formation that thrives in controversial polysemy.
If ‘civilisation’ is hard to pin down, its dialectical opposites too has eluded specificity. Was civilisation the antithesis or overcoming of barbarism or did it co-exist with it in a state of unity of opposites? Was it all about a zero-sum game, whereby gains in civilisation presupposed broadly equivalent distancing from a state of barbarity, and vice versa? And, perhaps more importantly, was the ‘civilising’ trajectory linear, progressive, and path-dependent or could it become subject to unpredictable movements in the opposite direction?
* * *
Exhibit number 1. In 1939, the German sociologist Norbert Elias, by that time living in Britain after having fled his home country in the wake of Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor in 1933, published his mammoth treatise Über den Prozess der Zivilisation (translated in English as The Civilizing Process). Elias saw both courtoisie—deliberate references to courtly life—and civilité as the ancestors of civilisation; but it was the middle stage (civilité), he claimed, that witnessed the cultural embedding of civility in everyday behaviour as the key driver of the ‘civilising process’. Elias also identified the gradual monopolisation and strict regulation of violence by the various institutional appendages of the modern state as conducive to a longer-term shift from externally imposed control of behaviour to individual self-restraint. The ‘civilising process’ then was the historical engine room of ‘civilisation’, the latter analysed by Elias as the cumulative outcome of deeper, sedimented over the long(er) term, changes in society (sociogenesis) that in turn effected, over time, appreciable transformations in individual and collective human behaviour (psychogenesis). This historical translation of sociogenetic/structural changes into psychogenetic/behavioural shifts underpinned and explained the gradual move towards more individual self-discipline and pacification—both qualities that Elias identified as critical to the ‘civilising process’.
It took more than three decades for Elias’s work to gain international recognition (courtesy of its translation and updated publication in English in 1969). During this long hiatus between the publication of the original German text and its English translation, his interpretive schema had been put to an extreme stress test by the atrocities of WW2 and the revelation of the full horror of the Holocaust. The interwar crisis, and the rise of National Socialism in particular, had already left a mark on the original 1939 edition, when Elias observed that the 1920s and 1930s represented a challenge to his overall historical schema:
"in the period following World War I, as compared to the pre-war period, a ‘relaxation of morals’ appears to have occurred. A number of constraints imposed on behaviour before the war have weakened or disappeared entirely. Many things forbidden earlier are now permitted. And seen at close quarters, the movement seems to be proceeding in the direction opposite to shown here."
Nevertheless this and other ‘fluctuations … criss-cross movements, shifts and spurts’ in history ought not to ‘obscure the general trend’. The ‘civilising process’, he argued, ‘does not follow a straight line’ and is prone to ‘very slight recession(s)’. More than half a century later, Elias revisited his original ‘civilising process’ thesis, this time confronting the full dystopian panorama of Nazi brutality, including of course the Holocaust and the institution of the industrialised death camp. In the face of such a devastating ‘counter-spurt’, Elias conceded that the ‘final solution’ constituted a callous reversal of the ‘civilising process’ and evidence of decivilisation that pointed, in his view, to the ‘deepest regression into barbarism’.
* * *
Exhibit number 2. When interviewed in 1991 about his early life in 1930s Shanghai, the author J G Ballard observed wryly:
"Many people have said to me, ‘What an extraordinary life you’ve had’, but of course my childhood in Shanghai was far closer to the way the majority of people on this planet, in previous centuries and in the 20th century, have lived than, say, life in Western Europe and the United States. It’s we here, in our quiet suburbs and our comparatively peaceful cities, who are the anomalies."
For Ballard ‘civilisation’ is skin-deep, fragile, transient and unpredictable, more akin to a randomly generated pattern than to a temporal arrow pointing purposefully towards the promise of a ‘better’ future. In his view, under the thin veneer of civilised society contradictory human passions continue to seethe and even intensify because of their proscribed, taboo status, at every moment threatening the comforting fantasy of purposeful collective progress. Civilisation was like the ‘thin crust of lava spewed from a volcano’, its apparent stability being more a wishful projection than an empirically validated condition. ‘If you set foot on it’, he continued, ‘you may feel the fire (underneath)’. Unsurprisingly perhaps to anyone familiar with Ballard’s dystopian fiction, his message was pessimistically cautionary: ‘we have to admit that humanity is not completely civilisable’ and therefore, as ‘the real hurricanes are starting to blow more strongly … (a)nd the wind in our heads is getting stronger day by day’, humankind had to accept that whatever we may celebrate as ‘civilisation’ was fragile, contingent, cancellable. Rather than bending inexorably towards progress, the arch of history in the Ballardian universe remained decidedly crooked.
* * *
Exhibit number 3. Zygmunt Bauman’s analysis of the Nazi ‘final solution’ as ‘rare, yet significant and reliable, test of the hidden possibilities of modern society’ involved a stinging critique of the ‘civilising process’. Bauman called it a ‘myth’ constructed on the wobbly foundations of a ‘morally elevating story of humanity emerging from pre-social barbarity’:
"in view of this myth (civilising process) … we do not have as yet enough civilisation. The unfinished civilising process is yet to be brought to its conclusion. If the lesson of mass murder does teach us anything it is that the prevention of similar hiccups of barbarism evidently requires still more civilising efforts. There is nothing in this lesson to cast doubt on the future effectiveness of such efforts and their ultimate results. We certainly move in the right direction; perhaps we do not move fast enough."
Rather than viewing the Nazi spasm of genocidal violence as a deviation from a normative historical path and a gross aberration of (Enlightenment) ‘civilisation’ (a view that historians often put forward post-WW2), Bauman contended that uncivility and violence were intrinsic to modern ‘civilisation’. He argued that modernity has provided the crucial wherewithal—technological, organisational, moral—to use violence in peerlessly extreme and devastating ways, not to mention at the service of chillingly brutal ends. Therefore, far from being a hallowed state at the end of a supposedly meaningful historical development, ‘civilisation’ was in no way antithetical to ‘barbarism’; in fact, very often the line separating the two was agonisingly thin and twisted.
* * *
The civilisation–barbarism conundrum posed in different ways by the three authors above highlights the contested meaning of ‘civilisation’ itself. For Elias civilisation was the historical mean of a particular—and fortuitous—constellation of (western) modernity that gradually took hold and generated powerful ‘civilising’ path dependences in the development of societies. It may have been a story without start or linear progression but it had produced a range of structural, attitudinal, and behavioural shifts whose effect he viewed as positive and in sharp ethical contrast to its antithesis, ‘barbarism’. Responding to the darkest episodes of the twentieth century that he lived through and experienced in a profoundly personal way, Elias concluded reluctantly that the ‘civilising process’ was not a failsafe guarantee against ‘barbarism’—but the latter was presented as the temporary or partial exception on a micro-historical sense that did not threaten the macro-historical direction of travel.
Bauman, on the other hand, narrated a very different story about modernity, this time one in which modern civilisation was potentially generative of unpredictable and uncontrollable excess. This potential for excess, reaching one of its most devastating spasm in the ‘final solution’, was no deviation from modern civilisation, no ‘counter-spurt’ in an assumed civilisational mainstream as per Elias’s own terminology, but structurally intrinsic to it. Thus Bauman’s ‘civilisation’ was a protean construct, capable of the ‘civilising’ and the ‘barbaric’ all at once, as well as evidently prone to excess, violence, and transgression when safeguards and regulation failed:
"the most vaunted accomplishments of modern civilisation failed as safeguards against barbarism. Civilisation proved incapable of guaranteeing moral use of the awesome powers it brought into being."
Ballard’s views on ‘civilisation’-versus-‘barbarism’ shared Elias’s understanding of the former as something positive and the latter as its inversion. He also echoed Bauman’s ambivalence vis-à-vis modernity as an essentially Janus-faced project, capable of generating both positive and devastating potentialities. Where Ballard stood on his own, however, was in his pessimistic view of the balance between civilisation and barbarism: if for Elias the latter was the short-term exception to the former, and for Bauman its alter ego, Ballard saw civilisation as a short, always fragile islet in the midst of multiple flows of fiery lava. He thus effectively inverted Elias’s image of exception: it was civilisation, not barbarism, that resembled a quirky and unpredictable counter-spurt. Violence and rupture, on the other hand, were never too far away, never contained, let alone tamed. To Bauman’s warning about barbarism as a mere potentiality towards which society could drift, Ballard revealed how violent excess inhered in a million everyday ‘normalities’, behaviours, and sedimented habits untouched (perhaps even untouchable?) by civilisation or modernity. That violence appeared so contained and inconspicuous in comparison to the past was not because it had now become uncommon but because it has mutated into a pervasive new normality. Thus the seeming absence of violence as the benchmark of modern civilisation was little more than a collective cultural blind spot: it appeared rare and exceptional because it had become more and more widely pervasive and routinised that it barely registered on the standard-resolution monitors of everyday life.
I am arguably exaggerating the difference between the three ‘exhibits’ because I wish to draw attention to a critical element that, in spite of their different vantage points, Elias, Ballard, and Bauman shared: the belief that the apparent drift to violence was the upshot of some kind of comprehensive systemic failure (Elias: ‘many things forbidden earlier are now permitted’; Bauman: ‘the most vaunted accomplishments of modern civilisation failed as safeguards against barbarism’; Ballard: ‘a continuous decline had been taking place for some time, a steady erosion of standards … a falling interest in civilised conventions of any kind’). The sobering message was that ‘civilisation’ was best understood as a social and moral stratagem to re/design norms of behaviour and—crucially from the point of view of self-preservation—delineate boundaries of (un)acceptability. These two components--norms and outermost boundaries--determine the ‘mainstream’ space of a society at a given point in time and space. Norms indicate desirable cognitive, attitudinal, and behavioural standards. Boundaries mark two critical thresholds that in theory ensure the very ‘safeguards’ that Bauman spoke about: first, the all-important boundary between legality and illicitness; and second, the more subtle and elusive (though at least as important) line that distinguishes tolerable from unacceptable social behaviour. Taken together, norms and boundaries map a vast and heterogeneous space of moral gradations from positive aspiration to the outermost fringes of tolerability and permissibility, with the overwhelming majority of a society’s members roaming the in-between spaces between the two poles.
It is the more elusive second boundary of (un)permissibility—the threshold of shame qua Elias—that presents the biggest challenge. Situated in the fuzzy hinterlands of mainstream society, it marks a constructed set of cultural and social fortifications against the kind of behaviour that, while openly challenging or even defying and subverting a society’s norms, is hard to delegitimise as stricto sensu illegal. Societies have always devised and promoted a set of norms in both positive/aspirational and negative/inhibitory iterations. Thus in many ways the obverse of the positive norm was (and is) not obvious illegality but a different, more vague kind of transgression of the threshold of tolerability.
The concept of taboo comes very close to capturing the essence and function of this threshold. It refers to a strong prohibition that is ethical rather than strictly juridical. There are sacred and secular taboos; taboos seemingly fixed and enduring or taboos that are pliable and more amenable to change or that—at a certain point in time and place—become even delegitimised; taboos so embedded in cultural and social practice that appear forbiddingly unquestionable and taboos with a shorter, more contested history that has rendered them less effective, less accepted, and thus more vulnerable to challenge. Taboos are negative norms and thus a particular society’s constructed taboos mirror to a significant extent its constructed norms and vice versa. Changes in one very often echo and reinforce changes in the other. When previous taboo prohibitions come under scrutiny or attack, it is usually because the positive assumptions and conventions that underpinned them have also lost their normative status in the eyes of social majorities or at least significant minorities.
However not all taboos are made equal. Some are universally operative and remain broadly unquestioned. Others rely more on the regularity and strength with which prohibition is directly and indirectly (through effectively aligning them with repugnance and the shame triggered by transgression) regulated. While some taboos have, over time, become embedded and reproducible without scrutiny, others are—or come to be seen in certain conditions—as imposed, undesirable, alien or counter-productive when it comes to the pursuit of other positive goals. Thus while taboos may become hard-coded into a society’s everyday practices and may appear unassailable most of the time, they may also come under scrutiny, be transgressed, abrogated or eroded, whether temporarily and conditionally or more permanently. As Georges Bataille observed, taboo and its transgression were in necessary—indeed relational—coexistence and mutual dependency.
Elias, unlike Bauman, made numerous references to the functions of ‘taboo’ prohibitions, whether directly enforceable or implicitly invoked, in his Civilizing Process. He understood a taboo as a social construct that marked and enforced the qualitative threshold of repugnance and shame. In many respects his entire ‘civilising process’ was the story of the gradually ‘expanding threshold of repugnance’ in modern (western) societies. This stretched from everyday manners and attitudes to bodily functions to broader moral questions such as attitudes to violence and empathy towards others. Here it was possible to observe the transition from sociogenesis to psychogenesis: what was initially enforced as either legal sanction or formal rebuke (shame) gradually became so deeply embedded in social and cultural practices that it was internalised and quasi-automatically reproduced by individuals and communities in the form of voluntary self-restraint. It was also in this macro-historical process that Elias grounded the entire ‘civilising process’ as positive path dependence: the forbidding net of repugnance became both thicker (stronger condemnation) and wider (extending in adjacent areas of social conduct). ‘Counter-spurts’ could be neither ruled out nor ignored for their devastating effects on the civilising process; yet they were not part of this story—hence the significance of the Eliasian imputation of ‘decivilising’ effect.
With this in mind it is perhaps easier to understand Elias’s earlier tendency to single out the experience of National Socialism and especially the Holocaust as extreme historical ‘regressions’ and lapses into ‘barbarism’. His trope of a ‘decivilising counter-spurt’ deployed the full armour of exception—a double negative in the civilising process used to intensify the negation of, and divergence from, ‘civilisation’ itself. While dealing in his later—post-WW2—work with the challenge posited by the full horror of totalitarianism and of the Nazi ‘final solution’, Elias imbued his earlier schema of the civilising process with more nuance. He did not question his earlier conviction that, over time, structural shifts became culturally embedded and effected behavioural changes. In his attempt to explain the National Socialist ‘regression’ from the canon of the civilising process, he treaded a delicate and sometimes awkward path between (German) exceptionalism and broader critiques of modernity qua Bauman. He therefore conceded that, on the one hand, the drift to extreme violence in interwar Germany was also facilitated by ‘common conditions of contemporary societies’ and that the ideas that nurtured National Socialism and ensured its social appeal in the 1930s were far from unique to Germany or even the interwar crisis.
"Few of the social and, especially, the national myths of our age are free of similar falsehoods and barbarisms. The National Socialist doctrine shows, as if in a distorting mirror, some of their common features in a glaring form." 
Still the historical specificities in the case of German history did matter because, in his view, they went a long way towards explaining the depth and severity of the Nazi ‘counter-spurt’. The problem with interwar Germany, Elias claimed, was that short-term contingencies intersected with, and intensified, longer-term peculiarities (late unification, middle-class weakness, anachronistic social structures, and so on). Sociogenetic idiosyncrasies or shortfalls graduated into allegedly irregular psychogenetic traits. The overall translation schema (from structure to behaviour) still worked as a macro-historical interpretation; the issue with modern/interwar Germany was with the particular long-term social and political trajectory that had produced the particular structures in the first instance. Taboos were in place and the threshold of repugnance had been raised, very much in line with the precepts of the ‘civilising process’. Yet at a certain point the taboos proved—perhaps, more accurately, they were revealed to be—not strong enough to regulate and enforce the prohibition, let alone to embed it as standard social practice.
Elias was only too keen to highlight how the transgression of the taboo of violence formed the backbone of the Nazi ‘regression’ into ‘barbarism’. The taboo prohibition of violence directed at other humans may be arguably rooted in the (universal) ‘animal pity by which all normal men are afflicted in the presence of human suffering’; but it can also be relativised, qualified, and effectively transgressed in a seemingly normative, legitimate and authorised disguise. The formula ‘transcending without suppressing’ identified by Bataille underlined how a taboo can be fully operative in 'normal’ times but can legitimately be transgressed when a perceived crisis, threat or emergency generated the possibility of exception—an exception within or alongside the prohibition itself. Back to the 1930s and the German case, it must be remembered that the regime headed by Hitler operated as a ‘normal’ constitutional arrangement for just twenty-nine days. In the wake of the arson attack that destroyed the Reichstag building in late February 1933 the declared ‘state of exception’ granted the executive extraordinary legal and political powers with which to counter the alleged emergency. Of course exception was not per se an illegal deviation from the constitutional order: Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution that Hitler instrumentalised in 1933 had already been used by the liberal Chancellor Gustav Stresemann in September 1923 in order to confront the Ruhr crisis. Yet while Stresemann’s use of constitutional emergency powers lasted five months, Hitler’s proved a prelude to a permanent exception and licence for transgression. The trope of crisis beget exception and exception beget the theoretically open-ended potential for deeper and wider authorised transgression. In a similar way to violence as authorised transgression in a state of war, Nazi violence was uniquely transgressive as an exception to the otherwise affirmed taboo prohibition as ‘normal’ condition.
From this point of view, what Elias saw as the ‘deepest regression into barbarism’ in the 1930s and 1940s, in Germany but arguably elsewhere as well, was not the product of failing taboos regarding civility, let alone intra-human violence. The paradox of the National Socialist violent spasm was it was peerless in the brutality of its logic, methods, and effects yet strikingly banal as an ‘exception’ and unremarkable as a step-by-step justification. Exception was practised on every level and in the name of national self-defence not in order to abrogate the taboo of violence but in order to suspend it in a limited and conditional way—only against particular groups of ‘others’, only in specific spaces, only under the guise of an ‘external war’, only for as long as it was deemed necessary in order to eliminate the claimed ‘threat’. Extreme, transgressive violence against the existentially threatening ‘other’ cohabited with intense group self-love. The problem was not only, not even primarily excess or violation per se but their conditional sanctioning and normalisation. If taboos are indeed negative norms, if they correspond to a large extent to positive projections, then the Nazis did very little to disrupt the symmetry on either end. The ‘civilising process’ carried on in principle—but for the exclusive benefit of the ethnic/racial majority. By redefining the community, ostracising a host of allegedly dangerous ‘others’, and invoking the necessity of exception, the Nazi authorities could also generate zones of authorised conditional taboo-breaking excess. Even in the darkest days of the war, the two—the taboo of violence and its extreme transgression—continued to cohabit in the same abode but in strictly quarantined rooms.
Therefore it may be that Elias posited the ‘civilising process’ in a way that was too tidy and arguably too normative. The upshot of this was he was often forced to reckon with false positives and felt the need to resort to the awkwardly dualistic explanation of ‘regression to barbarity’ in order to defend the historical validity of his overall theory of civilisation against violent ‘counter-spurts’. By comparison, Ballard’s conception of ‘civilisation’ was a much less tidy space riddled with contradictions and zigzags, where both ‘civilising’ movements and ‘decivilising’ spurts constantly fought it out without definitive winner or overall plot. Whereas Elias encountered the threshold of the taboo prohibition as the furthermost outpost of civilisation, and Bauman approached it as the point of the critical equilibrium between two anti-diametrical potentials inherent in ‘civilised’ modernity, Ballard saw it as a brittle and inevitably short-lived truce. Such an ambivalent and pessimistic view may be unsettling for it hypothesises a different kind of ‘civilisation’—one that is often self-contradictory and morally directionless, where individual self-restraint, empathy, and civility coexist incongruously with uncivility, violent excess, and taboo-breaking transgression, whether as norm or as exception or more often both. Rather than viewing the ‘civilising process’ as a story of meaningful advancement in which every ‘counter-spurt’ needs to be tagged with ‘decivilising’ effect and treated as aberrant, we may instead approach it less as ‘civilising’ (that is, conducive to ‘civilisation’ as an index of progress) and more as an essentially direction-less ‘process’ of negotiating and balancing—always precariously and inconclusively—a multitude of contradictory impulses and ’spurts’.
 Florence Delmotte and Christophe Majastre, “Violence and Civilité: The Ambivalences of the State in Norbert Elias’s Theory of Civilizing Processes”, 9th EISA Pan-European Conference (2015), 55-80.
 Bryan S. Turner, “Weber and Elias on Religion and Violence: Warrior Charisma and the Civilizing Process”, in Steven Loyal and Stephen Quilley (eds.), The Sociology of Norbert Elias (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 245–64.
 François Dépelteau, Enio Passiani, and Ricardo Mariano, “Ariel or Caliban? The Civilizing Process and Its Critiques”, in François Dépelteau and Tatiana Landini (eds.), Norbert Elias and Social Theory (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2013), 41–59.
 Dépelteau and Landini, 20-40.
 Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), 157.
 Norbert Elias, The Germans: Power Struggles and the Development of Habitus in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Cambridge: Polity, 1996), 308–15.
 Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust (Cambridge: Polity, 2000), 12-13.
 For example, Friedrich Meinecke, The German Catastrophe: Reflections and Recollections (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1963).
 Jeffrey Herf, Reactionary Modernism: Technology, Culture, and Politics in Weimar and the Third Reich (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).
 John Keane, Violence and Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 54–88.
 Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust, 111.
 Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity (Cambridge: Polity, 2000).
 Cristina Bicchieri, Norms in the Wild: How to Diagnose, Measure, and Change Social Norms (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).
 Aristotle Kallis, “When Fascism Became Mainstream: The Challenge of Extremism in Times of Crisis”, Fascism 4(1) (2015), 6–11.
 Chaim Fershtman, Uri Gneezy, and Moshe Hoffman, “Taboos and Identity: Considering the Unthinkable”, American Economic Journal: Microeconomics 3(2) (2011), 139–64.
 Bicchieri, Norms in the Wild, viii.
 Benjamin Noys, Georges Bataille: A Critical Introduction (London: Pluto Press, 2000), 84–6.
 Elias, The Civilizing Process, 71–99.
 Stephen Mennell, “Decivilising Processes: Theoretical Significance and Some Lines of Research”, International Sociology 5(2) (1990), 205–23; Jonathan Fletcher, “Towards a Theory of Decivilizing Processes”, Amsterdams Sociologisch Tijdschrift 22(2) (1995), 283–96.
 Stephen Mennell, “The Other Side of the Coin: Decivilising Processes”, in Thomas Salumets (ed.) Norbert Elias and Human Interdependencies (Montreal, QC: McGill–Queen’s University Press, 2001), 32-49; Mennell, “Decivilising processes”.
 Elias, The Germans, 302–3, 315.
 Eric Dunning and Stephen Mennell, “Elias on Germany, Nazism and the Holocaust: On the Balance Between ‘Civilizing’ and ‘Decivilizing’ Trends in the Social Development of Western Europe”, The British Journal of Sociology 49(3) (1998), 339; cf. Moses on Elias, 'The Germans: Power Struggles and the Development of Habitus in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries’, H-German, February 1999, available at https://networks.h-net.org/node/35008/reviews/43630/moses-elias-germans-power-struggles-and-development-habitus-nineteenth
 Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2006), 106.
 Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 15.
 Agamben, State of Exception, 3.
 Georges Bataille, Death and Sensuality (New York, NY: Walker and Co, 1962), 71–80; Stuart Kendall, Georges Bataille (London: Reaktion Books, 2007), 151–8.
 Karel Plessini, The Perils of Normalcy: George L. Mosse and the Remaking of Cultural History (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014), 93–130.
by Tejas Parasher
It is difficult to overstate just how much of a watershed moment the immediate aftermath of WWI was for modern democracy. No previous global crisis had revealed on such a scale the self-destructiveness and the fundamental unsustainability—political, economic, and military—of the European states-system. Writing from London in 1917, the British economist John Hobson predicted the rise of new movements which would increasingly seek to disentangle democracy from the military-industrial state; as a result of the war, Hobson argued, “not only the spirit but the very forms of popular self-government have suffered violation.” The war had made clear in stark terms the ever-present possibilities of autocracy and violence underneath the veneer of democracy in modern states.
Hobson’s observation proved prescient. The months after November 1918 witnessed a proliferation of political experiments, ranging from the council communism of the Spartacus League in Berlin to pluralism and guild socialism in Britain, France, and the United States, bringing together political and legal thinkers like Rosa Luxemburg, Léon Duguit, Harold Laski, and G.D.H. Cole. Though distinct in their respective ideologies, these movements were all propelled by disillusionment with the representative, parliamentary republics created in Western Europe through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
That diagnosis was not restricted to pacifists and democrats. Carl Schmitt asserted confidently in The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy (1923) that nineteenth-century liberal models of representative government inherited from John Stuart Mill and François Guizot had outlived their usefulness in a new age of mass politics, and only remained standing “through sheer mechanical perseverance as an empty apparatus.”
But how the problem that Schmitt called “the crisis of parliamentary democracy” was perceived beyond Europe and North America after 1918 still remains a largely untold story. In recent years, historians have uncovered the depth of interaction between subject peoples in the colonial world and the various political ideologies and institutional proposals circulating in Europe in the wake of the Great War. A notable example is Susan Pedersen’s exemplary study of petitions submitted to the League of Nations Permanent Mandates Commission by groups in the Middle East, the South Pacific, and south-western and eastern Africa, demanding political independence from imperial rule. A much less examined aspect of this period, though, is the orientation of anti-colonial thinkers and leaders towards the critiques of nation-state sovereignty and representative democracy consuming European political thought of the time. To put it differently, how were Hobson and Schmitt’s diagnoses of the post-WWI situation understood in Bombay or Cairo, instead of in London or Berlin? The point of such an inquiry is both to provide a more global historiography of the early twentieth-century crisis of parliamentarism and to better understand the full range of political thought precipitated by the crisis.
My recent research explores these themes through an examination of the rise of a normative challenge to representative democracy, particularly its nineteenth-century parliamentary variant, within Indian political thought between 1918 and 1928. My focus is on a group of historians and philosophers based at the north Indian universities of Allahabad and Lucknow and at the southern University of Mysore. Identifying themselves as political pluralists, these writers turned to pre-modern Indian history to unearth forms of classical republicanism and participatory law-making. Their books, pamphlets, and draft constitutions contained the earliest theories of direct democracy as a tangible constitutional ideal in modern South Asia.
By the mid-1910s, there was an established, well-organised nationalist movement in the Crown Territories of British India. For three decades, the Indian National Congress (INC) had been lobbying for political and economic reform within the empire. Politically, the INC sought the introduction of a parliamentary system elected through adult suffrage, modelled on the settler colonies of Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Parliamentarism was seen both as a distinctively English achievement and, as an arrangement wherein only representatives deliberated and legislated, as the most effective way of selecting members of an educated, urban elite to govern in the interests of the wider population.
Thus, between 1885 and 1915, Dadabhai Naoroji, a key figure in the evolution of Indian nationalism, repeatedly defined the Indian demand for self-rule (swaraj) as an extension of parliamentary principles established in England after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and imported to the satellite states of the Anglosphere by the late nineteenth century. Even as nationalist politics came to be divided between liberal and revolutionary camps from the first decade of the new century, the embrace of parliamentarism remained secure. For the revolutionary leader Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who constantly linked Indian nationalism with the struggles for Home Rule in Ireland and Egypt and was hailed by Lenin as a “democrat” in 1908, swaraj meant the election of members of political parties into self-governing representative institutions. For all the disagreement over tactics, early nationalist arguments in India converged on a view of popular self-government as an indirect electoral enterprise, exercised by a limited number of deputies on behalf of the citizenry.
From 1918, the nationalist attempt to mediate popular sovereignty through the established procedures of parliamentary representation provoked a reaction amongst a new group of writers who held a different understanding of swaraj. A key moment in the fracturing of the consensus around parliamentary government was the publication of Radhakumud Mookerji’s Local Government in Ancient India in 1919. Mookerji was born in rural Bengal in 1884 and trained as a historian at the University of Calcutta. The backdrop to his political formation was the upsurge of anti-British agitation in eastern India in 1905, known as the swadeshi movement, which highlighted to him the role of historical narratives in shaping anti-colonial nationalist politics. Radhakumud eventually settled at the University of Lucknow as Professor of Ancient Indian History.
Local Government in Ancient India was a strikingly presentist political book to have been written by an academic historian. Radhakumud challenged the Indian National Congress’ uncritical acceptance of parliamentary government. He insisted that WWI had made clear not only that parliamentary republics did not always express the full will of their people, but that representative institutions under the conditions of modern economic life, electioneering, and party politics could easily be co-opted by political and economic elites and interest groups. In seeking to transpose the nineteenth-century English system of electoral representation into India in the 1910s, the Congress was essentially introducing “self-rule from above,” leaving the power to make and amend law in the hands of a relatively small political class.
Radhakumud’s response was to turn to constitutional models from ancient and medieval South Asia. Relying on recent archival discoveries of Sanskrit and Pali-language treatises and archaeological inscriptions from southern India in the ninth and tenth centuries CE, Radhakumud made the claim that pre-modern Indian states had been elaborate federal structures consisting of semi-independent local jurisdictions overseen by a central monarchy. The jurisdictions themselves were governed by large citizens’ assemblies (sabha) consisting of adult house-holders; the sabha performed all legislative, executive, and judicial functions, and chose sub-committees for specialised functions on the basis of sortition.
Radhakumud was not the first modern Indian writer to give a republican re-interpretation of states which had frequently been denigrated in terms of either Oriental despotism or ungoverned anarchy, as in James Mill’s History of British India (1817). But Radhakumud was the first to consider a medieval federation of citizens’ assemblies as a viable political model for the twentieth century, as a real alternative to parliamentarism. Much to the chagrin of other historians, Radhakumud proposed that replicating a system of citizens’ assemblies provided a coherent model of direct democracy, much more participatory than the models of representative government espoused by the INC leadership.
Local Government in Ancient India went through two English editions in 1919 and 1920. Its core thesis was reproduced in a number of other Indian texts from the 1920s, including Brajendranath Seal’s Report on the Constitution of Mysore (1923), Radhakamal Mukerjee’s Democracies of the East (1923), and Beni Prasad’s A Few Suggestions on the Problem of the Indian Constitution (1928). Radhakamal Mukerjee’s Democracies of the East—from which I draw the title of this post—was the most detailed example of the genre. Radhakamal Mukerjee decried the nationalist acceptance of the English model of electoral representation, premised on suffrage, political parties, and parliamentary supremacy, as insufficiently democratic. Nationalist politics limited legislative sovereignty to “a certain small and well-defined class which packs and directs the assembly, and speaks in the name of the people.” Radhakamal accordingly presented the creation of directly democratic assemblies patterned on medieval Asian states as a way to overcome the structural hierarchies of sovereignty embedded within parliamentary government. As in Local Government in Ancient India, the reconstruction of pre-modern republicanism was a response to the perceived inability of parliamentary states to allow for wide political participation.
Democracies of the East framed its program of historical recovery as an attempt to avoid the fate of European parliamentary regimes during WWI—in particular the threat of unaccountable governance by a class of periodically elected political elites, the conversion of popular rule into the rule of a few. Indeed, Radhakamal Mukerjee saw his proposals as part of a wider trans-national backlash against statism and representative democracy between 1918 and 1923, praising movements such as syndicalism, pluralism, and guild socialism in Western Europe, the Middle East, East Asia, and beyond. Indian history was for him a repertoire of intellectual resources to aid these movements in the imagination of new democratic futures. He was especially drawn to the guild socialist G.D.H. Cole, aligning his own intellectual project with the latter’s attempts to revive medieval practices of self-management in associational life in lieu of electoral forms of labour politics. While there is no evidence that Democracies of the East was read in the British guild socialist circles around G.D.H. Cole, in the mid-1930s Radhakamal did travel to London to meet with Cole’s fellow pluralist Ernest Barker at the Institute of Sociology.
The Indian pluralists’ visions of participatory democracy remained academic experiments in the 1920s, never really taken up by political movements on the ground. By the late 1940s, the dominant constitutional paradigm in India came to be narrowed into a demand for sovereign statehood and parliamentary democracy. As John Dunn has argued, in such circumstances the mid-century transition from imperial rule was unable to be a truly transformative rupture with the state-form of representative democracy ubiquitous in Western Europe following the Second World War.
Given these subsequent developments, returning to the defeated democratic traditions emergent in the immediate aftermath of WWI in British India is an exercise of intellectual retrieval. It allows us to reconstruct the contours of a discourse and ideology at odds with the tradition of self-government which eventually triumphed with independence. The existence of the pluralist discourse indicates, above all, how the profound crisis of liberalism and modern democratic thinking that Carl Schmitt associated with the European 1920s was a global phenomenon stretching far beyond Europe.
In South Asia, these years were similarly an opening for thinkers to challenge the principles of representative government consolidated in the region’s political thought and practice by the 1910s—principles which, in the hands of nationalist leaders, would re-assert their dominance by the 1940s. The civilisational language that Indian pluralists adopted in their opposition to representative democracy—turning to an invented tradition of ‘Asian’ republicanism—was of course strikingly different from Schmitt or Hobson. Yet their turn to history was a response to similar underlying political dynamics, produced by a shared global moment of transformation and experimentation in theories of sovereignty and collective self-government.
 J.A. Hobson, Democracy after the War (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1917), 15.
 Carl Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, trans. Ellen Kennedy (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985), 21.
 Susan Pedersen, The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).
 Tejas Parasher, “Federalism, Representation, and Direct Democracy in 1920s India,” Modern Intellectual History (January 2021): 1-29. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/modern-intellectual-history/article/federalism-representation-and-direct-democracy-in-1920s-india/625B0116F57186A02ABE261B001012CE.
 Radhakumud Mookerji, Local Government in Ancient India, 1st ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1919).
 Radhakamal Mukerjee, Democracies of the East: A Study in Comparative Politics (London: P.S. King & Son, 1923), 356.
 Mukerjee, Democracies of the East, 340-41. Also see G.D.H. Cole, Self-Government in Industry (London: G. Bell and Sons Ltd., 1918).
 Radhakamal Mukerjee, India: The Dawn of a New Era (An Autobiography) (New Delhi: Radha Publications, 1997), 166.
 John Dunn, Setting the People Free: The Story of Democracy, 2nd ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019), 154.
by Yiftah Elazar and Efraim Podoksik
When liberals and libertarians speak of liberty today, they often think of it as ‘negative’, in the sense of being left to our own devices, especially by the government. The distinction between ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ liberty was popularised by Isaiah Berlin, the twentieth century British historian of ideas and philosopher, whose 1958 lecture ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’ has made it into a staple of late modern political thought.
Berlin portrayed negative liberty as a liberal political ideal, but he was no libertarian in the American sense of minimal government and anti-welfare state. Some of his libertarian followers have taken the argument further. They have advocated the maximisation of negative liberty and the corresponding minimisation of the state. In popular political discourse, the idealisation of negative liberty has produced a belief, famously articulated by United States President Ronald Reagan, that ‘government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem’.
Surprisingly, however, when the concept of negative liberty first emerged in early modern political thought, it was not conceived as a political ideal. It was more like an anti-ideal. Thomas Hobbes and Jeremy Bentham, the two most important theorists of negative liberty in early modern political thought, both used the negative definition of liberty as a deflationary device, in order to deflate democratic political language.
Hobbes argued that democratic writers were conceptually confused about the meaning of liberty, which led them, in turn, to democratic excess. The Hobbesian definition of liberty as the absence of external impediments was supposed to pour a bucket of cold water on their excessive demands for freedom. Bentham, who popularised the claim that the idea of liberty is ‘negative’, used his negative definition of liberty as an ideological weapon. Writing on the concept of liberty during the American Revolution, he expressed his wish, intended to ‘cut the throat’ of what he believed to be a false and dangerous rhetoric of liberty and rights serving the cause of pro-American ‘democratic fanaticism’. He thought that the pro-American democrats had confused notion of liberty as something ‘positive’ (in the sense of being something real and desirable), and he wanted to rid them of their illusions.
On its road from Bentham to contemporary libertarianism, then, the negative idea of liberty has undergone a curious transformation. It has turned from a deflationary device to a central ideal. How did this happen? This is the historical puzzle that has caught our imagination. We are making the task of addressing it more manageable by revisiting Berlin’s account and fleshing out some of the ideological history underlying it. Two themes in particular, that Berlin’s piece had obscured, deserve examining.
First, the theme of negative liberty and democracy. Negative liberty has served, in different historical moments, as an ideological weapon against radical democracy. But it also points to an important shift in the manner in which the negative conception of liberty has been deployed against radical democracy. Hobbes and Bentham used it as deflationary device against what they saw as the confused demand for excessive freedom from restraint. But from the eighteenth century onwards, Whigs and liberals shifted towards the endorsement of liberty as a moderate liberal ideal, which must be protected from democratic despotism or, in a later phrasing, from ‘totalitarian democracy’.
Second, the late and contingent association of the liberal conception of liberty with the idea of negativity. The liberal tradition was slow to adopt the classical utilitarian argument that the idea of liberty is ‘negative’. It is only towards the mid-twentieth century that several historical contingencies—the disentanglement of liberty from democracy, the rise of ‘positive’ liberty and its association with totalitarianism, and what we describe as ‘the fashion of negativity’ in the twentieth-century interwar years—combined to create ‘negative liberty’ as a central liberal ideal.
Let’s take this a bit more slowly. One way of tracing the history of the negative idea of liberty is to keep our eye on a tradition of Whig and liberal political thought that advocated individual liberty as a moderate ideal. Prior to this tradition, demands for liberty were often associated with radical democratic politics. But in the work of Montesquieu, and in the debates that took place in the context of the American Revolution, liberty was disengaged from democracy and associated with moderation.
The French Revolution exerted crucial influence on the development of an antagonism between individual liberty and democracy. The peculiar circumstance that the Jacobins employed the slogans of liberty while conducting a campaign of systematic violence gave birth to a discourse that placed liberty squarely at the centre of the political map, threatened by both the political left and right. Thus emerged nineteenth-century French liberalism as the centrist ideology of the post-Revolutionary era.
The historical divorce of liberty from radical democratic politics and its transformation into a liberal ideal reached its apex in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution. If previously many radical currents felt themselves generally at ease with the promotion of ‘bourgeois’ freedoms, now under the influence of the Soviet regime the very idea of these freedoms became more and more suspect. This allowed the critics of the leftist regimes to forge the notion of totalitarian democracy and identify it with the revolutionary left. This term—‘totalitarian democracy’—was thus adopted by centrist liberals to describe regimes emerging out of the radical democratic rhetoric of the Bolsheviks. The historical divorce of liberty from radical politics was completed. Liberty was now firmly situated in the sphere of non-revolutionary bourgeois politics.
This schematic account clarifies the historical context for the tendency of Cold War liberals like Berlin to depict liberty as an ideal that faces hostility both from the radical left and from the reactionary right, depicting both extremes as versions of totalitarianism. But it does not explain how the supposed clash between Western democracy and totalitarianism came to be perceived in terms of an opposition between negative and positive liberty.
To understand that part, we looked, first, to the legacy of German Idealist philosophy and its relation to the twentieth-century debates on totalitarianism. It is in Kant and Hegel that we find the idea of ‘positive’ liberty as a conceptually valid and normatively superior idea of freedom. This new understanding of liberty greatly influenced the British Idealists, such as T.H. Green and Bernard Bosanquet, who brought the dialectic of negative and positive liberty into the British philosophical scene.
In the work of some of the younger theorists of new liberalism, such as J.A. Hobson and L.T. Hobhouse, the idea of positive liberty was used in order assign the state the task of removing via social reforms obstacles to the mutual cooperation of harmonious individuals, thus liberating rather than suppressing the spontaneous energies of individuals. But in the work of German romantics such as Adam Müller, liberty was taken to contain a strong conservative element. It espoused the ideal of devotion to a national collective and advocated an increased role of the state in the life of the society and culture.
When this German ‘conservative’ tradition, as Karl Mannheim described it, was supplanted by a movement of conservative revolution, and, in turn, by Nazi totalitarianism, its ‘qualitative’ or ‘ethical’ conception of liberty was coloured in a much more sinister light. Liberal critics such as Karl Popper accused German advocates of positive liberty of substituting the true meaning of liberty with its exact opposite. At the same time, liberal critics began to blur differences between the anti-liberal right and left, so that qualitative liberty began to be ascribed to both. Thinkers such as Rousseau and Marx, whose radical and emancipationist credentials had formerly been beyond doubt, were now associated with the reactionary rejection of liberty.
The critique of positive liberty opened the possibility of a complementary movement: the transformation of negative liberty into a positive ideal. But to complete this latter part of the story, we need one more component, which we have described as ‘the fashion of negativity’.
Philosophically, the interwar years were the period in which the logical positivists and the British realists successfully demolished the influence of philosophical Idealism, and advocated, instead, sceptical modesty. Culturally, the worldview of the post-World War I generation was marked by anxiety, alarm, and even despair. ‘Negative’ carried a tone of sophistication and superiority over pre-War naïveté. In this context, to prefer ‘negative’ over ‘positive’, even while admitting the philosophical power of the ‘positive’, would not appear as rhetorically self-defeating. On the contrary, opponents of ‘negative liberty’ were faulted for sinning against a commonsensical, modest idea of liberty.
This brief account suggests that the tortuous history of negative liberty has led not only to its transformation into a central liberal ideal, but also to an ironic reversal of its original purpose. Hobbes and Bentham defined liberty in negative terms not in order to turn it into an object of ideological worship. On the contrary, they wanted to diffuse the passions aroused by the language of liberty. Ironically, shifting ideological contexts have turned this act of rhetorical diffusion into a magnet for new political passions.
 On this, see Yiftah Elazar, ‘Liberty as a Caricature: Bentham’s Antidote to Republicanism’, Journal of the History of Ideas 76(3) (2015), 417–39.