by Lenon Campos Maschette
Over the past few centuries, the concept of civil society has shifted a few times to the centre of political debate. The end of the 20th century witnessed one of these moments. From the 1980s, civil society resurfaced as a central political idea, an important conceptual tool to address all types of social and political problems as well as describe social formations. At the end of the last century, a general criticism of the state and its inability to solve key social problems and the search for a ‘post-statist’ politics were problems shared by several countries that allowed the civil society debate to spread globally.
In Britain, ideologies of the right had an important role in this movement. From the 1980s, all the discussions around community and citizen participation have to be analysed, at least in part, within the context of how the nature and function of the state were being reshaped, especially through the changes proposed by right-wing intellectuals and politicians. This tendency is even more noticeable within the British Conservative Party. In one of the most important works on the British Conservative Party and civil society, E. H. H. Green argues that the Conservative Party’s state theory throughout the 20th century was more concerned with the effectiveness of civil society bodies than with the role of the state. Therefore, it is a long tradition that was continued and reinforced by Thatcher’s leadership.
As I argued in another work, the Thatcher government redefined the concept of citizenship and placed civil society at the centre of its model of citizenship. In this new article, I want to compliment that and argue that civil society had vital importance in Thatcher’s project. From this perspective, the Thatcher government redefined the idea of civil society, regarded as the space par excellence for citizenship—at least in the way Thatcherism understood it. Thatcherism attributed to civil society and its institutions a central role in the socialisation of individuals and the transmission of traditional values. It was the place par excellence of individual moral development and, consequently, citizenship.
Thatcherism and civil society
The Conservative Party never abandoned the defence of civil associations as both important institutions to deliver public services and essential spaces for maintaining and transmitting shared values. Throughout the post-WW2 period, the Party continuously emphasised the importance of the diversity of voluntary associations, and as a response to the growing dissatisfaction with statutory welfare, support for more flexible, dynamic, and local voluntary provision became part of its 1979 manifesto.
As already mentioned, civil society had virtually disappeared from the public debate and Thatcher herself rarely used the term ‘civil society’. However, the idea had a central role within Thatcherism. As the article will show, the Conservatives were constantly thinking about the intermediary structures between individuals and the state, and from these reflections we can try to comprehend how they saw these institutions, their roles, and their relationships. According to the Conservatives, civil society was being threatened by a social philosophy that had placed the state at the centre of social life to the detriment of communities. In fact, civil society had not disappeared, but was experiencing profound changes. In a more affluent and ‘post-materialistic’ society, individuals had turned their attention from first material needs to identities, fulfilment, and greater quality of life. Charities and religious associations had also changed their strategies and came close to the approach and methods of secular and modern voluntary associations, loosening their moralistic and evangelical language and adopting a more political and socially concerned discourse. These are important transformations that are the basis of how the Thatcher government linked the politicisation of these institutions with the demise of civil society.
Thatcher always made clear that voluntary associations and civil institutions were central to her ‘revolutionary’ project. The Conservatives under Thatcher regarded the civil institutions as the best means to reach more vulnerable people and the perfect space for participation and self-expression. The neighbourhood, this smallest social ‘unit,’ was more personal and effective than larger and more bureaucratic bodies. Furthermore, civil society empowered individuals by giving them the opportunity to participate in local communities and make a difference. It is noteworthy that Thatcher’s individualism was not synonymous with an atomised and isolated individual. Thatcher did not have a libertarian view about the individuals. As she argued to the Greater Young Conservatives group, ‘there is not and cannot possibly be any hard and fast antithesis between self-interest and care for others, for man is a social creature … brought up in mutual dependence.’ According to her, there was no conflict between her ‘individualism and social responsibility,’ as individuals and community were connected and ‘personal efforts’ would ‘enhance the community’, not ‘undermine’ it. She believed in a community of free and responsible individuals, ‘held together by mutual dependence … [and] common customs.’ Working in the local and familiar, within civil associations and voluntary bodies, individuals, in seeking their own purposes and goals, would also achieve common objectives, discharge their obligations to the community and serve their fellows and God. And here is the key role of civil and voluntary bodies. They were responsible for guaranteeing traditional standards and transmitting common customs. By participating in these associations, individuals would achieve their own interests but also feel important, share values, strengthen social ties, and create a distinctive identity. Thatcherites believed that voluntary associations, charities, and civil institutions had a central position in the rebirth of civic society. These conceptions partly resonated with a conservative tradition that recognised the intermediated structures as institutions responsible for balancing freedom and order. For conservatives, civil institutions and associations have always played a central role within civil society as institutions responsible for socialising and moralising individuals.
From the Thatcherite perspective, these ‘little platoons’—a term formulated by Edmund Burke, and used by conservatives such as Douglas Hurd, Brian Griffiths, and Thatcher herself to qualify local associations and institutions—provided people a space to develop a sense of community, civic responsibility, and identity. Therefore, Thatcher and her entourage believed that civil society had many fundamental and intertwined roles: it empowered individuals through participation; it developed citizenship; it was a repository of traditions; it transmitted values and principles; it created an identity and social ties; and it was a place to discharge individuals’ obligations to their community and God.
The state—not Thatcherism, nor indeed the market—isolated individuals by stepping into civil society spaces and breaking apart the intermediary institutions. In expanding beyond its original attributions, the state had eclipsed civil associations and institutions. Centralisation and politicisation were weakening ‘mediating structures,’ making people feel ‘powerless’ and depriving individuals of relieving themselves from ‘their isolation.’ It was also opening a space for a totalitarian state enterprise. While the state was creating an isolated, dependent, and passive citizenry, the new social movements were politicising every single civil society space, fostering divisiveness and resentment.
The great issue here was politicisation. Civil and local spaces had been politicised. The local councils were promoting anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-homophobic agendas, local government and trade unions were encouraging riots and operating ‘to break, defy, and subvert the law’ and the Church was ‘failing the people of England.’ Neoconservatives drew attention to both the intervention and politicisation from the state but also from social movements such as feminism. As shown earlier, civil society dynamics had changed and new and more politicised movements emerged. John Moore, a minister and another long-term member of Thatcher’s cabinet, complained that modern voluntary organisations changed their emphases from service groups to pressure groups. That is the reason why Thatcher, in spite of increasing grants to the voluntary sector, carefully selected those associations with principles related to ‘self-help and enterprise,’ that encouraged ‘civic pride’ while also discouraging grants to institutions previously funded by left-wing councils.
The state and the new social movements had politicised and dismantled civil society spaces, especially the conservatives' two most important civil institutions: the family and the Church. Thatcherism placed the family at the centre of civil society. Along with the ‘surrounding community of friends and neighbours,’ the family was a key institution to ‘individual development.’ This perspective dialogued with a conservative idea that came directly from Burke and placed the family at the core of civil society. From a Burkean perspective, the family was an essential institution for civilisation as it had two fundamental roles: acting as the ‘bulwarks against tyranny’ and against the ‘perils of individualism.’ The family was important as the first space of socialisation and affection and, consequently, the first individual responsibility. Within the family, moral values were kept and transmitted through generations, preventing degeneration and dependence. Thatcher’s government identified the family as the ‘very nursery of civil virtue’ and created the Family Policy Group to rebuild family life and responsibility. The family also had a decisive role in checking the state authority. Along with neoconservatives, Thatcherites believed that the welfare state and ‘permissiveness’ had broken down the family and its core functions. From this perspective, the most important civil institution had been corrupted by the state and the new social movements. If Thatcherism dialogued with neoliberalism and its criticism of the state, it was also influenced by conservative ideas of civil society and neoconservative arguments against the new social movements and the welfare state. Despite some tensions, Thatcherism was successful in combining neoliberal and neoconservative ideas.
The other main civil institution was the Church. Many of Thatcher’s political convictions were moral, rooted in puritan Christian values nurtured during her upbringing. Thatcher and many of her allies believed that Christianity was the foundation of British society and its values had to be widely shared. The churches were responsible for exercising ‘over [the] manners and morality of the people’ and were the most important social tool to moralise individuals. Only their leaders had the moral authority ‘to strengthen individual moral standards’ and the ‘shared beliefs’ that provide people with a moral framework to prevent freedom to became something destructive and negative.
Thus, the conservatives had the goal of depoliticising civil society. It should be a state- and political-free space. Thatcher’s active citizen was an apolitical one. The irony is that the Thatcher administration made these institutions even more dependent on state funding. Thatcherism was incapable of comprehending the new dynamics of civil institutions. The diverse small institutions, mainly composed of volunteer workers, had been replaced by larger, more bureaucratic and professionalised ones closely related to the state.
If the state and, consequently, politicians could not moralise individuals—which, in part, explains the lack of a moral agenda in the period of Thatcher’s government, a fact so criticised by the more traditional right, since ‘values cannot be given by the state or politician,’ as she proclaimed in 1978—other civil society institutions not only could, but had a duty to promote certain values.
The Thatcher government and communities
From the mid-1980s, the Conservative Strategy Group advised the party to emphasise the idea of a ‘good neighbour’ as a very distinct conservative concept. The Conservative Party turned its eyes to the issue of communities and several ministers started to work on policies related to neighbourliness. At the same time, Thatcher’s Policy Unit also started thinking of ways to rebuild ‘community infrastructure’ and its voluntary and non-profit organisations. The civil associations more and more were being seen by the government as an essential instrument in changing people’s views and beliefs.
As we have seen, it was compatible with the Thatcherite project. However, it was also a practical answer to rising social problems and an increasingly conservative perception, towards the end of the 1980s, that Thatcher’s administration failed to change individual beliefs and civil society actors, groups, and institutions. And then, we begin to note the tensions between Thatcherite ideas and their implications for the community.
Thatcherites believed in a community that was first and foremost moral. The community was made up of many individuals brought up by mutual dependence and shared values and, as such, carrying duties prior to rights. That is why all these civic institutions were so important. They should restrain individual anti-social behaviour through the wisdom of shared ‘traditional social norms that went with them.’ The community should set standards and penalise irresponsible behaviour. A solid religious base was therefore so important to the moral civil society framework. And here Thatcher was always very straightforward that this religious basis was a Christian one. Despite preaching against state intervention, Thatcher was clear about the central role of compulsory religious education to teach children ‘the difference between right and wrong.’ In order to properly work, these communities and its civil institutions should have their authority and autonomy restored to maintain and promote their basic principles and moral framework. And that is the point here. The conservative ‘free’ communities only could be free if they followed a specific set of values and principles.
During an interview in May 2001—among rising racial tensions that lead to serious racial disturbances over that year’s spring and summer—Thatcher argued that despite supporting a society comprised of different races and colours, she would never approve of a ‘multicultural society,’ as it could not observe ‘all the best principles and best values’ and would never ‘be united.’ Thatcher was preoccupied with immigration precisely because she believed that cultural issues could have negative long-term effects. As she said on another occasion, ‘people are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture.’ Different individuals would work together and keep themselves together only if they shared some basic principles and beliefs. Thatcher’s community was based on common tradition, not consent or contract. Conservatives believed that shared values were essential for social cohesion. That is why a multicultural society was so dangerous from her perspective. Moreover, there is also another implication here. Multiculturalism not only needed to be repulsed because it was regarded as divisive, but also because it presupposes that all cultures have equal value. It was not only about sharing the same values and principles, but also about sharing the right values and principles. And for the conservatives, the British and Christian traditions were the right ones. That is why Christian religious education should be compulsory for everybody, regardless of their ethnic and cultural background.
In part, it explains the Thatcher administration’s long fight against local councils and authorities that supported multiculturalism and anti-racist movements. They were seen as a threat to cultural and traditional values as well as national sovereignty. In addition to responding many times with brutal police repression to the 1981 riots—which is in itself a strong state intervention—the government also released resources for urban regeneration and increased the budget of ‘ethnic projects’ in order to control these initiatives. The idea was to shape communities in a given way and direction and create tools for the community to police themselves. The government was seeking ways to change individual attitudes that, according to the Conservatives, were at the root of social problems in the inner cities. Rather than being the consequence of social problems, these attitudes, they argued, were caused by cultural and moral issues, especially in predominantly black communities. In encouraging moderate black leaders, the government was trying to foster black communities that would behave as British middle-class neighbourhoods. Thatcher’s government also tried to shape communities through business enterprises and market mechanisms. In the late 1980s, her government started a bold process of community refurbishment that aimed to revitalise what were regarded as deprived areas. The market was also seen as a part of civil society and a moralising space that encouraged good behaviour.
Thatcher’s relationship with the family, the basis of civil society, was also problematic. The Conservatives had a very traditional conception of family. The family was constituted by a heterosexual married couple. If Thatcherites accused new social movements of imposing their worldview on the majority, Thatcher’s government tried to prescribe a ‘natural’ view of family that excluded any type of distinct formation. Furthermore, despite presiding over a decade that saw a rising expansion of women's participation in the workplace and education, Thatcher advanced an idea of community that was based on women's caring role within the family and the neighbourhood.
Finally, the Church, regarded as the most important source of morality, was, at first, viewed as a natural ally, but soon would become a huge problem for her government. As with many established British institutions, according to the Conservatives, the Church had been captured by a progressive mood that had politicised many of its leaders and diverted the Church's role on morality. The Church was failing Britain since it had abdicated its primary role as a moral leader. It was also part of a broader attack on the British establishment. Thatcher would prefer to align her government with religious groups that performed a much more ‘valuable role’ than the established Church.
The tensions between the Thatcher government's ideas and policies—which blended neoliberal and neoconservative approaches—and its results in practice would lead to reactions on both left and right-wing sides. If Thatcher herself realised that her years in office had not encouraged communities’ growth, the New Labour and the post-Thatcher Conservative Party would invest in a robust communitarian discourse. Tony Blair's Party would use community rhetoric to emphasise differences from Thatcherism, whereas the rise of ideas that focused on civil society, such as Compassionate Conservatism, Civic Conservatism, and Big Society, would be a Conservative response to the Thatcher's 1980s.
Conventionally, conservatives have treated civil society as a vehicle to rebuild traditional values, a fortress against state power and homogenisation that involved the past, the present and the future generations.
Thatcher believed that a true community would be close to the one where she spent her childhood. A small community, composed by a vibrant network of voluntary bodies free from state intervention, in which apolitical and responsible citizens would be able to discharge their religious and civic obligations through voluntary work. These obligations resulted from religious values and individuals' mutual physical and emotional dependence, which imposed responsibilities prior to their rights, derived from these duties rather than from an abstract natural contract. Therefore, the Thatcherite community was, above all, a moral community. Accordingly, it was based on a narrow set of values and principles that was based on conservative British and Christian traditions. In a complex contemporary world of multicultural societies, it is difficult not to see Thatcher's community model as exclusionary and authoritarian.
Despite her conservative ideas about neighbourhoods, her government seems to have encouraged even more irresponsible behaviour and community fragmentation. Thatcher seems not to have been able to identify the problems that economic liberalisation policies and strong individualistic rhetoric could cause to the community. Here, the tensions between her neoliberal and neoconservative positions became clearer. As she recognised during an interview, ‘I cut taxes and I thought we would get a giving society and we haven’t.’
To conclude, it is interesting to note that the civil society debate emerged in the UK with and against Thatcherism. The argument based on the revitalisation of civil society was used by both left and right-wingers to criticise the Thatcher years. New Labour’s emphasis on communities, post-Thatcher conservatism’s focus on civil society, the emergence of communitarianism and other strands of thought that placed civil society at the centre of their theories; despite their differences, all of them looked to the community as an answer for the 1980s and, at least in part, its emphasis on the free market and individualism. On the other hand, as I have tried to show, Thatcherism was already working on the theme of community and raised many of these issues during the years following her fall. The idea of civil society as the space par excellence of citizenship and collective activities, as the place to discharge individual obligations and as a site of a strong defence against arbitrary state power, were all themes advanced by Thatcherism that occupied a lasting space within the civil society debate. Thatcherism thus also influenced the debate from within, not only through the reaction against its results, but also directly promoting ideas and policies about civil society.
 Jean Cohen and Andrew Arato, Civil Society and Political Theory (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1997), 71-72.
 E.H.H. Green, Ideologies of Conservatism. Conservative Political Ideas in the Twentieth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 278.
 Lenon Campos Maschette, 'Revisiting the concept of citizenship in Margaret Thatcher’s government: the individual, the state, and civil society', Journal of Political Ideologies, (2021).
 Margaret Thatcher, Keith Joseph Memorial Lecture (‘Liberty and Limited Government 11 January 1996). Margaret Thatcher Foundation: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/108353.
 Margaret Thatcher, Speech to Greater London Young Conservatives (Iain Macleod Memorial Lecture, ‘Dimensions of Conservatism’ 4 July 1977). Margaret Thatcher Foundation: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/103411.
 Margaret Thatcher, The Downing Street Years (London: Harper Collins, 1993), 627.
 Margaret Thatcher, Conservative Party Conference, 14 October 1988. Margaret Thatcher Foundation document 107352: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/107352.
 Margaret Thatcher, Speech at St. Lawrence Jewry (‘I BELIEVE – a speech on Christianity and politics’ 30 March 1978). Margaret Thatcher Foundation: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/103522.
 Thatcher, The Moral Basis of a Free Society. Op. Cit.
 Douglas Hurd had several important roles during Thatcher’s administration, including Home Office. Brian Griffiths was the chief of her Policy Unit from the middle 1980s and one of her principal advisors.
 Michael Alison, ‘The Feeding of the Billions’, in Michael Alison and David Edward (eds) Christianity & Conservatism. Are Christianity and conservatism compatible? (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1990), 206-207; Brian Griffiths, ‘The Conservative Quadrilateral’, Alison and Edward, Christianity & Conservatism, 218; Robin Harris, Not for Turning (London: Corgi Books. 2013), 40.
 Griffiths, Christianity & Conservatism, 224-234.
 Margaret Thatcher. Speech to Conservative Party Conference 1985. Margaret Thatcher Foundation: http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/106145.
 John Gummer, apud Martin Durham, ‘The Thatcher Government and “The Moral Right”’, Parliamentary Affair, 42 (1989), 64.
 American neoconservatives such as Charles Murray, George Gilder, Lawrence Mead, Michael Novak, etc., worked on the social, cultural, and moral consequences of the welfare state and the ‘long’ 1960s. They were also much more active in writing on citizenship issues. These authors had a profound influence on Thatcher’s Conservative Party through the think tanks networks. Murray and Novak, for instance, even attended Annual Conservative Party conferences and visited Thatcher and other Conservative members’ Party.
 Timothy Raison, Tories and the Welfare State. A history of Conservative Social Policy since the Second World War (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1990), 163.
 Geoffrey Finlayson, Citizen, State and Social Welfare in Britain 1830 – 1990 (Oxford, 1994), 376.
 Douglas Hurd, Memoirs (London: Abacus, 2003), 388.
 Richard Boyd, ‘The Unsteady and Precarious Contribution of Individuals’: Edmund Burke's Defence of Civil Society’. The Review of Politics, 61 (1999), 485.
 Margaret Thatcher, Speech to General Assembly to the Church of Scotland, 21 May 1988. Margaret Thatcher Foundation: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/107246.
 Douglas Hurd, Tamworth Manifesto, 17 March 1988, London Review of Books: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v10/n06/douglas-hurd/douglas-hurds-tamworth-manifesto.
 Douglas Hurd, article for Church Times, 8 September 1988. THCR /1/17/111B. Churchill Archives, Churchill College, Cambridge University.
 Thatcher, Speech at St. Lawrence Jewry (1978), Op. Cit.
 Margaret Thatcher, apud Matthew Grimley. Thatcherism, Morality and Religion. In: Ben Jackson; Robert Saunders (Ed.). Making Thatcher’s Britain. (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2012), 90.
 Many meetings emphasised this issue throughout 1986. CRD 4/307/4-7. Conservative Party Archives, Bodleian Libraries, Oxford University.
 ‘Papers to end of July’, 18 June 1987. PREM 19/3494. National Archives, London.
 Edmund Neill, ‘British Political Thought in the 1990s: Thatcherism, Citizenship, and Social Democracy’, Mitteilungsblatt des Instituts fur soziale Bewegungen, 28 (2002), 171.
 Margaret Thatcher, ‘Speech to Finchley Inter-church luncheon club’, 17 November 1969. Margaret Thatcher foundation: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/101704.
 Margaret Thatcher, interview to the Daily Mail, 22 May 2001, apud Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher, Vol. III Herself Alone (London: Penguin Books, 2019), 825.
 Margaret Thatcher, TV Interview for Granada World in Action ("rather swamped"), 27 January 1978. Margaret Thatcher foundation: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/103485.
 Oliver Letwin blocked help for black youth after 1985 riots. The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/dec/30/oliver-letwin-blocked-help-for-black-youth-after-1985-riots.
 Paul Gilroy apud Simon Peplow. Race and riots in Thatcher’s Britain (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2019), 213.
 Grimley, Op. Cit., 92.
 Thatcher’s interview to Frank Field, apud Eliza Filby. God & Mrs Thatcher. The battle for Britain’s soul (London: Biteback, 2015), 348.
 Neill, Op. Cit., 181.
Revisiting the original Palaeolithic democracies to rethink the postliberal democracies of the future
by F. Xavier Ruiz Collantes
Why do we overlook the original democracies?
God created the world six thousand years ago. Human beings are not related to primates. There is no such thing as climate change. The first democracy emerged in classical Athens.
There are some important groups that continue to hold fast to certain beliefs, despite the availability of a mass of contrary evidence.
One such group is composed of many people interested in history, philosophy and political theories. While there is ample evidence that democratic principles were applied to power relations in Palaeolithic Homo sapiens communities tens of thousands of years, i.e., long before the Athenian democracy of antiquity emerged, a mainstream claim in history, philosophy and political theory discourses continues to be that democracy first emerged in Athens.
It has been documented, in the political anthropology and evolutionary anthropology fields, that the first political systems—those that have governed us for most of our existence on this planet—were democratic. The existence of these democracies, which I call the “original democracies”, is confirmed by two types of evidence. Firstly, in different parts of the world, hunter-gatherer communities that have survived in a form close to their original Palaeolithic form, organise themselves politically according to democratic principles, e.g., African peoples such as the Bushmen and Pygmies, Australian and New Guinean Aborigines, indigenous Amerindian peoples, etc. Secondly, Palaeolithic fossil records provide evidence of egalitarian and non-hierarchical societies. Considering just the Upper Palaeolithic, democratic hunter-gatherer communities lasted several tens of thousands of years; in contrast, non-democratic, authoritarian systems only began to emerge less than ten thousand years ago, during the Neolithic, with the consolidation of agriculture and livestock herding and a sedentary way of life.
The fact that many historians, philosophers and political theorists hold that democracy first emerged in classical Athens is certainly problematic, yet it is also very significant, because it reflects perceptions of our species derived from the epistemological bias of Western and contemporary culture, determined by extreme chrono-centric and ethno-centric perspectives that run very deep. Ultimately, such perspectives contribute to placing the contemporary white race originating in Western culture at the top of the evolutionary tree and legitimises its usurpation of the planet.
Numerous authors, however, when they write about democracy, also refer to Palaeolithic democracies, e.g., Federico Traversa, Kenneth Bollen, Pamela Paxton, Doron Shultziner and Ronald Glassman.  Those democracies of the Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer peoples are called “Palaeolithic democracies” by Doron Shultziner, “community democracies” by Federico Traversa and “campfire democracies” and “clan and tribal democracies” by Ronald Glassman. I suggest that these democracies should preferably be called "original democracies”, first, because this term better reflects the importance of these democracies in the evolution of humanity, and second, because it establishes a chronological sequence going back in time, from modern democracies to ancient democracies to the original democracies.
The evolution to Homo sapiens: a journey towards democracy
Palaeolithic democracies, which emerged in all parts of the world settled by Homo sapiens, undoubtedly represent the most important cultural development of our species, first, because these democracies reflect almost all of human existence, and second, and more importantly, because these democracies have greatly shaped the natural and cultural tendencies of Homo sapiens.
Joseph Carroll  identifies four different power systems, reflecting periods from the emergence of hominids to the Homo sapiens of today: (1) alpha male domination; (2) Palaeolithic egalitarian and democratic systems; (3) despotic or authoritarian domination as emerged with the Neolithic; and (4) Western Modernity systems deriving from democratic revolutions.
Homo species split from the pan species about six million years ago . This evolutionary divergence reflected a journey to democratic communities from the alpha male-dominated despotic communities, typical, for instance, of current great apes species such as chimpanzees and gorillas. The evolutionary journey to Homo sapiens is, therefore, also a journey from despotism to Palaeolithic democracy. Broadly speaking, what we understand by a democratic system for organising and equally distributing political power within a community is specific to Homo sapiens.
Various factors led to the disappearance of the alpha male in Homo sapiens hunter-gatherer communities. The advent of lethal weapons meant that subjugated individuals could easily kill an alpha male; the need for cooperation in hunting and raising children generated a communitarian and egalitarian spirit; and the development of hypercognition and language meant that decision-making affecting a community could be based on open and joint deliberation by members.
The tens of thousands of years in which humans lived in Palaeolithic democratic communities has left deep marks on our species. These include the development of discursive capacities that enabled deliberation, negotiation and cooperation and also the burgeoning of a certain morality based on the principles of justice and equity. This morality, original, egalitarian and democratic originated in the Upper Palaeolithic, explains why present-day humans are largely repulsed by abusive coercion, non-legitimate power and arbitrary decisions deemed unjust. While humans have inherited (from the hominin species prior to Homo sapiens) a tendency to dominate others, they have also developed al sense of egalitarianism and anti-domination. Our social morality and politics operate within this contradiction.
For all these reasons, while we have a tendency towards domination over others, we also tend to reject domination over ourselves and others. The sense of democratic and egalitarian morality that beats in the heart of humans is largely due to the evolutionary development of Homo sapiens living in democratic and egalitarian hunter-gatherer communities of the Palaeolithic.
Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer communities, and later tribal societies, did not have a state, as this form of governance developed later from primitive chiefdoms and kingdoms. But the fact that there was no state did not mean that there were no politics and no social power systems. Circumscribing politics exclusively to societies with a state reflects chrono-centric bias. The original Homo sapiens communities clearly demonstrate that politics reached beyond the historical existence of the state.
The main problem in considering hunter-gatherer communities to be fully democratic is that, in those peoples that survive to this day, the most important decisions are generally made by adult males. While the exclusion of women would suggest a significant democratic deficit, it is no greater a deficit than that of classical Athens or even, until universal suffrage for men and women was finally introduced, of that of our liberal democratic societies.
Nonetheless, this issue has given rise to controversy, as important archaeologists and anthropologists, such as Lerna Lerner, Riane Eisler, and Marilène Patou-Mathis,  argue that women during the Palaeolithic had the same prestige and power as men and that this status was not lost until the Neolithic. As evidence, they indicate that the archaeological record does not unequivocally demonstrate that men had a superior status to women, and they further argue that the notion that Palaeolithic women were subordinate is simply a product of the andro-centrism that overwhelmingly dominated early archaeology and anthropology work. If women did indeed possess the same status as men, then those communities were truly democratic.
There is a fundamental problem in studying Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer communities from similar communities that have survived to the present day, namely, that, in recent centuries, many of the surviving communities have seen their original way of life contaminated, degraded or radically suppressed by other cultures and by domination exercised by other cultures, especially modern and Western empires. This is an accelerating process and, as time passes, it becomes increasingly difficult to obtain reliable data on the original political life of hunter-gatherer and tribal peoples. The domination and influence of states, empires and large business corporations, aided by the new technologies, today reach into all corners of the earth. The consequences for the original hunter-gatherer peoples is that they no longer preserve their original forms of life and culture.
Democratic systems in Palaeolithic communities
Democratic systems and decision-making bodies existed in both hunter-gatherer and mobile tribes, according to anthropological studies, which document organs of power such as community assemblies, functional leadership and community chiefs.
Space does not allow for an extensive explanation of the political organisation of hunter-gatherer communities. However, some brief considerations are necessary, because despite being limited and even reductionist, they can also be very illustrative.
Although the records that throw light on these early political power systems are drawn from peoples who have lived within their original systems until recently, in what follows the past tense will be used because those communities are assumed to have existed during the Upper Palaeolithic.
We can, for instance, point to the existence of “community assemblies”, which were meetings of all adults to discuss, deliberate and reach agreements on fundamental issues affecting their community’s future. All adult members of the community, men and women, participated in these assemblies, although, from some of the known present-day communities of hunter-gatherers and horticulturists, we can deduce that smaller and more formal assemblies were composed only of adult males. In many cases, the women stood around those smaller assemblies, actively participating and making their voices heard.
In hunter-gatherer community meetings, decisions had to be made by consensus, as the survival of small communities depended on cooperation between members. The search for consensus often meant that the assemblies were extremely lengthy, while no decisions were even reached if there was no unanimity. Community fusion and fission processes were common in hunter-gatherer communities, and, in cases of great conflict, the solution was for the community to split.
Persons who excelled in public speaking skills and persuasive strategies were important and acquired prestige in community assemblies. Kenneth E. Read,  in an article describing the political power system of the Gahuku-gama (an aboriginal people of New Guinea), provides an excellent explanation of individual communication strategies aimed at influencing community assemblies. In some hunter-gatherer peoples a group strategy that ensured that no one would try to put themselves above the rest was ridicule and laughter directed at people who used bombastic oratory to impress.
We can also distinguish individuals who could be defined as "functional leaders" or "task managers”, i.e., men or women who were expert or skilled at a particular task, e.g., hunting, warfare, healing, birthing, music, dance, various rituals, etc. Leadership was not a designated role; rather, roles were acquired by individuals who demonstrated particular knowledge, experience or skills. Leaders only had the authority as permitted by the community and only for the performance of their assigned tasks.
Although they held the most important political position in hunter-gatherer communities, chiefs were typically powerless. That is why they were a major source of surprise for the first Europeans who came into contact with these communities. Roberth H Lowie, who studied the chiefs of Amerindian peoples, such as the Ojibwa, the Dakota, the Nambikuara, the Barana, etc, concluded that chiefs did not have any coercive force to impose their decisions, nor had they executive, legislative, or judicial power. They were fundamentally peacemakers, benefactors and the conduit of community principles and norms. Fundamentally, they functioned as mediators and peacemakers in internal conflicts and resource providers to community members in need, and also provided periodic reminders of the norms and values on which member coexistence and community survival depended.  This figure of the powerless chief has been encountered in hunter-gatherer communities around the world. According to Claude Lévi-Strauss, the benefits of being a community chief were so few and the burden of responsibility so high that many refused to assume the role. However, what did motivate some individuals to assume the chiefdom was the associated prestige and a vocation to assume certain responsibilities for the community. 
The community chief was generally elected by the adult community members—men and women—and could also be removed by the community. An example is given by Claude Levi-Strauss in his explanation of the power system of the Nambikwara in Brazil: if the chief was egoistic, inefficient or coercive, the community dismissed or abandoned him.  In some tribes, while war chiefs acquired important executive powers, these could only be exercised in periods of war, and despite the associated prestige, they had few or no powers in peacetime.
It can hardly be argued that these hunter-gatherer communities—the original democracies—were not democratic, as argued by some authors. Karl Popper, for instance, stated that they were not "open societies" and were therefore undemocratic.  However, this argument is based on a liberal perspective: Popper essentially claimed that they were not liberal societies. Yet those societies were profoundly communitarian and egalitarian and, although they were not what we currently understand as liberal, they were in their way democratic.
Political theory and political anthropology
In the field of modern Western political theories, the tendency to overlook the relevance of the original democracies in the history of humanity is the outcome of the narrow perspective of our cultural tradition. What we call modern democracies are little more than two hundred years old, yet for some thirty thousand years, the original democracies organised the political power structures of Homo sapiens, with the resulting decisive impact on our evolution and on what we are today.
Instead of taking into account the reality of the original democracies, Western thinking has focused on establishing hypotheses—with little foundation in reality—regarding illusory states of nature and assumed contracts between individuals aimed at shaping a society and, further on in time, creating a state. Thus, instead of taking into account the key contributions of anthropology, Western thinkers have explored the contractarian ideas of authors like Hobbes, Rousseau, Locke, and Kant, not to mention other more recent authors inspired by liberal contractualism, e.g., Rawls and Nozick.
Human society and its political power systems did not originate from a contract between isolated individuals, but from the evolution of societies and power systems of other Homo species from which Homo sapiens arose. Given that the evolutionary processes that gave rise to the first human societies are known, the contractarian origin myth—a device that legitimises liberal individualism—makes little sense, even as a mere logical hypothesis for reflection.
In their introduction to a classic overview of the political systems of African peoples, the anthropologists Meyer Fortes and Edward Evans-Pritchard argued that the teachings of political philosophy were of little help with ethnographic research into the political systems of African peoples as conducted by anthropologists in the field.  The philosophy, political and anthropological disciplines may be very different, but both philosophers and political theorists need to take anthropological data into account in their reflections.
Political principles of the original democracies
Two anthropologists in particular, in their reflections on the political systems of hunter-gatherer peoples, have developed important theoretical models: the French anthropologist Pierre Clastres and the US anthropologist Christopher Boehm.
Pierre Clastres, whose thinking has strongly influenced French theorists such as Claude Lefort and Miguel Abensour, drew a novel conclusion from his ethnographic studies of Amerindian peoples in the Amazon region in the 1970s, namely, that hunter-gatherer peoples were not people without a state. Rather, they acted against the state, i.e., their political power systems were designed so that no state would ever emerge. For this reason, communities always tried to ensure that their chief was a chief with little or no power, while the community as a whole and its assembly was considered to predominate over any other political power that might be established. 
As for Christopher Boehm, he concluded, from a detailed study of a large number of ethnographic works conducted in almost all continents, that the political systems of hunter-gatherer peoples were based on the principle of a reverse dominance hierarchy, in which the communities established formal and informal systems that ensured that a chief never achieved power, that no political body could coerce the community, and that no individual or group could prevent community members from freely making decisions on matters that concerned the community. Systems of control over the power of chiefs or leaders ranged from mild punishments, such as ridicule, to much more serious punishments, such as ostracism, banishment or even execution. For Christopher Boehm, the first genuinely human taboo was the taboo of dominance, and the first individual outlawed by the Homo sapiens community was the individual with aspirations to be the alpha male of the community. 
Both principles—Clastres’ society against the state and Boehm’s reverse dominance hierarchy—are valid, but neither has been applied to date to develop theories consistent with models of democracy. Of the two principles, I consider the reverse dominance hierarchy to be the more productive principle, among other reasons, because it allows us to think about forms of non-state domination of a community. If, for instance, we transfer this principle to modern societies, it would apply to the dominance of certain groups in our society, not only in relation to the control of state apparatuses, but also to the wealthy, religious leaders, private armed militias, excessively powerful corporations, and media and information and communication systems oligopolies, etc.
From my point of view, the reverse dominance hierarchy leads to a model of democracy that separates domination from management. In the original democracies, chiefs could exercise direction and influence but held little or no power; rather, it was the community as a whole, through its deliberative assemblies and other formal and informal decision-making mechanisms, which held power over itself, including over the chief, and also over alpha males aspiring to take power, who would be banned by the community. The reverse dominance hierarchy in original democracies allowed communities to freely take decisions over themselves without the interference and dominance of individuals and powerful groups. Adapting this principle to modern societies would lead to reflection on alternative models of democracy.
Why revisit the original democracies?
My focus on the original democracies is not intended as an exercise in historical or anthropological scholarship, but is grounded in two needs. First, we need to respect the remaining indigenous and aboriginal communities on our planet, as an enormous reserve of democratic culture, ancestral wisdom and human dignity. In recent centuries, their numbers have been greatly reduced, their communities have been annihilated, and their members have been enslaved and acculturated by Western imperialism and predatory capitalism. Second, we need to revisit the moral and political principles of the original democracies in order to be able to rethink our own democracies and our democratic projects for the future. For instance, I consider the reverse dominance hierarchy principle to be a very fruitful and interesting concept for rethinking the notion of democracy. I also believe that we could reflect on the notion of “people” in accordance with political characteristics of hunter-gatherer communities in defence of freedom and the power of the community as a whole.
Liberal democracy, the hegemonic form of democracy today, is clearly in crisis, among other reasons due to its increasingly diminished legitimacy in society. The fact that liberal democracy allows socioeconomic inequalities to grow to a disproportionate degree leads to the suspicion that elected politicians do not really represent the majority of voters, thereby reflecting a profound crisis of representation. Moreover, the alliance between liberal democracy and runaway capitalism and its fostering of senseless consumerism and unbounded economic growth is leading scientists and conscientious citizens to fear the planet and humanity are headed for ecological collapse.
An important task for political theorists today is to consider alternative forms of post-liberal democracy that lead to greater equality and freedom. Democracy, in sum, needs to be rethought. While republicanism, since the end of the last century, has developed a line of thinking that seeks to renew democracy by drawing on sources such as classical Greece, the Roman Republic and the Italian republics of the Renaissance, those sources are too close to our own culture; they are, in fact, where our political culture originated. We need, surely, to decentralise more, to seek inspiration in sources more remote from our habitual way of thinking—because, if our thinking is derived from what is familiar, then we will likely continue to think in the same way and devise broadly similar solutions.
Rethinking democracy by considering Palaeolithic communities has a number of advantages. Looking back to those cultures so foreign to us could bring us closer to alternative perceptions of the human power relationships, and so opens up perspectives lost to us. Furthermore, those different perceptions would not be fanciful or speculative but anchored in reality, and would reflect deeper and more specific aspects of our nature as a species. Palaeolithic cultures can show us that another way of being human and of being a community is possible because that alternative form of humanity lies in our own evolutionary roots.
It is not about appealing for the return to an idealised past, as this is evidently neither possible nor desirable, given the immense differences between the original democracies and modern urban and technologically advanced societies. Rather than some kind of futile anachronistic exercise, it is a matter of seeking new references that break with known modes of thinking. It is about looking forward, but considering what led to our present. And what led to our present is not only a few millennia of human authoritarianism and despotism, but also tens of millennia of egalitarian and democratic communities. Hunter-gatherer peoples may not have a written culture, but they do have a very rich oral culture—even if it is increasingly impoverished by the intrusion of Western culture. The myths that they keep alive are their means for formulating deep political thought; those myths also reveal their way of life and their governance and political systems. Undoubtedly we have much to learn from these original democracies, and much to reflect on and to rethink regarding their practices and the data and reflections of the anthropologists who have studied them.
 The Upper Palaeolithic dates to approximately 40,000 to 10,000 years ago.
 The Neolithic dates to approximately 10,000 to 5,000 years ago.
 See: Glassman, R. M. (2017). The Origins of Democracy in Tribes, City-States and Nation-States. Springer; Bollen, K. & Paxton, P. 1997. Democracy before Athens. Inequality, democracy, and economic development 13-44. Cambridge University Press; Traversa, F. (2011). La gran transformación de la democracia: de las comunidades primitivas a la sociedad capitalista. Ediciones Universitarias; Shultziner, D. (2007). From the Beginning of History: Paleolithic Democracy, the Emergence of Hierarchy, and the Resurgence of Political Egalitarianism Shultziner et al. (2010). The causes and scope of political egalitarianism during the Last Glacial: A multi-disciplinary perspective. Biology & Philosophy, 25(3), 319-346.
 Carroll, J. (2015). Evolutionary social theory: The current state of knowledge. Style, 49(4), 512-541.
 Pan species that have survived to this day are the chimpanzee and the bonobo. They are part of the family of the great apes (hominids), which includes humans, gorillas and orangutans.
 See: Eisler, R. (1987). The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future. Harper Collins; Lerner, G. (1990). La creación del patriarcado. Editorial Crítica; Conway Hall; Patou-Mathis, M. (2020) L’homme préhistorique est aussi une femme. Allary.
[7 Read, K. E. (1959). Leadership and consensus in a New Guinea society. American Anthropologist, 61(3), 425-436.
 Lowie, R. H. (1948). Some aspects of political organization among the American aborigines. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 78(1/2), 11-24.
[9 ] Lévi-Strauss, C. (1967).The social and psychological aspects of leadership in a primitive tribe, in Cohen and Middleton, Comparative Political Systems. New York: Natural Historical Press.
 Lévi-Strauss, C. (1992). Tristes tropiques. Penguin Books.
 Popper, K. (1966) The Open Society and its Enemies. Routledge & Kegan Paul.
 Fortes, M., & Evans-Pritchard, E. E. (2015). African political systems. Routledge.
 See: Clastres, P. (1974). La société contre l'Etat. Minuit; Clastres, P. (1977). Archéologie de la violence: la guerre dans les sociétés primitives. Editions de l'Aube.
 See: Boehm, C. (2012). Ancestral hierarchy and conflict. Science, 336(6083), 844-847; Boehm, C. (2000). Conflict and the evolution of social control. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 7(1-2), 79-101; Boehm, C. (1999). Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior. Harvard University Press.
by Joanne Paul
A lot can be said about the relationship between utopianism and ideology, and Gregory Claeys covered much of it in his comprehensive and detailed contribution to this blog. As with all discussions of utopianism, however, participants cannot help but acknowledge the roots of the concept in the originator of the term, Thomas More’s masterfully enigmatic Utopia (full title: On the Best State of the Commonwealth and on the New Island of Utopia). Whether it was More himself who coined the term (it has been suggested it was in fact Erasmus), and acknowledging the longer (and global) history of imagined ideal states, any consideration of utopianism must at some point trace itself to More’s sixteenth-century text.
This can make for some awkward anachronistic connections, especially for anyone concerned particularly with the importance of contextualism in the analysis of historic texts (as I am). Even the question of whether there is an ‘ideology’ present in More’s text can immediately be countered with the charge of anachronism. This is, of course, an issue with the term itself. However, much like we might acknowledge utopias (or utopian thinking) prior to 1516, we might also entertain the suggestion that ideology as a concept (if not a term) might have existed prior to the Enlightenment, and that various contemporary ideologies might also have their roots in the Renaissance, even if More would have been perplexed—but likely intrigued—by the term itself.
The purpose of this piece, then, is to explore two interrelated questions. First, whether we can think about ideology and Utopia without giving ourselves entirely over to anachronism and thus a reading of the text that cannot be substantiated. Second, in a similar vein, to test the waters with a variety of ‘ideologies’ with which Utopia has been associated: republicanism, liberalism, totalitarianism/authoritarianism, socialism/communism, and, of course, utopianism. In this ‘testing’, the first criteria will be consistency within the text itself, but in establishing this, I will be reading the text in the context of More’s times and other works. Utopia is too frequently read as a stand-alone text despite—or perhaps because of—More’s substantial oeuvre. It is an intentionally ambiguous work, which is why so many different and even opposed ideologies can be read into it. In order to test the legitimacy of these readings, we must understanding Utopia in the context of More’s work more widely.
A short caveat: none of this, of course, precludes the use of Utopia as an inspiration or foundation for a variety of ideological arguments, and Claeys has repeatedly made an impassioned and vitally important argument for the role of utopian thinking in meeting the environmental challenges of the twenty-first century (along with another contribution to this blog by Mathias Thaler). Political theorists and philosophers have—often very good—reasons for playing harder and faster with the ‘rules’ of historical contextualism (for more on this, see in particular the work of Adrian Blau). There are, however, also good reasons to want to be attentive to the particularities of an utterance in its historical context, which I will not rehearse here, but which I hope are evident in what follows.
Ideology and Utopia
Does the idea of ‘ideology’ fit with a sixteenth-century intellectual mindset? More was not unfamiliar with the notion of ‘-isms’, often seen as the shorthand for identifying ideologies (though not in the explicitly modern sense). Most of these ‘-isms’ were religious, not just less ‘ideological’ words like baptism, but those that more accurately fit the definition of a ‘system of beliefs’ such as ‘Judaism’, which More used in his Confutation of Tyndale’s Answer (1532).
It was the Reformation, Harro Höpfl has noted, which saw the widespread use of ‘isms’ to refer to ‘theological or religious positions considered heretical, and also to refer to the doctrines of various philosophical schools’. Indeed More used the term ‘sophism’ (see the excerpt from the concordance above) in a way that arguably had ideological connotations, and not expressly or necessarily religious ones. That being said, Ideology’s association with political ideas as wholly distinct from religious ones might have not squared with More’s worldview. Any religion can fit the definition of an ‘ideology’ and religious ideas permeated every aspect of More’s world, including—and especially—politics.
The way in which Utopia can and has been read as an especially secular text is part of what makes it an enduringly popular text to study, certainly more than More’s other—obviously (and vehemently) religious—writings. There is something attractively secular about More’s pre-Christian island, which is based more obviously on classical pagan influences than medieval Christian ones. For this reason, it is temptingly easy to read a series of ideologies into this short book. The interesting question for a historian like myself becomes whether these were ideas available and attractive to More himself.
The island of Utopia is obviously and expressly a republic, and the neo-classical humanist More would have fully understood what this entailed. Both books of the text articulate, as Quentin Skinner has demonstrated, arguments for a Ciceronian vita activa, on which republicanism is based. Although each Utopian city is ruled by a princeps, they are elected, and rule in consultation with an assembly of elected ‘tranibors’. The island as a whole is ruled by a General Council, made up of representatives elected from each city. This description of Utopia is framed by a discussion about the merits of the active life in the context of a monarchy, echoing similar discussions in Isocrates, Cicero, Erasmus, and others.
Does this align Utopia with ‘republicanism’ as an ideology? Certainly, the text deserves an important place in the development of that ideology from its ‘Athenian and Roman roots’, especially when read in the context of More’s other writings, which express a conciliarism that clearly has overlaps with classical republicanism. In his Latin Historia Richardi Tertii, More writes that parliament, which he calls a senatus, has ‘supreme and absolute’ authority, and in his religious polemics, he is keen to draw a connection between the parliament and the General Council. The latter, he writes, has the power to depose the Pope and, whereas the Pope’s primacy can be held in doubt, ‘the general councils assembled lawfully… the authority thereof ought to be taken for undoubtable’. Both parliament and the General Council are authorised representatives of the whole community, whether the church or the realm.
More also expresses ideas in line with what has come to be known as ‘republican liberty’: ‘non-domination’ or ‘that freedom within civil associations’, impling the lack of an ‘arbitrary power’ which would reduce ‘the status of free-man to that of slaves’. In his justification of the importance of law, More writes, that ‘if you take away the laws and leave everything free to the magistrates… they will rule by the leading of their own nature… and then the people will be in no way freer, but, by reason of a condition of servitude, worse’. This aligns with the Renaissance view of tyranny as ruling according to one’s own willful passions, rather than right reason. More certainly saw unfreedom in the rule of licentia (or license) over reason. This could be found both in the rule of a single tyrant and in the anarchy of pluralism, a situation he feared would arise from Lutheranism. As such, a firmly established structure of self-government, like that in Utopia, was the ideal way to ensure his notion of freedom, one that was largely in accordance with the republican tradition.
This is in contrast with notion of freedom advanced in Utopia by the character Raphael Hythloday, which we might think of as more in line with a ‘liberal’ perspective. He does not want to ‘enslave’ himself to a king and prefers to ‘live as I please’, certainly more ‘license’ than ‘liberty’ in More’s perspective.
There is an inherent contradiction between republican and liberal notions of liberty. In so far as More can be said to express something of the former, he is deeply against the latter. Individualism sits at the heart of liberalism; it is, as Michael Freeden and Marc Stears have suggested (though not without qualification), ‘an individualist creed’, seeking to enshrine ‘individual rights, social equality, and constraints on the interventions of social and political power’. Liberalism was a product of the Enlightenment, and so More could not properly be said to be its opponent, but he did powerfully critique what we might see as its nascent constitute parts.
In his other works, More often repeats a distinction between the people (populus) and ‘anyone whatever’ (quislibet), to the derision of the authority of the latter. This lies at the heart of his fear of anarchy and Lutheranism, which he accuses of transferring ‘the authority of judging doctrines… from the people and deliver[ing] it to anyone whatever’. In Utopia, we can see this critique of proto-individualism in his central message about pride, which he (with Augustine) takes to be the root of all sin, as it necessarily cuts across the bonds that should unite the populus. Pride is not just self-love, but self-elevation, a form of comparative arrogance that seeks to mark one out from others (a sin he associates with the scholastics, vice-ridden nobility, Lutherans, and indeed most of his opponents).
Utopia has thus been read as a repressive regime which quashes—rather than upholds—freedom. This is from the perspective of post-Enlightenment liberalism, and takes Utopia perhaps more literally than it is meant. Read as a critique of the pride which we might associate with a sort of proto-individualism, it offers a powerful critique of an ideology which is—it must be acknowledged—in need of a reassessment.
It is for its anti-liberal qualities that Utopia has ended up associated with some of the darkest ideologies of the 20th century. More’s biographer, Richard Marius, called his views about education—certainly present in Utopia—‘an authoritarian concept, suitable for an authoritarian age’. Others have associated Utopia explicitly with totalitarianism. Of the two, authoritarianism might be the more likely. There is a very clear desire in the setting out of the Utopian political and social system to have laws inculcated. The emphasis on what is referred to as ‘education’ or ‘training’ [institutis] might make 21st century readers think instead of socialisation or, more pessimistically, indoctrination. Priests, for example, are responsible for children’s education, and must ‘take the greatest pains from the very first to instil into children’s minds, while still tender and pliable, good opinions which are also useful for the preservation of the commonwealth.’ For this, not only are laws and institutions employed, but also public opinion. In a land where everything is public, nothing is private, and thus all is subject to public opinion: ‘being under the eyes of all, people are bound either to be performing the usual labor or to be enjoying their leisure in a fashion not without decency’. This ‘universal behaviour’ is the secret to Utopia’s success.
What I think More wanted to draw attention to in Utopia is the way in which this happens anyway, and to reorient the inculcation of values (or ‘opinions’) towards ‘truer’ or more ‘eternal’ (of course even ‘divine’) values. Utopians laugh at gems and precious metals because they associate them with fools and chamber pots. We value them because we associate them with the wealthy and powerful. The Utopians are ‘made’ to be dutiful citizens. As Book One suggests, ‘When you allow your youths to be badly brought up and their characters, even from early years, to become more and more corrupt, to be punished, of course, when, as grown-up men, they commit the crimes from boyhood they have shown every prospect of committing, what else, I ask, do you do but first create thieves and then become the very agents of their punishment?’. In both cases, More suggests in Utopia and elsewhere, these values (or opinions) are built on a sort of ‘consensus’.
The suggestion that this is authoritarian stems from a post-Enlightenment perspective that looks to see the liberal individual protected (as set out in part III above), of which More is many ways presenting a sort of ‘proto-critique’. While the republicanism of Utopia would, to some minds (and I would suspect to More’s), prevent it from being accurately labelled authoritarian—the citizenry is, after all, involved in its governance—to others this would not suffice. Would More have minded an ‘authoritarian’ society, if the values it inculcated with the ‘right’ ones? Perhaps not. More’s point, however, that we all submit to and are shaped by various sources of authority, and that the power to reorient the values cultivated by these authorities has been and continues to be a powerful one.
The early socialist thinkers were inspired by More to think that they might make people better through their organisation of society and its institutions (primarily education). In this historical context, we also have to contend, at least for a moment, with utilitarianism, and the Utopian’s ‘hedonism’ (or more properly Epicureanism). Jeremy Bentham, of course, held stock in the factory of utopian socialist Robert Owen. Helen Taylor (stepdaughter of J.S. Mill) wrote that in Utopia More ‘lays down a completely Utilitarian system of ethics’ as well as an ‘eloquently and yet closely reasoned defense of Socialism’. More was not an Epicurean (nor, of course, a utilitarian), though was interested to get back to more ‘real’ or ‘true’ pleasures over those false ones (we might think again of Utopians’ views of gems and precious metals). What I have called his republicanism might have also meant he was more interested in the good of the many over the few, though perhaps not quite in those terms (instead, the common good over any individual good).
This emphasis on ‘common good’, of course, translates into ‘common goods’ in Utopia, where everything is held in common. This abolition of anything private (and thus private property) has led him to be read as a socialist and/or communist thinker, the latter not least by Marx and Engels. Beyond Utopia, however, More does make some very un-socialist comments. Through the central figure of Anthony in his Dialogue of Comfort (1534), More suggests in an Aristotelian vein that economic inequality is essential for the commonwealth; there must be ‘men of substance… for else more beggars shall you have’. The golden hen must not be cut up for the few riches one might find inside. The larger point More wants to make in this text, however, is that even the richest do not ‘own’ their property. Property is a fiction and needs to be seen as such. Thus a rich man can keep his wealth so long as he recognises it is only his by the fictions of the society in which he lives, and ought (therefore) to be used to benefit the commonwealth. Wealth, position, and so on, More advocates, ‘by the good use thereof, to make them matter of our merit with God’s help in the life after.’
This is not a socialist nor a communist position, and it is certainly not materialist. More’s entire argument seeks to cultivate a conscious neglect of material realities in favour of the decidedly immaterial. Utopia, then, serves as a reminder of the immaterial realities underneath the social fictions generated in Europe (property, money, social hierarchy, etc). Living in that—shall we say—‘fictive reality’, however, means using those falsities towards the higher ends. As More’s friend John Colet put it: ‘use well temporal things. Desire eternal things.’
Utopianism is at once an ideology, has characteristics similar to ideology, might encompass all ideologies, and is entirely opposed to it. I will not rehearse the arguments of Sargent and Claeys here, but the three ‘faces’ that they speak of: utopian literature, utopian communities/practice, and utopian social theory are of course drawn from More’s 1516 text, and Sargent even suggests that ‘the meaning of [utopia] has not changed significantly from 1516 to the present’. So can we accept the obvious, then, that utopianism, as an ideology, is present in More’s text?
Unfortunately, this question would seem to hinge on the fraught question of More’s sincerity in setting out the merits of the island of Utopia and the extent to which it is a community that he intended his readers to emulate. In many ways, our answer to this question has the power to overturn the very notion of any ideology being present in at least a surface reading of Utopia. If we were to conclude that Utopia is pure satire, and that the only arguments made in it are negative deconstructive ones, we would be hard-pressed to find any ideology within it at all.
I have made my own arguments about the central argument of Utopia, which I will not rehearse here, but the good news is that we can engage with the issue of utopianism in Utopia without answering this seemingly unanswerable question. Say what you will about the difficult question of More’s intentions, it would be difficult indeed to suggest that he was putting forward a blueprint of any kind for the construction of a practical community or endorsing the direct adoption of any of the practices exhibited in Utopia. The idea that Utopia exhibits—to use the words of Crane Brinton—‘a plan [that] must be developed and put into execution’ creates a sense of unease, to say the least. Afterall, More famously ends his text with the conclusion that ‘in the Utopian commonwealth there are very many features that in our own societies I would wish rather than expect to see’.
Despite the consensus that this passage is central to our understanding of Utopia, scholars have generally not attempted to read this statement in the context of More’s other works. When we do, we see that More applied this phrase elsewhere as well, and provided more of an explanation than he does in Utopia. In his Apology of 1533, More tells his reader that it would be wonderful if the world was filled with people who were ‘so good’ that there were no faults and no heresy needing punishment. Unfortunately, ‘this is more easy to wish, than likely to look for’. Because of this reality, all one can do is ‘labour to make himself better’ and ‘charitably bear with others’ where he can. It is an internal reorganisation of priorities, drawn in large part from More’s reading of Augustine; what is common and shared must be prioritised over that which is one’s own. This, I have argued elsewhere, is what sits at the heart of More’s oeuvre, and we should be unsurprised to find it in Utopia as well. It is not the case, then, that More is advocating for what we might recognise as utopianism, but rather than Utopia is re-enforcing the arguments he makes elsewhere: the destructive power of pride and the personal need to prioritise the common over the individual.
Does this mean, at last, we have come to an ideology in Utopia? A sort of republicanism-light, a proto-communitarianism, an anti-liberalism? I leave it to political theorists to hash out what More’s view might be termed—or indeed if a label is useful at all. Utopia can, indeed, be read in a variety of ways, which support a diversity of ideological positions. It becomes more difficult, I think, to read these positions into More’s thought as a whole. When we examine his corpus, we see a preoccupation with the common good, expressed through representative quasi-republican institutions, and the eternal/immaterial, but also a pragmatism (even ‘realism’?) about the artificialities of the world in which we live. It is the work of a much larger piece to flesh this out in whole, and this small article has instead focused largely on what More cannot be said to be. Hopefully, however, this is in itself a utopian exercise. In understanding Not-More, we might better understand More himself.
 ‘Utopianism as a Political Ideology: An Attempt at Redefinition’, IDEOLOGY THEORY PRACTICE, accessed 8 February 2022, http://www.ideology-theory-practice.org/1/post/2021/04/utopianism-as-a-political-ideology-an-attempt-at-redefinition.html.
 ‘“We Are Going to Have to Imagine Our Way out of This!”: Utopian Thinking and Acting in the Climate Emergency’, IDEOLOGY THEORY PRACTICE, accessed 8 February 2022, http://www.ideology-theory-practice.org/1/post/2021/09/we-are-going-to-have-to-imagine-our-way-out-of-this-utopian-thinking-and-acting-in-the-climate-emergency.html.
 Adrian Blau, ‘Interpreting Texts’, in Methods in Analytical Political Theory, ed. Adrian Blau (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 243–69, https://doi.org/10.1017/9781316162576.013.
 H. M. Höpfl, ‘Isms’, British Journal of Political Science 13, no. 1 (January 1983): 1–17, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007123400003112.
 Thomas More, The Yale Edition of the Complete Works of St. Thomas More: The Confutation of Tyndale’s Answer, ed. Louis A. Schuster, Richard C. Marius, and James P. Lusardi, vol. 8 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973), 782.
 Höpfl , ‘Isms’, 1; most of these do not appear in More’s work, though ‘papist’ does (24 times), which is a derivation of ‘papism’; likewise ‘donatists’ (26 times) from ‘donatism’ see https://thomasmorestudies.org/concordance/. Of course, this discussion is of English ‘isms’, and Utopia, along with a handful of More’s other writing, is Latin. Ism itself is a Latin (from Greek, and into French) derivation, for the suffix ‘-ismus’ (masculine). However, text-searches and concordances did not turn up many of these either, nor do ‘isms’ appear in the text of translations consulted.
 ‘Concordances’, Thomas More Studies (blog), accessed 8 February 2022, http://thomasmorestudies.org/concordance-home/.
 Quentin Skinner, ‘Thomas More’s Utopia and the Virtue of True Nobility’, in Visions of Politics: Volume 2: Renaissance Virtues (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 213–44.
 Joanne Paul, Counsel and Command in Early Modern English Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020), chapter 1.
 More, Letters, 321. In the Confutation, 287 he justifies this approach, suggesting that ‘senatus Londinensis’ could be translated ‘as mayor, aldermen, and common council’.
 More, Letters, 213.
 More, Confutation, 146, 937.
 Quentin Skinner, Hobbes and Republican Liberty (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), ix-x. This is not inconsistent with the fact that free-men could indeed become slaves in Utopia. In fact, the presence of slaves only highlights the emphasis on the sort of freedom enjoyed by law-abiding Utopian citizens. Slaves are drawn from either within Utopia - those condemned of ‘some heinous offence’ - or without – captured prisoners of war, those who have been condemned to death in their own country or, thirdly, those who volunteer for it as a preferable option to poverty elsewhere. Notably, in none of these cases is slavery hereditary and slaves cannot be purchased from abroad; Thomas More, More: Utopia, ed. George M. Logan and Robert M. Adams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 77.
 More, Responsio Ad Lutherum, 277. All references to More’s works taken from the Yale Collected Works series, unless otherwise indicated.
 Skinner, Hobbes and Republican Liberty, 30-1.
 Joanne Paul, Thomas More (Cambridge: Polity, 2016), 98-9.
 More, Utopia, 13.
 Michael Freeden and Marc Stears, ‘Liberalism’, in The Oxford Handbook of Political Ideologies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199585977.013.0020.
 Paul, Thomas More, 99.
 More, Responsio, 613.
 Richard Marius, Thomas More: a biography (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 199), p. 235; Wolfgang E. H. Rudat, ‘Thomas More and Hythloday: Some Speculations on Utopia’, Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance 43, no. 1 (1981): 123–27; J. C. Davis, Utopia and the Ideal Society: A Study of English Utopian Writing 1516-1700 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981); Hanan Yoran, Between Utopia and Dystopia: Erasmus, Thomas More, and the Humanist Republic of Letters (Lexington Books, 2010), 13, 167, 174, 182-3.
 More, Utopia, 229.
 More, Utopia, 46.
 More, Utopia, 71.
 More, Dialogue of Comfort, 179.
 Lyman Tower Sargent, ‘Ideology and Utopia’ in The Oxford Handbook of Political Ideologies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199585977.013.0020.
 This leads me to address the Erasmus-shaped elephant in the room: what about humanism? Even if Utopia is entirely critical, then the ‘ism’ that might be left standing would be humanism. It’s important to note, however, that humanism has been rather unfortunately named, as scholars agree that it is most definitely not a defined or coherent system of beliefs, but rather a curriculum of learning, an approach to the study of texts and at most a series of questions to which ‘humanists’ provided a variety of answers. One of those question does indeed address the best state of the commonwealth, to which Utopia is a – thoroughly enigmatic – answer.
 ‘in Utopiensium republica, quae in nostris civitatibus optarim verius, quam sperarim.’
 More, Apology, 166.
by Nicolai von Eggers
The presidency of Donald Trump and the rise of far-right movements and politicians across the globe has triggered a resurgence in the use of the concept of fascism to describe our contemporary political situation. Former US foreign minister, Madeleine Albright, wrote “a warning” about the similarities between Trump and former fascist leaders, while philosopher Jason Stanley published a bestseller on the tell-tales of fascist discourse. Both books focused on discourse and the role of the leader, while less attention was given to forms of organisation, political ideology, or more ingrained cultural factors.
But while both books got a lot of attention, they were also widely criticised by critics who held that we are by no means living in a fascist moment, that Trump and similar acts by no means possess the kind of mass organisations that enabled fascism, and that for all of their ultra-populist shortcomings these leaders did not hold ‘core-fascist’ beliefs or aspirations to totalitarian rule.
The mainstream debates over the nature of fascism and whether it is a useful category for understanding contemporary politics reflects a wider debate within the study of fascism and political ideologies more widely. Is fascism an ideology on a par with the other ideologies such as liberalism, socialism, and conservatism? Or is it a rather a subset or perversion of one or more of these ideologies? Or is it something entirely different, like a purely negative ideology—antiliberal, anticommunist—as Noberto Bobbio once argued? Such debates over the exact definition of fascism may seem overly academic, but they are nonetheless important, for the way we define fascism has consequences for how we understand fascism today—whether it exists, whether it should be taken seriously, how widespread it may be said to be, how much of a danger it consequently poses, and ultimately how it should be fought. This discussion, however, often makes little sense in the abstract and only becomes concrete through contextualised analyses of concrete movements, political situations, and the ideological output of specific currents.
One ideological current that has received some attention in recent years is the so-called European New Right, which has influenced not only currents such as the alt-right and the Identitarians but also political parties and public debate more widely. Specific identifiably far-right talking-points and language, such as ‘the great replacement’ and a ‘ethnopluralist’ way of speaking about ‘tradition’, ‘cultural difference’, and ‘defence of European values’ have increasingly moved out of the fringe culture of the far right and into mainstream discussions.
Researchers have long debated how exactly this current should be understood. Most researchers have settled on the somewhat vague definition of the European New Right as ‘neo-fascist’, which some use to emphasise the current’s ideological relation to fascism (thus emphasising the fascist part) while others argue that the current is better understood as something altogether new and different (thus emphasising the neo part). One of the main reasons for doing so is the lack of reference to biological race theories, the lack of reference to white supremacy (which was substituted for the idea of ethnopluralism), and, most importantly, the lack of references to a uniformed mass movement led by a Führer or Duce and a concomitant imperialist-nationalist agenda. Within New Right ideology this has been replaced by the idea of federalism and a ‘Europe of a hundred flags.’ Thus, Steve Bastow argued some time ago that the New Right’s turn to federalism took the movement out of fascist ideological space more broadly construed.
The question, however, is how exactly we should understand federalism as it is promoted by the New Right. One way to answer this is to look more closely at how the key ideologue of the European New Right, Alain de Benoist, has defined, understood, and deployed the concept of federalism.
A key point of reference for Benoist’s conception of politics, I argue in a recently published article, is the French Revolution. Positioned thoroughly within the reactionary, counter-revolutionary tradition of political thought, Benoist sees the French Revolution as the Fall, the moment in which European society went decisively awry. According to Benoist, the French Revolution saw the rise of two opposed movements, two opposed logics of politics and societal organisation. One, he calls ‘Jacobinism’, by which he understands a modernising, rationalising project based on individual liberties and the rights of man, centralising administration, and governing through universal laws and standardised systems of administration. This also entails a culturally unifying and homogenising project, which seeks to render all members of society equal independently of gender, language, status, occupation, and area of origin. Thus, in France, ‘Jacobinism’ introduced universal education, a universal language (French), and universal laws, all animated by a central, singular entity: the French state.
Against Jacobinism, and what Benoist sometimes calls ‘the ideology of the Same’, Benoist argues that an antagonistic counter-project of federalism was born. Benoist identifies this counter-revolutionary, federalist tradition with the anti-revolutionary uprising in the Vendée and, more generally, with the aristocratic counter-offensive against the revolution. But federalism first and foremost signifies a much deeper logic of society and politics. Unlike the ideology of the Same, federalism is an ideology of difference, according to Benoist. Thus, Benoist champions the causes of local ‘peoples’, such as Bretons, Flemings, Catalans, and so on, to preserve their own language, culture, and identity in the face of ‘Jacobin’ encroachments. Benoist does not deny the existence of France and Frenchness, but he is critical of what he views as its tendency to wipe out local identity. Thus, Benoist rather views ‘nationalist’ identity as one of scale: local identity, national identity, and regional (i.e. European) identity. Thus, it is possible to be both Breton, French, and European.
What is not possible, however, is to be both ‘foreign’ and French and European. To believe so would be to succumb to the ideology of Sameness. What is at stake for Benoist and the New Right is instead to understand identity as fundamentally based on difference: Difference between various regional peoples who are nonetheless members of the same national and regional ‘family’, and difference between Europeans and non-Europeans who are different on a much more fundamental level.
This conception of identity is based on a mythico-historical—but ultimately essentialist—conception of human beings, which conflates culture, politics, and ethnicity. According to Benoist, it can meaningfully be said that an Indo-European ethnicity exists. In some of his texts, Benoist even lends credence to the so-called Hyperborea-Thule-thesis, which is quite widespread among some segments of the far right, and which is a polygenetic theory of human evolution holding that the Indo-European ‘race’ originated in Northern Europe and was only later, and only partially, mixed with other races originating in the South. Benoist weighs his words carefully, but it is clear that these texts toy with a conception of ethnic purity as the road towards happiness and the good life. And in less esoteric texts, Benoist still argues that there is a direct connection between ethno-cultural roots and values and political systems. Thus, Benoist has argued that “unlike the Orient, absolute despotism has been rare in Europe”, and that in “Indo-European societies, kings were usually elected”. This quote precedes a paragraph in which Benoist goes on to praise the electoral processes of the Germanic tribes described by Tacitus, while in other places Benoist refers to the Icelandic Althing as proof that a democratic culture was deeply embedded in premodern European life.
Benoist’s political model is therefore not one of a mass-party led by a Führer engaged in expansionist, militarised politics. What he envisions instead is a federalist Europe of purified local peoples that will govern themselves in accordance with their supposed ‘original’ political culture, and which will furthermore federalise on a European level in order to draw up agreements and protect themselves against a foreign, non-European enemy. In contrast to an ideology of the Same, which according to Benoist “annihilates” differences between peoples, the federalist project is to be built on an ideology of difference that respects these ‘original’ ethno-cultures.
Does federalism then take the New Right out of the fascist space, as Steve Bastow has argued? I will argue that it does not. The federalist element only provides the New Right with a specific version of core fascist beliefs, not something different from them. I here largely agree with Roger Griffin that fascism should be defined as the attempt to bring about the rebirth of mythical ‘nation’ through struggle, which also entails purifying it of contaminating elements. Thus, as Griffin has emphasised elsewhere, “the single party, the secret police, the public displays of Caesarism, even the presence of the Führer are not necessarily attributes of fascism”. This also means that many “features highlighted in the ‘check-list’ definitions of fascism . . . have been ‘accidental’, contingent on the way the vision of the total politico-cultural renewal of the ‘people’ was conceived in the unique conditions of interwar Europe”. There are, in this sense, various contemporary forms of fascist ideology, and I believe the notion of ‘federalist fascism’ best captures the specific New Right tendency.
There are three reasons as to why I think the notion of ‘federalist fascism’ is a useful category when it comes to understand the ideology of the New Right.
First, ‘federalist fascism’ incorporates a term—federalism—that Alain de Benoist himself sees as the best description of his own political-ideological beliefs. It goes a long way to describing the adherents of the political ideology of the New Right in the same terms in which they understand themselves. Further, ‘federalist fascist’ is a promising way to redescribe the potentially misleading term ‘ethnopluralist’. Ethnopluralist language, which speaks about the right to defend local identity against modernity, often confuses what is really at stake— namely, ethnic cleansing and the belief that the true nature of a people can only be realised through living in ethno-cultural, homogenous, traditional communities (which is clearly an essentialist and fascist conception of human beings and the good life). ‘Federalist fascist’ is much clearer in that regard, because it emphasises that we are not dealing with standard notions of white supremacy, biological racism, and imperialist ambitions but rather a more defensive project, ‘protecting’ European values and the ‘Europe of a hundred flags’. The notion of ‘federalist fascism’ thus has the double function of describing the New Right ideology partially in terms that lie at the heart of the New Right’s own self-understanding (federalist), while at the same time refusing to rely on that self-description entirely and consequently also redescribing the movement in terms of a social-scientific assessment that uses a widely accepted and well-established typology of political ideologies (fascism).
Second, the notion of ‘federalist fascism’ points in the direction of what we might call the political (organisational, governmental) aspect of the New Right. As we have already seen, the party, secret police, Caesarism, and the Führer are more incidental or contingent expressions of fascism. In other words, the specific political form of fascism may vary according to specific political situations— historically, geographically, culturally, etc. The question then is what political form fascism takes today. It does not necessarily take one single form, and the form it does take can be malleable, in the sense that the question of what political form to take often depends on what is strategically feasible. Still, when it comes to the New Right, the political form is closely linked to the notion of ‘federalism’. This means potentially arguing in favour of some level of democracy, of focusing on inter-regional and international collaboration (against the common enemy of the Other, often identified with Muslims and the Arabic world), and having a flatter movement structure than was the norm under traditional fascism. Identifying fascism too closely with the Führer principle, dictatorship, the mass party, and military hierarchy can make it hard to identify real fascists who do not quite fit this mould, and thus to understand what exactly is going on. The more fine-grained notion of ‘federalist fascism’ works better, I believe, when trying to understand who can meaningfully be described as fascist and who cannot.
Third, the notion of ‘federalist fascism’ underlines the direct links the New Right has to the fascist tradition. It has been argued that the New Right is not really fascist, or not directly fascist, because it does not invoke figures such as Hitler or Mussolini and the politics they stood for. But this is a very narrow definition of the fascist project and overlooks the fact that many currents of various beliefs assembled under the banner of fascism for a variety of reasons. Furthermore, the New Right does in fact draw explicitly on an avowedly fascist tradition—namely, what we may call the ‘aristocratic-intellectual’ current within the larger tent of the fascist movement. This included intellectuals such as Julius Evola, Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, Martin Heidegger, Ernst Jünger, and Carl Schmitt. Especially the former is a key point of reference for the New Right. What these thinkers have in common is a critique of many of the völkisch aspects of actually-existing fascism as well as the mass political nature of the fascist project. What they championed instead was an aristocratic fascism that emphasised spiritual races and the leadership of an elite, drawing on the traditionalist idea of a priestly warrior caste of officers. The ideal here is not the Führer embodying the vulgar spirit of the people but that of intellectual aristocracy taking care of politics. This intellectual current is what is widely known as ‘the conservative revolution’, a term coined by the Swiss fascist, Armin Mohler, who after World War II tried to delink this part of the broader fascist movement from actually-existing fascism. Mohler, who worked as Jünger’s secretary and since became a major influence on the New Right, explicitly referred to ‘federalism’ as one of the “fundamentals of conservatism”, of the revolutionary (i.e., aristocratic, fascist) kind he himself promoted. The New Right is thus a direct descendent of the conservative revolution, which was an integral part of the broader movement that made up actually-existing fascism. Referring to it as ‘federalist fascism’ highlights this connection.
Overall, ‘federalist fascism’ is a better concept for understanding New Right ideology than the concept of ‘neo-fascism’, which remains diffuse and insufficiently clear in its indications of what exactly is ‘neo’ about new forms of fascism, such as that of the New Right. ‘Federalist fascism’ has the merit of highlighting the ethnopluralist ideas of the new right, its tendency to experiment with organisational and potentially governmental forms that are different from the hegemonic current within traditional fascism, while retaining the key insight that we are dealing with a fascist ideology which believes in ethno-cultural homogeneity as a prerequisite for the good life. In this way, the notion of ‘federalist fascism’ can contribute to the debate on what fascism is in the 21st century, what forms it takes, and how best to counter it.
 Madeleine Albright, Fascism: A Warning (HarperCollins, 2019), Jason Stanley, How Fascism Works (Random House, 2018).
 Dylan Riley, “Introduction to the Second Edition” in The Civic Foundations of Fascism in Europe (Verso, 2019), pp. xxii-xxx; Enzo Traverso, The New Faces of Fascism (Verso, 2019), p. 21l; Ross Douthat, “Is Donald Trump a Fascist?” in New York Times, 3 December 2015.
 Norberto Bobbio, ’Lïdeologia del fascismo’ in Daæ fascismo alla democrazia (Baldini & Castoldi, 1997).
 Amongst the former is Tamir Bar-On Where Have All the Fascists Gone? and Rethinking the French New Right; Thomas Sheehan, focusing on the early period of the New Right, argues in favour of employing the notion of fascism, see Thomas Sheehan, ‘Myth and Violence: The Fascism of Juluis Evola and Alain de Benoist,’ Social Research 48, no. 1 (1981): 45-73; Roger Griffin, ‘Between Metapolitics and “Apoliteia”: The Nouvelle Droite’s Strategy for Conserving the Fascist Vision in the “Interregnum”,’ Modern and Contemporary France 8, no. 1 (2000); Nigel Copsey with reference to Bar-On opts for defining the New Right as a ‘revisionist permutation of neo-fascism’ see Nigel Copsey, ‘“Fascism… But with an Open Mind”: Reflections on the Contemporary Far Right in (Western) Europe,’ Fascism: Journal of Comparative Fascist Studies 2, no. 1 (2013): 13. Somewhat more hesitant to employ the notion of fascism are Pierre-André Taguieff, Sur la Nouvelle droite ; 351-168; Alberto Spektorowski, ‘The French New Right: Differentialism and the Idea of Ethnophilian Exlcusionism,’Polity 33, no. 2 (2002) and ‘The New Right: Ethno-Regionalism, Ethnopluralism and the Emergence of a Neo-Fascist Third Way,’ Journal of Political Ideologies 8, no.1 (2003): 111-130.
 Steve Bastow, “A Neo-Fascist Third Way: The Discourse of Ethno-Differentialist Revolutionary Nationalism,” Journal of Political Ideologies 7:3 (2002).
 Nicolai von Eggers, “Federalist Fascism: The New Right and the French Revolution,” Fascism: Journal of Comparative Fascist Studies 10, pp. 298-322, available online via open access:
 For this tradition, see Zeev Sternhell, The Anti-Enlightenment Tradition (Yale University Press, 2009) and Darrin McMahon, Enemies of the Enlightenment (Oxford University Press, 2001).
 Benoist’s project is decidedly anti-modern, and the mythical nation that is to be revived is that of tribal, pre-statal Europe. Benoist himself is a pagan because he sees Christianity as a perversion of European culture, and his writings are sprinkled with references to Georges Dumézil and his theory of an ‘original’ tripartite division of society into priests, warriors, and commoners (the so-called trifunctional hypothesis). Benoist furthermore draws on Julius Evola’s esoteric belief that it is the rule of a spiritually superior warrior caste that will redeem society and cast of the yoke of modernity. Such ideas provide an identity for members of the new right who see themselves as warriors fighting to implement the ‘original’ social structure of Indo-European societies, and is reflected in the Generation Identity’s use of the symbol ‘lambda’, which for them represents the Spartan military class and its self-sacrifice in defending ‘Europe’ against the ‘Barbarian’ enemy at Thermopylae.
 Alain de Benoist, Indo-europeans: In Search of a Homeland (Arktos, 2016) and Runes and the Origins of Writing (Arktos, 2021).
 Alain de Benoist, ‘Democracy Revisited,’ Telos, no. 93 (1993), 66-67.
 Alain de Benoist, ‘Jacobinisme ou fédéralisme?’ from alaindebenoist.com, no date (ca. 2000). All translations from French and German are mine.
 Roger Griffin, The Nature of Fascism (Pinters Publisher, 1991) and for a good discussion of this definition in relation to the current state of the art ‘Studying Fascism in a Postfascist Age: From New Consensus to New Wave?’ Fascism: Journal of Comparative Fascist Studies 1, no. 1 (2012).
 Roger Griffin, ‘Introduction,’ in Where Have All the Fascists Gone?, Tamir Bar-On (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), xi; Griffin, ‘Studying Fascism in a Postfascist Age,’ 17.
 Griffin, ‘Between Metapolitics and “Apoliteia”,’ 38.
 Following Mohler, Benoist himself has made this argument on several occasions, as has Pierre-André Taguieff and Paul Piccone, who in the 1990s and 2000s as editor of the journal Telos published a series of articles by Benoist alongside a series of articles discussing his works and related topics. Similar lines of argumentation often pop up in public debate and, to a lesser extent, in the academic literature.
 Armin Mohler, Die Konservative Revolution in Deutschland 1918-1932: Ein Handbuch (Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1972), p. 236.
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.