by Piotr Kuligowski and Quentin Schwanck
In numerous studies, the 19th century is identified as the dawn of modern politics, for it was then that contemporary political ideologies emerged and/or gained popularity outside the narrow circles of intellectuals. Indeed, the rise of capitalism and the entanglement of deep social and economic phenomena then paved the way for new comprehensive ways of thinking and perceiving the world. This intellectual process gained a particular momentum in the period that Eric J. Hobsbawm correctly called ‘the age of revolution’ (roughly 1789–1848). It was in this period that numerous authors clustered together novel single concepts such as ‘liberalism’ and ‘socialism’ to create all-encompassing intellectual systems. These conceptual constellations subsequently allowed political actors to grasp the entirety of socio-political phenomena and recognise them within the framework of a well-ordered system of thinking.
Yet how and why could French political concepts penetrate Polish discourse and contribute to the emergence of a distinct national ideology? And how do ideologies disappear?—these are two crucial questions we have addressed in our recent research. To tackle these questions, we combined research toolkits provided by ideology studies in the way proposed by Michael Freeden and his followers, as well as the methods elaborated by the representatives of German conceptual history (Begriffsgeschichte). Therefore, we perceive ideologies as relative stable galaxies of concepts (following Freeden’s definition of concepts as the ‘building blocks of ideology’)—even though, as happens in the cosmos, certain changes may occur from time to time: supernovae explode, meteorites fall, and stars and planets collide. In other words, our perspective allowed us—by tracing the transfers and transformations of individual concepts—to grasp the moment of the emergence and disappearance of the ideology we are interested in.
In our case study we underline the role played by the asymmetrical pair of counter-concepts ‘individualism-socialism’, coined initially by the French philosopher Pierre Leroux (1797–1871), within the discourse of Polish democrats in exile. Indeed, despite the highly divergent sociopolitical conditions that obtained in Poland and France at the time, in the wider picture it is possible to observe certain common points and problems they intended to face. In particular, both Polish and French political actors from that time perceived the world as being in turmoil, and sought effective remedies to cure fears related to the modernising world. An important watershed in this story is the year 1830—a year of revolution in France, which also marked the outbreak of the anti-Russian November Uprising in the Russian-controlled part of Poland. Both events triggered profound changes in these countries’ political landscapes.
Indeed, the case of post-1789 France is particularly interesting. During the first decades of the 19th century, many French thinkers, and particularly the first socialists, acknowledged the radical changes faced by society, that is to say the collapse of political legitimacy, the contestation of religious values, and the emergence of the question sociale in the wake of liberalisation and industrialisation. Trying to describe and analyse the new human condition, early socialist thinkers such as Henri de Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, and their successors decisively contributed to shaping modern political categories.
Their critique of the existing order led them to define the two great ideological alternatives that we still know today as socialism and liberalism, elucidating this opposition with the articulation of decisive counter-concepts. In this article, we investigate one of the most interesting cases of this ideological process, focusing on Pierre Leroux—the first French thinker to use the concept of socialisme. Leroux began to formulate his original philosophy in the 1830s and, although he was largely forgotten after the rise of scientific socialism, he greatly contributed to the political and social debate in the 19th century. As he insisted in 1857, it was he ‘who first used the word socialisme. It was then a neologism, a necessary neologism [coined] in contrast to individualisme, which was beginning to prevail.’
Indeed, in his periodical publications such as the Revue encyclopédique (1831–1833) and the Encyclopédie Nouvelle (1833–1840), but also in many of his books, Leroux formulated an innovative social philosophy based on the pair of counter-concepts individualisme and socialisme. He originally defined both terms in a pejorative fashion to describe the most extreme expressions of liberté and égalité, that is to say, atomisation and authoritarianism (referring to hierarchical forms of socialism such as Saint-Simonism): his objective being to find the golden mean between them.
Finally, Leroux adopted a positive defition of socialism on the grounds that he considered this notion to be the best one to describe his philosophy, asserting that ‘we are socialists if one calls socialism the doctrine which will not sacrifice any of the words of the formula liberté, fraternité, égalité, unité, but which will conciliate all of them.’ By doing so, he conferred a deep political dimension on this concept, and argued that the only way for a nation to become socialist was to be democratic. Indeed, democracy was for Leroux the true regime of the golden mean: as all voices would be heard and all social energies would be expressed in the democratic debate, tensions would gradually fade and the oppositions would converge in a higher state of harmony.
Pierre Leroux never became an ideological leader as he did not create a party or school of thought, but his original philosophy exerted a great influence on the 19th-century intellectual stage. His theory of democracy enabled him to become the first thinker to establish a fruitful dialogue between socialism and republicanism, thus becoming the great pioneer of republican socialism, an ideological stance and sensibility which played a great role in 19th- and 20th-century France. Furthermore, his doctrine gained a considerable audience at the European level, particularly in the small circles of the reformist elite. Indeed, as Leroux was a very close friend and interlocutor of George Sand, many of his most central ideas were presented or debated in her novels. As Sand was then the most famous female writer on the European continent, as well as an inspiration for many socialist movements, she enabled Leroux’s ideas to reach European intellectuals such as Alexander Herzen (1812–1870), Heinrich Heine (1797–1856), Giuseppe Mazzini (1805–1872), and Adam Mickiewicz (1798–1855), making him a central figure to evaluate the impact of ‘wandering ideas’ in 19th-century Europe.
In turn, the November uprising (that was finally defeated in 1831) marks a new period for Polish history, in which the massive emigration of cultural and political elites to Western Europe began. This phenomenon is called the Great Emigration, which had a profound impact on Polish culture (notably literature and poetry); but at the same time, its impact on the modernisation of the Polish political imagination should also not be underestimated.
One of the political milieus of crucial importance that emerged amidst the waves of Polish emigration was the Polish Democratic Society. The Society was created in 1832 in Paris in the wake of a split within the Polish National Committee, which was the result of debates about the failed uprising and the directions of the activities in exile. As possibly the first organisation in Europe to have the adjective ‘democratic’ in its name, the Society exerted a strong influence on Polish political life in the 19th century. In fact, it was the longest-existing organisation in exile, as its dissolution took place only in 1862. Moreover, the Society proved its organisational effectiveness: it had a clearly exposited political program and agenda, it established a network of would-be conspirators within the Polish lands, and was able to run several journals, amongst which Demokrata Polski (Polish Democrat) occupied a central place. The Society was also influential in the number of its rank-and-file members: at the peak of its activity, this organisation had approximately 2,500 members. For these reasons, certain historians (e.g., Sławomir Kalembka) have contended that the Society was in fact the very first modern Polish political party.
Thanks to these democrats’ close engagement with the ideas of the day, the asymmetrical pair of counter-concepts ‘individualism-socialism’ became transferred into Polish political discourse. As usual, however, transfer is not solely a process of passive transmission of a certain idea from its domestic context into the new absorbing one. Rather, it is always a process of creative adaptation that does not take place without frictions. From this angle, conceptual transfer arrives rather as multi-layered mediation involving numerous creative actors (authors, translators, publishing houses, funders, readers, and the like). This was exactly the case with the Polish democrats-in-exile, as they adapted the pair of ‘individualism-socialism’ to their own particular goals. Primarily, it came in handy when they tried to present themselves not as dangerous radicals, but rather as representatives of a golden mean between two extremes. In this way, the democrats made an effort to position themselves between the two political wings that existed within the Polish political milieu in exile: socialism represented by certain groups situated on the left of the Polish Democratic Society (such as the Commons of the Polish People, Gromady Ludu Polskiego), and individualism, associated with liberal-aristocratic conceptions, was to create negative alignments with the political milieu led by prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski (1770–1861).
Over the course of time, the Polish idea of democracy broadened its meaning. In the early 1830s, when the Polish Democratic Society was formed, democracy as a concept was associated solely with certain forms of organising political power. As the debates unfolded, however, it received new layers of meaning, saturated by new transferred concepts (derived mostly from the French republicanism and early socialism). First of all, in the 1840s democracy became a definite political movement, opposed to aristocracy, and, consequently, one type of possible political identification. What is more, democracy during that decade was also associated with a specific vision of society: its realisation was to be dependent on the transformation of the Polish socio-political realities that existed at that time. Last but not least, ‘democracy’ likewise meant supporting a certain historical viewpoint, as it encompassed a precise vision of the past as well.
These conceptual changes finally set the scene for the emergence of the concept of ‘democratism’, which became a label for a fully-fledged ideology that in the Polish context encompassed several ‘spaces of experience’—to use the term Reinhart Koselleck deploys to depict our experiences not as structures depending on chronological time, but rather as interrelated, malleable, and contingent paths. Indeed, ‘democratism’ was a future-oriented concept, defined as a golden mean between socialism and individualism (or egoism). ‘Democratism’ was presented as a specific adaptation of the pure teachings of Jesus, and thus became the watchword of the Polish people’s liberation. Interestingly, however, despite its clear universalistic orientation, ‘democratism’ was further described by the Polish democrats as a native Slavic concept.
In spite of their claims, we instead suggest that the notion of ‘democratism’ itself was likely first coined in German political debates (in the early 1840s), and potentially permeated into Polish political discourse from there. This is also indicated by the fact that one of the first Polish democrats who began to use the concept of democratism was Jan Kanty Podolecki (1800–1855), who before 1848 lived in Galicia, so in the part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth controlled by Austria. Podolecki found himself in exile after 1848, and became a member of the central section of the Polish Democratic Society that was formed in London at the turn of the 1840s and 1850s. Seen from this angle, the concept of ‘democratism’ encapsulates experiences related to several different political and social contexts.
The concept of ‘democratism’, however, turned out to be relatively short-lived. In the 1850s and 1860s, when the Polish Democratic Society found itself in organisational crisis, it began to lose popularity and importance. In fact, later on, the meaning of the concept of democracy (rather than ‘democratism’) in Polish political discourse became twisted once again, no longer signifying an ideology, but rather returning to its original meaning, i.e., referring mostly to the form of organisation of political power. The history of the concept thus acts as a microcosm, offering an insight into the process by which a political ideology is constructed and then later declines.
Our method and revealed case exhibit an additional dimension of topicality, which lies not only in addressing these questions by tracing the international connections that pervade intellectual history, but likewise in shining a light onto the process of unfolding a new ideology and, subsequently, onto its disintegration. It may be particularly interesting for scholars working on contemporary history in a time of great ideological changes such as today, where numerous conceptions coined beyond the Western world are coming to the fore and constituting new ideological constellations.
Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of revolution: Europe 1789-1848 (London: Abacus, 1977).
Michael Freeden, Ideologies and political theory: a conceptual approach (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998).
Reinhart Koselleck, 'Einleitung', in: Reinhart Koselleck, Werner Conze, and Otto Brunner (eds.), Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe. Historisches Lexikon zur politisch-sozialen Sprache in Deutschland. vol. 1 (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1972), XIII-XXVII.
Sławomie Kalembka, Towarzystwo Demokratyczne Polskie w latach 1832-1846 (Toruń: TNT; Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1966), 261.
Jörn Leonhard, ‘Another “Sonderweg”? The Historical Semantics of “Democracy” in Germany’, in: Jussi Kurunmäki, Jeppe Nevers, and Henk te Velde (Eds.), Democracy in Modern Europe: A Conceptual History (New York; Oxford: Berghahn Books: 2018), 74–75.
by Bruno Leipold
Bruno Leipold: This book is the culmination of a long engagement of yours with the German council movement that emerged during the Revolution of 1918-19. You wrote your PhD on Hannah Arendt’s account of council democracy and have also edited two volumes on the subject: Council Democracy: Towards a Democratic Socialist Politics (2018) and, with Gaard Kets, The German Revolution and Political Theory (2019). What is it about the councils that keeps drawing you back to them?
James Muldoon: The councils offer an alternative vision of democracy that expands our political imagination and questions the compatibility of democracy with capitalism. This perspective helps us to see our political inheritance of liberal democratic capitalism from a new perspective. The council movements believed it was necessary to extend a program of democratisation into a range of social and economic institutions such as schools, universities, workplaces, industry bodies, economic regulatory institutions and the civil service.
Many political theorists and actors come back to some form of council model when they are searching for alternative forms of political organisation outside of the state. The classic image of a council democracy is of a federal structure of councils with local and regional councils electing delegates leading to a national council that would exercise political and economic powers.
For those interested in examining more democratic ways to organise the economy, the experience of the council movements still provides a guiding light for what could be possible. There are specific institutional features such as recallable delegates, imperative mandate and average wages for political representatives that I think should get more of a hearing in contemporary debates, but which aren’t necessary for some form of council system.
Studying these bottom-up democratic institutions might seem anachronistic today, but what I find most interesting isn’t necessarily the precise institutional features, but the unfulfilled aspirations for political transformation which remain alive in the present. They show that a participatory society with more institutions organised along democratic lines is not only desirable but could be within reach.
BL: The title of your book seems to be a sceptical nod towards John Holloway’s Change the World Without Taking Power, a book that encapsulated the anti-hierarchical ideology of the Occupy movements. Do you see your book as challenging that model of political organisation and strategy?
JM: The title of my book, Building Power to Change the World implies a different strategy and approach to the ‘horizontalist’ tendency that was prominent in social movements in the 2010s. When I started this project on the workers’ councils of the 1917-1923 era, there had been a return to public assemblies and anarchist-inspired direct democratic methods as part of the global “squares movements”. Movements such as the Spanish 15M movement, Occupy Wall Street and other square and assembly-based protests sought to negate principles of hierarchy and representation and advocated for strategies of withdrawal and autonomous self-activity.
I participated in these movements as part of Occupy Melbourne and what many of us started to see was the limitations of such an ephemeral form of organisation. There was a sense in the neo-anarchist currents of these square movements that we could just re-create the world anew without having to engage with what was perceived to be an outdated and archaic form of democratic government. By refusing to engage with the domain of the state and parliamentary struggle these movements did not build up long-term organisational power or challenge the power of neoliberal capitalism head on.
In contrast to this strategy of refusal, the central point that most participants in the council movements of the inter-war period agreed upon was that in order to secure lasting social change the movement should develop the independent power of the working class. There were many disagreements over methods, but there was a shared horizon of acknowledging the importance of strategising ways in which workers’ power could be enhanced while diminishing the organisational and ideological power of the capitalist class.
BL: That would seem to involve a quite distinct understanding of organisation and power than we find in the horizontalism of Occupy and Holloway?
JM: There are many similarities between the approach of the Councils and that adopted by Holloway so the differences should not be overstated. However, his idea of “not taking power” relies on an ontological distinction between a “power to” (potentia) and a “power over” (potestas) and the presumption that there is some qualitative difference between the organisational form of parliaments versus other more grassroots forms of organisation. We can supposedly build our capacity for collective action (potentia) without creating new structures for controlling others (potestas).
I have always found this distinction dubious to hold in practice. It ends up valorising forms of political activity seen as “from below” or “of the people” while demonising strategies that involve forms of parliamentary struggle or action in and against the state.
Any movement seeking to form a more emancipatory society will eventually have to confront the question of which institutions will manage political conflict and enforce collective decisions in a post-capitalist polity. When you start to ask the question of how these institutions would be structured, what participatory rights and legal protections citizens would have, and how law would be created, the distinction between two separate kinds of power seems less helpful.
BL: One of my favourite lines that you quote in the book is by the Revolutionary Shop Steward Ernst Däumig who said he wanted ‘a Germany whose affairs are really determined by active people doing more than running to the ballot box every two or three years’, which sounds like the model of a good Rousseaian republican citizen! What role do you think republicanism plays in the ideology of the Council movement?
JM: The tradition of republicanism has some deeply conservative and even anti-democratic tendencies, but there are also prominent forms of radical republicanism. We are beginning to understand in more detail how the socialist tradition emerged from radical strands of republicanism in the 19th century.
Theorists of the council movements inherited a democratic republican legacy through the writings of Marx and Engels. Rosa Luxemburg is somebody who at different points has been seen as exemplary of a radical republicanism due to her calls for greater participation in public life and her defence of democratic freedoms. The council movements represent some of the more radical elements of the German socialist movement who favoured “bottom up” forms of socialist organising in comparison to the more statist versions of socialism in the German Social Democratic Party.
The real gambit of theorists like Anton Pannekoek and Rosa Luxemburg is on the question of citizen participation. Their entire political theory relies on a conception of democratic citizenship which demands a lot of citizens in terms of their commitment to public life. There is a kind of Rousseauian idea here of active citizens tending to public institutions, but it’s a form of republicanism beyond the state - a republic of councils perhaps.
BL: An important contribution of your book is that it reconstructs some of the core concepts of the ideology of the Council movements, including Rosa Luxemburg’s account of ‘socialist civic virtues’. How do these socialist civic virtues differ from what we traditionally understand by civic virtue?
JM: When I first read Luxemburg’s account of socialist civic virtues I was surprised by the use of such republican language. But the more closely I followed her thought in the 1917-1919 period, I began to see how much she had turned her attention to the cultural transformations that would be needed for a democratic socialist revolution to be successful. She thought that worker-controlled institutions such as workers’ councils would need to be accompanied by new social norms and widespread modes of relating to others that would protect and maintain these new institutions.
The content of these socialist civic virtues mirrors certain aspects of republicanism: the need for an orientation towards the common good, the negation of egoism, the development of political judgement and the importance of self-discipline and personal sacrifice. But the way these virtues figure in Luxemburg’s thought is very different to traditional republican theory. It’s not the state that cultivates these virtues in citizens through education, but the workers themselves that develop them in political struggle. They are also not oriented towards preserving the state as in republican theory, but towards an emancipatory political movement of overcoming relations of domination.
It’s for these reasons that I wouldn’t go as far as interpreters such as Hannah Arendt who sees Luxemburg as some kind of ‘republican’, however broadly understood. Although there are interesting elements of republican language and themes in her writings, they are thoroughly transformed and reconfigured within a revolutionary socialist outlook.
BL: Another important conceptual innovation of the councils that you highlight is idea of ‘freedom as collective self-determination’, which you particularly associate with Anton Pannekoek. Where does this conception of freedom lie in relation to some of the classic debates, including the distinction between positive and negative liberty?
JM: The council movements envisioned a new participatory society of democratic collectives involved in public life and democratically managing all of societies major institutions. Their ideal of political freedom involved democratic collective participating in their community and helping to shape its underlying character, laws and future direction.
The revival of republican accounts of freedom as non-domination have all been tied to negative ideals of liberty. Even radical republicans such as Alex Gourevitch – who has reconstructed the political thought of the Knights of Labour – situate their own interpretations primarily within the negative liberty tradition. For many of the radical council theorists, freedom was best understood as an activity – and indeed a movement – rather than a status or condition of non-domination. Democratic participation was seen as a necessary aspect of freedom rather than something auxiliary that was need to secure its conditions.
This view of freedom goes back to an older Athenian tradition (“the liberty of the ancients”) of active participation in exercising collective power. But this wasn’t just a nostalgic view of direct democracy. It was also attentive to how the state and modern labour market were two of the principal sources of domination in modern life.
It is a demanding view of freedom, but one that is too often discounted in debates between liberals and republicans as either conceptually incoherent or not worth considering. I think such a dismissal is too hasty. The ideal of freedom as collective self-determination has important resonances with a range of emancipatory social movements who see freedom as a collective practice and a constant struggle. It captures something attractive about our intuitive ideas of freedom that are left out of a purely negative lens.
BL: One subsidiary aim of the book is to rehabilitate the reputation of Karl Kautsky. You argue that during the German Revolution he advocated for a kind ‘socialist republicanism’ that combined elements of both parliamentary and council democracy. How does that position differ to some of the other positions taken by socialists and social democrats at the time?
JM: Karl Kautsky is little read today, even by Marxists. Mostly he is associated with the rigid orthodoxy of the Second International. He is said to have vulgarised Marxism into a crude economic determinism in which revolution was seen as a historical inevitability and all the party needed to do was passively wait for capitalism’s downfall. The book attempts to show that Kautsky was a far more sensitive and dynamic thinker than this characterisation implies.
I focus on his writings leading up to and during the German Revolution. During this period, Kautsky found himself occupying a middle position between two different groups. The moderate social democrats wanted the workers’ councils demobilised and for a speedy transition to a parliamentary republic. The radicals in the party called for a council republic with the workers’ councils forming the basis of the new structures of political authority.
In many ways, Karl Kautsky was the goldilocks of the German Revolution. He supported the workers’ councils and thought they played a valuable role in the initial phases of the revolution. But he didn’t see the councils as sufficiently universal or indeed that well suited to administering a future socialist society. In practice, rule by the councils had excluded many groups of people from any form of political suffrage: from many women, to the unemployed, peasants and even some male workers outside densely populated industrial areas.
But he didn’t think the councils should disappear after the revolution. He advocated for retaining the workers’ councils alongside parliamentary institutions to maintain an institutionalised power base for safeguarding workers’ interests and for the organisation of the economy.
BL: What did this ‘goldilocks’ position on the councils mean for Kautsky’s relations to those political factions, such as the leaders of the SPD, that rejected this hybrid approach?
JM: The leadership of the SPD at the time represented a social democratic compromise with capital and the state. They wanted to take over the reins of power but for private property to remain largely unchanged and for German industry to continue on as before. Kautsky is widely seen as going along with this basic idea and as having effectively sold out his radical roots by the time of the Revolution. His writings during this period show this not to be the case. Kautsky still advocated for a thoroughgoing socialisation of the economy and a transformation of the state.
One of the more innovative aspects of his program was his call for the radical decentralisation of the administrative apparatus and for power to be devolved to municipal apparatuses including the power of taxation, policing and the delivery of basic services. The radical housing projects and cultural life of “Red Vienna” in the 1920s stands as a living experiment of the kinds of policies Kautsky was advocating at the time.
Kautsky could be criticised for his naivety in relation to the true intentions of the SPD leadership, but he was pushing for far more radical policies than what he is usually given credit for.
BL: And what about Kautsky’s positioning beyond Germany? How did his socialist republicanism influence his view of the concurrent revolutionary events in Russia?
JM: What makes Kautsky’s position a socialist republican one is its starting point of political democracy, universal suffrage, parliamentary elections, a multi-party electoral system, and its insistence on maintaining civil and political rights. Kautsky was therefore critical of the Bolsheviks for what he argued were the use of ‘methods of violence’ which he contrasted with the ‘methods of democracy’.
One of the key points of difference between Lenin and Kautsky is on the role of the state. Lenin models the Russian soviet system on the Paris Commune with workers’ councils as the main institutions of political power. Kautsky doesn’t think the state should be abolished, but rather transformed into a democratic and then socialist republic. Kautsky finds in Marx a distinction between a “military autocratic” aspect of the state which should be abolished, and the democratic republican institutions which would need to be transformed for a future socialist society.
He argues that institutions such as a parliament with free elections, a multi-party system, a civil service and some kind of basic administrative apparatus would be necessary in a future socialist society. The purportedly “anti-bureaucratic” institutions of the Commune were simply no longer suitable for a large, complex and industrialised nation state. The socialist party needed to take what was best from the tradition of democratic republicanism and push it to its radical edges.
I think the identification of socialist republicanism as an ideology is a useful way of revealing significant differences within socialist ideology and an under-examined strand of democratic socialism in contrast to the more insurrectionary communism of the Bolsheviks.
BL: The Bolsheviks and the Russian Revolution have, of course, played a much greater role in the political imagination of the Left. What do you think explains the relative neglect of the Councils of the German Revolution?
JM: The various strands of socialist democracy that existed within pre-revolutionary Germany were eventually overtaken by the communism of the Bolshevik Party.
The experience of the councils was also not well incorporated into the history of political thought. Every historical event will be subject to partisan interpretations, but as John Medearis has shown, three of the most well-known interpreters of the councils, V. I. Lenin, Hannah Arendt and Joseph Schumpeter, each offer distorted readings of the councils that have led to confusions over their reception.
Lenin’s admonishing of the ‘infantile leftism’ of council theorists such as Anton Pannekoek had perhaps done the most to sink the reputation of theorists associated with this strand of socialism. Contrary to Lenin’s interpretation, many of the council theorists made significant theoretical innovations within Marxism, particularly by advancing democratic republican aspects of Marx’s political thought.
BL: Do you think that anything has been lost in our political vocabulary as a result of that neglect?
JM: I think the biggest neglect has been of these more ‘bottom up’ and democratic approaches to socialist organising which have been marginalised both with social democratic and communist discourse.
This relates to both strategy and institutions. On the strategic front, we have seen insurrectionary forms of socialism and vanguardist theories of political parties dominate for most of the twentieth century. For the most part, parliamentary politics has been seen as corrupted and not worth pursuing leading to a marginalisation of small socialist groups.
In terms of institutions, there has been very little theorising about what these would look like in a future socialist society or how you would practically organise the economy and manage political conflict. The idea that with the end of capitalism the majority of conflict would disappear has never really been plausible. In this respect, socialist republicanism adds an important political and institutional dimension to the socialist tradition.
BL: Finally, if you could pick out one text from the German council movement for people to read today, what would it be?
JM: I’ll cheat slightly and recommend one in German and one in English. For those who read German, I would get a copy of the stenographic report of the National Congress of Workers’ and Soldiers Councils which met from 16-20 December 1918. This was dubbed the “Parliament of the Revolution” and was the meeting at which the councils decided on a number of important questions such as whether Germany would be a council republic or a liberal democracy and how far it would go in socialising the economy. The debates at the Congress are insightful for how the workers and soldiers understood their choices.
It was republished on the centenary of the revolution in 2018 by Dieter Braeg and Ralf Hoffrogge as Allgemeiner Kongress der Arbeiter- und Soldatenräte Deutschlands. Unfortunately, it’s yet to be published in English, although certain speeches have been translated in Gabriel Kuhn’s All Power to the Councils! A Documentary History of the German Revolution of 1918-1919.
My personal favourite from this period that has been translated in English is a short pamphlet by Karl Kautsky written in January 1919 entitled “Guidelines for a Socialist Action Programme”. It provides an overview of how a democratic republic could be expanded into a socialist republic through a dual strategy of democratisation and socialisation and offers a different perspective on Kautsky’s political views during this period.
by John-Erik Hansson
The pages of the Journal of Political Ideologies testify to the resurgence of interest in anarchism in the last couple of decades. The number of articles on anarchism in the journal has increased rapidly in recent years; the last five years alone has seen articles covering everything from punk collectives and non-domination to anarchist hybridisation with other ideologies. This suggests that there is more work to be done to reconsider anarchism as a dynamic ideology concerned with contemporary political problems.
Three recent works on anarchism, the Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism (2019), Anarchism: A Conceptual History (2018) and Kropotkin, Read and the Intellectual History of British Anarchism (2015), show how the field of anarchist studies has benefited from engaging with Michael Freeden’s morphological approach to the study of ideologies. They have done so in two ways. Firstly, from the perspective of political theory, these works—and especially the first two—have helped clarify the conceptual constellations of anarchism. This is useful for rethinking what contemporary anarchism is, even if the precise morphological structure of anarchism may still be up for debate. Secondly, from a more historical perspective, these works—and especially the first and third—have foregrounded the dynamic process of the constestation and decontestation of concepts. This helps us understand the agency of anarchist thinkers and activists in their geographical and chronological contexts and offers fresh and much needed perspectives on the intellectual history of anarchism. Beyond anarchism, this latter point hints at the potential rewards of a closer collaboration between historians of political thought and scholars in ideology studies.
The Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism, edited by Carl Levy and Matthew Adams, is an essential resource for anyone interested in contemporary developments in anarchist studies. Its four parts provide a masterful overview of the theory, history, and practice of anarchism from a global perspective. Eschewing the well-trodden path of reconstructing anarchism and anarchist political theory on the basis of a set of canonical thinkers, the first part of the handbook introduces the subject through nine chapters dedicated to what the editors consider to be the “core problems / problématiques” of anarchism. This provides a solid base for understanding anarchism in the variety of traditions, historical circumstances, and applications presented in the rest of the work. The second, “core traditions”, outlines the diversity of intellectual and political tendencies in anarchism, from mutualism to anarcha-feminism, green anarchism, and post-anarchism. Part III of the handbook then deals with the history of the anarchist movement through a set of “key events” and moments from the late 18th to the 21st centuries; from the revolutions that form the historical perspective of early anarchism to the alterglobalisation movement. The last part explores the applications and limits of anarchist theories and perspectives. It explores the breadth of anarchist studies and suggests possible trajectories for the development of the field. Issues broached include, for example, anarchism’s relation to post-colonialism, indigeneity, food security, and digital society. As a whole, the handbook successfully delivers what the editors wanted: a “rich tour d’horizon” of anarchism and anarchist studies.
Although the editors do not frame it this way, the first part provides one plausible way of considering the morphological structure of anarchism. It even might be seen as progressing from core to peripheral concepts. In this reading, the state, the individual, the community, and freedom stand at the core (chapters 2, 3, and 4). They constitute the basis of the identity of anarchism throughout its history and remain stable components of anarchism today, regardless of internal divisions between, for instance, anarcho-syndicalists, mutualists, and anarcho-communists. Political economy, social change, revolution, and organisation (chapters 5 and 6) can then be seen as adjacent concepts that help understand the grounds for internal divisions within anarchism. The emergence of different perspectives and arguments on the desirability and viability of an anarchist market society, for instance, explain the split between mutualists and anarcho-communists. Finally, cosmopolitanism, anti-imperialism, religion, and science appear as peripheral concepts (chapters 7–10). These are concepts that became part of anarchism’s morphology in more specific circumstances and that informed political action and fostered dialogue with other ideologies and intellectual traditions.
Whether this is the best or most accurate conceptual characterisation of anarchism may be a matter of legitimate debate. As we will see with Anarchism: A Conceptual Approach, others exist. Still, it is a reasonable morphology. It accounts for the diversity of anarchist traditions and the distinctiveness of anarchism. To do so, it highlights many of the fault lines within anarchism and between anarchism and other major ideologies—such as liberalism or socialism—that have emerged over the last century and a half. The authors thus show that anarchism has been and remains a dynamic ideology, developed by a diverse set of actors in a variety of political and intellectual contexts. Moreover, chapters in this section are both analytical and programmatic. In his chapter on “Freedom” (chapter 4), Alex Prichard suggests that seeing anarchist freedom as a (radicalised) version of freedom as non-domination helps make sense of and overcome debates on the nature of liberty in anarchism. Contributors to the handbook not only track the different ways of thinking about the central concepts of anarchism, they also offer new perspectives on these concepts, thus feeding the process of (de)contestation.
In that sense, part I of the Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism both describes anarchism as an ideology but also intervenes in contemporary debates about its nature and identity. In Freeden’s terms, the handbook is at once interpretative and prescriptive; that is one of its strengths. Although the editors of the handbook do not frame it as such, the perspective that emerges may usefully be seen as a historically inclined response to a slightly earlier volume: Anarchism: A Conceptual Approach, edited by Benjamin Franks, Nathan Jun, and Leonard Williams. Whereas the Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism is a wide-ranging overview of the field of anarchist studies, the explicit purpose of this latter volume is to present anarchism’s morphological structure of core, adjacent, and peripheral concepts. Among the core concepts are to be found what the editors identify as anarchism’s “basic values”—anti-hierarchy, freedom, and prefiguration (chapters 1–3), and the concepts that ground what anarchists do—agency, direct action, and revolution (chapters 4–6). Adjacent concepts—horizontalism, organisation, micropolitics. and economy (chapters 7–10)—complement the core and provide a more nuanced understanding of how anarchists think and act politically together. Finally, the peripheral concepts—intersectionality, reform, work, DIY [Do It Yourself], and ecocentrism (chapters 11–15)—relate the conceptual core of the ideology to more concrete forms of political actions given contemporary political concerns.
As is to be expected, there is much overlap between the two morphologies. However, one of the central differences between may be the absence of a chapter entirely dedicated to the State in Anarchism: A Conceptual Approach. Other differences of note regard what I have identified as the peripheral concepts of the Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism’s morphology. In Anarchism: A Conceptual Approach, they include notions such as intersectionality (chapter 11), DIY (chapter 14), and ecocentrism (chapter 15). By contrast, peripheral concepts of the handbook include, for example, religion and science (chapters 9 and 10). This suggests important differences of ideological commitments within anarchism—and there are—but there is another explanation for such variation.
In my view, this has to do with the different intellectual projects related to anarchism that these two works pursue. The Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism seems to me to be more concerned with anarchism’s history than Anarchism: A Conceptual Approach. While the former volume builds a morphology that is perhaps more appropriate to understanding anarchism in the longue durée, the latter provides a morphology that is especially appropriate for both interpreting 21st century anarchism and defining possible political strategies for anarchists. By proposing a more systematic analysis of key concepts in anarchism, Anarchism: A Conceptual Approach suggests a definition of anarchism as a political ideology deeply embedded in contemporary politics. This proposed morphological structure, the editors hope, can then be used to spark further discussions in the field as well as suggest “the possibilities for developing solidarities based on shared norms and practices”. However, this does not mean that the morphological structure proposed in The Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism is solely historical and interpretative. While it recasts anarchism in its conceptual history, it suggests new paths to explore for contemporary scholars of anarchism and for anarchists alike. If Prichard’s account of anarchist freedom is correct, then new “solidarities” and discussions could emerge between contemporary anarchists and republicans and anarchists might be encouraged to rethink their approach to rulemaking in relation to those of other activists.
Taken together, then, Anarchism: A Conceptual Approach and the first part of the Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism offer two distinct perspectives on anarchism as a political ideology, by considering its relationship to different if broadly overlapping concepts. In and of itself, this is a valuable addition to discussions of contemporary anarchist political theory. What it also provides is a framework for recasting the intellectual history of anarchism. The development of anarchist ideology can be understood in terms of two intertwined dynamics: (1) that of the contestation and decontestation of concepts (including their adoption and abandonment), and (2) that of the ordering of concepts as core, adjacent, or peripheral. Late nineteenth-century debates in the First International, which led to clearer distinctions within socialism between Marxists and anarchists, are classic instances of particularly intense processes of ideological contestation and decontestation. Matthew Adams, in his chapter on “Anarchism and the First World War” in Part III of the Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism (chapter 23), makes the case that the diversity of anarchist responses to the First World War also constitutes a peculiarly intense moment of ideological contestation. He demonstrates how the disagreement on the war between Pëtr Kropotkin and his supporters (who supported the Entente) and Errico Malatesta and his supporters (who opposed the war altogether) was not so much a betrayal of anarchist ideas and ideals as a reconfiguration based on local circumstances.
What makes Adams’s chapter particularly compelling, however, is what the framework of ideology studies lacks from theoretical perspective: an understanding and account of context. Against what social, cultural, political, and intellectual backdrop do the morphological structures of ideologies change? What local problems were thinkers and activists trying to solve? Combining the study of ideology and a broadly contextualist approach to intellectual history gives us the tools to rethink the development of traditions of thought as they become essential parts of political ideologies.
Matthew Adams’s Kropotkin, Read, and the Intellectual History of British Anarchism, is a prime example of such a successful combination. It is an attempt to shed new light on and account for the development of (British) anarchism through the sustained contextualisation of the Pëtr Kropotkin’s and Herbert Read’s anarchist theories. It shows both continuities and discontinuities in the British anarchist tradition. Kropotkin and Read reformulated their commitments to “the rejection of authority encapsulated in the modern state, trust in the constructive abilities of free individuals, faith in the unitary potential of communalist ethics, and belief in the equity of communised distribution” to respond to locally specific circumstances and political languages. The consequence was that, while such core claims remained, new adjacent and peripheral claims were made. As Read contributed to the re-circulation of Kropotkin’s thought, he developed anarchist theory in directions which would either not have been available to or contextually strategic for Kropotkin in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
For instance, although Adams considers that Herbert Read developed a more systematic anarchism than is often recognised, he also demonstrates that the language and concepts of nineteenth-century sociology, so useful to Kropotkin, “could be an impediment” to the further circulation of his philosophy, which emphasised culture, art and aesthetics. Reviving Kropotkin’s ideas in the mid-twentieth century led Read to reformulate them and bring them in relation to new concepts in a new context, in which “systematic ambitions were unfashionable and brought to mind a particularly uninspiring form of Marxism”. The relative stability of the core claims of anarchism from Kropotkin to Read is then best understood as an agent-driven reconstruction of anarchism’s conceptual constellations, its morphological structure, given new political, social, and cultural contexts.
The key to Adams’s insights into the intellectual history of (British) anarchism is methodological. His work testifies to the fruitfulness of the combination of a contextualist approach to the history of political thought and a morphological approach to the study of ideologies. The history of anarchism has benefited from this methodological insight, but other ideologies should as well. The field of the history of political thought as a whole would benefit from greater engagement with Freeden’s approach to ideologies. Conversely, the field of ideology studies would likely also benefit from greater engagement with more historical approaches, from contextualism to Begriffsgeschichte. Further embracing interdisciplinarity and such methodological combinations can only sharpen our understanding of the political ideologies and traditions that structured and continue to structure our worldviews.
 Michael Freeden, “Interpretative Realism and Prescriptive Realism”, Journal of Political Ideologies 17(1) (2012), 1–11, https://doi.org/10.1080/13569317.2012.651883.
 Benjamin Franks, Nathan J. Jun, and Leonard A. Williams (eds.), “Introduction”, in Anarchism: A Conceptual Approach (New York: Routledge, 2018), 8.
 Franks, Jun, and Williams, 10.
Constructing ‘alternative’ ideological narratives in conservative thought: Populist strategy from village politics to a post-truth world
by Richard James Elliott
One of the most remarkable traits of modern conservatism in Britain and the United States is its populism—its ability to speak for and to a working class audience. Traditionally, conservative parties attracted popular support by pitching themselves to the masses as steadfast bastions of property and the established order. Yet in recent years, disruptive political movements on both sides of the Atlantic—Brexit in Britain and Trumpism in America—have magnified the importance of the direct (and personal) dialogue between conservative leaders and their working class supporters.
Calls from leading Brexiteers for Britain to ‘take back control’ from the European Union continue to resonate with disempowered voters in deprived regions of England, amplifying the reach of Boris Johnson’s opportunistic brand of conservatism. In the United States, Donald Trump speaks directly to the concerns of his working-class base, delighting thousands of adoring supporters at mass rallies, while—at least until recently—captivating (and enraging) millions more instantaneously via Twitter. And across the airwaves, conservative pundits like Fox News’s Tucker Carlson address viewers face-on, speaking directly to camera in an ersatz conversational style in order to give the impression that right-wing talking points emerge out of a straightforward and ‘authentic’ dialogue among reasonable Americans.
Using this approach, conservative leaders have been able to cultivate personal loyalty, to construct an ‘alternative’ narrative of political events around core ideological beliefs, and to undermine the credibility of the experts and journalists that question the new political orthodoxy. To those outside the bubble, this ‘alternative’ narrative often appears like a bewildering display of mendacity, bombast, nationalism, and self-aggrandisement, bearing little resemblance to reality. But for all the talk of transition to a ‘post-truth’ era of politics (and the cannibalism of conservatism), the current state of affairs is not as unprecedented as we often tend to imagine.
The ‘alternative’ narratives that have developed out of the contemporary dialogues between conservative leaders and their working-class supporters draw on many of the same strategies that have been used over the past three centuries to mobilise mass support during periods of intense political partisanship. By examining two rich historical examples (without losing sight of the clear differences in historical context) it should be possible to elucidate how these strategies work in practice. Moreover, it should become easier for us to step outside our own experience and reflect on some of the ways that populism expands and transforms conservative ideology.
The first example is a classic propaganda pamphlet targeted towards the labouring classes. Hannah More’s Village Politics (1792) was published at the height of the French Revolution, as the moderate constitutional aims of the early revolutionary years gave way to much more radical demands for social and political transformation. More’s popular pamphlet reflects the growing anxiety of the British ruling elite that revolutionary ideas would spread across the Channel, inspiring the lower orders to rise up and overthrow the existing political system. More sought to counter this threat (manifested in the immense popularity of Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man) by addressing the labouring classes directly in the form of a dialogue between two characters: Tom Hod, the mason, and Jack Anvil, the blacksmith. At the beginning of the dialogue, Tom reveals that a book of revolutionary ideas has caused him to grow dissatisfied with his lot. He demands ‘Liberty and Equality, and the Rights of Man’. Jack initially laughs off Tom’s sudden political transformation, before countering his demands with a discussion of the violent excesses of the French Revolution and the natural superiority of the English constitution. As Tom gradually cedes ground, Jack demonstrates that the ‘Rights of Man’ are all abstract theoretical principles with no real foundation. And he reminds Tom of the tangible benefits of the existing order (from a day off every week on the Sabbath to the ‘superfluity’ of ale). Ultimately, Tom abandons his new revolutionary ideas, accepting that ‘we’re better off as we are’.
The second example plays on many of the same themes. C. S. Price’s Love and Mr. Smith (1932) was one of a series of ‘Plays for Patriots’ intended for use as propaganda during the interwar period. These mini-dramas were official campaign materials (approved by the National Union of Conservative and Unionist Parties), performed by party-members to an audience of local electors. Crucially, the plays were not simply am-dram electioneering: they reflected real anxieties among conservatives about the dangers of socialism and the threat of class war. Love and Mr. Smith centres on the tension that arises in a working-class household when ‘good old-fashioned’ conservative values are challenged by the arrival of a communist interloper. Mr. Smith returns home from a political meeting fuming that the local Conservative candidate has been heckled by communists intent on stirring up trouble. His daughter has invited Billy Johnson, the young man that she is walking out with, for dinner. But it soon emerges that Johnson is one of the communist agitators that disrupted and ultimately broke up the meeting. Mr. Smith is outraged, and proceeds to lecture Johnson and the audience on the perils of social disintegration if the communists get their way. Fortunately, the drama is resolved when the middle-class curate arrives and explains that Johnson was fighting back against the bully tactics of his comrades, and Johnson renounces his former political beliefs for the love of Mr. Smith’s daughter.
Neither historical example is especially subtle. But the similarities between Village Politics and Love and Mr. Smith highlight some of the most effective strategies employed by conservative cultural and political leaders to construct an ‘alternative’ ideological narrative for their working-class supporters.
First, the narrative is presented in the form of a horizontal (i.e. a non-hierarchical) dialogue between ‘authentic’ working characters, encouraging the audience to identify with the message presented to them without closely scrutinising its provenance. Both historical examples then build upon this conceit by contrasting the horizontal transmission of conservative ideas with the vertical transmission of revolutionary ideas from detached intellectual sources (books) and pernicious left-wing elites (philosophers and party apparatuses). While the audience is encouraged to laugh at Tom the mason for gesturing towards the intellectual authority of The Rights of Man and proclaiming that ‘I find here that I'm very unhappy, and very miserable; which I should never have known if I had not had the good luck to meet with this book’, the message is clear: revolutionary ideas (and all related discontents) are artificially imposed from above, while conservative principles arise naturally out of the community.
And yet, there is a certain irony to this horizontal dialogue, given the didactic tone and the condescension that the authors privately felt towards their working-class audience. More commented that Village Politics was ‘as vulgar as [the] heart can wish; but it is only designed for the most vulgar class of readers’, while historian David Jarvis has noted that ‘Plays for Patriots’ were informed primarily by middle-class prejudices about the workers, and for this reason draw on very simple stereotypes. To contemporaries that saw through the conceit (and that cared about such things), the cognitive dissonance must have been jarring. The insincerity of conservative strategy was obvious, while its success was positively bewildering.
Second, the narrative is played out in the sphere of domestic drama, building personal stakes that transcend the political message. Love, friendship, family prosperity, and the social order are all thrown into turmoil by the prospect of revolution. Mr. Smith reminds everybody around the dinner table that communists ‘envy the people who’ve got the grit an’ the stomach to work ‘ard an’ get on’, inciting the weak and desperate to class war. By turning the communist preoccupation with the welfare of the working classes on its head, he elevates the domestic concerns of the household over the political concerns of the party activist. At the same time, he explicitly challenges the communist conception of the worker, bolsters a competing vision of working-class respectability, and primes the audience to remember that their own security and happiness is tied to a conservative political outlook.
Nonetheless, for all the anxiety, the audience is inclined to root for a happy resolution in both domestic dramas because the characters are relatable, pragmatic, and funny. Poor Billy Johnson has to suffer through a traumatic first meeting with his sweetheart’s parents before he can reveal that he has turned his back on communism for the love of Mr. Smith’s daughter. The eventual dénouement draws sympathy and laughs from the audience in equal measure. Likewise, in Village Politics, Jack’s repeated references to Sir John, the local landowner, his ‘rantipolish’ wife, and her desire to tear down and rebuild the estate with the changing fashions lends an element of mirth to a staid, conservative analogy for revolutionary reform. In the end, it is the personal stakes of this amiable cast of characters—and the humour that they bring to the dialogue—that enables the audience to look past the contrivances and identify with an ‘alternative’ ideological narrative.
Third, the narrative defines conservative values relative to a ‘foreign’ ideological antithesis, allowing the audience to fall back on the simple dichotomy of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Throughout their debate, Tom never really challenges Jack’s assertion that ‘Liberty, Equality, and the Rights of Man’ are quintessentially French principles and are thus intrinsically alien. In fact, Jack makes hay with this distinction, contrasting French freedom (‘They make free to rob whom they will, and kill whom they will’) with English freedom (‘a few rogues in prison keep the rest in order, and then honest men go about their business, afraid of nobody’), before demanding to know ‘suppose the French were as much in the right as I know them to be in the wrong; what does that argue for us?’
Ultimately, the nationalist distinction between English conservative values and foreign revolutionary dogmas applies a subtle psychological lever that makes it possible for conservative leaders to draw their supporters towards quite radical patriotic affirmations. As Jack and Tom proclaim: ‘While Old England is safe, I'll glory in her and pray for her, and when she is in danger, I'll fight for her and die for her’.
Fourth, by drawing and expanding upon all three preceding strategies, the audience is persuaded of the existence of a conspiracy to subvert natural social relations and suppress the truth. Though Jack has some success in casting doubt onto the value of foreign innovations, Tom remains obstinately convinced that his new revolutionary principles are sound until Jack pulls back the curtain: ‘Tis all a lie, Tom. Sir John's butler says his master gets letters which say 'tis all a lie. Tis all murder, and nakedness, and hunger’. The abstract theoretical principles of the revolution are a cover for an all-out assault on civil society. As Jack makes plain: ‘when this levelling comes about, there will be no Infirmaries, no hospitals, no charity-schools, no Sunday-schools’, and no security in marriage, because ‘for every little bit of tiff, a man gets rid of his wife’. Or, as Mr. Smith puts it rather more bluntly, the communists would have ‘No Gawd, no country, no marriage’.
At this point, it doesn’t really matter that the conspiracy appears wildly outlandish and all-encompassing, because it plays into a much more fundamental aspect of the ‘alternative’ ideological narrative: its anti-intellectualism. The plan to overthrow civil society is being perpetrated by a self-serving intellectual elite determined to further its own power at any cost. In Village Politics, this elite is embodied by Tim Standish, the local philosopher, who talks ‘Nonsense, gibberish, downright hocus pocus’, and is every bit the treacherous rat: ‘He is like many others, who take the king's money and betray him’. Men like Tim Standish should be grateful for the patronage of their social superiors, and should feel an obligation to preserve the status quo. Instead, they actively challenge it: they are guilty of the ancient Socratic crime of corrupting the youth with radical and dangerous ideas. Emphasising this point has two major consequences. First, it absolves all ‘misguided’ idealistic working class participants in the dialogue from blame (as Jack tells Tom, ‘they've made fools of the most of you’), and opens the door for reconciliation and even romance. Second, it primes the audience to believe that any attempt by intellectuals to appeal to reason is simply another attempt to deny the truth.
For those that are willing to buy into the narrative, the only reliable source of information becomes the ‘horizontal’ dialogue with likeminded conservatives. And at this point, it becomes more logical to deny expert authority and to reject evidence that appears to contradict the party line than to try to come to terms with a complicated reality. Thus, the narrative really does become an ‘alternative’ framework for understanding and explaining the world.
Of course, Village Politics and Love and Mr. Smith only provide a glimmer of insight into the kind of strategies that conservatives use in order to shape ‘alternative’ ideological narratives for their working-class supporters. But both of these examples do reveal continuity across time that may help to explain the flourishing of ‘alternative’ ideological narratives in the ‘post-truth’ world of today. Core aspects of conservative ideology clearly do incentivise cultural and political leaders to cultivate a direct dialogue with their working-class supporters, and to use that dialogue to shape the political reality. All it takes is a charismatic, amiable, or funny candidate, and the right kind of political appeal.
 Hannah More, Village Politics (1792).
 Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man (1791-92).
 C. H. Price, Love and Mr Smith – A Play in One Act (June 1932). This play, and many others like it, form a rich body of propaganda literature in the Conservative Party Archive.
 As quoted in M. G. Jones, Hannah More (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1952), p. 134.
 David Jarvis, ‘British Conservatism and Class Politics in the 1920s’, English Historical Review, cxi (1996), p.63-4.
by Sakiko Kaiga
After the First World War of 1914–18, the League of Nations was established as the first experiment in an international organisation for peace. The League has often been remembered as a product of the yearning for peace, idealistic post-war views and the US President Woodrow Wilson’s leadership. Unlike the organisation’s image associated with idealism, the establishment of the League of Nations marked a shift towards ideological international politics. The beginning of the transition— from the nineteenth-century Concert of European Great Powers to the twentieth-century ideological battle—was already represented by the development of the pro-league of nations movement in Britain during the war.
The pro-league of nations movement was a non-governmental movement which, led by liberal intellectuals, promoted the idea of creating a new peaceful organisation to the public and politicians. Usually categorised as a peace movement, the pro-league movement and its thinkers have tended to be dismissed as utopians who could not understand how politics worked. As it has frequently been portrayed in previous studies, the pro-league of nations movement publicised a purely peaceful ideal and succeeded in obtaining the widespread support of the war-weary public in the later years of the war. However, most of the pro-league activists were neither pacifists nor opposed to the war, and their idea about the league defied the clear-cut categories of International Relations such as utopian or realist. In their theory, a basic premise of the creation of a league was the Allies’ victory. Pro-leaguers supported the on-going war and condemned war in general, which was hardly in conflict with their post-war project. Further, in their war prevention plan, realistic measures such as military sanctions and idealistic expectations on the moral force of public opinion were entwined as complementary ways. Both realistic and idealistic views, without excluding each other, developed their plan for peace which incorporated the collective use of force as a crucial element of the post-war order. Building on such views on future war prevention, the pro-league of nations movement aimed to devise a new system to maintain peace; the movement should therefore be better understood as a movement for international reform, rather than a peace movement. The idea about the league attracted leading statesmen such as British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey and was reflected by the official reports of the Phillimore Committee, the Foreign Office’s official study group on a league, which provided the basis for the discussion on the League of Nations Covenant at the Paris Peace Conference. Influencing decision-making as well as the development of international norms, the pro-league of nations movement played a role in the emergence of the new international order.
In fact, the contribution of the pro-league of nations movement to the new order was made by its unexpected, less straightforward, evolution during the war. The pro-league movement transformed its official idea about the post-war organisation into something unintended, by reflecting not the public’s craving for peace but the reality of people and nations at war. At the outbreak of the war in 1914 when the movement began, the pro-league of nations activists identified international anarchy and the rivalry of alliance blocs as the primary cause of war. They therefore sought to reform international relations by introducing a new international institution inclusive of all the great powers. Yet, by the end of the conflict in 1918, the pro-leaguers came to promote what they had originally opposed: the league as a continuation of the war-time alliance against Germany and its allies into the post-war peace. Behind this profound shift lay a powerful argument to fight until Germany was defeated, and a widely-shared belief that a new international organisation for peace should be formed as a coalition only of ‘democratic’ states. We will see why and how this shift unfolded, by tracing the ideas of the leading members of the pro-league movement, especially those of the Bryce Group, one of the first pro-league circles in Britain, and its successor, the League of Nations Society. It reveals how post-war ideas were elaborated inside the movement and publicly promoted in Britain from 1914 to 1919—a crucial period that framed the power and limitations of the League of Nations.
* * *
In the course of its development, the pro-league of nations movement and its post-war ideas needed to be in tandem with the war. The more popular and influential the pro-league movement became, the less control the original leadership enjoyed over its direction. In 1915, the Bryce Group’s Proposals for the Avoidance of War, the first scheme of an international organisation during the war, provided the springboard for the subsequent debate about a new world order. Inspired by the Proposals, the League of Nations Society campaigned for the foundation of a post-war organisation, but in 1915–16 worked undercover to avoid being denounced as a pacifist movement. Finally in May 1917, the Society held its first public meeting and the idea of a league obtained widespread public support. Thus, the League of Nations Society made great strides in making its case popular and legitimate, yet at the same time began to lose control of the debate about what the league would look like. In popularising their ideas, the pro-leaguers underscored only the establishment of a new organisation without going into details, and lost the nuance and sophistication of their original proposal.
Simplifying the message for mass consumption was both a strength and a limitation. The activists lost control of the league project, by abandoning in-depth discussions about the post-war plan; yet, it also enabled the idea to be interpreted widely and to develop politically, which helped fulfil the ultimate goal of the pro-leaguers—the foundation of a new organisation. By the end of the First World War, its unprecedented scale and casualties compelled governments to justify the fight by a higher cause beyond national defence or interests. For this purpose, the war was framed as an ideological struggle for a peaceful international order, which paradoxically served to intensify the violence and also to legitimise the continuation of the war until victory. Under such circumstances, the only way the idea of a league of nations could become a popular, legitimate, and practical political project in Britain was if it was consistent with the defeat of Germany and its allies. The idea of a league was upheld as a war aim, part of the moral crusade of the western powers against German barbarism. Even though the pro-leaguers hoped for a new peaceful organisation and fought for a higher cause such as ‘a war against war’, in reality they fought for victory over enemy states. Fighting against states entailed seeking military victory as well as political and ideological supremacy, and that required the mobilisation of the public and their hatred of the enemy. The truth that war involved hate and violence was an essential problem that pro-league activists had to acknowledge for their purpose of achieving a new world order.
Indeed, the long, horrible, experience of the First World War neither transformed the public attitude into opposition to war in and of itself nor accelerated the development of the idea about the league of nations. Instead, the war led people to require legitimate and ideological reasons for going to war in the future. Prior to 1914, the reasons for going to war could be varied—conquest, defence, and sometimes honour. Fuelled by jingoism and war’s image as something short, heroic and rewarding, the public was not particularly inclined to consider whether there were ‘righteous’ reasons for waging war. In the case of Britain but also elsewhere, the First World War recast the way in which popular support for mass participation in war would be mobilised, and war for the preservation of peace became the most legitimate cause. The British public supported the creation of an international organisation to prevent war, not simply because of war-weariness or a longing for peace, but because of their recognition that the League would be a democratic alliance of peace-loving nations against German militarism. From the First World War to the Cold War, what constituted the legitimate use of military force was transformed, and the concept of peace itself became the focal point for intensifying ideological antagonism in the international spheres.
* * *
By the establishment of the League of Nations, liberal values such as disarmament and international cooperation took centre stage in the international arena for the first time. Simultaneously, it highlighted the limits of liberal internationalism—a recently challenged and re-examined concept. Although the League of Nations was originally intended as an institution for war prevention and peaceful conflict resolution, it was not designed to prevent all wars but only certain types of war. Collective security that was introduced in the League ultimately hinged upon the use of force, military sanctions, as the last yet valid and indispensable measure for the maintenance of peace. Already in the early years of the war, the possibility of triggering or escalating war by relying on the use of force as a final resort was intensely debated by the pro-league thinkers. They nonetheless ended up envisaging an organisation which they simply anticipated would evolve over time, however imperfect the original form had been. They assumed military sanctions would be replaced in the future by a viable alternative—the force of public opinion—that would underpin a peaceful, stable international society. Founded upon liberal internationalists’ belief about progress, many British pro-leaguers anticipated public opinion would gradually develop and become a strong measure to prevent war. Although educating public opinion would need time and collective force would initially be required, the league would, once international morality was developed, evolve into the organisation that relied upon the force of public opinion. Supposing the threat of collective action would be less and less crucial in the future war prevention mechanism, pro-league thinkers left a question how such a vision of the league could be realised after the war and in the next generations. By looking at the emerging period of liberal internationalism, we can uncover the origin of its fundamental conundrum—the maintenance of world peace critically depends on the use of force—an issue that is still unsolved to this day.
 Henry R. Winkler, The League of Nations Movement in Great Britain 1914-1919 (Rutgers University Press, 1952); George W. Egerton, Great Britain and the Creation of the League of Nations: Strategy, Politics, and International Organization, 1914 -1919 (Scolar Press, 1978); Tony Smith, Why Wilson Matters: The Origin of American Liberal Internationalism and Its Crisis Today (Princeton University Press, 2017); Thomas J. Knock, To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order (Oxford University Press, 1992).
 Keith Robbins, The Abolition of War: the ’Peace Movement’ in Britain, 1914-1919 (University of Wales Press, 1976); Winkler, The League of Nations Movement in Great Britain.
 E. H. Carr, The Twenty Years’ Crisis, 1919-1939: An Introduction to the Study of International Relations (Macmillan, 2001), pp. 97-8.
 For example, Peter J. Yearwood, Guarantee of Peace: the League of Nations in British Policy, 1914-1925 (Oxford University Press, 2009).
 For more details, see Chapter Two in Sakiko Kaiga, Britain and the Intellectual Origins of the League of Nations, 1914-1919 (Cambridge University Press, 2021).
 William Mulligan, The Great War for Peace (Yale University Press, 2014), p. 10; Paul W. Schroeder, Systems, Stability, and Statecraft: Essays on the International History of Modern Europe (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), pp. 249, 258, 263-4.
 The League of Nations Society’s strategies to garner popular support are discussed in Chapter Three in Kaiga, Britain and the Intellectual Origins of the League of Nations.
 For example in Britain, Philip Kerr, a private secretary of the Prime Minister and a leader of the Round Table, envisaged a league that could strengthen the unity of the British Empire and promote Anglo-American harmony.
 Mulligan, The Great War for Peace, pp. 7-9.
 Ibid., pp. 8-9.
 I. F. Clarke, Voices Prophesying War, 1763-1984 (Oxford University Press, 1966), pp. 131, 162.
 The relationship between two pro-league groups in Britain and the US, the League of Nations Society and the League to Enforce Peace, is examined in Kaiga, Britain and the Intellectual Origins of the League of Nations, Chapter Four. Even though the two groups had a lot in common and worked for the same goal of reforming the global order, they could not establish a constructive collaboration because of the differences in their domestic contexts and in the British and American liberal internationalist traditions. The chapter focuses only on pro-leaguers in Britain and America because ‘[t]he English showed much more interest in an international organization than did advocates elsewhere in Europe, and their ideas must be compared with those in the US’, as Kuehl has pointed out in Warren Kuehl, Seeking World Order: The United States and International Organization to 1920 (Vanderbilt University Press, 1969), p. 236. Further, in France, the discussion about the league was intensified only after American entry into the war in 1917, and the French pro-league work was mostly led by the government, not by private groups as in Britain and the US.
 For example, see ‘Ordering the World? Liberal Internationalism in Theory and Practice’, International Affairs, Vol. 94, Issue 1, (January 2018); ‘Rising Powers and the International Order’, Ethics & International Affairs, Vol. 32, issue 1 (Spring 2018); ‘Out of Order? The Future of the International System’, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 96, Number 1 (January/February 2017); ‘Is Democracy Dying? Global Report’, Foreign Affairs, Vol 97, Number 3 (May/June 2018).
 While the British liberal internationalists expected gradual progress in international society, the American counterparts called for a dramatic and swift change of the world system. Believing in progressive history and radical development after the war, American activists supposed a league should be organised as a single community with law and a police force. For more details, see Kaiga, Britain and the Intellectual Origins of the League of Nations, Chapter Four.