The truth of liberalism

The legacy of political and economic liberalism in modern society has been on trial since at least 1848, if not before.[1] But whether or not one chooses to locate the crisis of modernity at a prior date, this was the point at which liberal ideology first came into open contradiction with itself. After the bloody “pacification” of the proletarian uprising in Paris — the violent suppression of the June insurgents by military forces loyal to the National Assembly — the classical liberal ideal of a harmonious, self-governing societas unmolested by state intervention had to be dispensed with once and for all. For here the bourgeoisie could no longer console itself with the reassuring thought that its hand had been forced from without. Unlike the Jacobin Terror of 1793, the nation’s recourse to authoritarianism in June 1848 could not simply be attributed to the pressures exerted on it from abroad, by the looming threat of hostile nations surrounding France on all sides. All of Europe was in the throes of political upheaval; this time there was no Holy Alliance to defend the crumbling edifice of traditional authority. Nor could it be claimed that the revolution had somehow been usurped by reactionary agents working from within, by the imperial ambitions and political machinations of Napoleon. That would come only two years later, with his nephew’s coup d’état.[2] Here, at the dawn of the summer months in 1848, the mutual antagonisms underlying civil society finally burst into the open and thus were raised to the level of consciousness. June 22nd, observed one commentator, marked “the tremendous insurrection in which the first great battle was fought between the two classes that split modern society. It was a fight for the preservation or annihilation of the bourgeois order.”[3] Liberalism had at last run up against its own internal limitations, finding itself unequal to the revolutionary tasks it had first set out to achieve.

Since that time, the historical significance of liberalism has been reckoned in a number of different ways. Various parties have sought to either take up its fallen mantle or forsake it altogether. Among those choosing the former course, many have done so in the name of fulfilling those great promises originally opened up by liberalism — liberté, egalité, fraternité — through the overcoming of bourgeois society as such. Liberal bourgeois democracy, though revolutionary in its day, has outlived its emancipatory potential, and now is felt to only stand in the way of these principles’ higher realization. Others have looked to freeze social relations in their present state, declaring liberal ideology to still be adequate to our moment. In so doing, of course, they are forced to deny or suppress the conflicts that continue to seethe beneath the peaceful veneer of society. More recently, however, some have called into question the emancipatory character of liberalism itself. Its universalism, these critics maintain, is a sham: it is only the elevation of a quite particular (white, male, European) standpoint to the dominant or “hegemonic” position of universality, which then claims a normative status over and above rival, marginalized, and “subaltern” particularities. This is, broadly speaking, the postmodern critique. Still others, looking to fend off this critique, have maintained that liberalism, along with the modern Enlightenment philosophy from which it arose, remains an “incomplete project,” whose results must yet be further generalized.[4]

Part I: A problematic legacy — The historical genesis of modern liberalism

Losurdo’s Liberalism: A Counter-History

Into this fraught discursive field enters Domenico Losurdo’s 2006 treatise Liberalism: A Counter-History, translated from the Italian last year by Gregory Elliott for Verso Books. Losurdo, who teaches at the University of Urbino, identifies himself as a philosopher in the Hegelian-Marxist vein of thinkers like Ernst Bloch, Max Horkheimer, and Antonio Gramsci. As its title suggests, his latest book aims to read the history of liberalism against the grain, so as to subvert the triumphalist account provided by its most passionate celebrants and ideologues down through the ages. Adopting the maxims laid down by de Tocqueville at the outset of his 1856 history of The Ancien Régime and the French Revolution, Losurdo sets about in good dialectical fashion the work of carrying out an immanent critique of liberal thought through an examination of the writings of its core protagonists, as well as the historical realities in which they lived. Quoting the French political theorist at length, Losurdo similarly vows to render the concepts so often invoked with respect to liberalism deliberately unfamiliar:

We think we know [liberalism] quite well because we are familiar with its glittering surface and, in minute detail, with the lives of its most famous personages, and because we have read clever and eloquent critiques of the works of its great writers. But as for the way in which public business was conducted, how institutions actually worked, how the various classes truly related to one another, the condition and feelings of those segments of the population that still could be neither seen nor heard, and the true basis of opinions and customs, we have only ideas that are at best confused and often misleading.[5]

It would appear that Losurdo, in following de Tocqueville, is here looking to deploy the classic literary device of defamiliarization, later described by formalist literary critics like Viktor Shklovskii.[6] Indeed, one of Losurdo’s primary objectives in this work is to challenge the received wisdom of what liberalism even is in the first place. More than once in the course of delivering his interpretation, he repeats the foundational question: “What is liberalism?”[7] Against some of the more commonplace answers typically offered up in response, Losurdo points out several ambiguities that problematize any attempt to supply a clear-cut, univocal definition to the term. Was John C. Calhoun, for example, a liberal? He at once sang hymns to the freedom of the individual from state interference, all while ratifying the constitutional unfreedom of black slaves under the law. What about Locke, that Ur-theorist (and indeed the “father”) of liberalism? Here again, Losurdo finds the evidence unclear. On the one hand, Locke denounced in his renowned Second Treatise on Government the political servitude of the citizen to the institutions of Church and State, the alternating tyrannies of the pulpit and the throne. In the space of only a few pages in that same tract, however, Locke can be seen defending the master’s “arbitrary power of life and death” over his legal human property, the slave. John Stuart Mill? An abolitionist, to be sure, but at the same time an apologist for British colonialism.[8] Continue reading

Part III: Losurdo in Light of Žižek & Michéa

Two alternative accounts of liberalism recently advanced

Before proceeding, it is helpful to contrast Losurdo’s Liberalism: A Counter-History with treatments of liberal thought carried out by two other noteworthy leftists — the Slovenian Marxist critic Slavoj Žižek and the French anarcho-syndicalist philosopher Jean-Claude Michéa.  Žižek’s stature within the world of radical theory has risen to such heights over the last decade that he no longer requires much in the way of an introduction.  Michéa, by contrast, is a relative unknown outside of his native France.  Still, his political orientation is so heterodox that it strikes readers of nearly any origin as eccentric.  Many of Michéa’s critics (and even his supporters) have suggested that he has made a career out of publicly airing his heterodox views and counterintuitive observations.[162]  Michéa understands his own work to be following in the footsteps of George Orwell, whom he has described as a “Tory anarchist” — or conservative anti-authoritarian.  And while Žižek and Michéa may be polar opposites, ideologically speaking, a side-by-side review of their writings about liberalism has the decided advantage of the authors’ past exchanges with one another on the subject.  In his 2007 (translated 2009) book, The Realm of Lesser Evil: An Essay on Liberal Civilization, Michéa picks up on a few of Žižek’s musings regarding the false permissiveness of the postwar liberal household.[163]  Returning the favor, Žižek spends a few pages in the opening chapter of his 2010 work Living in the End Times summarizing Michéa’s thesis about the logical inseparability of political and economic liberalism.[164]

Žižek and Michéa each explore facets of historical liberalism that Losurdo leaves out of his narrative — e.g., “the dramatic wars that defined the everyday horizon of human lives throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.”[165]  The religious wars raging throughout Europe during this period together constituted one of liberal ideology’s chief formative experiences.  In a 2004 interview with Dianna Dilworth for The Believer, Žižek expressed his appreciation for early liberalism’s response to this challenge:

[O]riginally [liberalism] was not an arrogant attitude, but…was quite a modest, honest attitude of confronting the problem of religious tolerance after the Thirty Years’ War.  In the seventeenth century, all of Europe was in a shock, and then out of this traumatic experience, the liberal vision came.  The idea was that each of us has some existential or religious beliefs, but even if these are our fundamental commitments, we will not be killing each other for them.  To create a coexistent social structure, a space where these inherently different commitments can be practiced…I don’t see anything inherently bad in this project.[166]

Though more traditional wars between rival kingdoms and principalities did not all of a sudden end, Michéa explains that this new kind of religious conflict — the French Wars of Religion, the first phase of the Thirty Years’ War, the English Civil War, etc. — now formed their “permanent background,” as a consistent frame of reference.  Liberalism, in Michéa’s and Žižek’s understanding, came out of this context.[167]  “Fear of violent death, distrust towards those around, rejection of all ideological fantasies, and the desire for a life that would at last be quiet and peaceful [shaped] the historical horizon of the new ‘way of being’ that the moderns would now incessantly demand,” explains Michéa.  “It is fundamentally one and the same thing, in their eyes, to establish a society in conformity with the progress of Reason, and to define the conditions that would finally enable humanity to emerge from war.”[168]  In this interpretation, liberalism originally represented an attempt to find an escape hatch, a way out of the cycle of religious conflict.  Michéa even contends that this atmosphere of generalized civil war lay behind Hobbes’ depiction of the state of nature as the bellum omnium contra omnes.[169]

In their sympathetic retelling of the origins of liberal tolerance out of the turmoil of the Reformation, Žižek and Michéa capture a dimension that is nowhere to be found in Losurdo’s account.  Oppositely, however, the first two miss one of the Italian thinker’s most original insights concerning bourgeois society, regarding the intricate entanglement of emancipation and dis-emancipation at work in its historical unfolding.  But Michéa is to be preferred when it comes to differentiating the truly revolutionary quality of early liberalism from its later, reactionary form.  He almost seems to have Losurdo in mind, then, when he points out a common anachronism committed by leftists today in talking about liberalism: “As against the absurd idea, particularly widespread on the Left, that liberal policies are by nature ‘conservative’ or ‘reactionary’ (classifications, moreover, that by an irony of History [Hegel] go back to Benjamin Constant), it is appropriate to see liberalism as the modern ideology par excellence.”[170]  Michéa immediately picks up on the confused temporality at work in the attempt to go back and retrospectively brand classical liberal thought as having somehow been “conservative” all along.  He accuses those who attempt such a maneuver of harboring “a particular interest in maintaining the fiction of a left anti-liberalism.”[171]  Commenting upon the debasement of liberal politics, he thus confidently asserts (paraphrasing Hegel’s famous remark)[172] that “if Adam Smith or Benjamin Constant were to return today — an event that might well raise the level of political debate considerably — they would find it very difficult to recognize the rose of their liberalism in the cross of the present.”[173]

Liberalism as The Realm of Lesser Evil: Jean-Claude Michéa

Besides his knack for exposing such errors in reflective judgment, Michéa displays impressive perspicacity in noticing the relationship of liberalism to the Marxist political project.  Deferring to the expertise of two towering figures in the history of political Marxism, he reminds his readers in a footnote that “Lenin did not hesitate to locate Marx in an intellectual continuity with Smith and Ricardo,” and that his onetime-ally Kautsky had before him “already made Marx the direct heir of ‘English economic science,’ i.e. of original liberalism.”[174]  As Michéa therefore argues,

beneath its radical appearance, [the] “materialist” [Marxist] fashion of viewing things represents no more than a rigorous systemization of the essential postulates of the modern imaginary (already partly effected, moreover, by Adam Smith).  And it was certainly not by chance that the different discourses that today celebrate capitalist globalization, held to be inevitable and eliminating all conceivable barriers to the sway of a unified world market, all rest on the idea that the future of humanity can only be read on the basis of the compulsions of economic growth, itself dependent on the ceaseless advance of “new technologies.”[175]

If Michéa is better than Losurdo at unpacking the historical interconnections between Marxism and liberalism, however, it is only because his politics are far worse.  It is not hard to infer from the tone of the passage just cited that Michéa is profoundly ambivalent to the path charted by liberal modernity.  Insofar as most of the socialist currents inspired by Marx have sought to overcome capitalist society on the basis of capitalism itself, he sees them as merely an extension of the outworn liberal logic of “progress.”[176]  To his credit, Michéa regards the initial impulse that lay behind this modern belief — i.e., that social conditions could be continuously improved over time — as expressing a legitimate “desire to escape at all costs…the hell of ideological civil war.”[177]  Nevertheless, to his mind, the obstinate adherence to this vision of limitless growth in the present is untenable (or “unsustainable,” to use the term currently in vogue).  Michéa therefore chastises Marx and Engels for failing to recognize “the ecological limits that any project of unlimited economic growth would inexorably come up against.”[178]

At this point, Michéa unfortunately lapses into a rather shallow form of moralism.  In this respect, he is not all that far removed from another Orwellian critic of “lesser evilist” politics: the late Christopher Hitchens.[179]  Whereas Hitchens culturally “broke left” in the aftermath of 9/11 — promoting atheism, secularism, and rationality — Michéa has turned to the right.  He heaps scorn upon anything and everything that he takes to be emblematic of the depravity and licentiousness of modern life, denouncing them as “contrary to good sense and common decency.”[180]  Sexual impropriety, obesity, veganism/vegetarianism, and recreational drug use are only a few of the many examples of “indecency” attracting the French philosopher’s ire.[181]  Lamenting the rapid disintegration of traditional “values” and “moral scruples” to capitalism’s unremitting forward march, Michéa announces that he intends “to undemonize the concepts of ‘tradition,’ ‘customs,’ [and] ‘roots.’”[182]  As anarchists go, he is fairly blasé about the personal autonomy and individual rights usually associated with the rise of the modern bourgeois social subject.  Michéa openly objects to “the capitalist lifestyle and its narcissistic individualism,”[183] which erode “preexisting moral and cultural possibilities.”[184]  In one of his most reactionary moments, he even expresses his regret at the breakup of the traditional family structure, and its replacement by the individual as the basic economic unit of society.  He complains of the reduction of conventional bonds of consanguinity to relationships of mere contract,[185] disdaining the way “[t]he bourgeoisie has torn the pathetic veil of sentiment from family relations and reduced them to purely monetary ones,” as Marx and Engels put it.[186]

Here Michéa drinks from the same trough of pro-family, anti-individualist tripe that reactionaries have been peddling for over two centuries now.  The counterrevolutionary Catholic author Louis de Bonald, reviewing Germaine de Staël’s Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution, thus found her criticisms of republicanism wanting in this respect, feeling they did not cut deep enough.  While de Staël was fiercely opposed to Jacobinism and its terroristic excesses, she certainly did not pine for a return to the ancien régime, the prerevolutionary past so beloved by de Bonald.  She denounced “compulsory service, such as that of the corvée,and other relicts of feudal barbarism,” as she called them.  De Bonald also took the liberal De Staël to task for railing against “the threefold fetters of an intolerant church, a feudal nobility, and an unlimited monarchy.”[187]  In a xenophobic fit, he alleged that she made too many concessions to England and “her happy and liberal fatherland,” Genoa.[188]  As de Bonald saw it, liberal individualism had slowly (but undeniably) undermined the traditional authority of the family.  “Republics, particularly the English one, only count individuals,” the French royalist wrote in 1818.  “The French monarchy saw only families.  The result is that there is more movement and agitation in republics, and more stability and repose in our monarchy.”[189]

The mid-19th century critic and völkisch theorist Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl expressed a similar feeling of disquiet when it came to the liberal argument favoring the primacy of the individual over the primacy of the family.  In his 1855 work on The Natural History of the German People, Riehl contended that constitutional liberalism gravely endangered the fundamental integrity of the family unit.  Whereas Hegel taught that the modern state represented the apotheosis of freedom and rationality, over and above the spheres of the family and civil society,[190] Riehl reversed this order: the family, and not the private realm of civil society or the public realm of the state, was the only site where the antinomies of modern existence could be resolved.  (The contrast between Riehl’s reversal and Marx’s reversal of the Hegelian schema in the Philosophy of Right is illuminating: Marx saw the only way to overcome the irrationality of capitalism as the creation of a classless society, in which institutions such as the family and the state could then be abolished).[191]  “Taken to its extreme, a constitutional state would have to lead to a loosening of marriage laws in theory and to the gradual disavowal of the home in practice,” Riehl warned.  “The state, as a mere legal agency, recognizes only individual persons — citizens.  It disregards the natural, historical factor of a collective folk personality, which manifests itself to us in those two mighty organisms, society and the family, that have been ennobled by the moral force of historic traditions.”[192]

Michéa stands on essentially the same ground as Riehl and de Bonald, however, when he looks to derive the practices of “sharing” and “reciprocity” from traditional structures, hoping to thereby offset the selfishness and “egoism” of liberal bourgeois society.  “It is [only by] moving upwards from the specific forms of local (or ‘territorialized’) life, and the one-on-one dealings that come with it (what Alain Caillé calls ‘primary sociality,’ of which family life is a major part) that the elementary structures of reciprocity [might] be put into place.”[193]  Indeed, against this Stirnerian egoism, Michéa is forced to invoke the intellectually flaccid Orwellian notion of “the common decency of ‘ordinary people.’”[194]  The utility of this notion, he claims, consists in its remaining a “deliberately vague and imprecise concept.”  Michéa hints from time to time, however, that this common decency “results from a continual work of humanity on itself in order to radicalize, internalize, and universalize these underlying human virtues expressed in the aptitudes to give, receive, and assist.”[195]  He later enlarges on this idea of “human virtues,” defining them as “psychological and cultural dispositions to generosity and fidelity.”[196]  Now and then Michéa tries to provide his refurbished, latter-day aretaic vision with an anthropological foundation, rooted in Marcel Mauss’ classic exposition of primitive gift economies.[197]  The traditional societies Mauss observed in his 1925 piece, he argued, were governed by the reciprocal logic of “give and take” rather than the selfish logic (or “icy waters”) of “egoistic calculation.”[198]  Given his anarchist sensibilities and the emphasis he places on the anthropological study of the gift, it might superficially appear that Michéa is close to another high-profile anarchist author and anthropologist, David Graeber.  Over the course of the last decade or so, Graeber has explored pre-monetary gift-giving practices in his anthropological work.[199]  This scholarly focus is loosely related to his involvement in the anti-/alter-globalization movement, rooted as it was in principles of direct action and the creation of prefigurative political models.  Conversely, Michéa was unimpressed by anti-/alter-globalization politics, and did nothing to support it.[200]  Moreover, unlike Graeber, Michéa withholds his endorsement of the direct action championed by these politics,[201] preferring “Chinese cultural traditions that privilege indirect action on the conditions of a political process rather than the methodical forcing of the process itself.”[202]

In the last instance, Michéa’s argument that liberal civilization was founded upon a pessimistic view of human nature, which subsequently gave way to arrogant optimism, is unconvincing.  The narrative arc he describes between liberalism’s initial self-consolation as “the realm of lesser evil” and its final self-congratulation as “the best of worlds” does not hold up under cross-examination.[203]  Riffing on Gramsci’s famous dictum, Michéa categorically maintains that “[o]riginal liberalism was…marked by a pessimism of the intellect”[204] — “a radical distrust of the moral capacities of human beings.”[205]  With such philosophers as Machiavelli, Hobbes, Mandeville, Voltaire, Hume, and Helvétius, this statement may indeed be true.  The same cannot be said for authors like Cumberland, Locke, Hutcheson, Rousseau, or Condorcet, however.  Classical liberal discourse allowed for a diversity of viewpoints regarding human nature.  As it happens, the concept Michéa relies upon to ward off the pessimism he ascribes to liberal thought, “common decency,” is likewise an inheritance of Enlightenment liberalism.  In fact, the entire Scottish school of common sense philosophy — typified by Reid, Ferguson, Stewart, and Hamilton — followed their predecessors Shaftesbury and Hutcheson in their liberal optimism.  Reid, the progenitor of this school, even speculated that shortly after infancy an individual’s “reasoning and moral faculties…unfold themselves by degrees; so that it is inspired with the various principles of common sense.”[206]  The concept of a “common decency” basic to all mankind had already been a part of everyday parlance for several decades by then, antedating its philosophical formalization by Reid.  The periodical Common Sense: The Englishman’s Journal (1738) invoked the notion on a number of occasions.  Its French equivalent, civilité ordinaire, appeared often in the writings of the great liberal skeptic Pierre Bayle, including his groundbreaking 1695 Historical and Critical Journal.[207]

Continue to Living in the End Times and the salvation of liberalism: Slavoj Žižek

Notes to “The Truth of Liberalism”

[1] “[T]he crisis of bourgeois society in capital after the Industrial Revolution and the failure of the ‘social republic’ in 1848, was the crisis of bourgeois society as liberal…a feature of the growing authoritarianism of bourgeois society, or, the failure of liberalism. As such, socialism needed to take up the problems of bourgeois society in capital that liberalism had failed to anticipate or adequately meet, or, to take up the cause of liberalism that bourgeois politics had dropped in the post-1848 world.” Cutrone, Chris. “Lenin’s Liberalism.” Platypus Review. (№ 36. July, 2011). Pg. 2.
[2] Marx, Karl. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Translated by Clemens Dutt, Rodney Livingstone, and Christopher Upward. Collected Works, Volume 11: August 1851-March 1853. (Lawrence & Wishart Publishing. London, England: 1979). Pg. 103.
[3] Marx, Karl. The Class Struggles in France: 1848-1850. Translated by Hugh Rodwell. Collected Works, Volume 10: September 1849-June 1851. (International Publishers. New York, NY: 1978). Pg. 67.
[4] “In sum, the project of modernity has not yet been fulfilled.” Habermas, Jürgen. “Modernity — An Incomplete Project.” Translated by Seyla Benhabib. The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, edited by Hal Foster. (Bay Press. Seattle, WA: 1983). Pg. 13.
[5] Tocqueville, Alexis de. The Ancien Régime and the French Revolution. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer. (Cambridge University Press. New York, NY: 2011). Pg. 2. Quoted in full by Losurdo, Domenico. Liberalism: A Counter-History. Translated by Gregory Elliott. (Verso Books. Brooklyn, NY: 2011). Pg. vii. Indeed, Losurdo’s choice to pattern his own study after that of de Tocqueville is no accident, as the great French liberal is one of the figures most harshly indicted in his study.
[6] The famous Tolstoian technique of ostranenie [остранение]. Shklovskii, Viktor. “Iskusstvo kak priem.” From Gamburgskii schet: Stat’i, vospominaniia, esse (1914-1933). (Sovetskii pisatel’. Moscow, Soviet Union: 1990). Pgs. 64-66.
[7] Losurdo, Liberalism: A Counter-History. Pgs. 1-7, 27, 106, 241-246.
[8] On Calhoun: ibid., pgs. 1-7, 57, 163, 222; on Locke: ibid., pgs. 3, 42, 163; on Mill: ibid., pgs. 7, 202, 225.
[9] Ibid., pg. 301.
[10] Ibid., pg. 25. On liberalism’s “exclusion clauses,” see also pgs. 124, 163, 173, 181, 248, 341-343. On the “pathos of liberty,” see also pgs. 23, 40, 45, 49, 56.
[11] “The catastrophic crisis that struck Europe and the whole planet with the outbreak of the First World War was already maturing within the liberal world.” Ibid., pg. 323. And further: “[I]t is banally ideological to characterize the catastrophe of the twentieth century as a kind of new barbarian invasion that unexpectedly attacked and overwhelmed a healthy, happy society. The horror of the twentieth century casts a shadow over the liberal world even if we ignore the fate reserved for peoples of colonial origin.” Ibid., pg. 340.
[12] On enclosure: Ibid., pgs. 77-78, 121, 303, 308, 319.
[13] “[A]bsent from ancient Greece was the racial chattel slavery which, in the American case, was conjoined not with direct democracy but representative democracy.” Ibid., pg. 106.
[14] Ibid., pgs. 30-33.
[15] Grotius and Holland: Ibid., pg. 21; Locke and England: Ibid., pg. 24; the Founding Fathers and the United States: Ibid., pgs. 25-26.
[16] Ibid., pg. 77.
[17] While their account of capitalism is often uneven, this formulation does not altogether miss the mark: “At the heart of Capital, Marx points to the encounter of two ‘principal’ elements: on one side, the deterritorialized worker who has become free and naked, having to sell his labor capacity; and on the other, decoded money that has become capital and is capable of buying it…For the free worker: the deterritorialization of the soil through privatization; the decoding of the instruments of production through appropriation.” Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Volume 1: Anti-Œdipus. Translated by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane. (University of Minnesota Press. Minneapolis, MN: 1983). Pg. 225.
[18] Besides Marx’s characterization of this process as such, this is how it was referred to by one of Losurdo’s principal sources on the subject. Harris, R.W. England in the Eighteenth Century, 1689-1793: A Balanced Constitution and New Horizons. (Blandford Press. London, England: 1963). Pgs. 14-18.
[19] Marx, for example: “The immediate producer, the worker, could dispose of his own person only after he had ceased to be bound to the soil, and ceased to be the slave or serf of another person. To become a free seller of labor-power, who carries his commodity wherever he can find a market for it, he must further have escaped from the regime of the guilds, their rules for apprentices and journeymen, and their restrictive labour regulations. Hence the historical movement which changes the producers into wage-laborers appears, on the one hand, as their emancipation from serfdom and from the fetters of the guilds, and it is this aspect of the movement which alone exists for our bourgeois historians. But, on the other hand, these newly freed men became sellers of themselves only after they had been robbed of all their own means of production, and all the guarantees of existence afforded by the old feudal arrangements. And this history, the history of their expropriation, is written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire.” Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 1. Translated by Ben Fowkes. (Penguin Books. New York, NY: 1982). Pg. 875.
[20] Losurdo, Liberalism: A Counter-History. Pgs. 90-92.
[21] For a more comprehensive gloss on British and French materialist thought, see Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich. The Holy Family, Or Critique of Critical Criticism: Against Bruno Bauer and Company. Translated by Richard Dixon and Clemens Dutt. Collected Works, Volume 4: 1844-1845. Pgs. 127-134.
[22] “[In England, t]he heaviest, worst-paid work was entrusted to a stratum that tended to be reproduced from one generation to the next, and hence to a kind of hereditary servile caste.” Liberalism: A Counter-History. Pg. 113. And further: “[O]ften excluded from the enjoyment of civil rights and negative liberty in England itself, the popular classes, by de Tocqueville’s [own] admission, continued to be separated from the upper class or caste by a gulf that calls to mind the one obtaining in a racial state.” Ibid., pg. 124.
[23] “While in London the zone of civilization was distinguished from the zone of barbarism, the sacred space from the profane, primarily by opposing the metropolis to the colonies, the American colonists were led to identify the boundary line principally in ethnic identity and skin color.” Ibid., pg. 50.
[24] “[Liberalism] excluded the non-European peoples from the sacred space of civilization, relegating much of the West to its margins.” Ibid., pg. 246.
[25] Losurdo, Domenico. Heidegger and the Ideology of War: Community, Death, and the West. Translated by Marella Morris and Jon Morris. (Humanity Books. Amherst, NY: 2001). Pgs. 14, 18, 24-27, 30, 37, 45, 47-48, 55, 57-59, 74, 76, 89-90, 119, 123-125, 141, 208, 214, 223-224.
[26] Kant, Immanuel. Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View. Translated by Robert B. Louden. Anthropology, History, and Education. (Cambridge University Press. New York, NY: 2007). Pg. 427.
[27] Ibid., pg. 299.
[28] “Unfounded on a historiographical level, the habitual hagiography [of liberalism] is also an insult to the memory of the victims..” Ibid., pg. 344.
[29] Ibid., pg. 311.
[30] Losurdo extends quite liberally upon the argument advanced by Léon Poliakov, asserting that Britain and American colonists understood themselves as the “chosen people” of the Old Testament. Ibid., pgs. 17, 19, 43-44, 63, 150, 229-230, 294, 306, 309-311. Elsewhere he traces this exclusivist mentality to another Jewish source: Martin Buber’s and Franz Rosenzweig’s idea of a “blood-community” [Blutgemeinschaft]. Losurdo, Heidegger and the Ideology of War. Pgs. 123-125, 214.
[31] Losurdo, Domenico. “Flight from History? The Communist Movement between Self-Criticism and Self-Contempt.” Translated by Charles Reitz. Nature, Society, and Thought. (Vol. 13, № 4. December 2000). Pgs. 478-479.
[32] Losurdo, Domenico. “What is Fundamentalism?” Translated by Hanne Gidora. Nature, Society, and Thought. (Vol. 17, № 1. March 2004). Pgs. 34, 40-41.
[33] Leonard, Spencer. “The Decline of the Left in the Twentieth Century: 2001.” The Platypus Review. (№ 17. November 18th, 2009). Pg. 2.
[34] Losurdo, Liberalism: A Counter-History. Pgs. 54, 106, 220.
[35] Ibid., pgs. 19-20, 171, 229, 309, 311.
[36] Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Translated by Talcott Parsons. (Routledge. New York, NY: 1991). Pg. 98.
[37] “The degree of continuity between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has not escaped a whole series of scholars who cannot be suspected of preconceived hostility to the liberal world. While she generously overlooked the North American republic (which had had the merit of offering her refuge), Hannah Arendt explained the genesis of twentieth-century totalitarianism commencing with the colonies of the British Empire. It was here that ‘a new form of government,’ ‘a more dangerous form of governing than despotism and arbitrariness’ saw the light of day, and where the temptation of ‘administrative massacres’ as an instrument for maintaining domination began to emerge. But especially interesting in this context is the fact that not a few US scholars, in order to explain the history of their country, have turned to the category of ‘master-race democracy’ or ‘Herrenvolk democracy,’ in an eloquent linguistic admixture of English and German, and a German that in several respects refers to the history of the Third Reich.” Losurdo, Liberalism. Pgs. 336-337.
[38] “[F]or his plan to build a German continental empire, Hitler had in mind the United States model, which he praised for its ‘extraordinary inner strength.’” Losurdo, Domenico. “Towards a Critique of the Category of Totalitarianism.” Translated by Jon Morris and Marella Morris. Historical Materialism. (Volume 12, № 2. 2004). Pg. 47.
[39] “Rather than being one single book, The Origins of Totalitarianism consists in reality of two overlapping books which…fail to achieve any substantial unity…[Many have] noticed the disproportion between Arendt’s actual and thorough knowledge of the Third Reich, and her inaccurate understanding of the Soviet Union. In particular, they emphasized the difficulties in Arendt’s attempt to adapt the analysis of the Soviet Union (associated with the outbreak of the Cold War) to the analysis of the Third Reich (rooted in the years of the great coalition against fascism and Nazism).” Ibid., pg. 33.
[40] “Nazism and Bolshevism owe more to Pan-Germanism and Pan-Slavism (respectively) than to any other ideology or political movement.” Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism. Pg. 222. See also pg. 415.
[41] Losurdo repeats the theme of “master-race democracy” throughout: Losurdo, Liberalism: A Counter-History. Pg. 102-107, 108, 122-125, 136-138, 150-151, 180, 219, 222, 225, 227, 229, 233, 240, 308, 317, 321.
[42] On Losurdo’s theme of the United States as a “Herrenvolk democracy,” see also Losurdo, “Towards a Critique of the Category of Totalitarianism.” Pg. 50. See also Losurdo, Domenico. “Preemptive War, Americanism, and Anti-Americanism.” Translated by Jon Morris and Marella Morris. Metaphilosophy. Pgs. 369, 374-375, 380-381.
[43] “It is very difficult to find a critique of this ‘master-race democracy’ in liberal thinking, which is rather often the theoretical expression of this regime. Herrenvolk democracy is instead the privileged target of Lenin’s struggle. The revolutionary Russian leader stubbornly placed in evidence the macroscopic clauses of exclusion in liberal liberty at the expense of ‘red and black skins,’ as well as immigrants from ‘backward countries.’” Losurdo, Domenico. “Lenin and Herrenvolk Democracy.” Translated by Graeme Thomson. Lenin Reloaded: Toward a Politics of Truth. (Duke University Press. Durham, NC: 2007). Pg. 242.
[44] “[T]he young Marx declares the United States to be the ‘country of complete political emancipation’ and ‘the most perfect example of the modern state,’ one that ensures the dominion of the bourgeoisie without excluding a priori any social class from the benefits of political rights…Engels’s position is even more drastically pro-American.…As for the history of the Communist movement as such, the influence of Taylorism and Fordism upon Lenin and Gramsci is well known. In 1923, Nikolai Bukharin goes even further: ‘We need Marxism plus Americanism.’” Ibid., pgs. 366-367.
[45] “The international press is full of articles or attitudes committed to celebrating, or at least justifying, Israel: after all — they say — it is the only country in the Middle East in which the freedom of expression and association exist, in which there is a democratic regime operating. In this way a macroscopic detail is suppressed: government by law and democratic guarantees are valid only for the master race, while the Palestinians can have their lands expropriated, be arrested and imprisoned without process, tortured, killed, and, in any case under a regime of military occupation, have their human dignity humiliated and downtrodden daily.” Losurdo, “Lenin and HerrenvolkDemocracy.” Pg. 245. See also Losurdo, Liberalism: A Counter-History. Pg. 180.
[46] Losurdo, “Preemptive War, Americanism, and Anti-Americanism.” Pg. 368.
[47] Losurdo, Liberalism. Pg. 338.
[48] Fitzpatrick, Matthew. “The Pre-History of the Holocaust? The Sonderweg and Historikerstreit Debates and the Abject Colonial Past.” Central European History. (№ 41. 2008). Pgs. 500-501.
[49] Losurdo, Liberalism: A Counter History. Pgs. 339-340.
[50] “Losurdo, “Towards a Critique of the Category of Totalitarianism.” Pg. 26. Continue reading