Neil Davidson

On Evil

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Terry Eagleton, Yale University Press, £18.99

On Evil is the latest in a series of works by the literary critic Terry Eagleton in which he addresses some of the great philosophical questions fellow Marxists have tended to avoid.

The Illusion of Freedom

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Tom Gallagher, Hurst and Company; £12.99

Tom Gallagher tells us that he voted for the Scottish National Party (SNP) as early as 1979 and as recently as 2007. He is not, in other words, a partisan for the Labour Party (whose own critique of the SNP is, unsurprisingly, utterly incoherent). In fact, one of his main criticisms of the SNP is precisely that it resembles New Labour too closely in its manipulative, top-down approach.

The Threat to Reason

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Dan Hind, Verso, £14.99

The Enlightenment tradition is under attack - at least if a series of recent books are to be believed. The source is apparently a rising tide of irrationality, manifested by intellectual fashions such as postmodernism, but more seriously by the revival of religious belief. So, while earlier works dedicated to "defending the Enlightenment", like Francis Wheen's How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World, attacked what they perceived to be irrationality in all its forms, the latest crop have focused almost exclusively on religion.

Third World Revolution

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What sort of political changes are possible when workers are a minority of the population? Neil Davidson looks at a question which has absorbed Marxists for over 100 years.

At the beginning of the last century a series of revolutions in Russia (1905), Turkey (1906), Persia (1909), Mexico (1910), China (1911) and Ireland (1916) announced that the inhabitants of the colonial world were not prepared to be passive spectators of the historical process. Yet beyond freeing themselves from the direct or indirect control of the great powers, the goals of these revolutionary movements were ambiguous, even contradictory. Were they to enable the newly liberated states to enter the world capitalist system?

Islam and the Enlightenment

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The intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th century that became known as the Enlightenment helped a new class to come to power in Europe. Neil Davidson asks why the more advanced civilisations of the Islamic world did not develop a similar movement of their own.

In the current Western controversy over Islam, one theme recurs with increasing predictability. Many writers are prepared to acknowledge Muslim cultural and scientific achievements, but always with the caveat that Islamic civilisation never experienced an equivalent to the Enlightenment. "Islam never had to go through a prolonged period of critically examining the validity of its spiritual vision, as the West did during the 18th century," writes the historian Louis Dupre. "Islamic culture has, of course, known its own crisis...

A History of Mutiny

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Award-winning historian Neil Davidson considers the precedents for army disaffection and revolt.

The crime for which George Galloway was expelled from the Labour Party was appealing to British soldiers not to carry out illegal orders during the invasion of Iraq. Since the invasion was itself an illegal act, Galloway was effectively committing the offence which the ruling class refer to as 'incitement to mutiny'. This may explain some of the hatred with which they have responded to his election.

Bourgeois Revolutions: On the Road to Salvation for all Mankind

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This year's Isaac Deutscher memorial lecture was given by Neil Davidson. He took up the controversial issue of the role played by bourgeois revolutions in the formation of the modern world.

I owe at least two debts to Isaac Deutscher. One is that, for non-academics like me, he provided a model of how to write politically engaged but scholarly historical work. The other is more relevant to the theme of my lecture: his writings on the bourgeois revolutions.

Good Tradition

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Review of 'Dissident Marxism', David Renton, Zed Books £14.95

David Renton has begun the bold project of writing the history of Marxism through the lives of individual Marxists. The approach of his first book on the subject, Classical Marxism (2002), was relatively simple. It traced how, from apparently similar theoretical starting points, the paths of individual figures in the Second International led in quite different directions; either to accommodation with the system, like Kautsky, or to opposition to it, like Lenin.

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